Monthly Archives: October 2018

Mayor McCloy makes a move

JEFF McCloy will shift the Newcastle lord mayor’s office out of City Hall to work more closely with general manager Phil Pearce.
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Cr McCloy was formally declared Newcastle’s new civic leader yesterday, reaching an unassailable lead on the fourth preference count.

Arrangements are already under way to move his new office into the roundhouse building – a move that establishes a significant shift from the approach of predecessor John Tate.

Mr Tate moved the office from the council administration building and into City Hall in 1999, citing a need to be “more accessible”.

Cr McCloy said his focus would be on policy. He held a long meeting yesterday with Mr Pearce where they discussed about a dozen priority items and said afterwards that there was “philosophical agreement” about the council’s direction on some items.

The prospect of staff cuts was raised by Cr McCloy during the election campaign, but yesterday he said pursuing that was “not high on my agenda at the moment”.

Mr Pearce has been working for the past year on an “organisational health check” that includes specifically looking at staffing levels and benchmarking them with other councils.

The general manager said that process would continue, but that the administration would also seek input from the incoming council.

“I personally think that’s sending us in the right direction,” Mr Pearce said.

“That’s not to say it can’t be worked upon and improved.”

The make-up of the new council is unlikely to be confirmed until at least Thursday. Two positions are undecided, and will be tip the balance of the chamber.

In Ward 2, Green Therese Doyle or Liberal Nicholas Stabler will win the last spot. In Ward 3, Green Keith Parsons and independent Andrea Rufo are neck and neck.

Mr McCloy said incoming councillors must have regard for the poll result and work together.

Newcastle City Council general manager Phil Pearce and lord mayor Jeff McCloy.

Ernst’s good Merewether move 

GARETH Ernst joined Merewether Carlton from Singleton this season to improve his chances of playing finals rugby.
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He didn’t expect to be awarded the Anderson Medal for the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union’s best and fairest along the way.

Ernst last night became the first No.9 to win the award since his former Singleton mentor Steve Merrick in 2000. Hamilton’s Tom Shannon was joint winner in 2009 but played some of the season at breakaway.

On Saturday Ernst hopes to add an elusive premiership medal to his collection when the Greens take on minor premiers Hamilton in the grand final at No.2 Sportsground.

Before this year, Ernst had played one finals match for Singleton, going down 26-21 to Hamilton in the 2006 elimination semi-final.

He was lured to Merewether by coach and former Bull Stacey Sykes and has proved the perfect replacement for Jay Strachan.

Boasting a bullet pass, good vision and a great rugby brain, Ernst has been a dominant figure at the base of the scrum since scoring a try on debut for the Greens in round one.

When voting went in camera after round 12, Ernst and Southern Beaches No.8 Bleddyn Gant were level on 15 points, two clear of Hamilton breakaway Steve Sione. Lake Macquarie No.8 Junior To’o was a point back.

By round 15, Ernst (19) had edged a point clear of Gant (18) and then stepped it up a gear, claiming maximum points in the last two rounds to finish on 25.

Gant didn’t earn another point and was second on 18, followed by Lake Macquarie captain Cal Menzies (16), To’o (15), Maitland’s Adam Perkins and Sione (both 14).

At last night’s awards dinner at Newcastle Panthers, NSW Country lock Nick Palmer was named the representative player of the year and Cal McDonald the most improved. Danny Maiava was named coach of the year after taking Lake Macquarie from the wooden spoon to a place in the preliminary final.

Veteran referee Mark Eades justified his decision to shelve semi-retirement when he received the Col King Medal for the premier whistleblower.

Hamilton hooker James Dyson took out the Jack Scott Medal for best colts player, Rowan Newton-Smith was named the best in first division and Paul Hughes was top of the pack in second division.


Trapped whale is just the start

MORE whales are likely to meet the same fate as the humpback that was stranded in a shark net off Merewether Beach on the weekend, a senior fisheries researcher believes.
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The whale, which was seen in distress off the beach on Sunday, eventually broke the shark net from the ocean floor and continued on its way south. Authorities believe the net and one of its mooring anchors remains tangled around the whale.

“The nets used in NSW are quite light and we are hoping that it will slowly unravel as it goes along,” senior research scientist with the Department of Primary Industries Dr Vic Peddemors said.

It is thought the whale would have reached the NSW south coast by yesterday evening.

It is only the third time a whale has been reported tangled in a shark net off the NSW coastline since 1994.

Dr Peddemors said the east coast humpback whale population was growing at about 10 per cent per annum. As a result, the chances of whales getting tangled in nets and other fishing gear was also increasing.

“The whale watchers are reporting they are seeing more whales that have things like crab pots and long lines attached to them,” Dr Peddemors said.

Taronga Zoo, Macquarie University and the Office of Environment and Heritage are developing an alarm to steer whales away from potential traps.

The weekend’s incident follows the drowning of a four-metre great white shark in nets off Bar Beach last October. Dolphins, stingrays and turtles are among the other species that have been found drowned in the nets.

Surfrider Foundation of Australia Hunter branch president Chris Tola said more research into the alternatives to shark nets was needed.

“There are proven technologies, such as “pingers” [subsonic alarms] that can be used to deter sharks and keep our beaches safe,” he said.

“You have to accept that when you go into the ocean you are going into the sharks’ territory.”

A great white shark drowned in nets off Bar Beach last year.

OPINION: What do we know about our lord mayor

AS Jeff McCloy is now Newcastle’s lord mayor, his public statements need careful scrutiny, since he says he has no other policies.
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He’s right to claim that “our city is a great place to live”. But he lives in Lake Macquarie. People expect their local government representatives to live in their local government area. Loopholes, however, allow for non-residents to nominate as candidates as long as they pay rates on a property in the city or are nominated by a non-resident ratepayer, no matter where they live. This allows people like Mr McCloy to nominate for Newcastle City Council lord mayoralty.

Will he now commit to moving to the Newcastle council area?

Mr McCloy’s statements so far have been largely about “cleaning up Hunter Street” and speeding up the development approval process.

Given he’s a property developer and has significant assets in the CBD, this will probably present conflicts of interest. Will he identify his assets in the Newcastle area so that we can judge the extent of his pecuniary interest?

Many developers, after gaining approval, allow their properties to stagnate or on-sell; hence many of Hunter Street’s empty buildings and vacant lots.

Mr McCloy has done an excellent job recycling the former Hunter Water Board building; but what’s happening on his Lucky Country Hotel and Legacy House sites?

Many developers complain about delays in development assessment. Assessment of complex projects takes time. What they build will impact for generations and should require community input. Mr McCloy has said the word “community” makes him want to “throw up”.

Mr McCloy has had nothing to say about the many other issues affecting the 150,000 residents who live in Newcastle local government area, including its many suburbs.

Historically, mine subsidence problems, not the rail line, have been the main obstacle to developers who want to construct a high-rise city. Mr McCloy has expressed his determination to get rid of the rail, ignoring the 20-year community campaign to keep the rail, supported by expert opinion in transport planning and economics and international trends.

Mr McCloy has offered to donate his mayoral fee to charity. This fee is meant to compensate for the workload and to encourage people from all walks of life to stand for office. Will he be a full-time mayor, given his commitments?

He has said council meetings would last no more than an hour, showing a lack of understanding of the complexity of local government. Would the real debates take place at private meetings? Perhaps he should study the council’s code of meeting practice. Council is not like the board of a private company where owners or directors can throw their weight around.

Mr McCloy has run a successful personally-funded campaign. It’s time to consider a cap on candidates’ personal spending to level the playing field.

Margaret Henry is a former Greens councillor, deputy lord mayor and past member of the Labor Party.


OPINION: Punitive approach to drugs doesn’t work

GROUNDSWELL: Alex Wodak (third from left) at a Sydney forum in May on the decriminalisation of drugs. IN 1989, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority said: “Over the past two decades in Australia we have devoted increased resources to drug law enforcement, we have increased the penalties for drug trafficking and we have accepted increasing inroads on our civil liberties as part of the battle to curb the drug trade. All the evidence shows, however, not only that our law enforcement agencies have not succeeded in preventing the supply of illegal drugs to Australian markets but that it is unrealistic to expect them to do so.”
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Those unambiguous words were written 23 years ago by a committee with representatives of all major parties. In 2010 in Britain, The Observer commented: “If the purpose of drug policy is to make toxic substances available to anyone who wants them in a flourishing market economy controlled by murderous criminal gangs, the current arrangements are working well.”

The conclusion of the Australia 21 report launched in April was that drug policy heavily reliant on law enforcement was a miserable failure. That report provoked a vigorous national debate. Few rose to defend the effectiveness of drug law enforcement or contest our claim that it was accompanied by nasty unintended negative consequences.

To develop a second drugs report, we convened 20 experts from diverse backgrounds, examined a discussion paper about the drugs policy in four European countries, and spoke by phone to drug experts from three of these countries. Building on our first report, the second report asks: “If Plan A doesn’t work, what is going to be Australia’s Plan B?”

The Netherlands, Switzerland and Portugal have made major changes in their approach to drugs. These changes were not only within the international drug treaties that almost every country in the world has signed, they have been maintained for decades (with only minor adjustments). These countries increased the emphasis on health and social interventions, resulting in a decline in HIV infections and drug overdose deaths.

After Switzerland increased the emphasis on health and social response, deaths, disease and crime fell. In Zurich between 1990 and 2002, the number of new heroin users dropped from 850 to 150, and HIV infections, drug overdose deaths, crime and the quantity of heroin seized declined.

Sweden is one of few countries in Europe that still aims for a drug-free nation. It has harsh punishment for drug users, and only the two needle syringe programs established 25 years ago. Sweden is proud of the low levels of reported drug use among its young people but has the eighth highest drug induced death rate in the European Union, and the rate is increasing. Sweden now seems to be moving away slowly from its hardline position. Its approach to drugs is starting to look more like the rest of the EU.

But Sweden also has some positive lessons for Australia. Like the other three European countries, Sweden is committed to having an effective drug treatment system and is serious about trying to help the most disadvantaged.

We argue that redefining drugs as a health and social problem is the first step if we want to see better results from Australia’s approach to drugs. We want to see a reduction in heroin overdose deaths from the current 400 a year. We want fewer murders among drug traffickers (there were almost 40 murders of amphetamine traffickers in Melbourne in the past 10 years). We want to see fewer hepatitis C infections and less physical and mental illness in people who use drugs. We want to see people who use drugs helped to live a normal and useful life. We want to see a reduction in drug-related and prohibition-related crime, and less police corruption.

Modest changes are more likely to be achievable politically. But the situation demands more ambitious change. Ultimately, we will have to accept that as long as criminals and corrupt police are the major suppliers of drugs in Australia, we will struggle to reduce deaths, disease, crime and corruption.

We will have to replace the current unregulated supply with some form of regulated supply. This is not about the world some of us want to live in, but the world as it really is: a world where people use drugs and if these are not available from a regulated source, they will obtain them from criminals.

We reject the assumption that harsher policies reduce drug consumption and that less punitive approaches increase drug consumption. The evidence does not support that.

Dr Alex Wodak is the director of Australia 21 and president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation.