Monthly Archives: April 2019

In a year marked by some bad decisions, ICAC overhaul was among Mike Baird’s worst

NSW Premier Mike Baird has angered ICAC commissioners past and present. Photo: Edwina PicklesAs Mike Gallacher stood to speak in the upper house of the NSW Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, a special guest was seated in the President’s gallery.
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Senior Crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen, SC, watched as Gallacher – a former Liberal MLC on the crossbench since the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s public inquiry into Liberal Party fundraising – delivered a 15-minute speech railing at the watchdog and its chief, Megan Latham.

As Cunneen looked on, Gallacher ended his contribution with an enormous smile. “Despite occasional challenges, some days just could not get any better,” he declared. “Let me say, that is exactly how I feel today.”

Cunneen, of course, is a sworn enemy of Latham’s after the ICAC’s aborted attempt to investigate her over a car accident involving her son and his then girlfriend.

Gallacher was police minister until forced to resign amid allegations raised at the ICAC during Operation Spicer, the investigation into Liberal Party fundraising before the 2011 election.

The final report made no corruption finding against him but Gallacher was found to be one of several Liberal MPs who had tried to evade political donations laws.

He was barred from returning to the cabinet or the parliamentary party.

Also watching was Christian Democratic Party leader Fred Nile, whom Cunneen has supported politically and whose party’s votes ensured the legislation Gallacher was speaking in favour of passed the upper house.

It was a gathering of the aggrieved. And they were there to celebrate the presumed imminent demise of Latham, the source of their collective angst.

A day earlier, in the lower house, Premier Mike Baird effectively delivered Latham’s head to them on a platter via a bill abolishing her position and forcing her to reapply for her job.

In a year marked by some bad decisions by Baird, this was easily among the worst.

It prompted fierce criticism from former ICAC commissioners and Latham – all beacons of integrity in whom successive premiers have placed their trust to safeguard the people of NSW from spivs keen to plunder the public purse.

Baird would well know the damage inflicted by such an attack from the state’s anti-corruption agency.

It has many wondering why he has chosen to spend what is likely to be the last dregs of a severely depleted stock of political capital on such an obviously controversial issue.

He strongly denies it, but the most likely answer is the need to appease his partyroom, sections of which are still seething over the way Latham oversaw Spicer, which destroyed the political careers of many of their former colleagues.

The smoking gun lies in the new ICAC structure, which has been strongly criticised by Latham.

The government says its new three-commissioner model is based on the recently established Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC).

Yet the chief commissioner of the new ICAC will not have veto power over the appointment of two part-time commissioners, as the LECC chief commissioner does.

So while this safeguard is good enough for an agency with responsibility for policing the police, it’s apparently not needed in an agency responsible for keeping politicians honest.

The easiest conclusion to draw is that the government wants control over the appointments, whose concurrence must be sought by the chief commissioner over decisions such as whether to hold public hearings or private examinations.

Since coming to office Baird has distinguished himself from his predecessor Barry O’Farrell as a man in a hurry. He wants to be remembered as the Premier who rescued NSW from years of Labor ineptitude.

As treasurer he built the foundations with disciplined economic management. As Premier he went on a politically risky privatisation drive to get the cash to build the infrastructure for which he wants to be remembered.

But moving this fast has its consequences, as Baird has discovered. Affected communities of interest bite back and his fall in popularity in the polls has reflected that.

Thus far Baird has been able to rely on one vitally important trait – his honesty and integrity – to more or less buttress himself and the government from these surging pockets of anger across the state.

It is something he worked on from the moment he came into the job.

Baird, to his credit, moved on political donations reform and made headway in the area of government transparency. Yet the attack on the ICAC and its chief risks destroying the gains from that work.

Instead of being regarded as the champion and protector of the state’s corruption fighter, Baird is now in open combat with its boss.

It has allowed his critics and enemies to draw a direct line between Latham’s oversight of Spicer and the legislation that sacks her.

That will only embolden the small but very vocal group who have already branded Baird “Casino Mike” over his defence of the state’s lockout laws, which don’t apply to The Star casino at Pyrmont.

It will confirm the suspicion in the minds of those determined to believe it that Baird is not the unsullied cleanskin he has styled himself as in his pitch to the electorate – “the Sunday school teacher”, as Labor leader Luke Foley taunted him in his late night speech on the ICAC bill this week.

Baird has repeatedly said that, despite his plunging popularity and the damage sustained by his backdown on the closure of the greyhound racing industry in NSW, he is determined to stick around as Premier to contest the 2019 election.

With only a little over two years to go, maybe the question is no longer for Baird, but one for his colleagues instead.

Sean Nicholls is state political editor.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review: J.K. Rowling’s DNA shines

Magical hope: Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler (left) play Newt Scamander and his befuddled sidekick Jacob. Photo: Warner BrosFANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
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★★★

Adolescent wonder is never too distant but it’s the grown-ups who save the day in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a spin-off from the Harry Potter universe set in 1920s New York. Expanding upon a fictional textbook she wrote in 2001 for her boy wizard to study, author J.K. Rowling returns to wands, wide-eyed disbelief and the gentle affirmation of friendship.

This is the first of the franchise’s five films, and a decent launching pad.

As so many newcomers to America once did, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives on a boat that sails past the Statue of Liberty. Possessed of a bow-legged gait, eyes that readily avert and a fringe so British the National Trust would preserve it, Newt studies and safeguards magical creatures, which are banned by the magical authorities in the film’s parallel American political realm.

Nonetheless Newt, whose safety protocols are frankly deficient, has a suitcase full of them, and they start to make mischief just as unforeseen events risk exposing the magical community to the vengeful wrath of the human world. In America, those without magical skills are referred to as no-majs, not the British muggles of Harry Potter, but neither the period nor the locale are that different. The incredible is still close at hand, although menace isn’t as compelling.

A mix-up with a no-maj named Jacob (Dan Fogler) gives Newt a sidekick and the movie a roly-poly figure of befuddlement, while magic official Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is all screwball angles. Their efforts to recapture Newt’s menagerie are deftly enjoyable, with the creatures a succession of unexpected escapees given form by Rowling’s screenplay and the direction of David Yates, who handled the last four Harry Potter films.

The accompanying plotting, with Colin Farrell as a senior lawman and rumours of a dark wizard’s presence that serves as a starting point for sequels, lacks the immersive feel of the original films. The relationship between Newt and either Porpentina or Jacob never establishes the bond the young protagonists established in Rowling’s original series, although Newt is right at home with a rueful, echidna-like creature that has an insatiable appetite for bling.

Harry Potter devotees will be delighted, as Rowling’s familiar creative DNA is reassuringly front and centre, but her otherworldly delight sometimes struggles to be persuasive. Throughout the film, as destructive swathes are cut through New York, the magical community with its black, female president (Carmen Ejogo) valiantly fix everything to maintain the status quo. The great fantasy in Fantastic Beasts is that everything can be put back how it was, no matter what happened.

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Naracoorte ewe lambs to $256

Elders Minlaton branch manager Adam Pitt, with his son Paxton, 2, dad Evan Pitt, Lucindale, Elders Lucindale livestock production agent Brendan Voss and Jamie Weaver, Lucindale.NARACOORTE Cameron and Anne Jesse, Western Flat, with their sale-topping $256 ewe lambs and PPH&S agent Trevor Doecke.
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Yarding: 27,300Ewe lambs to $256EWE lambs sold to a high of $256 at the Naracoorte first-cross sale on Thursday November 17, $26 up on last year’s top price.

The top price pen came from Cameron and Anne Jesse, Western Flat.

The pen was 94 April/May 2016-drops, Paxton/Collinsville-blood, which sold to Pinkerton Palm Hamyln & Steen.

The same vendor also sold a further 163 at $244.

Receiving the best-presented ribbon was Ian Farley, Marmon Pastoral, Jabuk.

His pen of 174 Inverbrackie-blds made $240, selling to Elders Millicent.

Other Marmon Pastoral lines included 224 at $230, 160 at $234, 293 at $230, 300 at $222, 182 at $222, 346 at $206, 381 at $196, 105 at $198 and 105 at $190.

Also selling near the top of the sale was Farmers Leap Pty Ltd, Padthaway, with 68 Wongary/Paxton-blds at $236, 150 at $228 and 140 at $210.

Duane Simon, McPiggery, Lameroo, sold ewe lambs to $232.

McPiggery, Lameroo, is always a strong performer at the ewe lamb sale, having won the best-presented pen many times.

With the ribbon for best-presented pen were Ian Farley, Marmon Pastoral, Jabuk, his daughter Cassie Oster, Elders Murray Bridge branch manager Phil Nagel and Marmon Pastoral sheep manager John Byrnes.

This year McPiggery sold 182 March/April 2016-drops, from Johnos sires and Gunallo dams,for a top of $232.

McPiggery also sold 189 at $214, 162 at $222, 189 at $218, 240 at $212, 174 at $200 and 129 at $194.

Naracoorte Combined Agents Association chairman Darren Maney said joinable ewe lambs represented good value.

First-time sellers at Naracoorte, Grace and Neil Kroehn, Belmont, Springton, sold ewe lambs to $198.

“I think the ewes that made $190 to $210 were better value than lighter one that made $180,” he said.

“On the lighter ewe lambs there was strong evidence of restocker activity, caused by destocking across the last two dry seasons, and there being plenty of feed out there.”

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Supporting quake-hit Italy

LUNCHEON: Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale, Sergio Bianchi and Luca Ferrari were on hand at Panoroma House on October 30 to help raise $25,000 for the Amatrice Earthquake Appeal Committee. Picture: Sylvia LiberOn the day Wollongong’s proud Italian community wereraising funds for their earthquake ravaged country, news hitthat another quake had devastated Italy.
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Fortunately, while the October 30 earthquake was the most powerful in 36 years and struck Italy’s mountainous centre, the same region that was hit by a devastating quake in August, there was no loss of life.

Almost 300people died from the earthquake in central Italy in August. Amatrice was the worst-affected town with 230 confirmed dead.

There was no loss of life in the latest quake but themagnitude 6.6 earthquake left residents shell-shocked for the third time in two months, reducing buildings to rubble and flattening a world famous 600-year-old basilica.

Witnesses said St Benedict’s cathedral – birthplace of the Catholic saint and the 14th century cathedral in one of the city’s main piazza – crumbled.

The church is looked after by an international community of Benedictine monks and attracts some 50,000 pilgrims every year.

Luca Ferrari, the honorary vice consul of Italy in Wollongong, had just left a luncheon at Panoroma House, which raised $25,000 for The Amatrice Earthquake Appeal, when news filtered through about the latest earthquake.

“We were trying to call Amatrice’s mayor to talk about the appeal but we couldn’t get through. It was only when we got home that we realised that there had been several tremors and a major earthquake in nearby Norcia,’’ Mr Ferrari said.

“We couldn’t get a hold of him because everyone was fleeing trying to reach safer spots, because there were tremors and then I believe a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck.

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Mike Baird announces reform to state’s broken child welfare system

More than 20,000 children in NSW are in out-of-home care. Photo: John Donegan Premier Mike Baird has vowed to overhaul the child protection system. Photo: Edwina Pickles
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“We will start with one of the most vulnerable groups”: Family and Community Services Minister Brad Hazzard. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Thousands of vulnerable children are expected to be better off under a radical shake-up of the state’s child protection system announced by Premier Mike Baird on Thursday.

The reform comes after a review of the system found more than $300 million a year was being spent on support programs without any evidence to show they work.

The review by senior bureaucrat David Tune also found that children who had spent time in the state’s billion-dollar out-of-home care system were more likely to be unemployed, suffer health problems and have their own children removed, creating a cycle of disadvantage.

Mr Baird described the findings as a “sobering” assessment of the state’s trouble-plagued child protection system.

“It is failing to improve long-term outcomes for children and to arrest devastating cycles of intergenerational abuse and neglect,” Mr Baird said at the Australian Council of Social Service national conference in Sydney.

“For decades we have seen the number of kids in out-of-home care get larger and the outcomes are not just a cause for concern but a cause for action.

“We have been providing additional resources but the question is: are they producing the sort of results we want to see? Clearly they haven’t. We must do better.”

There are more than 20,000 children in out-of-home care in NSW, a number that has doubled in a decade. Mr Tune’s report found one-third do not finish year 12 and 44 per cent do not have jobs within five years of leaving care. The cost of providing government services to people over a 20-year period after they leave care is $284,000.

Mr Baird said the overhaul, which focuses on evidence-based individually targeted support for children and families, was the “single biggest reform to child welfare in NSW”.

Family and Community Services Minister Brad Hazzard said the reform was a direct response to Mr Tune’s finding that: “Expenditure is crisis-driven, not well-aligned to the evidence and does not effectively target clients.”

The first stage of the reform will be reducing the number of children in the state’s broken residential care system.

“We will start the reforms with one of the most vulnerable groups – children under 12 in residential care,” Mr Hazzard said.

“They will get the health, mental health and psychological interventions they need so that they can have a permanent stable home.”

Jacqui Reed, chief executive of advocacy group Create, said any reform should have children’s needs at the centre.

“We have had reviews, inquiries and reforms but the bottom line is children are still being harmed in out-of-home care,” she said.

“We need much more robust independent monitoring of children in care and, most importantly, we need to listen to children and act on what they say.”

Child protection expert Helen Keevers said the current system was financially unsustainable but reform would be a lengthy process.

“You can’t expect a quick fix,” she said. “Do the research, identify the programs which work, don’t go for the one-size-fits-all approach and give it time to work.

“Short-term solutions such as handing contacts to low-cost providers don’t work. They just create a sub-class of people. At best they have been babysat, at worst they have been abused and neglected.”

Dr Kath McFarlane, a former state government policy advisor now at Charles Sturt University’s Centre of Law and Justice, said child welfare agencies must be more accountable under the reform.

“This reform is born out of a real desire to fix the system and better support children and families but unfortunately that can be lost in the implementation,” she said.

“I’d like to see real enforcement of these ideas and see agencies held to account if they don’t deliver.”

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