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First Contact’s David Oldfield claims he was banned from visiting prison as ‘payback’

Ray Martin delivers the news that David Oldfield will not be going on the priosn visit with everyone else. Photo: David Dare ParkerDavid Oldfield claims he was barred from entering a remote prison for Aborigines in Western Australia because of a feud from his days as a staffer in Tony Abbott’s office.

In a stunning scene in the final episode of SBS reality series First Contact, Oldfield is about to board a bus to visit the West Kimberley Regional Prison along with his five fellow cast members when he is told he has been refused entry.

He is told the decision was made by Joe Francis, Western Australia’s Minister for Corrections. No reason for the refusal is given.

The show’s producers, Blackfella Films, told Fairfax Media negotiations for the visit began months earlier but the decision to block Oldfield was only communicated at the last minute.

Oldfield told Fairfax he was convinced the call was made on purely personal grounds, and not because of fears his presence would spark trouble among the prison’s Indigenous population.

“My belief is that it was some old payback because the minister was an underling in Tony Abbott’s office when I worked for Tony,” says Oldfield, who worked for the then Liberal backbencher from 1996, before leaving to co-found One Nation with Pauline Hanson the following year.

Whatever grievance Mr Francis might hold would stem from “nothing particular”, Oldfield insists. “We just didn’t get along. He was probably aware I didn’t think very much of him. But back then, nobody much did.”

But a spokesman for Mr Francis insisted it was not personal, merely a matter of timing.

“Given that we were in a caretaker period in the run-up to the federal election [when the visit was filmed in June], the minister thought it was inappropriate to have a former One Nation MP visiting a West Australian prison.”

The spokesman added: “He wasn’t aware it would be a six-month turnaround for the program to go to air.”

WA Corrective Services minister Joe Francis. Photo: James Mooney

Ray Martin telling Oldfield he will not be allowed to join the others on the prison visit provides one of the most memorable moments in the second season of the documentary-cum-reality show.

“In a few minutes, a van from the West Kimberley Regional Prison will arrive here and collect you,” Martin tells the six “well-known” Australians on the show. “That is, all of you except you, David.

“David, the Minister for Correctional Services here in WA has intervened, and he’s told us he doesn’t want you to go inside the prison. I don’t know why, it’s not our call, it was his decision. It’s unfortunate, we would like you to go.”

“I would like to go as well,” says a clearly surprised Oldfield.

“We asked why and their reply was no comment,” says Martin.

“It’s appalling really, Ray … I would have liked to have gone, and to just single me out, as a retired Member of Parliament, that I’m not allowed to go in. What is he worried that I’m going to see, what is it that he’s worried I’m going to say?”

“I can’t answer that.”

David Oldfield, Natalie Imbruglia, and Ian ‘Dicko’ Dickson in First Contact. Photo: David Dare Parker

His fellow cast members are divided in their response to the bombshell. Ian “Dicko” Dickson opts out of the visit in protest, but actress Nicki Wendt declines to join him.

“I think maybe David’s reputation has a little bit preceded him,” she says.

Speaking to Fairfax, Oldfield conceded that thought had crossed his mind at the time, but he no longer felt it was the case.

“If he’d said, ‘You’re a controversial person and your appearance may cause some problem’, I’d have accepted that. But the fact that never occurred indicates it was something else.”

Karl Quinn is on facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on twitter @karlkwin

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Treasurers’ housing summit to focus on cheaper rentals, more supply

Treasurer Scott Morrison is determined to ensure money for affordable and social housing is better spent. Photo: Alex EllinghausenHousing supply and more affordable rentals will be top of the agenda when Treasurer Scott Morrison and his state counterparts meet in Canberra on Friday.

A leaked copy of an affordable housing report, which will be considered by the treasurers on Friday,  identifies planning rules, local councils and, crucially, federal and states taxes such as negative gearing and stamp duty, as factors that impact on the supply of affordable housing.

The report suggests four financing models that could unlock spending to grow the supply of affordable housing including, crucially, from the private sector.

Governments across Australia spend close to $11 billion a year on affordable and social housing, and Mr Morrison is determined to ensure the money is better spent – and in their final meeting for 2016, the treasurers will examine a report prepared by a federal-state affordable housing working group that examines this issue.

Back in October, the Treasurer effectively put the states on notice over the need to increase housing supply and tackle planning laws that stop, or delay, new houses being built. Those supply constraints can increase demand and force up house prices.

The meeting also comes a week after NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes broke ranks with his federal counterparts and joined the federal opposition in criticising negative gearing tax breaks, arguing that increased supply alone would not solve the housing affordability crisis.

The Affordable Housing Working Group report, written by state and federal bureaucrats, is focused on rental affordability rather than the rising cost of purchasing a home.

On tax policy, however, the report notes that taxation rules and concessions “at all levels of government have a significant impact on supply and demand of housing across the housing continuum” and can “directly affect the viability of innovative financing models for affordable housing”.

This happens by affecting the supply of affordable housing, and through its impact on the attractiveness of community housing as an investment prospect.

“Commonwealth government taxation policy affects housing in a variety of ways, in particular through capital gains tax and negative gearing arrangements, which are applied to investments more broadly,” the report states.

“These settings may affect investment decisions in established housing and possibly make housing investment more attractive to individual ‘mum and dad’ investors over institutional investors due to the ability to deduct losses against other earned income.”

At the state and territory level, taxes and concessions including stamp duties and land taxes, grants for first-home buyers and principal place of residence rebates also have an impact.

To ameliorate the cost of rental housing, the report suggested four potential models be examined to increase finance available to increase the supply of affordable housing.

These four models were the creation of housing trusts, the creation of housing loan/bond aggregators to attract greater investment, housing co-operatives and so-called “impact investing”,a new form of financing that aims to address social problems, such as a shortage of affordable housing.

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Michaelia Cash: Malcolm Turnbull’s secret weapon is a woman on the rise

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash inside her Parliament House office. Photo: Andrew Meares Michaelia Cash and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speak to the media after the ABCC bill was passed. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Michaelia Cash during question time at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares

Michaelia Cash’s staffers are standing sheepishly in the corner of her office, looking at their watches.

Their boss is due to meet with the Governor-General to get royal assent for the Australian Building and Construction Bill which passed Parliament the night before. But she’s high on victory, waxing lyrical about the benefits the bill.

The two young men are more resigned than perturbed. When Hurricane Michaelia is spinning there’s no stopping her.

You could forgive Cash for being exhausted on the last sitting day of the year. “You do end up doing 18 hour days quite easily seven days a week,” she says of her recent weeks negotiating to get the government’s double dissolution trigger bills passed through the Senate.

Instead she’s wide-eyed, ebullient, buzzing with a caffeinated energy that’s equal parts intoxicating and exhausting. With her trademark theatrical hand gestures and exaggerated pronunciation, she’s a lip reader’s dream.

“She’s a ball of energy,” Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm says.

“She’s always very upbeat, always got a positive outlook,” one frontbench colleague says.

“She works her arse off.”

A government source who has worked closely with her says: “She’s a superstar.”

Elected as a Senator for Western Australia in 2007, the former Freehills lawyer sits on the conservative side of the Liberal Party’s broad church. After becoming a Malcolm Turnbull supporter late in the piece, his victory saw her shoot into cabinet as Minister for Workplace Relations and Employment. Unlike some of her accident-prone colleagues, Cash has earned respect for notching up a set of legislative victories.

When the Turnbull government emerged from the July election with a shrunken majority in the House of Representatives and a bloated crossbench, the decision to go to a double dissolution trigger seemed a disaster. Many assumed the chances of passing the ABCC and Registered Organisations bills – both rejected twice by the previous Parliament – were as good as dead.

Did Cash?

“No absolutely not,” she says. “I knew what I needed to do.”

Besides her computer sits a plaque, a replica of the one that sat on Ronald Reagan’s desk throughout his presidency. “It can be done,” it reads.

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is another hero.

But while the Senator from Western Australia isn’t for turning, she is for negotiating.

Following the election, Cash flew around the country to meet with crossbenchers on their home turf to discuss what they needed to support the bills.

“That’s what you do when you’re negotiating – you show people the respect that is due to them,” she says.

“I never have an issue leaving the blue carpet [of the ministerial wing] ever. Ever! That’s my style; that’s my personality.”

Contrasting her approach to that of Tony Abbott and previous employment minister Eric Abetz, Leyonhjelm says: “There was a much more enthusiastic approach to negotiation.”

Cash gave a lot away to get the bills passed – from new community forums for the ABC and SBS boards to new “buy Australian” procurement requirements. The ABCC’s coercive powers have been softened and a two year transition period for existing contracts will slow its impact.

One conservative commentator described the final bill as an “appalling mishmash of inconsistent and unworkable provisions” that makes it all but worthless.

Cash insists she isn’t fazed by the bad reviews. “The reality is we don’t have the numbers in the Senate,” she says. She had to negotiate to get the job done.

The passage of the bills follows her previous success scrapping Labor’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and passing new laws in support of Victorian Country Fire Authority volunteers.

Had Cash failed on the double dissolution bills, it would have been an embarrassing end to a difficult year for the Turnbull government. Now it enters 2017 with a sense of cautious optimism.

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‘Putting a fence around it is putting a noose around it’: Architects slam Parliament House security upgrade

A security guard patrols the lawns at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares The lawns at Parliament House Photo: Andrew Meares

Australia’s most celebrated architect, Glenn Murcutt, has slammed forthcoming changes to Parliament House that will block public access to the building’s famed grassy slopes, labelling the security upgrade a knee-jerk reaction.

The Pritzker prize winner said the erection of a 2.6-metre fence around Parliament’s perimeter would betray the intentions of architect Romaldo Giurgola, whose design ensured the public could walk above their representatives.

“It’s really a knee-jerk reaction. We’re getting like a gated community: very American style. From an architectural point of view, I think it’s terrible. It should not even be considered as an option,” Mr Murcutt said.

“Romaldo Giurgola designed this building so that you had very good access to the people – so it expressed freedom, it didn’t in any way express exclusivity. Putting a fence around it is putting a noose around it.”

The proposal was endorsed by the Senate with the opposition’s support on Thursday and work was expected to begin over the summer. In addition to the new fence, existing fences further up the hill will be made taller and 38 extra CCTV cameras will be installed.

Blueprints were being kept under wraps, with MPs briefed face-to-face by the Presiding Officers but denied any documents that could be leaked.

Mr Giurgola died in May and his moral rights to the building are now held in part by architect Pamille Berg. She echoed Speaker Tony Smith’s assessment that “these security changes will obviously have a serious impact on the original design intent of Parliament House”.

But Ms Berg conceded security needs had changed and there was a “difficult ongoing balance” between security and accessibility.

Security experts expressed scepticism about the changes, particularly the fences that would prevent people from walking up the grassy slopes to the top of the building.

Neil Fergus, CEO of the firm Intelligent Risks, which has advised governments and event organisers around the world, said federal Parliament security had tended to suffer from being piecemeal rather than holistic and integrated.

“They shouldn’t be making knee-jerk decisions. They need to do a proper security risk assessment. Everything you do affects somewhere else. When you go out and do something that isn’t properly thought through … you can actually create more security gaps than fixes,” Mr Fergus said.

“I think it has been a problem since the new Parliament House opened. There have been fixes done on fixes incrementally over years.”

Nick O’Brien, a former British counter-terrorism policeman now at Charles Sturt University, said fencing off the slopes around Parliament seemed to be “more about stopping civil protests than terrorism”.

John Coyne, a former federal policeman now with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said fencing off the slopes was “a bit strange”. While stressing the Australian Federal Police and ASIO may have identified specific intelligence that warranted fences, he said it was “very difficult to see a clear cause and effect”.

“What would not allowing people on that grassy hill do? Putting someone on the side of a grassy hill is not going to give you any additional capability to attack someone.”

Other architects who spoke to Fairfax Media on Thursday were universally scathing about the details that had been released.

Canberra architect Rodney Moss said Parliament House was falling victim to “security bracket creep”. “To add layers and layers of security to the building will compromise the design intent that we all thought was so fantastic,” he said.

“It becomes fortress Australia, which is the complete opposite to the way the building was envisaged.” Mr Moss said other iconic buildings such as the Taj Mahal or the White House put perimeter security “a long way out from the buildings”.

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Pollution emission cap put on cruise ships in Sydney Harbour

Harbourfront suburbs will breathe easier after the Turnbull Government agreed to revive restrictions on the sulphur content of fuels used by cruise ships at dock in Sydney Harbour.

Balmain residents living close to the White Bay cruise ship terminal have long been concerned about harmful emissions from the 90,000-plus-tonne vessels that berth in the harbour.

The Baird Government had responded to the community campaign and enforced the use of low-sulphur fuel inside the harbour but a federal-state jurisdictional issue rendered the NSW law inoperative in June.

While the state had insisted on sulphur content of no more than 0.1 per cent of the tank, federal laws mandate a minimum content of 3.5 per cent.

On Thursday, federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester said he had instructed the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to direct a 0.1 per cent upper limit for fuel-oil sulphur content under the Navigation Act.

Some cruise-line companies have complained that low-sulphur fuel costs $250-a-tonne more than heavier fuels and would impact on business but Mr Chester said two major operators, Carnival Australia and Royal Caribbean, the two major users of White Bay, were already voluntarily complying.

In May, it was reported that Carnival had been hit with a $15,000 fine by the NSW Environment Protection Authority when its ship, the Pacific Jewel, was found to be in breach.

Mr Chester said: “Sydney Harbour is one of the world’s most recognised landscapes and hosts a large number of cruise ships every year. They bring thousands of tourists who enjoy our world-class harbour, spend money at local businesses and eat at our great restaurants during their stay.

“We welcome these valuable visitors, but we also need to regulate the presence of cruise ships to ensure we retain a healthy working harbour. I’ve heard the concerns of local residents living close to the White Bay cruise ship terminal.”

Shadow infrastructure and transport spokesman Anthony Albanese, whose redrawn seat of Grayndler includes affected Balmain residents, lobbied the government for the change.

“This order will achieve the precise protection the NSW Government had previously sought to enact for berthed ships,” he said.

Mr Albanese said he would now fight to force the state government to provide shore to ship power to preclude ships having to burn fuel in dock.

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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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