Monthly Archives: November 2018

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EDITORIAL: The city’s new year fireworks

THE number of Hunter Region destinations offering New Year’s Eve fireworks has dwindled in recent years.

With no Warners Bay, Swansea or Caves Beach displays on Tuesday night, Wangi Wangi was the only Lake Macquarie town with fireworks.

The lack of attractions on the eastern side of the lake probably helped draw more people into Newcastle, where the council has traditionally hosted two sets of pyrotechnics – one at 9pm, the other at midnight.

But this year, Newcastle City Council dispensed with the midnight display, promising instead to spend as much on the one show as it previously did on both.

Initial impressions of the Nobbys display were positive enough, but early praise was soon dampened by a rising tone of disappointment from some watchers, and not only with the quality of the fireworks show itself.

A number of people also complained about a lack of traffic control once the fireworks had finished, when an immediate exodus of vehicles led to substantial traffic jams on both sides of the harbour.

No organisation hosting a New Year’s Eve fireworks display is going to deliberately disappoint its public. Some said this year’s display was not as high in the sky as previous years. But with Sydney pouring $6.8million into its harbour spectacular, a Newcastle show costing $120,000 – and just $20,000 of that on fireworks – was probably destined to suffer by comparison.

While Nobbys is an obvious landmark for a fireworks backdrop, there may be merit in moving to a more central point on the harbour, such as Dyke Point, which has been used at least once in the past. Another alternative might be to shoot for a shorter display, but to send the fireworks skyward from a variety of vantage points along the waterfront.

Such a change would not only put more people closer to the action, it may well add grandeur to a spectacle that, for adults at least, can become repetitive after the first few minutes.

Newcastle council had its share of critics last year and some might dismiss complaints about fireworks as nit-picking or carping. Lord mayor Jeff McCloy’s suggestion was for people who complain to ‘‘contribute some money in some way’’.

That’s a fair point, but some might say they do already – through their rates. Debates over council spending priorities are nothing new, but civic leaders must be wondering if there are ways to make the 2014 fireworks more of a night to remember. For the right reasons.

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Bus passengers abused by intoxicated teenagers

VIOLENCE, abuse, threats and heavily intoxicated teenagers – it was the New Year’s Eve ‘‘bus ride from hell’’ for a Swansea woman and her daughter.

Mary, 64, spoke to the Newcastle Herald about her ordeal aboard the 350 bus to Swansea Heads on Tuesday night, which she said left her traumatised and her daughter ‘‘physically shaking’’.

After watching the Newcastle foreshore 9pm fireworks, the pair boarded the bus outside the Newcastle railway station about 10pm.

It was at Charlestown that the trouble began.

‘‘The driver let on three people and then waited for seven more, they were all drunk and underage,’’ she said.

‘‘They were swearing, crying and fighting among each other and then one girl abused an elderly lady who told her not to use foul language.

‘‘I pushed and pushed the stop button until the bus stopped and a passenger told the troublemakers to leave.’’

Mary said that as the group left one of them punched the perspex screen at the front of the bus ‘‘so hard he left a blood trail’’. It was right in front of where she and her daughter were sitting.

And a girl member of the group threatened the passenger who told them to leave.

‘‘They were pointing their fingers like a gun at the passenger and said, ‘We know your face around town and we’re going to get you’.’’

Once the teenage passengers were removed, Mary and her daughter thought the trouble had passed.

But another drunken passenger, who looked to be about 20, got on the bus and tried to comfort the obviously distressed passengers, including a girl at the back of the bus.

‘‘The girl’s father took offence and the pair began arguing and physically fighting after the father grabbed the younger man’s hair,’’ she said.

The fight prompted the bus driver to pull the vehicle to the side of the road and he marched up the aisle to get involved, Mary said.

He escorted the drunk passenger off the bus and a scuffle ensued on the side of the road in front of several residents who had stepped outside to see what all the noise was.

Mary said her daughter called the police and the pair, as well as an elderly woman, got off before their stop and walked to Belmont police station to report the incidents.

A spokesman for State Transit said the matter was being investigated by police.

‘‘Newcastle Buses are providing CCTV footage of the incident to assist the police in their investigation,’’ he said.

He said State Transit and the Police Transport Command worked together to deliver safe bus services, including regular police operations in Newcastle.

‘‘All buses in the Newcastle fleet are fitted with digital CCTV to discourage crime and help identify offenders,’’ he said.

‘‘The CCTV system includes four inward-facing cameras to assist with the investigation of incidents on buses, and one forward-facing camera.

‘‘Newcastle bus drivers are in radio contact with the Newcastle radio room to report incidents and to seek police assistance for serious incidents.’’

Mary said the evening had made her rethink catching public buses in the future.

‘‘All we wanted to do was return home to see the midnight fireworks,’’ Mary said.

‘‘We did what we were supposed to do and caught public transport into the city and we had to go through an ordeal like this.’’

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FRIGHTENING: Mary had a traumatic New Year’s Eve bus ride on the 350 service after drunks boarded. Picture: Peter Stoop

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Bradken trains in asbestos breaches

NEWCASTLE-based engineering giant Bradken is under fire for importing heavy-rail locomotives containing deadly asbestos from China.

The locos are quarantined at Rutherford, as Australian Customs and Border Protection officials investigate the breach of a 10-year ban on the import of products containing asbestos.

It is the first time Bradken has purchased locomotives from China and a company spokesman said the breach would not deter it from dealing with Chinese manufacturers in future.

Unions described the Chinese imports as a “disgrace” and said Bradken should be held accountable for not ensuring the safety of its supply chain.

The two locos were certified in China as asbestos-free and arrived in Australia in November 2012.

Bradken learnt about the asbestos in October.

ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said asbestos-free certificates issued by Chinese manufacturers were “not worth the paper they were printed on”.

“The ban was put in place almost 10 years ago for good public policy reasons because one fibre can kill,” he said.

“There have only been two prosecutions since the ban was implemented and the message that sends is you can import with impunity.”

A Customs and Border Protection spokesman said Bradken could face a fine of up to $850,000 or three times the value of the locos, whichever is greatest.

“Importers are responsible for ensuring goods they import are free from asbestos and must declare this on import documentation,” he said, declining to comment further.

Bradken’s spokesman would not reveal the cost of the locos and said independent testing revealed the white asbestos was contained.

He said there was no risk ‘‘of any exposure to personnel’’.

‘‘Our specifications to the supplier was they be asbestos free,’’ he said. ‘‘The reality is they have not spent very much time on track at all.’’

The diesel locos were made by China Southern Rail and were undergoing registration and commissioning work in the Hunter.

Freight carrier SCT Logistics imported 10 of the same locos and asbestos was detected in October following complaints by Adelaide maintenance workers about white dust around the engines.

Tests revealed there were carcinogenic fibres in the cooling pipe, exhaust and brake insulation.

Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency chief executive Peter Tighe said the situation highlighted “serious problems” with Australian compliance.

“As far as the Chinese are concerned there is no problem with asbestos,” Mr Tighe said.

“It is far too easy for these things to slip through the cracks when all you need to import something is a certificate from the manufacturer to say it’s asbestos free.”

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union NSW secretary Tim Ayres said if a local manufacturer used asbestos it would be shut down.

‘‘These companies are getting a cheap deal, by setting up a supply chain they can’t guarantee,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s pretty simple, trains made in Australia don’t contain asbestos and they keep workers in jobs.”

Bradken’s spokesman said the company acted immediately to quarantine the locos and was co-operating with investigators.

He said the asbestos would be removed and the locos put into service with an Australian operator.

A spokesman for Qube Logistics confirmed it ordered six of the same locos, but said it would not accept them with asbestos.

‘‘We have our inspectors working with the manufacturers on site to ensure that no asbestos is used,’’ he said.

This is not the first time China has broken the Australian ban on asbestos.

In 2012 more than 25,000 Chinese-made Great Wall, Chery and Geely cars were recalled after asbestos was discovered in engine gaskets and brakes.

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Bradken’s Mayfield headquarters

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OPINION: Booze-culture reform requires new policies

‘‘HE’S awake and talking but unfortunately he can’t feel or move his hands or feet.’’

I was in an emergency department in Sydney, talking to a young man’s father who was back in the UK. After breaking the news over the phone I could hear his panicked voice echo down the phone as he called to his wife. He relayed the news; their son had broken his neck. He had fallen off a balcony. Drunk. That New Year’s Eve, and the phone call, is seared into my memory.

Sadly, an almost identical event occurred a few years later, again as a result of a New Year’s Eve party that spiralled out of control because of alcohol. A fight, fuelled by alcohol, had broken out just after midnight and a young man had fallen off the balcony. When he landed he was conscious. He knew immediately he was a quadriplegic.

Personal experiences such as these are what motivate and galvanise the effort of doctors, nurses, police and emergency workers to try to stop alcohol-related violence and the effects of harmful alcohol consumption.

Alcohol continues to be a major issue for our health and justice system. While there may have been reductions, in 2012 there were still more than 14,000 alcohol-related non-domestic assaults and 1300 alcohol-related assaults on police.

A recent NSW Auditor-General’s report estimated the economic cost of alcohol-related harm to be more than $4billion, although the true impact is difficult to measure partly because of a lack of data.

The public was rightly outraged at the senseless death of Thomas Kelly. His parents Ralph and Cathy have bravely continued to highlight the repercussions of alcohol-related violence. It’s not just neurosurgeons who know the consequences of king hits. Other outcomes of alcohol-related violence are disfigurement and eye injuries that result from glassings, the multi-traumas from drunk drivers, and spinal injuries.

But there is much more, including the 10,000 cases of alcohol-related domestic assault and the many cases of child abuse where alcohol is a factor. Alcohol-related violence is not just an issue for the street. It enters into our homes as well.

Alcohol-related harm should not be a political issue. It is a significant public health issue, indeed a preventive health issue.

A recent survey of public hospital emergency departments showed that on Saturday night one in seven emergency department visits were alcohol-related. In some areas the rate was as high as one in three.

Personal responsibility is an important part of tackling the problem. But this is a hollow one if there is no active policy to change the alcohol culture that pervades Australian society.

Australians have been sold a dud through advertising and marketing. Many believe that excessive drinking is part of our culture. Despite the advertising budgets of the alcohol industry, government can positively shape attitudes to alcohol just as we do with other public health initiatives. We need the sporting heroes and other respected public figures to lead.

Alcohol-related violence and harm is a complex problem. It cuts across almost every government portfolio – police and emergency services, justice, tourism, family and community services, education and health. We need a whole-of-government approach that looks at education, marketing of alcohol, especially to young people, pricing and taxation, venue licensing and opening hours, harm minimisation and enforcement.

The recent five-year review of the Liquor Act 2007 and the Gaming and Liquor Administration Act 2007 had some positive recommendations, including a requirement for payment of an annual liquor licence fee based on venue risk. But there is no annual review of the licence itself, so NSW remains one of few places to grant liquor licences in perpetuity.

The measures that were part of the Newcastle trial are not the only solution, but the way alcohol is provided through licensed venues is important. At the very least, consideration should be given to extending the trial to other areas. In medicine, when we think we have a potential treatment we continue researching, expanding our research with larger trials until we are confident it is safe and works.

The Newcastle research has been published in peer-reviewed journals and the treatment measures should be the subject of continued research.

There are no simple solutions, but the NSW public needs to know that the NSW government understands there is a problem.

We need to see that whole-of-government NSW alcohol strategy that puts the health and safety of the public ahead of the alcohol industry and vested interests.

Professor Brian Owler is a Sydney neurosurgeon and Australian Medical Association NSW head.

PREVENTABLE: Up to one in three visits at emergency departments on Saturday nights are alcohol-related. The Newcastle alcohol trial should expand to to other areas, writes Brian Owler.

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Antarctica rescue: Aurora Australis spots stricken Akademik Shokalskiy

The Xue Long becomes visible to the Aurora Australis for the first time. Photo: Colin CosierAustralian icebreaker the Aurora Australis has spotted the stricken Akademik Shokalskiy on the horizon for the first time since it was asked to rescue the Russian vessel on Christmas Day.

The Aurora has spent most of New Year’s Day ploughing through pack ice towards Chinese ship the Xue Long, which has also been waiting in the pack.

It is now 3.1 miles from the Xue Long and has made slow but steady progress through the ice, which has been broken up by the wind and is more flexible in places.

Heavy fog that has hampered rescue efforts for the past two days finally lifted on Wednesday mid-morning.

Watt Bay, near the Mertz Glacier, has been shrouded in low-hanging fog, preventing the helicopter on the Xue Long from flying because without a horizion pilots find it difficult to distinguish between ice floes and clouds.

The first part of the rescue will be carried out by the Chinese, who will use their helicopter to transport the 52 passengers from the Shokalskiy, which has been hired by a group of Australian scientists and tourists, to the Xue Long.

The Aurora will co-ordinate the second phase of the evacuation by shipping the Shokalskiy passengers from the Xue Long to the Aurora, using its barge.

The Australian ship spent Tuesday and Wednesday morning navigating a path through thick pack ice towards the Xue Long, which has been sitting within the pack for several days.

“We went in to see how far we could get in close to the Xue Long and let them know where some easy ice was,” Aurora captain Murray Doyle said.

The Xue Long is within about 18 kilometres of pack ice, which is needed so it can operate its helicopter when the rescue begins.

“[Captain Wang] has been sitting there because his helicopter doesn’t have floats, so it can’t fly over water.”

But to avoid getting caught in the pack itself, the Xue Long has been slowly moving back towards open water, Captain Doyle said.

Crew on board the Aurora, which is owned by P&O Maritime and leased to the Australian Antarctic Division, have been preparing a selection of dried food items to transfer to the Shokalskiy for the crew, who will remain on the beset vessel.

The Shokalskiy has been trapped by thick sea ice since Christmas Day. There is now about 22 kilometres of ice between the ship and open water.

Pack ice moves at the mercy of the wind and because the Shokalskiy is surrounded by pack ice, it moves with the ice. Over the past two days the ship has moved 1.3 nautical miles – about 2.4 kilometres.

Nicky Phillips and Colin Cosier are travelling in Antarctica as part of the Australian Antarctic Division’s media program.

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