ALP slams bushfire buyback exclusions

Jacinta Allan.THE state government’s bushfire land buyback scheme has been criticised for being ”too narrow” because it does not apply to some high-fire-risk areas such as Cockatoo and the Otways that were not hit by bushfires in 2009.
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More than 500 properties destroyed by the 2009 fires are expected to be eligible for the voluntary scheme, for which the government has made available $50 million.

But Labor frontbencher Jacinta Allan slammed the program, saying it exposed as ”a sham” the government’s commitment to implement all 67 recommendations from the Bushfires Royal Commission.

”This Baillieu government scheme is for people affected by the 2009 bushfires only,” she said. ”It has no regard for people who live in high-fire-risk areas in other parts of Victoria and the [ commission] recommendation was to implement this policy in high-fire-risk areas.”

The buyback plan excludes high-fire-risk areas such as Cockatoo, Mount Macedon, and the Otways, devastated in previous bushfires, she said.

Ms Allan said the scheme did not give any detail on what would happen to land acquired under the buyback. ”Who will manage it to keep the fire risk down? If DSE [Department of Sustainability and Environment] is to be responsible, what additional resources will they be given and when?”

Recommendation 46 of the Bushfires Royal Commission final report urged the state to ”implement a retreat and resettlement strategy for existing developments in areas of unacceptably high bushfire risk, including a scheme for non-compulsory acquisition by the state of land in these areas”.

In a discussion of ”high-risk areas” attached to the recommendation, the commission said the government should consider a range of factors including ”giving priority to acquiring land that is in an area of unacceptably high bushfire risk and on which dwellings were damaged or destroyed by the 2009 bushfires”.

When asked yesterday why the buyback did not apply to high-fire-risk areas that did not burn in 2009, Bushfire Response Minister Peter Ryan said: ”When you have regard to the provisions of recommendation 46, this scheme is appropriate.”

Mr Ryan said the rules of the buyback were ”not set in stone” and the $50 million would be increased if needed. He also denied the buyback rules were too stringent, adding that people whose houses were destroyed in 2009 and had since built in a different location could still qualify for the buyback on their burnt property.

Mr Ryan said if acquired land was left vacant it would have a ”minimal” impact on country communities. Acquired land left in public hands would have to be maintained by the DSE to an ”appropriate standard” to minimise bushfire risk, he said.

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More carbon support for dairy farmers: Fonterra

JOHN Doumani, managing director of Fonterra Australia New Zealand says that the unique electricity demands of dairy farmers need to be understood when it comes to carbon pricing and compensation.
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Speaking as the nation faces the introduction of a carbon tax and several related impacts on business, Mr Doumani said that his company is advocating for greater assistance for farmers to help them transition to low carbon technologies.

“The reality is that dairy farmers engage in energy intensive processing, so they should be eligible for funding to help them adapt.

“We have been talking to Government about the special needs of dairy farming and so far, they are very receptive of the message,” he said.

“The biggest likely impact of carbon pricing for dairy farmers will be electricity price increases. Electricity is a major input cost in dairy farming as energy intensive milk processing starts on the farm.

“We expect the Government’s carbon pricing will have a direct impact of about $3,000 per dairy farm per year on average in terms of increased electricity costs. Predicting this, we want to help our farmers identify ways to reduce electricity use on-farm today, in preparation for a carbon-priced tomorrow.”

Mr Doumani said that he and Fonterra as a company accept that a low carbon future is an inevitability – and a challenge that has to be faced.

“But it is also an opportunity to innovate, invest and drive for a more competitive future; with lower costs, improved market access and greater consumer confidence,” he said.

“We have initiated a series of programs to reduce our carbon emissions across our manufacturing operations, and now we are turning our attention to how we can help our farmer suppliers.”

Fonterra said that this week it had launched a guide to provide dairy farmers with practical advice on how to manage the electricity cost increases of carbon pricing.

It covers the key areas of on-farm electricity usage and invites farmers to do a self-assessment of their operations.

Mr Doumani said the guide is just the first piece in an overall program to help Fonterra’s dairy farmer suppliers in Australia prepare for a new low carbon economy.

“We have been engaging with our farmer suppliers here in Australia in conversations around sustainability. What they tell us is that they want to operate a sustainable business and they want to reduce their carbon emissions, especially in light of the additional costs that will be associated with the carbon pricing, but that they don’t know how to do it or fund it.

“What they want is independent advice from someone who really understands dairying to advise them on what technologies to employ. Farmers are telling us that they are wary of the “snake oil salesmen” knocking on their doors offering a whole range of dubious solutions. They are concerned about unproven technologies and capital costs necessary to implement change,” he said.

The guide includes a calculator to help farmers consider their likely electricity bill increases and a self-assessment tool so they can understand how their operation rates against best practice electricity usage.

In addition, practical energy saving advice is provided across seven key areas:

Hot water heating Milk cooling Vacuum pumps Water and effluent pumps Lighting Energy sourcing Cleaning systems Fonterra is also running information sessions for farmers and providing expertise to assist with on-farm assessments.

“We have listened to our farmers’ concerns and now we want to help them make informed decisions for their businesses,” concluded Mr Doumani.

Copies of the Fonterra guide; “What does a carbon price mean for you?” are available by calling the Fonterra Supplier Administration Centre on 1800 266 674.

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Resilient Merinos one step closer

Sheep CRC post-graduate student Gus Rose.BREEDING Merino sheep that can withstand harsh summers across southern Australia without losing weight is a step closer to reality.
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Such sheep could potentially reduce feed costs and the risks of running livestock in areas of high seasonal variability and boost ewe reproductive performance and lamb production.

Sheep Cooperative Research Centre (Sheep CRC) post-graduate student Gus Rose has found that Merino ewes can be bred to lose less weight during summer when there is poor feed and gain more weight during the spring flush.

“This is a step towards breeding sheep that are better adapted to Australian pasture conditions and that will be more tolerant of climate variations in the longer term,” he said.

Mr Rose’s four-year PhD project is investigating the genetic and economic value of sheep resilience to liveweight loss in summer and autumn. He is being supervised by a team of Sheep CRC researchers in Perth, WA, and Armidale, NSW.

The Sheep CRC is a collaboration of industry, government and the commercial sector and aims to increase the productivity and profitability of the industry via new technologies for adoption by both the meat and wool supply chains. It is supporting 31 doctorate and masters students as part of its postgraduate education and research program.

Mr Rose said the problem of sheep weight loss during summer affected most livestock enterprises in Mediterranean environments in Australia and overseas.

He said reducing weight loss without incurring high feed costs, especially for breeding ewes, would be a major plus for livestock producers right around the globe.

“It would also reduce the risks and costs of maintaining sheep in good condition during summer in more marginal areas with inconsistent rainfall,” he said.

“There may also be potential to run more sheep than normal in these areas and increase returns.”

Mr Rose is also working in collaboration with the Netherlands-based Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre at Wageningen University, where researchers are assessing the genetic robustness and fitness of cows.

“The Dutch have developed a good scientific knowledge about animal adaptation and it is a good fit for my research,” he said.

Mr Rose analysed five years of data from a sheep resource flock in Katanning, WA, to discover the heritability of variations in Merino weight loss and gain.

His findings were recently presented to the annual European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP) convention, where he won the prestigious prize for best scientific poster in the genetics category from a field of 100 participants.

This convention targets young scientists from across the global animal science sector and his award earned him the right to chair a session at next year’s event.

Stage two of Mr Rose’s PhD project will investigate the genetic and economic links between sheep resilience to live weight changes and other important production traits, such as wool weight and reproductive performance.

He said this process would include surveying farmers across Australia to identify the main profit-driving traits for Merino enterprises in a wide range of geographic environments.

“Once we know that sheep can be genetically robust and resistant to summer weight loss during times of low feed availability, then we can start to work out the best breeding objectives to target other economically important traits in these flocks,” he said.

Mr Rose said including an economic analysis in his research was vital because it would allow farmers to scenario-plan their most profitable options.

“If we can identify the more resilient sheep to weight loss and gain, we need to know the potential advantages and trade-offs with other breeding traits and what impact these will have on farm business bottom lines,” he said.

“For example, if labour costs are included, resilience to summer weight loss might be highly valuable to farmers because it has potential to reduce labour requirements and potentially free-up more time for other enterprises, such as cropping. This allows the whole farm to operate more efficiently.”

Mr Rose said he hoped his research would help sheep breeders breed animals that better coped with the environment, allowing them to concentrate on other production traits to optimise profits.

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Thunderstruck with shock

A shot from Tim McDonald’s video. Picture: Tim McDonaldFEW people struck by lightning live to tell the tale, but even fewer write the whole thing off as a strange stitch-up by their workmates.
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It’s a club so small and unusual it may include onlyWeston’s Jason Tait, who did both within minutes atRutherford on Wednesday.

His newfound claim to fame came surging down from the heavens over Rutherford about 4pm on Thursday as he shifted a mate’s ute out of the hail and under shelter.

“We started moving some of the cars under cover,” Mr Taitsaid.

“When the hail really started coming down he asked if I could move his car.”

Longtime colleague Tim McDonald filmed the hail on his phone while Mr Tait drove colleague Ken Marvin’s utilityoff the street.

The footage became more interesting in a flash as lightning scorched the sky, spraying sparks off the ute’s black twin cab and arcing to a nearby power pole.

Footage from Mr McDonald’s phone shows the car barely breaking its pace despite the dramatic strike, which appears to hit the passenger side roof.

Mr Taithappily concedes thathe was calm through complete ignorance of what had happenedrather than nerves of steel or a cool head.

Lightning strike survivor Jason Tait, left, and his workmate Tim McDonald on Friday. Picture by Jonathan Carroll

A flash through the back window was all he saw from the driver’s seat metres away from where the lighting hit.

Mr Tait said he felt more like he had been photographed than struck by lighting, and would likely have written the whole thing off as a bad prank without photographic evidence.

“I’ve seen a flash out the backwindow but that was it,” Mr Taitsaid.“I was a bit shocked when I actually saw what happened.I honestly thought those guys were stitching me up.”

The full pyrotechnic display inspires audible wonder from Mr McDonald as Mr Tait appearsto shrug it off.

“It was absolutely amazing, he was a little bit oblivious to it,”Mr McDonald said

Jason Tait

Mr Tate says he is grateful for his lucky escape despite his early doubts.

“I’ve still got two legs and a heartbeat,” he said.

The incident resembles the 2013 Bar Beachstrike that leftWickham’s Wayne Lennan with a damaged car,a sound resembling a shotgun blast ringing in his ears and a viral video.

Mr Lennan escaped the incident without any injury.

Mr Taitjoked on Friday the video gave his planned braggingextra punch.“I’m going to milk it,” he said.”Especially if it’s in the paper.”

Newcastle Herald

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Ex-boyfriend caught in act of vengeance

CONVICTED: Chrisopher Wilcox was busted using fake number plates to rack up fines in the name of his ex-girlfriend’s new partner, and stole her passport to ruin her holiday Picture: FacebookFAKED number plates, high speed fines, a break and enter and targeted theft were all part of Christopher Wilcox’splan for revenge.
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He set it in motion on New Year’s Eve, just hours after his ex-girlfriend left to party in Sydney, and days out from her trip to Thailand, court documents reveal.

Wilcoxused a key to gain entry through the back door ofherWarners Bay home, and stole herpassport.

He also took a bottle of Moet champagne he had once gifted her, and left an empty bottle of Moscato behind -covered in prints, and despite the apprehended violence order out against him.

When she arrived home at lunchtime the next day,she knew he’d been there.

Eight days later, mid-packingher bags for Phuket, she noticed the photo page in her passport had been changed.Her date of birth read 1779, and her passport number was new.

After denying he’d beenthere, police conducted a search of Wilcox’s Charlestown hometo findpages of scanned images of passports,and printouts from her ex’s emailaccount.

Mobile phone records showed texts to a friend sent on January 9: ‘’She got a new passport and is leaving for phuket tomorrow morning’’

When asked what happened to her old one, he answered:‘’Idid a little modifying! I will tell you in person. They are only going to have 4 days instead of 10.’’

Police say it was clear he took the passport, and returned it, after changing those details.But it did not end there. A few weeks later, Wilcox struck again, makingup fake number plates to match those of his former partner’s new man.

He organised a test drive from a car dealer at Wickham. After attachingthe fake number plates, he racked upspeeding fines along McCaffrey Drive and Griffiths Road in Lambton, reaching up to 115 kmh in a 60kmh zone.

Wilcox, 38, failed to front Newcastle Court on Friday where hewas convicted of two speeding matters,fined $3000,disqualified from driving for nine months. More charges werelikely to follow, the court heard.Wilcox has also pleaded guilty to three charges over the passport crime, and is due for sentence on January 13.

Newcastle Herald

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Teachers’ wage garnish ruled unlawful

Victorian teachers will be reimbursed money garnished from their wagesto pay for their school laptops after the Federal Court on Friday ruled the Education Departmentdeductionswere unlawful.
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Kangaroo Flat Primary School grade 6 teacher and Australian EducationUnion state councillor Alastair Pata welcomed the union’ssuccessful action, which saw the practice ceased.

Mr Pata said laptops were tools of the trade for teachers and should rightfully be paid for by their employer.

“It’s just such anessential resource for teachers to have, we couldn’t do our jobwithout them,” he said.

“Students all have laptops and classrooms arefull oflaptopsfor thekidsand theteachers needtohave laptops as well.”

Mr Pata said before the rulingteachers had had no choice but to accept the deductions but had frequently questioned the practice.

“A new teacher, forexample, would be automatically signed up to the program becausethey needed a laptop right at thestart of their job,” he said.

“Our members constantly tell us that it is a big thing for them, they feel like the laptops are part of their daily job, they need them to do reports orto email parents orto email staff.”

AEU Victorian presidentMeredith Peace said laptops were essential equipment for teachers.

“Expecting teachers and principals to pay out of their own pockets for a computer that they use to write school reports, communicate with parents and other teachers and plan lessons is absolutely unfair,” she said.

“[Friday’s]orders mean 46,000 teachers and principals will receive the recompense they deserve for having these deductions made from their salary.

These orders also mean unlawful deductions like this cannot happen in future.”

Teachers and principals employed by the Education Departmentwho had money unlawfully deducted from their wages will be repaid by December 24, including a 5 per centinterest payment.

The department will not appeal the decision and is expected to repay a total of $37 million plus costs.

Bendigo Advertiser

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Families turn to charity

BATTLING: Long Gully resident Patricia Davies has turned to charity to make ends meet as rising living costs and her deteriorating health mean her disability support no longer covers her basic costs of living. Picture: NONI HYETTCharities in Bendigo are helping more and more families buyfood, pay rent and cover transport and other basic costs of living–despite government cuts to their budget.
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Families turn to charity Salvation Army Major Kaye Viney. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Captain Ray Butler. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Patricia Davies. Picture: NONI HYETT

Bendigo Family and Financial Services’ general manager Jenny Elvey. Picture: NONI HYETT

Picture: NONI HYETT

TweetFacebookBendigo Advertiserpainted a similar picture, as struggling families face increasing pressures from high rentsand a rise in the cost of living.But MsElvey said the story was not one confined to central Victoria.

“This is something that has gone right through Australia, with the new funding arrangementaffecting struggling people andfamilies nationally,” she said.

Facing rising rents and higher utilities,more families in Bendigo are turning to charity to help pay their bills.

‘I can’t keep up with the cost of living’Former truck driver, sheep shearer, horse breaker and single-mother ofseven,Patricia Davies has been a regular at theBendigo Family and Financial Services for the last four years.

“In the beginning it was to volunteer…I’m a carer by nature,” she said.

“But over that period I’ve found it harder and harder to survive on my pension.I started struggling to pay gas, electricity, bills, car rego, petrol, going to the hospital twice a week (and)physio.”

“Then I became a client.”

MsDavies receives $970 in disability support afortnight, due to severe back problems forwhich she requiresa walker.

“It probably dates from the first time I was thrown by a horse,” she said.

“Then there was the truck driving …in those days there was no power steering, we loaded and unloaded by hand.”

Of her fortnightly allowance,$250goes toward payingrent and$210towardthebills of her Long Gully home. She spends$54 on medication,$150 on groceries and$40 oncleaning.

“Once you factor in filling the car, going to Melbourne for treatment … I end up spending more than I get in,” she said.

And the 62-year-old is preparing for her expenses to continue to rise–she says her fortnightly script will go up to$70 next year and soon she will need to hire an electric wheelchair at $100 every two weeks.

“The cost of living is just rising faster than I can keep up,” she said.

Charitybridgingrent gap Bendigo Family and Financial Services’ general manager Jenny Elvey

Victorian households in low-income brackets are spendingmore than half oftheir income on rent alone–andregional president of the StVincent de Paul Society,Tony Spurling, said many simply could not afford it.

“We take for granted the supply of utilities and yet we are finding more and more that a large number of families cannot afford these basic necessities,” he said.

“It is becoming harder and harder for so many people to provide a roof over their head.”

Giving his annual Christmas address to volunteers this week, Mr Spurling said the$68,800 in rent assistance and short term motel accommodationprovided by thecharity this year represented a“considerable increase” on 2014.

Of the $570,000 in charitythe society provided this year,$273,000 was used in food assistance.

But Bendigo charity organisations say more and more families are being pushed to charity as they are unable to pay rent,bills and other basic costs of living.

Last month the country’sfirst rental affordability index found that rental affordability was– in the words of one of its authors–“dividing Australia in a big way”.

That index showedregionalVictorian households in low-income brackets werepaying up to 58 per cent of their income on rent.

Mr SpurlingStVincent de Paul Society had seen about a 10per cent rise in the amount spent on services on services such as utilities, transport and prescription medication.

This year the society spent$36,000 in utility assistanceand$46,000 in transport assistance.

“Our lifestyle is dependent on transport and without it, people have trouble finding a job, attending medical appointments and generally being part of the community,” Mr Spurling said.

And while many charities said they were struggling with recent cuts to their budgets at a time of increased demand, theStVincent de Paul Societyregional president said the social service sector had been put under increased strain by both sides of the political aisle.

“Political parties of both persuasions talk a lot about macro economics but are devoid of consideration as to the social impact of the inadequacy of the social benefits system,” he said.

The hard work of volunteers, he said, was keeping an increasingly strained safety net intact.

“The long and short term effect on the family and the lifelong impressions on the children cannot be measured, but one thing is certain, the society will use its resources to fill the gap where government has failed.”

Push to manage finances MORE WITH LESS: Captain Ray Butler said the Salvation Army was seeing positive outcomes from an increased focus on financial counselling. Pictures: GLENN DANIELS

As their budgets are cut and more people come through their doors seeking assistance, Bendigo charities are increasingly looking to help struggling families better manage their own finances.

Salvation Army Captain Ray Butler said the amount of area his organisationcovered had been extended to includeplaces as far afield asShepparton. And as the amount of charities receiving government funding was reduced, the Salvos were required to increase the volume of their work, over a larger geographic area.

At the same time, the amount theSalvation Army received was 20 per cent less this year than last.

“Essentially, that’smore demand and less money to do it,” Mr Butlersaid.

“So we’ve beenmore concentrated with people around financial case management and counselling.”

Bendigo Family and Financial Servicesgeneral managerJenny Elvey said her organisation had adopted a similar approach–despite seeing a rise in the number of people seeking emergency assistance for food and to meet costs of living.

“We can’t do as much for vulnerable people as we would like to, a lot of what we now do isfinancial education, advocacy on their behalf, putting them on payment plans that areaffordable or referring them to financial counsellors if they need help with complex financialissues,” she said.

“But we don’t have the funds we’ve had in previous years which might have gonetowards things like helping a family pay their electricity bills, or with medical assistance.”

This year the saw theBendigo Family and Financial Servicesemergency relief funding cut by 18 per cent. It lostfinancial counselling funding altogether and is now self -funding theprogram.

MrButler said the increased demand on theSalvation Army’s resources had meant the charity was considering the future of services such a popular drought relief officer, who attended the needs of farming communities throughout northern and central Victoria.

But Mr Butler said the increased focus on financial counselling was having some positive results.

“Thelevels of people seeking Christmas assistance hasn’tincreased so far this year and we’requite sure that’s because of some of the work we’ve beendoing around financial counseling–people being a bit more positive and responsible around planning for Christmas,” he said.

“That might meanpurchasingsomething through layby andmakingplanned installmentsrather than putting things on credit card or out of living expenses.”

Bendigo Advertiser

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Dog attack leaves woman shaken and afraid

Dianne Whiteman said owners need to control their dogs, or someone could get seriously hurt. Photo: BELINDA SOOLEA VICIOUS dog attack during an early morning walk has left a Grangewood resident shaken and afraid.
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Dianne Whiteman and a friend were walking through Grangewood and Delroy Park about 5.30am on Wednesday, when two large dogs “just came out at us, snarling and growling”.

The dogs circled the two women once, before the larger animal lunged at Dianne, latching onto the arm she threw up to protect her face.

“We’re yelling and screaming at them saying ‘go on! Get home!’ And next the larger one actually grabbed me on the arm,” she said.

“[I] gave it a bit of a shake, it backed off, snarled and growled at us then they went back to the house.

“I heard someone call their names, [but they] never came out to say ‘are you OK?’ or anything. I just thought, all the noise…but nobody even poked their head out.”

Nursing four deep puncture wounds from where the dog’s canines sank into her forearm, Dianne walked herself home.

“It was [terrifying]. I just couldn’t believe the way that they came at us,” Dianne said.

“It was just the suddenness of the way they came at us, just so vicious.”

Dianne said the pressure of the dog’s jaw had been so great, she initially thought her arm was broken. She went to hospital, where she was bandaged up and given a tetanus shot and antibiotics to ward off infection.

The attack was reported to Dubbo City Council rangers, and manager environmental control Debbie Archer said an investigation was under way.

While Dianne’s physical wounds would soon heal, she feared the situation could have been a lot worse.

“There is an older lady walks there, and fairly frail with a little dog. Imagine what the skin, [the teeth] would have just torn it away,” Dianne said.

“And in that area you see a lot of little fellas getting off the school buses and that.

“Please, owners, just please do something about the violent dogs. Make sure they lock them up, tie them up – whatever needs to be done.”

“Our rangers are undertaking an investigation and the appropriate action will be taken based on the circumstances,” Ms Archer said.

Dianne Whiteman

While she couldn’t comment on the specific case, Ms Archer said rangers usually seize the animal until “we know they can be secured”.

“The owners [generally] have an opportunity to surrender the animal or council may issue a number of different orders – such as a dangerous dog declaration – requiring the animal be kept in a certain way,” she said.

“There are more people out at this time of year so keep your dogs secure. There are fines for not having your dogs secure and it is every pet owner’s responsibility to keep their animals secure and not having it be a danger to the public.”

Daily Liberal

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A life, almost lost, reborn

Before: Craig, 43, three months ago after being bashed by a woman he knew. After: Craig in a recent Santa photo with Wollongong Homeless Hub manager Julie Mitchell. He’s now in rehab and getting his life back on track.The firstphoto shows a man who’s been bashed and battered –mentally as well as physically.The second, a clean-cut man getting into the spirit of Christmas.
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It doesn’tlook like the same man, which is fitting because Craig doesn’t feel like the same person either.

Seven weeks sober, the 43-year-old is confident he can finally change his life around –a life that has been plagued by alcoholism, homelessness and violence.

He started drinking at nine years old, was living on the streets by 13. He’s tried to get clean before, but ended up back on the drink to ‘’forget the bad times’’.

Then three months ago, Craig was bashed by a woman he knew on his birthday. After he was discharged from hospital, and back sleeping rough, a gang attacked him and broke his toes with a hammer.

It was then that he decided he’d had enough of that life, and withhelp from the Wollongong Homeless Hub and Wollongong Hospital he’s making a new life.

Now in rehab interstate, Craig wanted to share his story to let others in the grip of addiction,homelessness or at risk of violenceknow that help is available.

‘’It’s hard living on the streets –you’ve got to be careful where you sleep or you might get robbed or bashed where you sleep,’’ he said this week.

‘’You drink a lot to keep warm, to forget the bad times. But living rough, bunking in this house or bunking in that house, it’s not a life and I finally realised that that’s not the life I wanted anymore.’’

His transformation bringsJulie Mitchell -the manager ofWollongong Homeless Hub and Wollongong Emergency Family Housing –to tears.

It was Ms Mitchell, and her team, who picked Craig up –time and again –and who never gave up on him.

‘’I met Craig a year ago –he’d been assaulted then and his jaw had been broken and he came in one day and I gave him baby food to eat,’’ she said.

‘’Wetried to get him into rehab many times –it wasn’t that he failed, it was the system that failed him. He steadily went downhill and told me that he wouldn’t be alive by Christmas.

‘’We’ve finally found him the help he needs. However Craig’s story only highlights the absolute need in Wollongong for more housing, more crisis accommodation, and more money forrehab services.’’

Ms Mitchell hopes Craig stays on the right path; she’s pretty sure he will.‘’I’ve seen thechange in him –this time he’s really focused.’’

He recently came back for a visit to thank Ms Mitchell. They saw Santa in a shopping centre and decided to have a bit of fun and pose for a photo.

‘’I felt like a kid again,’’ he said. ‘’I’m not sure I ever got a photo with Santa before.’’

Illawarra Mercury

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Big Picture competition 2015: Winner and finalists announced

The winning picture for the Big Picture competition 2015. Photo: Sally HintonSelecting from the best of travel images submitted, Fairfax photographic editors Mags King, Leigh Henningham and Fairfax photographer Steven Siewert have chosen a winner in the latest round of Traveller’s The Big Picture competition in association with Fairfax Media’s Clique Photographers Association.
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The shortlisted images for this round of judging in The Big Picture competition were nothing short of refreshing, according to the judges.

“There is a sense of the natural without being contrived and indicative of people being more comfortable with photography and in a world with temptations such as Instagram and filters there was very little trickery in terms of manipulation of the images.”

Thanks to all of our readers for the hundreds of entries, some of the best of which are shown here.

Congratulations to Sally Hinton, who will travel with a partner or friend to Japan, courtesy of Singapore Airlines (economy class), staying three nights at the Conrad Tokyo and two nights at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto with all breakfasts and a seven-day JR Rail Pass (ordinary class), courtesy of Singapore Airlines Holidays.

Keep reading Traveller and see 梧桐夜网traveller南京夜网419论坛 for more information about our next competition.

Jane Reddy, deputy national editor, travel.THE WINNERDATELINE BOTSWANA, AFRICA

These impala bucks were frisky one winter’s morning, entertaining a baboon as they leapt about the water hole in the Mashatu Game Reserve. Sally HintonJUDGES’ COMMENT

Titled A Leap of Faith by its author, this image is playful and dynamic. It’s not unexpected to see a dramatic wildlife scene of a stampede, for example, entered into a photographic competition so it is quite refreshing to see a wildlife image that is clearly of a moment, an impala in flight with a single baboon as a spectator. The image creates a light-hearted scene that is balanced in composition – as though it was contrived, yet we know it could not have been. The frame is panoramic in shape which, if cropped, could have accentuated the moment but we feel that the space on the right balances the jaunty leap. The photographer has captured a great moment of travel. THE SHORTLISTED FINALISTSDATELINE: HIMBA VILLAGE, NORTHERN NAMIBIA, AFRICA

Photo: Jenny Fowler

“A fascinating image and interesting play on perspective with the hairdo and the wall.” DATELINE: ARNARSTAPI, ICELAND

Photo: Gordon Shaw

“So bleak and beautiful. The solitude and the placement of the house is a good composition and a nice change of pace in travel photography when there is often a bombardment of activity.” DATELINE: UOLEVA ISLAND, TONGA

Photo: Seb Maupas

“Physically and technically this can be a very difficult image to capture and the photographer has done very well. There’s emotion in the eyes of the calf. The serenity and beauty of the whale up close has been captured.” DATELINE: VARANASI, INDIA

Photo: Jane Sheers

“An intimate moment captured. Compared to the,usual rich colours of Varanasi it’s a beautifully sparse image.” DATELINE: SKAGAFOSS, ICELAND

Photo: James Stone

“Beautiful use of the shutter speed with a sense of scale and perspective.” DATELINE: ANTELOPE CANYON, ARIZONA, UNITED STATES

Photo: Todd Kennedy

“It’s a good use of colour at the right time and would’ve been helped to have a person or object to give a sense of size and scale.” DATELINE: LAKE CLARK NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA

Photo: Kathryn Soddy

“A playful and different wildlife pic showing another side of a wild animal’s life. The image is to the point with nothing to detract from it, with just the animal, grass and horizon.”

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Teenager drowns after work Christmas party on a houseboat

Bailey Maher, 18, who drowned during his work Christmas Party. Photo: Facebook “Rest easy up there big fella:” Friends remembered Bailey Maher, 18, in messages on Facebook, after he drowned in the Hawkesbury River. Photo: Facebook
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Friends have paid tribute to an 18-year-old man who drowned in the Hawkesbury River during a work Christmas party on Friday night.

Bailey Maher, a roof tiler from Camden, was on a houseboat with his family and colleagues when he went swimming just before 8.30pm.

His family called triple-zero when he failed to return, and police helicopters, divers, state emergency services and NSW Marine Rescue combed the area on Friday night and Saturday morning.

But more than 14 hours after he went missing, his body was found.

As the news of his death broke on Saturday afternoon the heartbroken friends of Mr Maher, a former Camden High School Student, took to social media to pay tribute to the teen.

School friend Greg Bentham wrote “there is nothing that can explain the pain it feels to lose a best friend”.

“You were the closest thing I had to having a brother and will be dearly missed by all who loved you,” he said on Facebook.

Another friend, Connor Bates, said on Facebook “rest in peace Bailey Maher you will always be my best mate and I will never forget the memories we’ve shared together, rest easy up there big fella”.

Just after midday on Saturday the NSW search and rescue helicopter, Westpac Life Saver, tweeted that it was returning to base.

Hawkesbury Police acting inspector Andrew Martignago said that Mr Maher’s family were devastated.

“One man dived in to the water and then another person saw that he was having difficulties in the water,” Hawkesbury Police acting Inspector Andrew Martignago said.

“Other witnesses dived in to assist, but they lost sight of him.”

At about midday on Saturday the Westpac Live Save helicopter Tweeted that the body of Mr Maher had been found.

“Sadly, the body of the missing 18-year-old male has been located. RIP,” the rescue service wrote.   UPDATE: Lifesaver 21 returning to base. Sadly, the body of the missing 18 year old male has been located. RIP— Westpac Life Saver (@Lifesaverhelo) December 12, 2015

At the time of the man’s disappearance a southerly change with winds of up to 50 km/h was making its way down the coast.

NSW Police are preparing a report for the coroner. 

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Cronulla riot put to rest: Shire looks forward to Australia Day

Picture: John VeageUpdate Monday:
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Police and Sutherland Shire residents have been praised for their response to the activities of extremist groups on the tenth anniversary of the Cronulla riot.

Cronulla MP and Environment Minister Mark Speakman said residents made a strong statement by boycotting the so-called anti-Islam and anti-racism events on Saturday, which he described as “fizzers”.

Mr Speakman suggested the community’s stand would help lay to rest images of the 2005 violence.

‘‘Hopefully, now the community has voted with its feet and said, ‘We are beyond those events’, we can have closure, and people can recognise what a predominantly tolerant, decent and harmonious community Cronulla is,’’ he said.

Mayor Carmelo Pesce said, from the briefings he received in the lead-up to the anniversary, he was always certain police were prepared.

‘‘Everything I was told went to plan,’’ he said.

‘‘I thank the police and other emergency services, and council staff, as well as the community for their co-operation, which resulted in there being no major incidents.

‘‘We can now look forward to our celebration of Australia Day, which shows what the shire is really made of, with a great range of events at Illawong, Engadine and Cronulla.’’

See more in Wednesday’s Leader.

Do you think the situation was handled well?

Anti-fascist activists from the Antifa group confronted anti-Islam protesters in Don Lucas Reserve in Cronulla. Photo: James Brickwood.

Saturday3.30pm: The tenth anniversary of the Cronulla riot was markedby more violence, but on a much smaller scale than seen 10 years ago and local residents stayed away.

A group of about 150 anti-racist protesters verbally abused and jostled people theyconsidered to be anti-Islamic, and there were clashes when police intervened.

Two people were arrested.

However, the protesters on both sides were gone by 3pm and Cronullawas back to normal.

Police ensure protestors leave by train peacefully.

Cafés were packed, the mall was busy, surfersdefied a cool breezeand kites flew over Elouera Beach.

The barbecue held by the extreme right wing group Party for Freedomhad finished, and the anti-racist protesters had gone home by train.

Protestors arrive. Picture: John Veage

Residents heeded the pleas to stay away from Wanda, making the task ofpolice much easier.

Police remained vigilant, but it appeared there would be no further disruption.

Cronulla MP Mark Speakman said the so-called “anti-Islam” and“anti-racism” events were complete “fizzers”.

“They were organised by vocal outsiders and poorly attended'” he said.

“Locals stayed away from both events. I haven’t come across a singlelocal who said they attended, or were planning to attend, eitherevent.

Pro-Islamic protestors.

“Cronulla has moved on from 10 years ago. Sadly there’ll probablyalways be pockets of hatred and bigotry on the far right and the farleft. Cronulla, however, is predominantly a tolerant and cohesivecommunity, which I’m proud to represent.

“I thank the NSW Police, other State Government agencies andSutherland Shire Council for their comprehensive efforts over severalmonths to protect the local community and maintain public safety.

“We’re enormously fortunate to have such competent and dedicated police in NSW.”

2pm:

Flankedby police, the protesters marched along the Esplanade toCronulla, changing slogans such as, “Say it loud, day it clear,Muslims are welcome here”.

They made their way past the scene of the riot in 2005, past the rockpools and up through Cronulla Park, where children were playing.

Police and protestors.

Police were waiting for them at every point, and kept them in a tightcorridor as they progressed to the railway station, where they were marshalled on to a train.

There were a few heckles along the way, but there appeared no be nofurther incidents after initial skirmishes with police at Wanda.

Fortunately, the Party for Freedom was well away, having theirbarbecue at the northern end of Don Lucas.

At Wanda, some people regarded as anti-Islam protesters were set uponby the pro-Islamic group.

The anti-racist group included members of Antifa (anti-fascism), dressed in black with black face masks.

Some anti-Islam protesters were shoved and abused as “f— fascists”.

One middle-aged woman draped in an Australian flag caught in the crowd was surrounded by 20 to 30Antifamembers who shouted at her to “take that fascist flag off now”.

A man in the crowd yelled “burn that flag and burn that woman”.

Police arrested two pro-Islamic demonstrators.

1.30pm:

Pro-Islamic supporters clashed with police when they staged a rival rally to the group commemorating the Cronulla riot.

While only about 60 people attended the barbecue in Don Lucas Reserve that replaced the rally organised by the right-wing Party for Freedom,a group of about 150 pro-Islamic supportersgathered in the park above Wanda surf club.

Police formed a cordon around them, but they staged a rolling protest,heading along the Esplanade towards Cronulla.

11.30am:

By 11am senior police had formed the view the gathering at Don LucasReserve would be “a non event”.

Only a small group of supporters were present when Nick Folkes arrivedat Don Lucas Reserve dressed in a burqa, which he removed as soon ashe finished a media conference.

Security: Police on patrol on Saturday. Picture: John Veage

As he did when he woreIslamic clothing during a court appearanceearlier in the week, he denied he was mocking Muslims but was “justmaking a point about the way Australia is headed”.

Chief Inspector Mark McGrath gave Mr Folkes instructions on what hecould and couldn’t do as a result of the court orders.

Nick Folkes and supporters. Picture: John Veage.

11.15am:

Chief Inspector Matk McGrath questioned Sergio Redegalli, who arrived with a spit and a pig to roast.

Cronulla riot put to rest: Shire looks forward to Australia Day Chief inspector Mark McGrath with Nick Folkes, wearing a burqa.

Nick Folkes after the press conference.

Sergio Redegalli, who arrived with a spit and a pig to roast.

Party for Freedom barbecue.

Police at Crinulla station as protestors arrive.

Police patrolling Cronulla on Saturday morning..

Residents were out walking their dogs.

Residents walking their dogs.

Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce was an early starter and asked residents to stay Way later in the day.

Police patrolling Don Lucas Reserve.

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Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group buys South China Morning Post

Beijing: Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group has acquired the South China Morning Post, a move which simultaneously signals its intention to expand its media influence beyond mainland China while sparking fears around editorial independence at the venerable Hong Kong newspaper.
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Announcing the deal on Thursday night, Alibaba, founded by one of China’s richest and most recognisable billionaire businessmen, Jack Ma, pledged to uphold editorial independence while leveraging the group’s digital expertise to transform the 112-year-old English-language newspaper to a media entity with global reach.

But in interviews, Alibaba Executive Vice-Chairman Joseph Tsai hinted at a desire to improve China’s image in what he considered a “negative” portrayal of the company’s home country in western press.

“Today when I see mainstream western news organisations cover China, they cover it through a very particular lens,” Executive Vice-Chairman Joseph Tsai said in an interview withthe Post. “We believe things should be presented as they are. Present facts, tell the truth, and that is the principle that we are going to operate on.”

Mr Tsai denied the Chinese government played any role in Alibaba’s decision to acquire the media assets of the Hong Kong-listed SCMP Group, which include other smaller fashion and lifestyle publications. The purchase price was not disclosed.

But mainland ownership of one of Hong Kong’s most recognisable mastheads comes at a politically delicate time in a city where many are concerned about encroaching mainland interests and a perceived decline in its free press. The territory of 7 million also remains sharply divided after last year’s citywide pro-democracy demonstrations, which were imbued with strong anti-mainland sentiment.

Hong Kong’s relatively free press is not subjected to the same strict government oversight and censorship the Communist Party requires in mainland China. And while the Post has come under criticism in recent years for its increasingly pro-Beijing stance under recently departed editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei, it has produced powerful and award-winning coverage of issues which were censored heavily in the mainland, including extensive reporting of the Occupy protests and last year’s 25th anniversary of the military crackdown of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

The paper also reports on human rights abuses and sensitive political scandals in mainland China in consistent detail, all of which may prove awkward, if not untenable, under the ownership of Alibaba and Jack Ma, known for his close ties with China’s central leadership.

“We’ll let the editors make their judgment on what to publish and not to publish,” Mr Tsai told the New York Times. “I can’t think of anything being off-limits.”

In 2013, a Post reporter was forced to apologise and resign after Alibaba complained she had misquoted Mr Ma. The story said he had compared the tough decision-making skills required to run Alibaba with the Chinese government’s crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 by saying: “As the country’s most senior decision-maker, he had to be stable and he had to make cruel decisions. It was not the perfect decision, but it was the best decision, and it was the best decision at that time.” The reporter was suspended and subsequently resigned.

Like most traditional media companies, the SCMP has struggled with declining profitability amid a fragmenting readership and advertising market, and some analysts said the injection of Alibaba’s undoubted financial heft and innovation could benefit the flagging title.

Alibaba, best-known for its online shopping platforms Tmall and Taobao Marketplace, has pledged to invest in the business, hire more staff, and leverage its digital expertise to grow its global audience. It will remove the website’s paywall.

In recent years, Alibaba and Mr Ma have made extensive investments in social media platform Weibo, the YouTube-like Youku, and various domestic media outlets including China Business News.

Mr Ma and fellow billionaire tycoon Wang Jianlin, founder of Wanda Group and also known for his close ties with the Chinese government, have also invested heavily in areas favoured as a priority in the Communist Party’s global soft-power push, including in film production, the arts and football.

The Post was once part of the Rupert Murdoch media empire but since 1993 has been in the hands of Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok.

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