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Experience of poverty prompts sharing call

Birgit Albers listens to a performance by the Choir of High Hopes yesterday.Launceston’s Birgit Albers has seen poverty first hand.
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She knows the struggle people go through and she knows how hard it is for them to keep their families alive.

So why when then, when we live in a rich country are we still not sharing?

That was the message Ms Albers wanted to get across at yesterday’s Choir of High Hopes Christmas benefit at St Aidan’s Church.

The concert raised funds for Ms Albers’s Malawi Back to School Foundation, which she established in 2002 after travelling to the world’s third poorest country.

“I meet a young guy and he was sort of my personal tour guide,” Ms Albers said referring to her first trip to the African country.

“He helped me with whatever I wanted to see like a village tour or going swimming.

“After my tour time was over, I said, you were so great and so loyal, I’d like to do something for you.

“He could have said, I want some new sneakers or a backpack, but he said he wanted to finish school.”

Ms Albers, who moved to Tasmania from Germany in 1986, said she found out it cost $100 a year to send the orphan boy to secondary school.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

“I said to myself what can I do to help.”

It was then that Ms Albers established her foundation to help others like the man she’d met get an education.

“Education is the step to getting them out of poverty,” she said.

Yesterday’s concert saw about 50 people listen to the harmonious sounds of the Hobart-based choir.

Funds raised from the event will be used to send Malawi orphans to secondary school and build an orphanage.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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2012 could be a year to keep students studying

THE Tasmanian education system is likely to undergo an interesting time to say the least in 2012. The start of this school year will also be the last with three terms as the state moves in line with the rest of the country and adopts a four-term model in 2013.
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And by the end of this month Education Minister Nick McKim is expected to receive the much-anticipated report from the School Viability Reference Group.

Which schools, if any, will close will be of interest to many communities and particularly to those 20 named on the government’s initial proposed hit-list in the June budget last year.

The state’s economy and the slashing of the department’s budget in 2011 will come more into play from the start of this year as programs, teacher aides and activities will be cut.

This is hurting both public and private schools and as revealed late last year it will result in about a $100 annual increase in Catholic school fees.

The focus for the government is getting the state back on track.

But at this time of upheaval it would be interesting to know what principals and teachers want to see happen in the education sector.

And what parents would like to see.

As other commentators have said there is no doubt that Tasmania has suffered economically due to the previous practice of allowing students to leave at the end of year 10 or age of 16 _ which ended in 2007.

The state’s split public high school (year 7 to 10) and college (year 11 and 12) system only exacerbated the problem as kids thought ”woo-hoo, I’m finished” and left after year 10, cutting themselves short.

Many more than not have suffered for it.

Year 10 formals and ”leavers’ dinners” to celebrate the occasion only cemented the feeling.

Thankfully students must now continue on with some form of education until they turn 17.

The reasoning behind holding a formal for year 10s beggars belief to someone who had to wait for that right until the end of year 12 interstate.

A trend taking off in Victoria at the end of last year was year 6 formals where 11 and 12-year-olds (or more correctly their parents) were spending $150-plus on dresses, then more money on hair and make-up, before partying the afternoon away in the back of a stretch Hummer.

There’s evidence of Tasmanian grade 6 students following the trend.In the department’s annual report it acknowledges Tasmania’s retention rates in post-compulsory education and training are lower than most other states and many OECD countries.

Despite a more than 10 per cent increase on the retention rate to 73 per cent in 2010 (the latest figures), Mr McKim is aiming for the state to meet a national target of 90 per cent of students to attain a year 12 education or its equivalent by 2015.

Overall public student attendance figures also increased slightly from 2009 to 2010.

One step in the right direction is the department’s implementation of the Retention and Attainment Strategy, which tracks year 10 students through to year 12 or its equivalent.

Students completing their education to a year 12 level today will better set up the state and economy of the future – something Tasmania desperately needs.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Regaining confidence a big mission for Orica

ACCIDENT-plagued chemical company Orica has been told it must do much more to restore the public’s confidence in its operations.
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Premier Barry O’Farrell issued the warning yesterday and threatened to shut Orica’s Port Kembla plant if it failed to comply with environmental laws after an acid leak on Friday.

Orica has only partially restarted operations on Kooragang Island after a series of spills forced the closure of both its ammonium nitrate and ammonia plants.

On Friday, Orica disclosed its Port Kembla plant leaked up to 4000 litres of concentrated sulphuric acid.

Mr O’Farrell said the company would have to work hard to restore confidence.

‘‘They will only get their licence, they’ll only continue to keep their licence, if they are able to abide by the state’s environmental laws,’’ Mr O’Farrell said.

‘‘Orica will have to do an enormous amount in order to restore public confidence in NSW.’’

A spokesman confirmed later that Mr O’Farrell was referring to the licence for Orica’s Port Kembla operation.

An Orica spokeswoman said last night that all of the Kooragang Island ammonium nitrate and nitric plants were now back on line, allowing it to produce explosive using ammonia feedstock brought onto the site.

The ammonia plant, which makes ammonia from natural gas – and which was the site of the August hexavalent chromium emission – remained offline.

‘‘Orica’s emphasis is on restarting the ammonia plant safely and while conducting some prestart checks, we determined there was a part of the plant that required repair work before the restart process could continue,’’ the spokeswoman said.

‘‘Once repairs are complete, the restart process will continue.’’

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Record heat sweeps country

BRISBANE – Australians have been asked to heed safety advice from authorities as much of the country swelters through what is already shaping up to be a record-breaking heatwave.
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In the southern states, firefighters battled hundreds of blazes in searing heat and ambulance officers treated children who had been left in cars.

On January 1, Adelaide recorded its hottest start to a new year since 1900 when the mercury reached 41.6 degrees.

Extreme temperatures and strong winds prompted a South Australian power company to cut electricity supplies to about 3300 properties on the Fleurieu Peninsula on Monday.

The decision left many tourism-related businesses without power for several hours, prompting criticism over the lack of notice.

But ETSA Utilities defended the decision, raising concerns about potential bushfires.

Victoria’s ambulance service treated 45 patients for heat-related illnesses on Monday, including four cases of children left in cars. Paramedic Darren Murphy said there was a case reported every five minutes.

”We’ve gone to patients who are nearly 100 years old, they live at home alone, wearing heavy clothes, they have an air conditioner but they’re not using it for whatever reason,” Mr Murphy said.

”We’ve gone to people who are in their mid-30s, who have been working outside all day, were drinking (water) but just not drinking enough and then we’ve also gone to young children who have either been at the beach or they’ve been left in their cars for short periods, who have been heat-affected as well.”

South-west Queensland councils directed their warnings at tourists, advising motorists to carry extra water and petrol.

”We’re expecting just shy of 44 degrees today, and even hotter on Wednesday and Thursday,” Diamantina Shire Council’s Steve Baldwin said. He said there were some minor benefits of oppressive heat, such as drying clothes more quickly and enjoying a cold beer in an air conditioned pub.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Cycle touring madness

There don’t seem to be shades of responses to touring by bicycle. At one end people will tell me I must be mad, or they’ll ask why, as in “why don’t you go by car?”, and at the other end is the wistful wish that he or she could do the same. At times, I admit, I ask myself why, and I like to assure the wistful wishers that with a bit of training they, too, can ride from one place to another.
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Last week three mates and I rode from one place to another in northern NSW, and once again I had the sense that travelling by bike is an elemental experience, one that somehow immerses the rider in the environment. As the occupant of a car, for example, hills are meaningless, but as a cyclist hills have a special meaning! We crossed some particularly meaningful hills between Lismore and Murwillumbah and between Byron Bay and Alstonville, and the climb on dirt roads over the range of Mount Jerusalem National Park from Uki to Mullumbimby is etched in our memory banks.

We started in Grafton, a city given character by the architecture of many of its houses, pubs and public buildings, and by the fact that I was born there. The first night was spent at Maclean, the Scottish town on the banks of the Clarence River, and day two to Lismore took us through a network of bush tracks and forest roads and Coraki, which has few reminders that it was once a bustling river port. Lismore has a remarkable strip retail district, hundreds of shops stretching along a network of inner streets, and most of the shops appear to be individually owned rather than franchised or part of a chain.

Day three was to Murwillumbah via the colourful Nimbin and many hills, and thankfully we skirted around Mount Warning. Day four we retraced our steps to Uki then turned left to cross Mount Jerusalem National Park, an especially meaningful climb on rough dirt roads, and the country around Main Arm as we left the park is the lushest I’ve seen anywhere in Australia.

Mullumbimby, or Mullum to the locals, is slightly alternative and interesting, and in an old sandstone bank building occupied by Santos Wholefoods we had a quinoa salad we voted the best salad any of us had had. A raw-food lime pie at the same place was extraordinarily good. That night and the next we spent at Byron Bay, which has its attractions despite the hype. The lingering schoolies were friendly, happy and sober, although we didn’t see them at midnight!

On Wednesday we set off following whereis南京夜网 instructions to Coraki, and soon we found we were riding along farmland tractor tracks that, we assumed, had once been public paths. Coraki, once a busy river port with seven big wharves and seven pubs, now has one pub, no wharf, and a former pub, the Club Hotel, in which we stayed. The owner of the former pub has been working for six years to restore it to its former glory and reopen it as a pub, and it seems to be an especially ambitious undertaking.

Heavy rain overnight and into the Thursday made the bush tracks we’d planned to ride for much of the 110 kilometres to Grafton unrideable, and so we hired a van to take us and our bikes to Grafton, loaded up my wife’s LandCruiser and headed home. The trip home reminded us that passengers in a car miss so much!

What adventure would you plan if you could, and why don’t you?

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Journalist joins East Timor peacekeepers

Herald journalist Ben Smee is on an East Timor peacekeeping mission alongside Hunter members of the defence reserves and their day-job bosses.
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Today the Hunter woke up to another Monday morning. Many of my colleagues were, no doubt, nursing Christmas party hangovers. And I was on a plane to join a peacekeeping mission in East Timor.

At 3am I was on my way to Darwin Airport.

For those of you whose morning sleep-in was disturbed by a hyperactive alarm clock, please think of me.

While you’ve been at work today, probably watching the clock tick as it rolls towards the end of another year, I’ll have been put through my paces with Hunter members of the defence reserves and their day-job bosses.

We’re on a regular exercise knows as “Boss Lift”. Employers, who have given their workers up to a year away to spend time in the reserve forces, are here to get a taste of life in Operation Astute.

Over the next few days, I’ll spend time with Hunter bosses and their employees in East Timor. They will include the former workmates of Craftsman Beau Pridue from Speers Point, who tragically died in a heavy vehicle crash while serving in East Timor in September.

The reservists here are from the 8th Brigade, which contains mainly forces from Northern NSW.

The brigade was formed in Egypt in 1915, and soldiers from Cessnock and Merewether were killed in action at Fromelles during the later stages of World War I.

The soldiers here are engineers, tradesmen, teachers and transport workers.

We’ve been promised Black Hawk helicopter flights, experience firing military weapons, tours of defence bases, hard-core personal training, and other experiences typical of the peacekeeping forces in East Timor.

Australian reservists make up a large proportion of the International Stabilising Force that assists the local government and the United Nations to maintain order in the young nation.

Check back tomorrow to find out how Ben has fared so far.

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Sa’u slims down to make tight squeeze in centres

SLIM: Junior Sa’uNEWCASTLE Knights fans can expect to see a lot less of Junior Sa’u next season.
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Not that the Kiwi international centre has any plans to vacate his favoured spot on Newcastle’s left edge, but Sa’u has stripped five kilograms from his chunky frame and aims to play next season at the lightest weight since his NRL debut in 2008.

‘‘I’ve trimmed down a bit and it’s helping me move a lot better around the park at training,’’ Sa’u said yesterday.

‘‘I can definitely see the change … I’ve lost five kilos.

‘‘I’m about 97 or 98kilos at the moment.

‘‘I’m normally about 102.

‘‘Playing at 102, I thought it was my best weight, but that was sort of like extra fat I was carrying.

‘‘They’ve trimmed me right down and I feel much better and a lot sharper.’’

Sa’u attributed his transformation to hard yards during the pre-season and a new-found diligence to what he eats.

‘‘It’s just doing all the little things right,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ve given up fast foods and I’m paying more attention to what meals I’m having before training and after training.

‘‘We’ve got a dietitian and the plan she has made for me is basically working.

‘‘I’ve just got to stick to it.’’

Sa’u is capable of trampling any defender when he has a full head of steam and he is confident he will still make an impact next year despite his reduced body mass.

‘‘I feel like I haven’t lost any strength when I’m running the ball at our skills sessions,’’ he said.

‘‘In the gym, I’m feeling probably the strongest I’ve ever been. It’s heading in the right direction but I have to keep knuckling down.’’

New coach Wayne Bennett and high-performance manager Jeremy Hickmans have insisted on lowering skinfold levels since arriving in Newcastle as they set about creating a leaner, meaner team.

Sa’u, who has been a mainstay of Newcastle’s backline for the past four seasons, admits he will have to be in peak condition to fend off a host of challengers eyeing his position.

Wes Naiqama played the best football of his career last season before suffering an elbow injury, and rookie Siuatonga Likiliki showed potential in his two top-grade games.

New signings Timana Tahu and Alex McKinnon add to the competition Sa’u will face for the berth he has occupied for 78 NRL games.

‘‘That will definitely be good for me and good for the club,’’ Sa’u said.

‘‘I think competition brings the best out in everyone. We’ve got people there like Timana and Wes and Likiliki and they’re all good players, so that will keep me on my toes.’’

Having represented New Zealand in nine Tests, Sa’u, 24, said he had no regrets about turning down an opportunity to pull on the Kiwis jersey during the recent Four Nations series.

‘‘Towards the end of the year my body needed a rest,’’ he said.

‘‘It felt like it was starting to break down a bit. I had an ankle injury and I needed to get my body right for next year.

‘‘It was hard for me to pull out of the squad but it’s something I needed to do.

‘‘This is my first proper pre-season in three years and I just needed a break to freshen up a bit.’’

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Football tragedies demonstrate need for care with Jets defender’s heart problem

CONCERN: Byun Sung-hwanTHEY are three names that will mean little to most Australian sports fans – Marc Vivien Foé, Phil O’Donnell and Anthony Van Loo.
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But as Jets defender Byun Sung-hwan awaits the result of medical tests that have cast a cloud over his professional career, the stories of three fellow footballers warrant close consideration.

Byun was stood down from training on Tuesday after an electrocardiograph (ECG) test, which all players underwent in the pre-season, revealed he had left ventricular hypertrophy, or an enlarged left ventricle.

The condition can occur naturally as a reaction to aerobic exercise and strength training. But it can also be a symptom of a rare genetic disease known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which in extreme cases can cause heart failure, especially during intense exercise, and prove fatal.

Jets officials did not want to speculate on Byun’s condition or jump to false conclusions until they had considered all the information available.

CEO Robbie Middleby said Byun’s welfare was their primary concern, but if he received appropriate clearances, there was a chance the Korean could play against Central Coast tomorrow in the F3 derby in Gosford.

The 32-year-old has experienced no episodes that would suggest he has a potentially life-threatening condition.

But neither did Foé nor O’Donnell, both of whom are remembered more for the tragic circumstances in which they died than their impressive careers.

Foé was a Cameroon international who played for West Ham and Manchester City in the English Premier League.

In June 2003, while representing his country in a semi-final of the Confederations Cup, he collapsed on the pitch and died, despite attempts to revive him.

An autopsy revealed the 28-year-old had unwittingly suffered from HCM.

O’Donnell was a former Scotland international who played for Motherwell, Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday.

In December 2007 he was playing for Motherwell against Dundee United and collapsed just as he was about to be substituted.

The 35-year-old father of four was rushed to hospital but died. A post-mortem indicated his death was caused by left ventricular failure, believed to be as a result of HCM.

After the deaths of Foé and O’Donnell and other such tragedies, football clubs around the world started to test their players for heart defects.

It was such a screening process that may have saved the life of young Belgian defender Van Loo.

In 2008, when he was playing for Belgian second-division club Roeselare, the 20-year-old collapsed to the turf unconscious. But as teammates rushed to help him, Van Loo visibly jolted on the ground and slowly regained his feet.

He was taken to hospital but returned after the match to join in his team’s victory celebrations.

Van Loo’s life had been saved by a defribillator, implanted in his chest six months earlier when he was diagnosed with HCM.

Defribillators contain a small computer that detects when a heart loses its rhythm, often causing a blackout, at which point a life-saving electric shock is delivered.

After the remarkable incident, which can be seen on YouTube, the club doctor said: ‘‘There was a moment of panic, but the device saved his life.’’

Van Loo, a Belgian under-23 representative, now plays in Belgium’s top football league.

There has been no confirmation that Byun has HCM.

Middleby said the Jets would wait until they had received all medical advice.

‘‘Then we will sit down with all the doctors and specialists and consider all the options,’’ he said. ‘‘If there is any risk, we want him to know what it is and do the right thing by him.’’

He said communal heart screening had been ‘‘recommended’’ by Football Federation Australia, but the Jets ‘‘haven’t done it in the past’’.

This year, the club decided it was a better policy to be safe rather than sorry.

And at least one of their players may have cause to be grateful for the rest of his life.

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Youth breaks through asBaus wins top district honour

BIG YEAR: Matthew BausSWANSEA champion Matthew Baus has become the youngest player to be crowned Newcastle district bowler of the year.
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The 23-year-old started the year by making his debut for NSW and finished as the State Champion of Club Champions singles titleholder.

Along the way he helped NSW remain undefeated in winning the Alley Shield Australian Sides Championship, was named in the Australian Emerging Players squad and won the Newcastle district champion of club singles champions and the district triples championships.

He was a semi-finalist in the state triples championship and Newcastle district major singles championship and a member of the Swansea team who were beaten in the Newcastle district No.1-grade pennant final.

Last night, Baus became the third Swansea player to receive the gong.

Rocket Thomson was the inaugural recipient in 1994 and Sam Laguzza won the first of his three titles while with Swansea in 1998.

Ryan Steel (Lambton) claimed the inaugural Newcastle district encouragement award, which replaced the most improved bowler of the year gong.

Steel, 25, beat Baus to claim the Newcastle district under-25 singles and played in the Lambton side who were semi-finalists in the Newcastle district No.1 grade pennant.

He became a regular member of the Newcastle district representative side.

Sean Cairns (Raymond Terrace) was named the Newcastle district junior bowler of the year.

Cairns was successful in the Newcastle district junior triples and fours championships and was a member of the Raymond Terrace side who claimed the Newcastle district No.2 grade pennant.

He was runner-up in the Newcastle district junior singles championship.

Allan Starrett (New Lambton), who recently relinquished his role as chairman of the state and Newcastle district coaching committees due to family reasons, was named Newcastle district coach of the year.

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Priest under fire for poker machine company donation

FATHER Chris Riley, the latest face in the clubs’ campaign to block pokies reform, accepted $50,000 for a youth centre operated by his charity from Len Ainsworth, the founder of Australia’s largest gaming machine company, Aristocrat Leisure.
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Father Riley’s charity, Youth Off The Streets, also appears to have a longstanding connection with the Ainsworths – Mr Ainsworth’s daughter-in-law, Anna Ainsworth, has been on the board of the charity since 2002 and was its chairwoman from 2008 until early this year.

Like many charities, Youth Off The Streets also receives funding made available by clubs – $122,325 in 2011.

But Father Riley’s decision this week to publicly back Clubs Australia’s efforts to block the introduction of mandatory pre-commitment has prompted swift condemnation from churches, politicians and other groups who are advocating poker machine reform.

The chairman of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce, Tim Costello, said Father Riley was ”conflicted” because his organisation accepted money from the clubs, including the Bankstown Sports Club.

”If you take the dollar and be their face, you have to explain that conflict.”

The independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who has demanded the reforms in return for supporting the government, concurred.

”He is being paid by the industry,” he said.

The No Pokies senator, Nick Xenophon, said Father Riley had ”bought the poker machine lobby’s lies hook line and sinker”.

The Education Minister, Peter Garrett, one of the few Labor MPs in the firing line prepared to hit back at the clubs, took issue with Father Riley’s claim that counselling and education were adequate safeguards.

Mr Garrett said problem gambling was a scourge in his electorate of Kingsford Smith.

But other backbenchers, who oppose Mr Wilkie’s demand and want a trial first, were buoyed by Father Riley’s stance and said Mr Wilkie should negotiate because the numbers did not exist in the House of Representatives to pass necessary legislation by his May 31 deadline.

Father Riley said his stance was about standing up to Mr Wilkie.

”I think the most important thing for me is the randomness of policies, which frustrates me; that a minority incumbent has the incredible power to make such a big decision against pubs and clubs, and I just don’t think that’s fair,” he said.

”At the end of the day it’s not about gambling for me,” Father Riley said. ”Its about … an independent who holds a government … to ransom.”

The Catholic Social Services Australia executive director, Paul O’Callaghan, said Father Riley’s stance was disappointing given the evidence that showed counselling alone was not enough to deal with problem gambling.

”It’s unfortunate perhaps that Father Riley had come out in this way linked so directly to the clubs’ position, because obviously the clubs have a particular commercial interest in this.”

Father Riley told the Herald he briefly met Mr Ainsworth the first time at the opening of the charity’s new $7.2 million youth centre last week.

He said the relationship with Mr Ainsworth was fostered by the former MP Tony Stewart, the chairman of Youth Off The Streets’ overseas relief fund, rather than Anna Ainsworth.

”He made a $50,000 donation to our Macquarie Fields youth centre through his own charity, I believe, and that’s the first time he’s ever been involved with us,” Father Riley said.

He said he had ”never” had any involvement with the gaming companies associated with the Ainsworth family. But a 2010 Youth Off The Streets newsletter thanks Aristocrat among the corporate partners helping to bring ”much needed Christmas cheer” to youth in 2009.

Mrs Ainsworth referred queries back to the charity.

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Newcastle’s missing link

THE announcement from federal infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese and premier Barry O’Farrell was most notable for what it didn’t say.
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Trumpeted by Newcastle MP Sharon Grierson as “a real win” for the Hunter, the $1.1 billion freight rail upgrade managed to completely ignore the much-touted Fassifern to Hexham bypass that is so sorely needed to get freight trains off Newcastle suburban tracks.

Most of the upgrade work will be in Sydney and on the Central Coast and, although intercity rail commuters may benefit from a new ability of passenger trains to overtake slower freight trains, this seems an almost incidental gain.

The real aim of the expenditure is to improve the carrying capacity of the state’s freight rail system, widening the Sydney bottleneck that has constrained rail freight movements between Melbourne and Brisbane.

This is no bad thing, but the omission of the Newcastle bypass is such a glaring slight on the Hunter that it can only serve to further underscore this region’s growing feelings of political powerlessness.

Dramatically increasing the number of trains on the line will have a major impact at the Adamstown and Clyde Street level crossings, where already long traffic delays can be expected to get much worse.

By one estimate, the change means an extra two hours a day during which the Adamstown gates will be closed, bringing the total to more than eight hours.

Like the very fast train and the Glendale interchange, the Fassifern to Hexham freight rail bypass has been on the books for years with no sign of serious action.

Ms Grierson – while trumpeting the fact that the federal government is paying the lion’s share of the rail upgrade – has deflected blame for its great flaw onto the state, asserting that “the next big step should be a Fassifern to Hexham freight bypass and connection to the Port of Newcastle, but before that can happen we need to know what the state government’s plans are for the port of Newcastle”.

Many may conclude that neither government is particularly interested in a major piece of rail investment that will chiefly benefit people in Newcastle.

Orica leaks again

ANOTHER month, another leak at Orica’s Kooragang Island chemical plant.

While the company and the government are anxious to reassure the public that neither health nor the environment are at risk from the latest spill – apparently the result of a failed valve – the incident won’t improve confidence in Orica and its facility.

Orica had just been given permission to get its plant operating again after a string of earlier controversial mishaps. While authorities insist the latest incident doesn’t affect equipment involved in the earlier leaks, the repeated mechanical failures create an impression of a plant with a seeming multitude of problems.

The government may want to get the supply of explosives moving again, so mining output – and coal royalty income – won’t be affected. That’s fair enough.

But Newcastle people will be hoping no corners are cut in the rush to restart.

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Labor councillors give up Laman St fig fight

THE Laman Street fig trees are finally set for the chop after Newcastle Labor councillors effectively conceded defeat yesterday in the long-running and costly dispute.
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Councillors Sharon Claydon, Tim Crakanthorp and Nuatali Nelmes said in a statement they would withdraw a key motion to close Laman Street to vehicular traffic, citing a lack of numbers within the council chamber and ongoing costs.

‘‘To prolong this situation any further is a waste of ratepayers’ money and resources,’’ the councillors said.

More significantly, the decision leaves Greens councillor Michael Osborne unable to lodge a rescission motion to stop the figs’ removal.

Three signatures are required, and the motion is only backed by Cr Osborne and lord mayor John Tate.

‘‘I was hoping one of the Labor councillors would sign [the rescission motion],’’ Cr Osborne said.

‘‘It’s very disappointing.’’

The fiasco has cost the council more than $1.5 million and involved 22 council debates.

It now appears extremely unlikely the future of the 14 fig trees will be debated again.

A council spokeswoman said yesterday it could now proceed with the removal of the trees ‘‘as soon as practical’’ in line with the vote from July.

But the Newcastle Herald understands it is unlikely that work will begin before the year’s end.

The council said a number of logistical factors needed to be considered. The city’s art gallery and library would need to be closed, and resistance to that idea was expected.

It is also unlikely that significant police resources will be available to support ‘‘Operation Beanstalk’’ over the Christmas period.

Cr Bob Cook welcomed the councillors’ decision and urged the council administration to proceed ‘‘as soon as possible’’.

Labor councillors advised council staff they would formally withdraw their plan late yesterday.

‘‘We acknowledge that we do not have the support of the majority of councillors and, as such, we will not proceed any further with our motion,’’ the statement said.

‘‘It is a matter of public record that seven councillors are in favour of wholesale removal of the Laman Street figs.

‘‘We are disappointed that our fellow councillors have been unwilling to support our attempts to resolve this issue …

‘‘It has been made clear to us that even if our motion had been successful last night, opposing councillors would have immediately moved to rescind our motion, leaving the issue unresolved, rendering the site inoperative for many more months and allowing the costs to spiral further, with no end in sight.’’

Save Our Figs spokeswoman Fee Mozeley said the group was hopeful of finding a circuit breaker or state government intervention.

Cr Tate could not see any way that the council’s decision could be changed.

‘‘But we’ve had so many twists and turns, who knows what will happen next.’’

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Borrowers welcome interestrate cut

Mark and Lara Savage with daughter April yesterday. – Picture by Peter StoopHUNTER retailers were the big winners when the Reserve Bank of Australia lowered the official cash rate by 25 basis points yesterday.
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Home owners in the Hunter also felt the Christmas cheer as the central bank cut interest rates for the second time in as many months to 4.25 per cent.

To read the Herald’s editorial, click here.

Home owners will enjoy a further reduction of about $50 on their monthly repayments on the average $300,000 home loan assuming banks pass on the latest official rate cut in full.

Retailers were hopeful the rate reduction would lead to more disposable income in households that would then lead to an increase in retail spending.

‘‘We’re obviously pleased with the decision because we’ve seen improvement since the Reserve cut in November,’’ Charlestown Square manager Drew Pannowitz said.

‘‘We’re on track to have more than 2.5million customers come into the centre in November and December, which is when people tend to put their hand in their pocket a bit more.’’

Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Kristen Keegan called on the banks to pass on the interest rate cuts ahead of the Christmas holiday period.

‘‘The Hunter Business Chamber focus has been on retailers this month,’’ Ms Keegan said.

‘‘It was a much-welcomed announcement for retailers and we call on all financial institutions to pass on the cuts in full and immediately.’’

Australian National Retailers Association says the rate cut will have no impact at shops across the country unless banks pass it on.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it was unacceptable that banks took up to two weeks to pass on the November cuts and some did not deliver in full.

The Newcastle Permanent passed on the full 0.25per cent the day after the last rate rise on Melbourne Cup day.

Carrington couple Lara and Mark Savage exchanged contracts on their new house at Maryville as the Reserve Bank of Australia lowered interest rates yesterday.

Ms Savage said the news could not have come at a better time for them and 16-month old daughter April with Christmas less than three weeks away.

‘‘It’s great news, especially after we have just settled on our new house,’’ Ms Savage said.

‘‘It was very kind of them [RBA] to do that for us.

‘‘It might help us throw in a few extra Christmas presents.’’

Ms Savage works for Newcastle health insurance company NIB and her husband is in the sales department at Census and they said the rate cut would help with the mortgage.

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