Monthly Archives: April 2019

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Turnbull government strikes deal with the Greens for 15 per cent backpacker tax

“Today what we have achieved is a win for farmers and a win for the environment”: Greens leader Richard Di Natale Photo: Eddie Jim Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during question time at Parliament House on Thursday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull are all smiles as they announce the Greens deal to secure the passage of the backpacker tax. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The Senate has passed a bill to tax backpackers’ incomes at 15 per cent, in an extended late-night sitting on Thursday.

Senators voted 43 to 19 in favour of the bill, after the Turnbull government struck an an 11th-hour deal with the Greens.

Rod Culleton, Derryn Hinch and Jacqui Lambie were among the Senators who voted with the government, ending a week of farcical politicking as Parliament rises for the year.

The deal will bring peace of mind to farmers and regional communities, who faced the possibility that working holidaymakers would automatically be whacked for 32 cents in the dollar from January 1 if no compromise was reached.

As part of the compromise, tax on backpackers’ superannuation payments will be reduced to 65 per cent from 95 per cent, while the government agreed to give an extra $100 million to the National Landcare Program, which assists farmers with sustainable agriculture. It was close 43 -19. #backpackertax— Barnaby Joyce (@Barnaby_Joyce) December 1, 2016

That led Labor to portray the deal as a desperate attempt to save face that was worse for the budget bottom line than Labor’s compromise proposal of a 13 per cent tax. “This is a bigger tax at a bigger cost,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said. “It goes to show Malcolm Turnbull will pay any price to anyone.”

But a buoyant Prime Minister heralded the breakthrough, calling the Landcare concession a “great investment” and said the arrangement with the Greens would preserve the 15 per cent rate “for all time”.

Treasurer Scott Morrison conceded the package was no longer the revenue booster set out in the budget, but “today it’s 70 per cent of nothing rather than 100 per cent of nothing”.

He also directed his message at the major ratings agencies, noting the uncertainty was now over and arguing the deal demonstrated the government could make the 45th Parliament work.

The National Farmers Federation welcomed the deal, which put an end to 18 months of speculation and a week of frenzied political posturing that prompted fears of backpackers boycotting Australia.

NFF president Fiona Simson congratulated the government for achieving “a very, very sensible commonsense package that is going to benefit agriculture … and give backpackers the certainty that they need.”

A farcical final week of Parliament saw Mr Morrison initially announce a deal with One Nation on Monday for a 15 per cent tax. But that broke down in the Senate on Wednesday when Derryn Hinch and Rod Culleton ended up supporting Labor’s preferred 10.5 cent rate.

In the Mexican standoff that followed, Senator Hinch and eventually Labor pitched for a 13 per cent tax and goaded the government to compromise. But the arrangement with the Greens’ nine senators means the government has enough votes to secure the higher rate.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce thanked Greens leader Richard Di Natale on Twitter. “Credit where credit is due. Thanks to the Greens for doing what Labor should have done,” he wrote.

Senator Di Natale said the deal showed his left-wing party was able to “clean up the mess that is of the government’s own making”. Farmers had been the victims of “bloody mindedness” and a “silly standoff” by the major parties, he said.

Mr Turnbull heralded the deal as a symbol of the government’s “term of delivery”, following the passage of two key industrial relations bills over the past fortnight – the establishment of the Registered Organisations Commission and resurrection of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

He singled out Finance Minister Mathias Cormann for praise for negotiating the deal, and thanked Senator Di Natale, One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team for their support.

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Eddie Obeid has ‘limited life expectancy’, Supreme Court told

Former Labor minister Eddie Obeid is facing jail time over charges relating to Circular Quay cafes. Photo: Ben Rushton Eddie Obeid with members of his family and legal team during the trial. Photo: Peter Rae

Former Labor minister Eddie Obeid, centre, leaves the Supreme Court after his sentencing hearing on Thursday. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Obeid, left, is facing jail time over charges relating to Circular Quay cafes. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid has a “limited life expectancy” and should not be sent to jail for misconduct over his business dealings at Circular Quay, his lawyers have told the Supreme Court.

But the prosecution told Obeid’s sentencing hearing on Thursday the 73-year-old former minister was “far from being at death’s door” and “ill health cannot be allowed to become a licence to commit crime”.

A Supreme Court jury found Obeid guilty on June 28 of misconduct in public office over his family’s secret business dealings at Circular Quay. The Crown is pushing for a jail sentence.

The court heard Obeid lobbied Steve Dunn, a friend and senior bureaucrat in the NSW Maritime Authority, to secure favourable conditions for tenants at Circular Quay without revealing his family had an interest in two cafe leases on the bustling wharves.

Obeid’s sentencing hearing was delayed twice after he suffered a stroke in August.

In written submissions to the court, Obeid’s legal team said the former Labor minister had “a limited life expectancy and … as a matter of compassion this factor alone provides a ground for leniency in sentence”.

If a term of imprisonment was imposed, it should be less than two years and suspended or served by way of an Intensive Corrections Order which could involve home detention rather than jail time, the defence submissions said.

But Mr Neil said home detention was “simply not appropriate”.

He said the Crown accepted conditions in prison were “somewhat more uncomfortable” but Obeid would receive adequate medical treatment for a “constellation” of medical conditions.

Obeid’s stroke was a “significant unanticipated event” but “fortunately he seems to have emerged from that … probably as well as could be expected”.

Brad Hughes, SC, acting for Obeid, prompted laughter in the public gallery when he said the former minister’s 20 years of service in Parliament “should not just be disregarded”.

Mr Hughes said there had been speculation that as a consequence of his conviction Obeid would be stripped of his parliamentary pension, “to which he is richly entitled”.

The former powerbroker had suffered “the humiliation, the destruction of his name, of the Obeid name” and it was a punishment that both he and his family, including his grandchildren, continued to suffer.

Obeid’s legal team argued the volumes of adverse publicity he had received should also be taken into account in considering his punishment.

However, Mr Neil said the publicity was understandable given that he was a politician on trial for criminally misusing his public office for his own benefit.

Obeid’s legal team added in written submissions that a prison sentence would have a “potentially catastrophic impact on his wife of over 50 years, Judith Obeid”.

A psychological report set out “the harsh and impoverished circumstances of Mr Obeid’s background and upbringing”, the submissions said.

Obeid had “emigrated with his mother and three sisters to join his father who died in 1953” when Obeid was “only 9 years of age”.

The report suggested there was “some evidence of remorse” and Obeid had “always felt obliged to fight on behalf of people who had been treated unfairly and standing up for the underdog”.

Obeid now had “considerable regret” he had ever contacted Mr Dunn asking him to meet a commercial mediator acting for a number of disgruntled tenants at Circular Quay but he was acting in the interests of tenants generally, his lawyers said.

But Mr Neil said the Crown was “unable to accept there was any remorse” on Obeid’s part and his only regret appeared to be he was caught.

Obeid’s legal team said in written submissions “a term of imprisonment is not called for”. While the Crown said the offence involved “very serious criminality” and he acted in “blatant disregard” of his duties, the defence said the objective seriousness of Obeid’s conduct was “at the very bottom of the scale”.

Mr Hughes said it involved an “act of omission rather than commission”, in that he failed to disclose his family had an interest in the cafe leases.

The defence tendered a report from a medical expert suggesting a term of imprisonment would reduce Obeid’s life expectancy by half from 14.25 years to 7.3 years, indicating a life expectancy of 80.3 years.

“The time he’s got left on this planet, not to be too dramatic about it, is [limited],” Mr Hughes said.

“Jail is not conducive to immediate health. If he was to collapse in a particular part of the jail … it’s not always easy to gain access.

“It’s not the same as being treated in the community.”

But the Crown said the conclusions on life expectancy were “untenable” and pointed to maximum penalties of up to 10 years in prison for misconduct in public office under laws in other states.

In NSW, the offence is not codified in an Act of Parliament, making comparable offences in other states relevant.

Justice Robert Beech-Jones will deliver his decision on sentence on Thursday December 15.

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Man bitten by shark while surfing south of Forster

This is what was left of the surfer’s board. Photo: Supplied A surfer who was bitten by a shark gives the thumbs up as he is wheeled into John Hunter Hospital. Photo: Max Mason-Hubers

The man was in high spirits following his ordeal at Seven Mile Beach. Photo: Max Mason-Hubers

A surfer has been bitten by a great white shark and his surfboard snapped in two at a beach south of Forster on the NSW Mid North Coast.

But Colin Rowland, who suffered deep bite marks to his foot and arm, was still able to give the thumbs up as he was wheeled into hospital following the incident at Seven Mile Beach at Booti Point on Thursday morning.

“I’m a bit out of it at the moment, but I’m alive, that’s the main thing,” the 62-year-old said, shortly after landing at John Hunter Hospital.

Police and paramedics were called to Seven Mile Beach, in the Booti Booti National Park, about 9.20am to reports that a man had been attacked by a shark.

Mr Rowland, who is a local surfer, suffered deep bite wounds to his arm and foot, but police said he was able to swim to shore to raise the alarm.

The shark, which the NSW Department of Primary Industries later confirmed was a great white, also bit a large chunk out of Mr Rowland’s surfboard, which was also snapped in half.

Paramedics treated Mr Rowland at the beach and, due to the isolation of the area, drove him to a nearby bowling club where he was transferred to the Westpac Life Saver Rescue helicopter and flown to John Hunter Hospital in a stable condition.

Mr Rowland appeared to be in high spirits when he arrived, laughing with the medical crew, and gave the thumbs up as he was wheeled into the building on a stretcher.

Surf Life Saving NSW said all beaches in the Booti Booti and Pacific Palms area had been closed for at least 24 hours.

“As a result of this morning’s incident Seven Mile Beach, Elizabeth, Boomerang, and Blueys Beach have all been closed,” the organisation said in a statement.

“Warnings signs have been erected by National Parks and Wildlife personnel and Lifeguards while the public are strongly urged to avoid swimming in the area today.

“A decision on when to reopen the beaches will be made in consultation with stakeholders including Mid Coast Council, Police, National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Primary Industries tomorrow.”

Following the attack, NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said he had instructed Fisheries staff to deploy five “smart” drumlines at beaches around Forster, including along the Booti Booti National Park. Smart drum lines use GPS technology to alert Department of Primary Industries scientists when a shark is caught.

“These will be in place by tomorrow,” Mr Blair said.

“DPI Shark specialists are examining surf board damage to help estimate the size of the shark.

“As we head into the summer period, we understand the risk to communities is higher. Incidents like this one impact the whole community and we will continue to test and implement a range of technologies to protect beachgoers.” DPI is assisting @slsnsw, @nswpolice & emergency services in responding to a shark bite off Booti Booti National Park, Forster this morning.— NSW DPI (@nswdpi) November 30, 2016*/]]>

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$1.7 billion in new Waratah trains for Sydney commuter network

The NSW government will buy 24 new Waratah trains for Sydney’s rail network. Photo: Simon AleknaExpress services will run more frequently on Sydney’s congested Western Line at peak periods after the Baird government awarded a $1.7 billion contract for the purchase and maintenance of 24 new Waratah double-deckers.

A day after a damning Auditor-General’s report into the government’s handling of Sydney’s $2.1 billion light rail project, Transport Minister Andrew Constance highlighted the impact the extra Waratah trains would have on boosting capacity on the city’s commuter rail network, which has faced a 10 per cent surge in patronage over the past year.

“What we’re seeing in terms of growth is off the charts and we have to act quickly to keep the system running well,” he said.

Mr Constance said the new trains would be used to help provide four extra express services between Parramatta and Sydney’s central business district in the morning and afternoon peaks. That equated to a service every three minutes, or up to 20 trains an hour during the busiest periods.

The new trains will begin running on the city’s rail network in 2018, and will mean that the once-maligned Waratah trains will make up more than half of Sydney Trains’ suburban rail fleet.

Sydney Trains chief executive Howard Collins said the new trains “cannot come soon enough”.

“We have seen record growth on the network in the last year at over 10 per cent – it’s getting busier and busier,” he said.

The government wants to roll out timetable changes for the Western Line by late next year.

Under the latest deal, the government also has options to buy an extra 45 of the Waratah train sets.

China’s CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles company will manufacture and deliver the bodies of the 24 new eight-car trains to Australian engineering company Downer EDI, which will assemble them and hold the lucrative contract to maintain the double-deckers for at least 25 years. The $1.7 billion contract incudes the cost of maintaining the trains.

The Baird government announced in the state budget in June that it would spend more than $1 billion on new suburban trains for Sydney’s overstretched rail network over the next four years.

A $3.6 billion contract for Waratah trains awarded more than a decade ago proved disastrous for Downer but has since turned out to be a good deal for NSW taxpayers and commuters. The first of those trains began running on Sydney’s rail network in July 2011, and have proved popular with passengers.

Under that contract, the O’Farrell government had the option of ordering an extra 20 Waratah trains. However, it decided against exercising the option, leaving Sydney train commuters stuck with non-airconditioned carriages for years.

Mr Constance said no one at the time of that decision had predicted 10 per cent growth in patronage over the past year, and the government was “responding to unprecedented growth”.

The latest purchase comes three months after the government awarded a $2.3 billion contract to buy 512 double-deck train carriages for NSW’s intercity fleet. Those trains will be built in South Korea, and will begin services to Newcastle, the Central Coast, Illawarra and the Blue Mountains in 2019.

Downer missed out on the intercity train contract to a consortium of South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem and Australian company UGL.

The government will need to modify station platforms and rail lines in the Blue Mountains because the intercity trains will be too wide to make trips as far as Lithgow and Katoomba.

The cost of the modifications will not be known until the contract for the work has been awarded.

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Killer Shahram Hejabian sentenced to 21 years after botched murder-suicide attempt

A refugee suffering from post traumatic stress disorder who murdered his girlfriend before attempting to take his own life has been sentenced to 21 years in jail.

Shahram Hejabian, 40, choked and used a hammer-like instrument to bash Nouha Salame before he scrawled a suicide note on his bedroom wall and took an overdose of prescription drugs inside his western Sydney home in April 2014.

Hejabian pleaded not guilty to murder, with the question for the jury being whether he was substantially impaired at the time of the killing to warrant a reduction in the charge to manslaughter.

The trial heard that Hejabian was born in Iran and had suffered discrimination, abuse and violence because of his Bahá’í faith. He fled to Turkey, before he arrived in Australia in 2001 after being accepted as a refugee.

He had been diagnosed with long-standing post traumatic stress and depression, which had its origin in his experience of persecution in Iran and had been enhanced by having to care for his wife who was hospitalised for mental illness.

Forensic psychiatrists gave evidence that Hejabian was suffering from an abnormality of mind at the time of the killing, but it was left to the jury whether this amounted to impairment to lessen his criminal culpability.

The jury delivered a murder verdict after about two hours of deliberations.

In his sentencing remarks in the NSW Supreme Court on Thursday, Justice Peter Hidden said that Hejabian had become emotionally dependent on Ms Salame. As the Crown put it, he “saw her as his saviour in a future which otherwise appeared void of hope”.

The trial heard that some months before the murder Hejabian had told Ms Salame that if she ever left him he would kill her and himself, but she did not take the comments seriously.

Ms Salame’s eldest daughter, Sarah Salame, gave evidence that his behaviour was obsessive, and described how Hejabian would call her mother multiple times on her mobile and show up at her home unannounced.

After murdering Ms Salame, Hejabian scrawled in a felt pen what would was intended to be a suicide note on the bedroom wall of his Doonside home.

In the note, he complained about his treatment in Australia and said Ms Salame had broken his heart and shown him no mercy.

“She kept changing her words. She would say ‘I love you’ but she did not. She used me in every way,” the note, written in Persian, said.

Hejabian was found barely conscious in the room and has been left with enduring mobility problems from the botched suicide attempt.

Justice Hidden said it was most likely on the jury’s application of community standards that the defence case failed. He found, however, that Hejabian’s moral culpability was reduced.

“I am satisfied that the accused had lost self-control at the time he killed the deceased and that his mental illness was a significant factor contributing to his conduct,” Justice Hidden said.

“This was an uncharacteristic episode of serious violence, there being no evidence of any other violence on his part during the relationship.”

Hejabian, who did not appear to react when the sentence was read out, was given a maximum of 21 years imprisonment. He will serve at least 15 years and nine months behind bars.

Backdated to the time he was first taken into custody, he will be eligible for parole in 2030.

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