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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