Monthly Archives: February 2019

Contaminated land buy-back likely: senator

Buy me out: Len O’Connell of Williamtown says he is ready to leave the property he’s farmed for more than 40 years if a Senate inquiry recommends the Department of Defence buy contaminated land.GREENS Senator Lee Rhiannon has questionedDepartment of Defencesilence about the health of Williamtown RAAF Base personnel in the wake of awater contamination scandal, as a Senate inquiry looks set to recommend acquisition of affected properties around the base.
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Ms Rhiannon said she was concerned about the “lack of commentary” from Defence about itspersonnel after evidence of the widespread and largely unfettered use of contaminated fire fighting foam at Defence sites across the country for decades.

“We’re worried aboutpeople in areas around Williamtown RAAF Base but what aboutpeople working at the base?” Ms Rhiannon said, after receiving disturbing reports about Defence firefighters havingdirect contact with the firefighting foam containing perfluorooctane sulfate (PFOS) over years.

“I was concerned at the inquiry about the lack of commentary from Defence about the health of their own people. They’re on the frontline with this,” she said.

A Senate inquiry that sat in Canberra and Newcastle in December, and considered federal and state government responses to knowledge of PFOS on the Williamtown base, isdue to report its recommendations in early February.

In October –one month after the public was told about a problem that Defence, the Environment Protection Authority, Hunter Water, Port Stephens Council and other government bodies had known for years –theNewcastle Herald revealed a formerWilliamtown RAAF firefighter’s memory of “copious amounts” of firefighting foam being sprayed on the base for years.

Bob Ingle, 74, who was a firefighter at Williamtown for 16 years, said firefightingfoam was used to control dust at the base, and there were times during training when firefighters were coated in it.

“We used to put it everywhere,” said Mr Ingle, who was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago.

Ms Rhiannon said it was likely the Senate inquirywould recommend some form of acquisition process for contaminated properties.

“I feel that’s where it’s heading,” she said.

“I’m taking advice on what form compensation should take. After speaking with people in the affected areas I know that some want to sell, but others are still torn because this is their home.”

Flooding in January had made clear the size of the issue, she said.

“It clearly is extraordinary this contamination is still on the base, and still flowing off the base and into surrounding areas during heavy rain.”

Williamtown resident Len O’Connell said he was ready to sell the 90-hectare property his wife’s family had owned for more than a century.

“I don’t think it’d be a good place to live,” he said, after PFOS at elevated levels was found in bores on his property which is regularly flooded from water leaving the base. The water remains stranded because of failed levees.

Mr O’Connell said he wasn’t angry because “being angry isn’t going to help”.

“I wished it had never happened. You feel a bit let down, that people were kept in the dark for so long.”

The Department of Defence said it was unable to respond to Herald questions by deadline.

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Glory-seeking Jets set their sights on top six

OPTION: Nick Cowburn
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JETS coach Scott Miller expressed his disappointment on Friday that theDavid Carney contract wrangle had stolen the spotlight from last weekend’s drought-breaking win against Wellington.

The interest in Carney from a Qatari club and Sydney FC has monopolised headlines this week, leaving Miller of the opinion that his players did not receive enough kudos for the 3-1 win against Phoenix, which ended a club-record streak of six games without a goal.

“All week it’s been overshadowed,’’ Miller said on Friday.

CENTRE OF ATTENTION: Newcastle’s David Carney on the ball at training this week. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

“I think the playing group didn’t get the respect or credit they deserved. I’m very proud of the group … more should be written about the positive result of the team and the win they had, as opposed to one player.’’

Asked how he felt about Carney’s situation, Miller indicated the former Socceroo was unlikely to be released during the January transfer window.

“David’s a player of interest and always has been, and last time I checked his contract it was until the end of the season,’’ Miller said.

“So that’s the level of commitment I’m wanting from David.’’

Four points adrift of the top six before this weekend’s games, the Jets want to carry the momentum from last Sunday’s victory into tomorrow’s clash with Perth Glory at Hunter Stadium.

“Our mentality is now to compound the pressure on the teams in the top six and really push them until the end of the season,’’ Miller said.

“If results go our way this week –and we’re in control of it, to a degree –we’re only one point of the [top six].

“And that’s a nice place to be, considering the last 10 weeks and the lack of points we did pick up.

“So on reflection, it’s an opportunity for the players.

“It’s a point where we need to grab it or we walk away from it …it’s almost a second chance.’’

With Ben Kantarovski suspended, Miller was assessing Nick Cowburn and Cameron Watson as his midfield alternatives.

“I’m pretty clear in terms of what person I want to play there and what my demands are,’’ he said.

“It’s up to them if they can execute it or not.’’

Miller was unsure whether Brazilian import Leonardo, who has played one minute in the past five games, would feature, either in the starting team or off the bench.

“Leonardo can play any system,’’ he said.

“He’s got that awareness.

“Front three, or playing off the shoulder of a big striker, that’s the challenge we’ve got.’’

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Mike Baird sounds warning over anti-immigration politics in Australia Day speech

NSW Premier Mike Baird speaks at the at the 32nd Australia Day Lunch in Sydney. Photo: JOEL CARRETTHow to be chosen as Australian of the YearComment: Putting a bit more kitsch on the barbieComment: Patriots need to find better angels
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The NSW Premier Mike Baird has used his Australia Day address to warn that Australia is at risk of losing its character to anti-immigration politics.

“I believe strongly we are now at a fork in the road,” Mr Baird said in the address at Luna Park on Friday afternoon. “We are potentially at risk of losing what makes Australia the best place in the world to live because some want to shut our door and avert our eyes.

“To shut our doors to refugees as some here and around the world calling for […is] not our history, not our character.”

The warning comes as some candidates in the US presidential election have called for restricting America’s immigration intake from Syria and other majority-Muslim nations.

In recent months some far-right groups have held anti-immigration rallies in Australian capital cities and small protests to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Cronulla race riots.

Mr Baird – whose father, Bruce, was a famously outspoken MP in the Howard government over its asylum seeker policies – made the case for continuing immigration with reference to the story of Sydney lawyer Deng Adut.

Mr Adut, a former Sudanese child soldier who immigrated to Australia in his teens, gave an Australia Day address to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on Thursday.

“He is living proof of what people can achieve when they are given the opportunity and we as a nation share our luck,” Mr Baird said. “He reminded us very poignantly in our national anthem are the words ‘For those who’ve come across the sea we’ve boundless plains to share’.

“My genuine and honest fear is what will happen to Australia if we shut our doors to people such as Deng, whether it be out of fear or ignorance.

“We have a choice to continue on the path that brought this nation to where and who we are today, or we can let fear blind us and hate infect us.”

Mr Baird used the same address last year to call for an increase in Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake.

Australia has committed to re-settling about 12,000 refugees from war-torn Syria but the federal government has emphasised that their number will be “hand picked” to avoid fears of terrorism.

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‘The regime is becoming more violent by the day’: five years after Tahrir Square uprising

There is a marked security presence in Cairo ahead of the fifth anniversary of the 2011 revolution. Photo: Farid Farid Central security forces patrolling downtown Cairo last week. Photo: Farid Farid
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Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, shake hands with children at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt on Thursday. Jinping is on a two-day visit to the country. Photo: Handout/AP

Cairo: At Revolution Cafe, a stone’s throw from Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, there’s an air of unease five years after the revolution .

The cafe owner closes the door and peers through a small opening , afraid of the governor doing a routine check of unlicensed cafes with seats and tables outside ahead of January 25.

Ahmed, 28, who declined to give his last name, has been working for nearly a year at the cafe named after another revolt, the late nineteenth century rebellion which sought to rid Egypt of its colonial rulers.

“I lived the whole of the revolution in Tahrir Square”, he says matter-of-factly. “I was working in Mashrabia cafe, this is where I’ve grown up most of my life, it’s now turned, unfortunately, into a travel agency”.

Ahmed, also worked in the popular Borsa thoroughfare in downtown Cairo, when more than 70 cafes sprang up after the revolution, bustling with protesters, brightly coloured plastic chairs, , pedestrians and plenty of flat screen TVs.

Borsa is now a desolate district. “If you killed somebody there, nobody would know.” Ahmed quips.

In an effort to transform Cairo’s downtown, authorities have closed the many cafes in the thoroughfare effectively stifling large groups of revolutionary youth from meeting there.

“They’ve cut the rizk [income] of a lot of people, but they were forced to,” he added.

In the lead up to the fifth anniversary of the 2011 revolution, Cairo has witnessed a marked security presence with central security forces in SUVs patrolling the streets and plainclothes police officers stopping citizens randomly. Authorities raided more than 5000 apartments in the downtown area checking their owners’ social media accounts for seditious activity.

“We have witnessed major retrenchments in the gains made over the last five years, from access to public spaces to the ability to hold people in power accountable” said Dina Makram-Ebeid, an anthropologist at Humboldt University in Berlin who tracks Egypt’s active labour movement. “The regime is becoming more violent by the day.”

Since January 25 2011, when millions of Egyptians poured out onto the streets demanding the removal of Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime, the military has taken over, Mohamed Morsi was elected president then ousted a year later by his own defence minister, and now the minister turned President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has firmly sought to quash any hints of another uprising with mixed results.

Since Sisi’s ascent to power, Egypt’s jails have been bursting at the seams with more than 41,000 political prisoners of Islamist and secular hues held, police brutality has vigorously returned with impunity and media freedoms have been thoroughly muzzled.

Egypt is second only to China in the number of journalists jailed, notoriously imprisoning Australian journalist Peter Greste​ for a year on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood. Newsrooms, art galleries, publishing houses have all been raided in the past month and a long list of academics, activists and journalists have been prevented from entering or leaving the country.

Omar Hazek​, 30, a poet from Alexandria who spent nearly two years in prison for protesting against an assembly law, was detained last week at Cairo airport. He was due to receive a freedom of expression award at The Hague from PEN International when authorities stopped him from boarding his flight.

“I had an inkling that something might happen but maybe on the way back from my speaking tour” Hazek said. He had been publishing regularly in major Egyptian newspapers about the atrocious conditions that he witnessed in jail, since his release in September 2015 through a presidential pardon.

“One of the police officers asked me if I wrote poems that mock certain national figures. I said no, then they took my mobile, laptop, camera and I realised I am now being fully detained”.

Hazek was released after a few hours of questioning and one of the first people who called to check on him was Taher Mokhtar, who offered Hazek his downtown Cairo apartment before heading back to Alexandria.

Hazek declined but he later found out that Mokhtar, a physician advocating for prisoners’ health rights, was detained. Prosecutors accused him of being involved in violent clashes after the revolution.

“Participating in the January 25 revolution has become a crime” Hazek told Fairfax Media. .

“Unfortunately events after 30 June 2013 protests – which I participated in against Morsi – have completely contradicted the values of 25 January revolution. It can be seen whether it’s through the state repressing people on the streets, jails filling up with peaceful activists, the stifling of press freedoms and opinions on social media,” he said.

For Shady Sedky​, 27, one of the creative founders and administrators behind Asa7be Sarcasm Society, one of the largest satirical pages on Facebook in the Arabic language boasting over 11 million fans, there are many editorial red lines that he takes into consideration along with a team of 50 whose job is to make fun of all things Egyptian.

Asa7be creates viral memes that lampoon the political and social events of the day from rambunctious TV personalities to a raucous parliament that made a return to Egyptian political life after it was dissolved over three years ago. The page has also regularly made fun of Sisi.

“During this latest period, when we first did the memes of him there was stringent opposition to any form of political satire. Now people have understood the political landscape a bit more – there’s less sensitivity now” he explained.

However, Sedky is attuned to how fatigue for his young demographic has set in from all the talk of politics. The young entrepreneur, like many of Egypt’s youth, has focused on building his career and is less focused on the initial aims of the revolution that was captured in the rallying cry as bread, freedom and social justice.

“Sarcasm is now our bread and butter – we have never called for protests but what we are trying to do is to make fun of the events behind the news” he muses. “We had ambitions with the revolution and then gradually with the disappointment under the Supreme Council of Armed Forces rule we turned our energies towards political satire”.

Last week, the Egyptian interior ministry arrested two administrators who managed 47 Facebook pages which, they noted, were used to incite mass protests and were affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood – designated as a terrorist group in December 2013.

Social media was seen as an important driver in the mobilisation of youth on the streets, with nearly 33 million Egyptians now online. According to Sedky, though, the regime is still uneasy in dealing with a frustrated youth segment venting its anger online.

“You don’t know if the regime accepts satire in such a way. The scene is unclear and we don’t know what the truth is anymore”, he said.

Yet, he is insistent that Asa7be will continue with its controversial brand of trenchant political critique wrapped up in shareable memes.

“We are part of the people, just because your criticise actions doesn’t mean you are automatically part of the opposition” he added. “You are trying to smash idols so you don’t turn him [Sisi] into a new Mubarak”.

With a tanking economy, ailing tourism sector and rife corruption, Egypt’s endemic problems that triggered the revolution back in 2011 are still at play according to Makram-Ebeid.

“The current regime is in serious shortage of finances to maintain these politics. It does not have the same leverage over the economy as Mubarak did and the only alternative it proposes is an intensive militarisation of economic life,” she said..

As Ahmed wraps up another late night shift at the cafe, he is not worried about the heavily securitised presence ahead of next week’s anniversary. He is more concerned with his economic livelihood that is being hit hard.

“Everyone is suffering. One day you are working, the next day you are not, this is the problem of this country.”

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Canberra Capitals turn to ACT boys for training help to end WNBL woes

Capitals’ coach Carrie Graf says she won’t think about her WNBL future until after the season. Photo: Rohan Thomson Canberra Capitals player Stephanie Talbot returned to Canberra this week after a tour of Brazil with the Opals. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
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Canberra Capitals coach Carrie Graf says she won’t contemplate her WNBL future until the end of the season as the club battles to end a 16-match losing streak.

And the Capitals’ disaster season took another twist this week, with Graf forced to call in training reinforcements from the ACT under-16 and under-18s boys teams to ensure there were enough players to practise against.

The winless Capitals face a brutal two-game Queensland tour this weekend, with less than 24 hours between their matches against South East Queensland and the Townsville Fire.

The Capitals have battled through the worst season in the club’s history and Graf’s contract expires at the end of the WNBL campaign.

Club officials have launched a review into the team’s operation and it remains unclear whether Graf will stay in her position beyond this season.

Graf has led the Capitals to six of their seven WNBL championships, and said: “My contract is up at the end of the year, so we’ll see what happens.

“In the thick of this season I haven’t sat down and thought what’s next. You’re not in high performance sport to come last, so of course it’s tough.

“For me, as with the group, we’ve got to finish out this season. At the point we’re at, struggling to get a win, over-focusing on results is not right for us.

“This team has five weeks to do our job as basketball players and coaches and to try to keep the pressure off … are younger players still getting development and are we still doing the work?

“As the review gets processed, I’m sure I’ll sit down with [University of Canberra Union boss Joe Roff] and chat about where things are heading for me and where they’re heading for the organisation.

The Capitals have been forced to overcome hurdles throughout the year, starting before a game was even played.

Kathleen McLeod and Ann Wauters pulled out of contracts before the season, while Lauren Jackson has been released from her deal and Hanna Zavecz retired.

A delayed move of shifting home games to the Canberra Convention Centre and a fire at the Tuggeranong Basketball Stadium added to the woes.

The Capitals’ preparations this week were thrown a curve ball when Jess Bibby injured her leg and Abby Bishop and Stephanie Talbot returned from an Australian Opals tour of Brazil.

Bibby, Bishop and Talbot were rested from training, leaving Graf with seven players  at practice.

That’s when she turned to the junior boys to offer a helping hand as the Capitals attempt to dig themselves out of a rut.

“We had boys in all last week and we’ve got them in again so we’re going against bigger bodies than us, but it doesn’t get any easier,” Graf said.

“Your numbers at training affects your ability to practise and when your roster is decimated, it makes it tough.”

Bishop and Talbot at least got to taste some success with the Opals, winning all games at an Olympic Games test event in Rio.

But the pair have jammed in four games and 21 hours of flight time into less than two weeks and then fly to Queensland for a double-header.

The Capitals requested for the game against Townsville to be moved forward to allow them to fly home on Sunday night, but they will stay in Queensland until Monday.

“They’re going to be jet-lagged, but maybe on a bit of high as well. We need them to play two big games with big minutes on the weekend, that’s more important than running them through it at training.”

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