Hunter chair empty again with Cusack gone

FOR a government that had effectively cruised through its first term in office, the NSW Coalition government has made heavy weather of things in recent months. If the resignation of once popular premier Mike Baird was supposed to act as a circuit breaker to the Coalition’s fortunes, it has not proven to be the case.

Gladys Berejiklian might have been the obvious replacement for Mr Baird, but she has had trouble marshaling her troops in the weeks since taking the top job. Under attack this week over a $550-million blowout in the Sydney light rail budget, Ms Berejiklian is now juggling another hand grenade, thanks to a vitriolic attack by experiencedupper house member Catherine Cusack, a Member of the Legislative Council since March 2003.

Unhappy with the makeup of Ms Berejiklian’s ministry, Ms Cusack let fly in a lengthyemail that seems to have quickly found its way to the media. How this happened is unclear, but Ms Cusack has now resigned her position as Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, stopping on the way out the door to “apologiseto all the people I have let down”.

Ms Cusack had only been in the Hunter job since February 1. So brief was her tenure that is practically impossible to appraise her performance in the role.But if Ms Cusack is concerned –as seems to be the case –about factional politics playing too great a role in the creation of the ministry –then maybe she should spare a thought for the person she replaced as the Hunter’s representative, Liberal Party MLC Scot MacDonald.

Mr MacDonald, who hails from Guyra, just north of Armidale, had been the Hunter’s parliamentary secretary since April 2015. Mr MacDonald had the Hunter bailiwick for one year and 9 months and in that time he showed himself to be a dedicated, hard-working and approachable representative for the region.

The dynamics of the situation make the job an important one. The Coalition may have lost the Hunter seats it gained in 2011, but the light rail project and the broader “Revitalising Newcastle” program amount to one of thebiggest government spending commitmentsthat Newcastle has ever seen. Labor – as an opposition will – is broadly opposed to everything the government does, even if there are benefits for the Hunter. In such a situation, the government needs acapable advocatein a region that is once again “tiger country” for the conservatives.

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Uber drivers will need to fork out $200 in annual licence fees

Uber drivers will be slugged more than $200 for an annual licence fee under suggested state reforms that even the ridesharer’s traditional rival – the taxi industry – has slammed.

The fee was among a swag of changes announced by Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey ahead of the second stage of legislation due to be introduced to Queensland Parliament later this month.

But the latest reforms are far from popular – pleasing neither ridesharing company Uber nor the Taxi Council Queensland.

Taxi service licences and limousine licences and plates will be retained and a new annual licence fee of $237.26 will be introduced for ridebooking operators such as Uber.

Reflective signage will also be mandatory on the front and back of ridebooking services.

Security cameras must be operating in vehicles that are not pre-booked or services that take cash or payment during the journey. But this requirement would not affect Uber, which takes payment via a pre-registered credit card after the journey.

Driver fatigue must also be managed by companies and operators.

And all personalised transport vehicles will require an annual certificate of inspection and a new class of compulsory third party insurance – separate to taxis – has been created for ridebooking and limousines.

An Uber spokesman said the licence fee was “disappointing”.

“We’re disappointed to see the government propose new fees on everyday Queenslanders looking to access flexible work,” the spokesman said.

“The addition of vehicle licensing fees, which do not create any safety improvements or consumer benefits, is not in keeping with the stated aims of these reforms to open up competition, increase consumer choice and create new flexible work opportunities for Queenslanders.”

Fairfax Media asked Uber if it would absorb the cost of the annual licensing fee or whether it would be paid by individual drivers but the question was not answered.

There are about 10,000 Uber drivers in Queensland, which means the fee could instantly generate more than $2.73 million for the government.

Uber is still assessing the announcement, made on Thursday afternoon.

Taxi Council Queensland chief executive officer Benjamin Wash accused the government of doing nothing to level the playing field.

“This proposed legislation has been written to advantage rideshare operators – who have flouted the law and attempted to avoid tax and regulatory requirements – over law-abiding small business operators who make up Queensland’s taxi industry,” Mr Wash said.

“We will review the details of this draft legislation and make further comment soon.”

Taxi drivers and companies pay a variety of charges in Queensland.

The Queensland government will not release any new taxi service licences before 2018, but the cost to buy an existing taxi licence was about $200,000 at the end of 2016, according to a committee report.

The taxi and limousine “driver authorisation” annual fee is $140.65, plus new applications have a fee of $41.05.

There is also an operator accreditation fee of $171 a year for taxi or limousine services.

But the operator accreditation, licence renewal fees, taxi industry security levy and driver authorisation renewal fees were waived for 12 months as a result of changes in the industry.

Mr Bailey said the changes would create a fairer playing field for operators and increase safety and choice for customers.

The first stage included $60 million in transitional assistance payments – a one-off payment of $20,000 a licence, capped at two licences for taxis, and $10,000 per licence for limousine licence holders.

Eligible taxi and limousine holders and operators will receive an invitation from the Queensland Rural Adjustment Agency to apply for a slice of $26.7 million in industry hardship payments from April.

Eligible taxi licence owners and operators will receive a payment of up to $9000 per licence.

Limousine licence holders and operators will receive a payment of up to $4500.

Both payments would be shared 50/50 between owner and operator and be capped at 10 payments per registered entity.

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Cricket bat attacker jailed for three years: Long innings behind bars

A MAN who attacked a furniture rental business owner with a cricket bat when he came to sort out an outstanding bill has been sentenced to 3½ years’ prison.

Justin Button, 30, will have to serve 20 months of the sentence before he is eligible for parole after leaving the victim with serious facial injuries in the attack.

Button last week pleaded guilty to intentionally causing serious injury to the business owner.

The owner had gone to Button’s home about 9pm in January last year to try to reclaim furniture.

The County Court sitting in Mildura heard the dispute between the man and Button came to a head on January 10 last year, after Button fell behind in payments in late 2015.

The man, along with his debt collector, went to Button’s Merbein home about 1.30pm, but failed to resolve the issues.

About 8pm they exchanged text messages and “regrettably” the man and his debt collector decided to go back to Button’s home about 9pm.

When the man got out of the car he was attacked by two other, unknown, men.

Button then appeared and hit the owner to the head with a cricket bat, causing him to fall to the ground.

He was then struck several more times to the face before the man’s “debt collector” was able to drag him back into the car and drive him to hospital.

The man underwent several reconstructive surgeries and suffered vision problems.

Defence counsel Oliver Cain said Button had been exposed to family violence as a child and his schooling was “unsuccessful”.

The court heard he had abused drugs in the past but now only used cannabis.

Judge Michael Bourke said it was serious offending, but noted it was unfortunate the owner had gone to Button’s home at 9pm.

He said while he accepted Button might have felt threatened, his response was disproportionate.

Judge Bourke noted the assault had a considerable impact on the owner and his family.

He sentenced Button to 3½ years’ prison with a non-parole period of 20 months.

He said if not for Button’s plea of guilty, he would have sentenced him to six years, with a minimum of 3½ years’ prison.

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Wessels taps into Brumbies brainstrust to help Force

December 6 2011, sport, story by Lee Gaskin, picture by STUART WALMSLEY. The ACT Brumbies train at the club’s headquarters in Griffith, Canberra. Defence consultant Dave Wessels. Photo: Stuart WalmsleyDave Wessels was the odd man out when he arrived at the ACT Brumbies, but he said his time with World Cup winners and brilliant rugby minds set him on a path to coach the Western Force.

Wessels will return to Canberra Stadium as the enemy on Friday night when he leads the top-of-the-Australian conference Force in a clash against the Brumbies.

South African-born Wessels moved to Australia six years ago to join the Brumbies as a defensive consultant to work alongside Jake White, Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher.

White and Larkham have both won World Cups while Fisher is regarded as one of the best forwards coaches in international rugby.

Wessels used his time wisely, picking the trio’s brains before being giving the job of leading the Force this year.

“The biggest thing I took out of being at the Brumbies was just being able to sit in a room with those three,” Wessels said.

“They are some of the best coaches going around so being in Canberra was like being at a university of rugby for me.

“I was very raw at the time so I really just tried hard not to be noticed too much. But I think it was a great experience for me and it’s had a big effect on my coaching.”

The Force have surprised many this year and beat the highly-rated Queensland Reds last weekend to score their first win at home in almost two years.

The Force haven’t won two games in a row anywhere since 2014.

It sets up a massive clash against the Brumbies, who have lost their first two matches for their worst start to a season since 1999.

The Brumbies have won the past six matches against the Force, but history will count for little as both teams rebuild after major changes in the off-season.

The Brumbies recruited Kyle Godwin and Chris Alcock from the Force, while Wessels stepped up as coach in Perth and convinced former ACT fullback Robbie Coleman to join him.

Perth junior Godwin and journeyman Alcock will both start against their old club while Coleman looms as a second-half X-factor from the Force’s bench.

Asked what Brumbies fans could expect from the Force, Wessels grinned: “Some surprises.

“Sometimes the Force has been guilty of playing to lose. We’ve talked as a group about playing to win.

“That means every now and then we’ll get bumped on our arse and we understand that. But ultimately we want to win and have people be proud of the team.”

The Brumbies haven’t lost three games in a row since 2011 and are desperate to turn around their form.

“The Force are going to be hard at the breakdown and we’re prepared for that,” said Brumbies fullback Aidan Toua.

“We’ve gone through the last couple of games and we’ve been so close, so our general game is OK. It’s just about the finer detail that we’ve lacked in some areas of the game.

“I think both [Alcock and Godwin] are eager to play this weekend, results haven’t gone our way so far, so we’re really excited for this weekend.”


The ACT Brumbies will turn to one of Canberra’s best female athletes for extra inspiration to chase their first win against the Force.

Canberra United star Michelle Heyman will be given coin-toss duties and deliver the game ball on to Canberra Stadium before kick-off to recognise her for winning the LGBTI sports personality of the year.

Brumbies chief executive Michael Thomson said: “It’s a great way to recognise another Canberra athlete and we are very happy she will be a part of our game day.”

Striker Heyman is a two-time W-League Golden Boot winner and played for the Australian Matildas at the Rio Olympic Games last year.


Friday: ACT Brumbies v Western Force at Canberra Stadium, 7.45pm. Tickets available from Ticketek.

Brumbies team: 15. Aidan Toua, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 12. Kyle Godwin, 11. James Dargaville, 10. Wharenui Hawera, 9. Joe Powell, 8. Jordan Smiler, 7. Chris Alcock, 6. Ben Hyne, 5. Sam Carter, 4. Rory Arnold, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 2. Josh Mann-Rea, 1. Ben Alexander. Reserves: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Nic Mayhew, 18. Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19. Blake Enever, 20. Tom Staniforth, 21. Lolo Fakaosilea, 22. De Wet Roos, 23. Andrew Smith.

Force team: 15. Dane Haylett-Petty, 14. Chance Peni, 13. Curtis Rona, 12. Billy Meakes, 11. Luke Morahan, 10. Jono Lance, 9. Ryan Louwrens, 8. Richard Hardwick, 7. Kane Koteka, 6. Brynard Stander, 5. Matt Philip, 4. Ross Haylett-Petty, 3. Tetera Faulkner, 2. Heath Tessmann, 1. Pek Cowan. Reserves: 16. Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17. Ben Daley, 18. Jermaine Ainsley, 19. Onehunga Havili Kaufusi, 20. Isi Naisarani, 21. Michael Ruru, 22. Ian Prior, 23. Robbie Coleman.

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Encouraging learning beyond class

Bright sparks: Waratah West Public School students show off their lava lamps in test tubes at the Children’s University Newcastle Passport Day. HUNTER students have been urged to think of learning as a passport to the world.

More than 1000 students from 24 schools are participating in the burgeoning Children’s University Newcastle program, which encourages children between the ages of seven and 14 to participatein educational activities beyond the school curriculum.

Students are given passports, which are stamped every time they complete a validated activity with a registered organisationeither before or after school, during lunch or in the holidays. Thiscould include playing sport or an instrument, joining a dance group or drama class or visiting art galleries, museums and libraries.

Waratah West Public teacher Jane Chapman said the school hadfully subsidised the $10 fee forall 38 students from years three to six to participate.

“We were one of the inaugural schools last year and it opened up a world of future learning,” Ms Chapman said.

“They were really excited at having their passports stamped and it showed them that learning is not just isolated to school and does not have to be something done only between 9am and 3pm. Opportunities for valuable lessons happen everywhere and can include things you already do anyway.

“The link to the University of Newcastle [UON]is important in helping them see it as an option for everybody.”

Five UON students from different study areas visited the school on Thursday and took the students through five activities in two hours.

The activitieswere basedon origami, advertising, first aid, making a lava lampin a test tube and sound-activated robots.

Students who reach 30 hours of activities attend a graduation ceremony at the UON Great Hall in full academic dress in October.

The program has almost tripled in size from last year, when UON was one of only three universities in Australia offering the venture and recruited 300students from nine schools.

UON is also working withAllambi Care, Premier Youthworks, Settlement Services International, Wandiyali and Wesley Mission this year to offer the program to students in care.