Illegal dumping investigator Craig Izzard denies bribery allegations at ICAC inquiry

Craig Izzard after appearing at the ICAC inquiry on Thursday. Photo: Peter RaeA former illegal dumping investigator told a corruption inquiry he was “surprised” to learn more than 200 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated waste had been dumped at a western Sydney property he was allegedly responsible for investigating.

Craig Izzard, a former rugby league player for the Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels, endured a day of rigorous questioning at the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Friday over his alleged involvement in “black market” dumping operations last year.

Mr Izzard maintained he had done nothing improper, as counsel assisting the commission James Mack guided him point-by-point through his employment code of conduct for the Western Sydney Regional Illegal Dumping Squad (RID).

“Is it your evidence that, while employed in the Western Sydney RID, you always acted honestly?” Mr Mack inquired

“I would say so, yes,” Mr Izzard replied.

Mr Izzard is the principal person of interest in four allegations of corrupt conduct, including three times last year when he allegedly solicited bribes from people in exchange for not investigating their dumping activity.

Among the allegations, Mr Izzard is accused of soliciting a bribe from Reuben Matthews in exchange for turning a blind eye to dumping at his property in Willowdene Avenue, Luddenham.

But Mr Izzard said he had no involvement in investigating the site, despite email evidence showing he was asked by Liverpool Council to investigate dumping complaints in November 2014.

He told the commission he had been “surprised” to learn that more than 200 tonnes of waste was later dumped at the site and tests revealed it was contaminated with asbestos.

Matthews was later convicted of dumping offences and fined $55,000. Another man, Nosir Kabite, was fined $25,000 after pleading guilty to transporting the waste to the property.

Earlier in the week, Mr Mack extracted an admission from Mr Kabite that he and Mr Izzard had an understanding that involved the exchange of “favours”.

After numerous recordings of phone calls between Mr Kabite and Mr Izzard were played before the inquiry, Mr Kabite admitted the pair used the code word “drinks” when discussing bribes.

“Mr Izzard frequently asked you for drinks, and by drinks he meant bribes, and it was your job to go out and get Mr Izzard a drink? Do you agree with me?” Mr Mack asked Mr Kabite.

“Yes,” he replied.

Mr Kabite said he gave Mr Izzard money on “two or three occasions”, and each payment was between $500 and $700.

However, Mr Izzard maintained the payments were in connection with an unrelated energy business he owned, whereby Mr Kabite would sell refrigeration units for him.

He also denied attempting to solicit a bribe from another man, Antonio Barillaro, in connection with alleged illegal dumping at a property in Badgerys Creek, telling the inquiry he’d never heard of someone by that name.

The commission also heard Mr Izzard regularly advised Mr Kabite over his council-related dilemmas, including one time when he suggested Mr Kabite’s nephew could attempt to avoid a dumping-related fine by pretending someone else was responsible.

When asked by assistant commissioner Reginald Blanch if he realised he was advising someone to pervert the course of justice, he replied: “I think it was, I probably didn’t [think] about it, Mr Commissioner.”

Mr Izzard will continue giving evidence to the inquiry on Monday.

North shore offices are back in the spotlight

The north shore in Sydney is returning to its former self as more office towers are being constructed to satisfy the demand of the expanding commerce industries.

Having gone through tough times when office vacancy reached heady levels of about 20 per cent, the area was turned into a residential zone.

But with significant stock withdrawals and rising rents in Sydney’s central business district, the demand for office accommodation across the north shore is expected to rise substantially, according to Knight Frank’s managing director, North Sydney, Angus Klem​.

He said North Sydney is now “well and truly an adjunct to the Sydney CBD”.

“Over the next two years significant stock withdrawals in the CBD will see an exodus of tenants to North Sydney and the other north shore markets,” Mr Klem said.

There is also the planned state metro line that has led the state government to buy up properties in North Sydney, which has led to a tightening of stock.

Knight Frank’s Giuseppe Ruberto​, director of office leasing, north shore, said a number of tenants were opting away from the CBD due to cost and the limited options available. He said instead tenants were choosing to operate within the north shore with North Sydney expected to be a big winner over the next 24 months.

“Effective secondary rents in the CBD core have risen by over 20 per cent in the last 12 months, with rents now sitting over $900 per square metre gross in some locations, so it is no surprise tenants are now considering other options. Recently we have seen tenants, including BT Australasia and Chubb Insurance, committing to North Sydney from the CBD,” Mr Ruberto said.

He said the lack of prime space in North Sydney was an issue of the past with 101 Miller Street as the only premium building available and experiencing strong leasing success with a number of floors leased, highlighting the demand for quality assets.

Another development is by DEXUS Property Group at 100 Mount Street,  North Sydney. The group has appointed JLL national head of leasing, Tim O’Connor, and JLL head of office leasing North Sydney, Paul Lynch, to partner with DEXUS’ leasing team, headed by Chris Hynes, on the project’s leasing.

DEXUS executive general manager of office and industrial, Kevin George, said the group had received some strong inquiries to lease the office space since it had agreed to buy 100 Mount Street. “Now that we have settled on the acquisition, we can progress leasing discussions,” Mr George said.

Knight Frank’s Tyler Talbot, director, institutional sales, North Sydney, said north shore investment activity had been strong over the past 12 months and this was expected to continue with high demand from both domestic and offshore groups.

“Limited quality stock, falling interest rates and the real prospect of significant rental growth has been driving down yields,” Mr Talbot said.

Knight Frank’s latest research report, the North Shore Office Market Overview: August 2016 found about 80,000 square metres of office stock has been earmarked for permanent withdrawal from the North Sydney market over the next four years.

According to Knight Frank’s Alex Pham, senior research manager, NSW, the significant withdrawal of stock saw the North Sydney vacancy rate dipping to its lowest level in four years at 7 per cent in July 2016.

Hotels sector braces for busy times ahead

The Novotel Darling Harbour was the first Accor hotel in Australia. Accor has grown to 208 hotels across the country.There are three mega trends that are being felt in the hotel sector and operators are taking up the challenge, says AccorHotel’s Asia Pacific chief executive Michael Issenberg.

Speaking in Sydney for AccorHotel’s 25th anniversary in Australia, Mr Issenberg said hotels had a new “dream phase” where the “before and after” experiences at a hotel had changed the sector dramatically.

AccorHotels arrived in Australia with the launch of the Novotel at Darling Harbour and now has 208 hotels under 12 brands across the country. It will expand with its latest $3.9 billion purchase of the Fairmont, Swissotel and Raffles hotel.

But Mr Issenberg said amid the new sharing economy and guests’ ability to plan and book a hotel room by themselves, and where every experience is put online immediately, its still old-fashioned service during the stay that remains the constant focus of hotel operators.

“Travel is now about the time it takes to plan and then book a holiday and select the appropriate hotel, which we call the dream phase, but once the guest arrives it’s back to offering the best service we can to make the stay enjoyable,” Mr Issenberg said.

“Everything has changed with technology and the sharing generation, so service is the differential for hotel operators.”

He said now that most people bring their own electronic devices and download movies, demand for cable TV in a room has diminished, but demand has risen for better Wi-Fi and technology outlets.

Mr Issenberg said the sector’s mega trends are the inflow of Asian travellers, the increased use of private stay accommodation, such as the group’s Onefinestay​ business, and the new sharing economy, which is not just the domain of the so-called millennials but where visitors like interacting in more relaxed lobbies and common areas.

“The growth of visitors from Asia is an important mega trend that is changing the hotel and tourism sector,” he said. “That includes having dual-speaking staff and different and more varied food, among many other services.”

This comes as the sector is bracing for an inflow of visitors for events that are now booked at the new International Convention Centre, which has been rebuilt in Sydney and opens later this year.

According to ICC Sydney, there are already more than 100 events booked and it expects to generate at least $200 million a year in economic benefits for NSW. Given the time and distance of travelling to Australia, it is expected that some guests will stay and see more of the country, which will benefit other states.

Business Events Sydney has booked 43 events to be hosted at UCC Sydney, of which 39 are international, which is its core focus.

Lyn Lewis-Smith, chief executive of Business Events Sydney, said of this pipeline 17 events will be hosted  next year, although she expects this to keep increasing over the next 12 months,

Ms Lewis-Smith said international conference delegates spend up to 6.5 times more than a regular tourist, so this super high yield traveller is the NSW government’s focus.

The chief executive and founder of Ovolo Hotels, Girish Jhunjhnuwala, said Sydney was the gateway to Australia for travellers around the world. And the opening of ICC Sydney will definitely further strengthen Sydney’s position in conventions, exhibitions and entertainment segments by attracting more international business travellers to the city.

“Hotel room demand is already at an all-time high in the city, and with the ICC’s opening, it’s going to likely accelerate rate increases, which is sure to benefit hotels in Sydney,” Mr Jhunjhnuwala said. “Overall room quality, however, continues to be a big issue, as there are limited new hotel openings and the majority of the city’s hotel room inventory is old and tired. Ovolo is well positioned with recently refurbished hotels in Darling Harbour and Woolloomooloo.”

Charleville School of Distance Education celebrates 50 golden years

Golden opportunity: The cover of the book documenting the history of the Charleville School of the Air, authored by Jennie Bucknell and Julie Hawker.Schools of the Air were a revolutionary concept for ruralfamilies around Australia, struggling with huge distances and isolation from the source of their lessons sent out from Primary Correspondence Schools.
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Alice Springs pioneered the ideain 1951 but it was an exciting time for Queenslanders onJanuary 24, 1966 when Joe Tully answered the opening roll call broadcast from the Royal Flying Doctor base at Charleville, beginninga tradition of teacher-pupil interaction from the south westthat’s now half a century old.

Charleville School of the Air’s first teacher-In-charge, Anna Andler, at her desk in 1966, features prominently in the history book.

Part of the commemorations for the Charleville School of Distance Education’s golden jubilee in mid-August this year included a celebratory book, an eclectic collection of facts and recollections, anecdotes, comments and photosthat show the human element of such a uniquely Australian school.

Coming froma P&C meeting discussion, it is the creation of Mitchell’sJennie Bucknell, renowned as the author of Bush Kids, and a pastparent, Julie Hawker.

After discussing formats, a call was put out to the extended school community, past and present, for contributions in the form of memories and photos.

“The response was incredible and speaks volumes of the strength of communityof this school,” Julie said.“We were flooded with beautiful photos, memorabilia,anecdotes and memories.”

A photo from the 1967 Sports Day Muster at the Charleville showgrounds, in its second year. Anna Andler, the first teacher-in-charge, initiated the muster in October 1966, even marking out the track herself, with the intention of providing a chance for isolated students and teachers to put faces to names.

She said anoverwhelming theme through the book was the community spirit of all involvedwith the school.

“Throughout all the changes with delivery of lessons, thestrong relationship between the school staff, parents and students has neverwavered.”

Never was that more evident than when the pair’s unreliable internet failed to cope with the amount of data they needed to transfer.

“Due tothe vagaries of our internet we found that the easiest thing to do was tomeet in Charleville, a 550km round trip each, several times through themaking of the book,” Julie explained.

“Jenny Swadling (the principal)had to open the schoolfor us over the holidays at times so that we had somewhere to meet andaccess to the archives.

“Other times we found that the only way to sharefiles was to drive to the nearest town and find a wifi connection.”

Any gaps in contributions were filled by school archives, which weremade fully available for us to use for the duration of the project.

CSOTA fathers ambling down the track in a Father’s Day race one year – there was as much laughing and puffing as there was effort.

Some precious contributions were those of the first teacher-in-charge,Anna Andler (now Curtis) who sent original copies of telegrams, invitations,newspaper articles and photos, and Helen Shannon (Hacker) who sent foldersof lesson plans, photos, newspaper articles and past school publications.

These original documents, as well as the incredibly generous contributionsfrom other members of the community, were invaluable for telling the storyof the school over the decades.

The loss of so much school history in the 1990 flood made it difficult to put a lot of names to faces, according to Julie, butthe authorshadBill and Jan L’Estrange volunteer to edit their work, and former principalKaren Tully asfact-checker.

Julie said they wanted it tobe more than just a history of the school.

“We alsoaimed to capture the spirit of the school and give readers from all walks oflife, a real insight into how a school of the air (school of distanceeducation) works,” she said.

It has been divided into three broad sections to delve into each aspect of the school community–at school, at home, and getting together –and followed the decades through in each section.

At Schoolfocuses ontheschool’s development (including support services) and the teachers’experiences through the years; At Homefocuses on the comments andexperiences of children and their parents and; Getting Togetherrepresented all the times both sections of the school community cometogether, atsports muster, camps and swim muster.

There were plenty of funny anecdotes that showed even though things change, the challenges and triumphs don’t.

Kelly Twist, Juandah Downs, Mungallala, at kitchen play while her mother Kate was in the schoolroom.

Many teachers new to SDE/SOTA had to learn a new “bush language” when their students talked about mustering, poddies and smoko.

As teacher Jacqui Surman said, “I’d never heard of the Cunnamulla Fella, I’dnever experienced ‘smoko.’ I’d never encountered so many individual childrenwith the same lust for the land. Amazing!”

When School of the Air first began, the lessons were conducted over the RFDSairwaves. Anna Andler recalled that “lessons were a great source of entertainment and amusement for all, who madesure they took their lunch break during our two hours on-air.”

Children under the Kanyanna and Narungi banners at the 2011 sports muster.

Supplementary chapters include a history lesson on the the School of the Air in Australia and Queensland, and the quiet achievers, focusing on critical support networks such as the P&C and VISE tutors.

Did You Know? snippets are sprinkled throughout the book, and one of them perhaps putsthe school’s achievements in perspective.

In 2002, the school choir performed at the ICPA conferenceheld in Charleville. What made this performance different was that no choirmembers actually attended conference but rather all sang via the telephoneat their remote home locations, along with students from The SouthportSchool, who were gathered at their school. The students were accompanied byan isolated SDE student playing the digeridoo from his property near Injuneand the choir teacher conducted the choir from her studio in Charleville.Upon completion of the item, students were able to hear the warm applausefrom the hundreds of conference attendees by phone. This is truly atestament to the schools motto of ‘Divided by Distance, United by Voice.’Jennie and Julie actively workedon the book for about 12 months, fitting it inaround other things going on in their lives.

The bookcanbe purchased for $40 plus a freight cost if applicable, by contacting Annabel Tully at [email protected]上海m

School history for parliamentary libraryThe book documenting the proud 50-year history of the Charleville School of the Air has made its way as far as Queensland’s parliamentary library, thanks to a donation by local Member, Ann Leahy.

Warrego MP Ann Leahy making a presentation of the history to Katherine Brennan, Parliamentary librarian at the Parliamentary Library.

The school’s first crackly HF radio transmission took place on January 24, 1966, which was celebrated in mid-August with the launch of a book amidst a weekend of celebration that included a reunion, markets, horse races, a trivia night, and a time capsule relaunch.

As a former distance education student, Ms Leahy told Parliament it was a significant milestone for the school, highlighting the importance distance education plays in ensuring all children in Queensland have access to quality education.

She said the book’s donation would allow fellow MPs and visitors to learn more about distance education and the stories that shaped half a century of learning in south west Queensland.

Wild Drover many a year

Paul Finlay inside the Camooweal Drovers Camp.The droving era may mostly have been passed but there is one place in Queensland where the flame still burns strong –the Camooweal Drovers Camp.
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The flame is kept alive by Paul Finlay who with his wife Ellen runs theDrovers Camp –literally –as one of the first things he showed the North West Star was how to light a carbide flame.

Carbide lamps, more properly acetylene gas lamps, are simple lamps, Mr Finlay saidthat produce and burnacetylene gas (C2H2) created by the reaction ofcalcium carbide(CaC2) withwater.

A chemistry lesson was one of the many surprises the Drovers Shed has in store for visitors but carbide lamps were in common use before properties hadelectricity.

Paul picked up toasting forks which on closer inspection were beautifully elaborately designed.

“An old fella in Charters Towers made these, if you pull wire back and forth it gets supple and pliable, so you get a couple of pliers and pull them back and forth, it’s a slow hideous job –but it’s a neat bit of work.

The other half of the team at the Drovers Camp Ellen Finlay looks after the office.

Paul said for visitors to get a sense of droving history at the camp, they had to do the tour.

“Otherwise you won’t know what you’re looking at, we’ve got old blokes here who can give a good tour,” he said.

Also pride of place was a big map of northern Australia showing the main droving trails.

“My wife’s grandflather Blake Miller took a mob from Victoria River Downs (NT) from Kidman and brought them down the Murrinji Track and he came down to Headingly Station in 1904,” he said.

It was important to get the terminology right when it came to stock routes.

“We call them stock routes (pronounced ‘rout’) not stock routes (pronounced ‘roots’),” he said.

The shed was built in 2005 though the drover’sfestival has been going since 1997.

“Camooweal was always a big drovers’ town,” Paul said.

“We always had horses and cattle here and next thing you know it was all replaced by road trains.”

An important part of the festival, which happens on the last weekend of August,is the lunch for old drovers in the shed.

“They are getting less and less now, although some of their family are starting to come back now,” he said.

Paul said drovers really knew how to look after cattle.

“I’m not a drover,I used to take a few into Camooweal, nothing much mind, but my father and my three brothers were drovers and so was my grandfather,” he said.

“It might seem hard to people now but we didn’t know any better.”

Travel deals: September 2016

Hit the Great Ocean Road with Scenic. Photo: Roberto SebaABOVE PAR
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This package for female golfers from Thailand’s [email protected] Design Hotels & Resorts and Siam Country Club Pattaya gives three nights’ accommodation at the [email protected] Design Hotel Pattaya and a night at the group’s Bangkok property, [email protected] Design Hotel.

You get return private car transfers between the airport and Pattaya, as well as being chauffeured to three golf courses (at each you receive one day’s green fees and clubhouse access). The courses at the Siam Country Club are The Old Course, The Plantation and The Waterside.

The price is THB33,000 (about $1320) a person twin share, available to single travellers for THB55,000 (about $2200).

For bookings email [email protected]上海m. See siamatsiam上海mBE SPONTANEOUS

Celebrity Cruises is offering a great, but very last-minute, deal on an 18-night trans-Pacific cruise aboard Australia’s favourite cruise ship: Celebrity Solstice.

Departing Honolulu, Hawaii on September 19, Celebrity Solstice calls at Maui before spending five days at sea as she makes her way down to the Pacific Islands. There, she visits ports of Bora Bora, Papeete and Moorea in French Polynesia before cruising to Auckland and the Bay of Islands in beautiful New Zealand.

Celebrity Solstice will then continue to her summer home port of Sydney, arriving October 8 as the first international summer cruise ship to return for the 2016/17 season.

The price is from $1999 a person. Phone 1800 754 500. See celebritycruises上海m.auFLY AIR EARLY

Early bird airfare offers are rolling out from the big players, and The Great Singapore Airlines Getaway the latest. It includes promotional fares, such as flights to London from $1387 return, value-adds and prizes.

There are great deals on flights to Europe travelling from March 1 to September 30, 2017, or to Asia from now until February 28, 2017. And they come with the possibility to win prizes such as first-class tickets and shopping vouchers. Also, every flight ticket purchased attracts a $1-a-person twin share Singapore Stopover Holiday package, plus a S$10 KrisShop eVoucher and more if flights are booked at singaporeair上海m

On sale till September 30. See singaporeairgetaway上海m

Malaysia Airlines is also on sale, with airfares to Asia on sale until September 19. For instance, fly economy return Sydney to Penang from $682, or from Melbourne from $665.

See malaysiaairlines上海m  COAST TO COAST SAVINGS

Scenic’s new Endless Wonders of Australia 2017/2018 brochure release comes with early bird offers for bookings made by March 31. They include two flying for the price of one with Qantas on the 23-day Treasures of the West Coast, and the 12-day Top End & Kimberley Spectacular, 17-day South Western Tapestry or 22-day Territory Discoverer & The Kimberley.

In addition, save $500 a couple on the 11-day Victorian Discovery round trip from Melbourne that takes you along the Surf Coast via Geelong, Lorne and the Great Ocean Road to Warrnambool before heading to the spa town of Daylesford and inland Bendigo. It’s $4795 a person twin share if booked by March 31.

Phone 138 128. See scenic上海  NEW SKI LAND

There’s still plenty of snow in New Zealand’s Southern Alps ski fields and the Queenstown Spring Pass gives unlimited skiing and snowboard riding until the end of season at Coronet Peak and The Remarkables.

With the scheduled closing day of October 2, a last-minute trip with this pass provides unlimited access to all operational lifts at Coronet Peak and The Remarkables from 9am to 4pm, and night skiing at Coronet Peak on Fridays and Saturdays (4pm–9pm) if it’s still going (it is scheduled to finish mid-September).

The price is NZD$299 ($288) for adults and NZD$199 for kids 7-17.

See nzski上海m/spring-pass

Shipping news: September 2016

Viking Sea is sailing from San Juan.Iceland bound
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Lindblad Expeditions has three new cruises to Iceland with various departures in June and August 2017. One is a seven-day “Hot Springs and Icebergs” cruise on National Geographic Explorer, which starts with an exploration of Iceland including its thermal baths and capital, Reykjavik. A plane then takes guests over Greenland’s ice cap, before the Explorer sails along its glacier-lined edge. A 10-day “Wild West Coast” cruise on National Geographic Orion explores Iceland’s Westfjord region and sails among icebergs in the world’s largest fiord system. It, too, takes in Greenland.

Phone 1300 361 012. See expeditions上海mChoices, choices

Variety Cruises has rolled out new cruises in destinations including Costa Rica, transits of the Panama Canal and the Seychelles. But the new cruises are particularly notable for their focus on the Mediterranean, with offerings in the Greek Islands, Adriatic Sea and Spain, the latter in conjunction with Atlantic-bound Portugal. Next year, Variety’s new mega-yacht Callisto also launches an inaugural Icelandic season. All the new itineraries showcase the company’s intimate yacht-style of small-ship cruising, with the freedom to explore history, culture, cuisine and notable sights in ports on privately guided tours.

Phone 1800 623 267. See discovertheworld上海m.auBoating life

Le Boat has announced the launch of new Horizon boat models in 2017 for self-boating holidays on Europe’s inland waterways. All the new, larger Horizon models will be built to the same high-spec as the company’s original cruiser but each will either sleep five, seven or nine people. They will feature the same deck area for barbecues and sunbathing, plus spacious indoor lounge areas. The new model boats will travel on the Canal du Midi and Burgundy in France and the Thames in England, as well as in Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy.

Phone 1800 118 940. See leboat上海m.auEuropean explorer

Regent’s just-launched Seven Seas Explorer will be sailing out of London in June 2017 on a couple of interesting northern European itineraries. The 11-night “Discover the Isles” cruise sails around the British Isles to destinations such as Newcastle, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Dublin and Cork, and offers a choice of 43 shore excursions. It will be followed by a 12-night “Baltic Odyssey” to Belgium, the Netherlands and six Baltic countries. Varied shore excursions include sea kayaking, the Russian Ballet, a chocolate-making tour and much more. Three-day, pre-cruise stays in London are also available.

Phone 1300 455 200. See rssc上海m.auCentral casting

Viking Cruises has two interesting new cruises in December 2017. The 22-day “From the Caribbean to the Amazon” cruise on Viking Sea sails round-trip from San Juan in Puerto Rico through the Caribbean islands and into the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil. Viking Sun is meanwhile the latest ship with Cuba in its sights, with a new itinerary round-trip from Miami that takes advantage of the new Cuban entente. The eight-day “Central American Shores and Cuba” cruise visits five countries and five ports, and notably has an overnight in Havana for two days of exploration.

Phone 1800 131 744. See vikingcruises上海

Donations, Dastyari and Chinese soft power

The Sam Dastyari case marks a turning point in the political donations debate. Photo: Wolter Peeters ACRI Chairman Xiangmo Huang with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and David Coleman. Mr Huang, a businessman and philanthropist, has donated large amounts to both political parties. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
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Yuhu Group chief executive Huang Xiangmo and Sam Dastyari at a press conference for the Chinese community in Sydney in June. Photo: Supplied

Dr Zhu with Gillard government foreign minister Bob Carr after being appointed to the Chinese Ministerial Consultative Committee. Photo: TEI


With his long, sticky fingers Senator Sam Dastyari, hotshot of the NSW Labor right machine, this week managed to conflate two of the Australian electorate’s chief concerns, fabricate them into a political weapon and turn it on himself.

The first is growing anger at the propensity of Australian politicians and parties to pocket money from special interests in the form of gifts or donations. The second is the general and growing anxiety about the role of China in the region and its influence on Australian domestic affairs.

Dastyari’s undoing began last week when Fairfax Media revealed that having blown his travel allowance by $1670.82, the young senator contacted a Labor donor to foot his bill: Top Education Institute, a Chinese private higher education provider based in Sydney and run by Australian-Chinese businessman Minshen Zhu.

Dastyari had form. He had previously accepted payment for a legal bill from another prolific political donor, Huang Xiangmo. Worse still, it would surface that back in June he had appeared beside the Chinese property developer pledging support for China’s stance on the South China Sea.

It is worth noting Dastyari had broken no law, no regulation, nor even a norm in Australian politics. Technically he had not even taken a donation, but a gift. He had even properly declared the gift. He was determined to ride out the scandal.

Last Friday though, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, piled on, pointing to quotes in Chinese media suggesting that Dastyari had advocated China’s position on the South China Sea dispute, a position contrary not only to Australia’s stance, but that of our key ally, the United States.

Cash for comment, said the PM.

Still Dastyari was determined to stick it out, hence the disastrous press conference he held on Tuesday this week, the performance that finally undid him.

Asked time and again why he had asked a company to pay his bill, he was unable to give an answer. To anyone watching, the reasonable conclusion was that Dastyari did not pay his bill because he did not want to, because he was greedy, and because Australian politicians simply don’t have to pay bills if there is someone else around willing to – even if that person happens to be a friend of a foreign government.

The following day Dastyari resigned from his frontbench positions.

Australia’s political parties are addicted to cash, particularly donations. Over the past five financial years, the major parties – Labor, Liberal, the Nationals and the Greens – have taken in about $887 million, according to Australian Electoral Commission returns, in public funding, donations, membership fees and fundraising efforts. Donations form a significant portion of this pie, but the exact size is obscured by loose disclosure laws and associated fundraising vehicles.

Prime Minister Turnbull now finds himself under increasing pressure to reform donor laws. Speaking from a series of summits in Asia this week, he reiterated his long-standing personal view that donations would “ideally” be limited to individuals on the Australian electoral roll, striking off corporations, unions and foreign nationals.

“I’ve always felt that would be a good measure,” he said.

Whatever his feelings on the matter, so far the PM has taken little action. He has suggested reforms should be considered by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, a committee as yet unformed in this Parliament and one that has historically been seen as a paper tiger.

Meanwhile, his ever-enthusiastic predecessor, Tony Abbott, has seized the initiative, calling for sweeping reforms to curb “influence-buying” and “subversion of the system”.

Labor is pushing hard for a ban on foreign donations, and Liberal figures as diverse as Christopher Pyne, Cory Bernardi and Steve Ciobo have thrown their weight behind change in various forms.

Several roadblocks stand in the way of reform, chief among them self-interest (the horse that’s always trying, as Paul Keating once observed). Both Labor and the Coalition rely heavily on corporate cash, and Labor on funds from unions. A Fairfax Media analysis this week showed the major political parties would lose 90 per cent of their high-value donations if donations were limited to individuals on the electoral roll.

Then there is the High Court. The former NSW premier, Barry O’Farrell, (a man brought down by a gift) legislated a comprehensive ban on donations from corporations, unions and other organisations. But the ban was struck down by the High Court following a challenge led by the unions, with the bench ruling that banning certain types of donors was an unjustified burden on political communication.

The case saw Unions NSW and the libertarian Institute of Public Affairs forge an unlikely alliance, and on Friday the IPA railed against Abbott’s prescriptions as an undemocratic, unconstitutional “attack on freedom of speech”.

Critics say any attempt to replicate O’Farrell’s failed reforms nationally would die a similar High Court death, but Adjunct Professor Colleen Lewis of Monash University, who has written a report on the issue, dismisses the concern. “You can just step over the High Court problem,” she says.

Lewis argues that if the size limit on donations was lowered to, say, $1000 or less, you would not have to ban certain types of donors, like developers, because their influence would be no larger than an individual’s.

She does, however, support bans on foreign citizens and entities donating to Australian candidates or parties, which brings us back to Dastyari and China.

This week Dastyari might have felt himself to be at the centre of this story, but in truth he is just a minor cog in a far larger machine of political gift-giving and influence-peddling that China has built to advance its global influence.

Australia’s politicians and political parties took $5.5 million in donations from Chinese-linked firms in the two years to June 2015, according to an ABC analysis of disclosures to the Australian Electoral Commission, and both sides of politics have benefited.

Chief among the donors is property developer Yuhu Group and its chairman Huang Xiangmo.

More than $1 million in donations to both major parties have come from companies and individuals associated with Huang, who uses his position as chair of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China (ACPPRC) to promote Beijing’s core interests, including lobbying against Tibet and Taiwan independence.

The Bayside Forum, which supports the federal Liberal seat of Goldstein which was held by former trade minister Andrew Robb up until his retirement, received $100,000 from interests linked to Huang, including $50,000 on the day the China-Australia free trade agreement was finalised and announced by Robb and then prime minister Tony Abbott. Robb also endorsed Yuhu’s $2 billion agriculture investment joint venture fund at its launch in September 2014.

And interests linked to Huang donated $280,000 to the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party. Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, the leading federal member of the party in that state, has been effusive in praise of Huang’s contribution to Australia and helped open the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology , which was funded by Huang’s $1.8 million donation.

In the end, it was a $5000 payment from Huang to Dastyari to help settle the senator’s legal bills that has claimed a political scalp. Huang was alongside Dastyari as the Labor senator pledged to respect China’s position on the South China Sea during a June federal election campaign press conference.

Even if reforms preventing foreigners from making political donations in Australia were passed, they would have little effect on China’s deployment of soft power on our shores. Many major donors with Chinese government ties, including property and media tycoon Chau Chak Wing, and Top Education’s Minshen Zhu, have long been Australian citizens.

And no tweaking of donations laws would have had an effect on the money Dastyari took, which was a personal gift.

Besides, China has many more weapons in its soft-power arsenal than cash. Chinese government influence can be heard in the voices of Australian business figures who warn that the Australian government’s stance on the South China Sea could damage their business interests in China.

It can be seen in media deals too. Fairfax Media, publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, prints and distributes a monthly news liftout from the China Daily.

And separately, the ABC cut its local Chinese language radio service as it sought a semi-commercial deal to operate in China.

The Chinese government has made its presence felt on university campuses across the country with the establishment of Confucius Institutes, which teach language and culture at discounted rates.

It disseminates research via institutions such as ACRI, which Huang himself chairs and personally appointed former foreign minister and NSW premier Bob Carr to be its director.

From that position, Carr has been enthusiastic in championing policy positions that have coincided with Chinese state views. After the Foreign Investment Review Board blocked the sale of Ausgrid to China, for example, Carr condemned the decision across Australian media.

In response, the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, said Carr had not been privy to the national security briefings he had received and was uttering “complete nonsense”.

“Frankly the former foreign minister should know better,” he said.

In a statement this week Carr told Fairfax Media, “We take an unabashedly positive and optimistic view of the Australia-China relationship. Our position is no different from think tanks in Australia that receive American funding and take an optimistic and positive view of America and the US alliance.”

Carr finds himself bound to this story by Dastyari too.

In February 2012, following the sudden resignation of Mark Arbib from the Senate, Dastyari was able to lure Carr out of political retirement with the offer of not just a Senate seat, but the plum foreign affairs portfolio. Dastyari had joined Carr’s staff the day before he stepped down as NSW premier in 2005. Now he was playing kingmaker.

Both Carr and Dastyari, along with Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen, Liberal elder Philip Ruddock and Barry O’Farrell were listed as patrons of the pro-Beijing ACPPRC which Huang chairs. Both Dastyari and Bowen have since been removed from the council’s website.

Writing in a comment piece for the Global Times last month after an ABC investigation detailed millions Chinese-linked interests poured into Liberal and Labor Party coffers, Huang Xiangmo said the scrutiny smacked of “racism” and blurred the lines between Chinese nationals and Australians of Chinese ethnicity. He rejected suggestions his and other donations had the potential to “skew Australia’s democracy”.

One of Australia’s leading China observers is John Fitzgerald, director of Swinburne University’s Program for Asia-Pacific Social Investment and Philanthropy.

He argues that there is nothing particularly nefarious, nor even that surprising, about China’s broad push for influence in Australia. But he is concerned that some institutions and politicians might be naive in their engagement with Chinese actors.

And the stakes are high, he says. In the short term China would like to use its influence in this country to silence us in the South China Sea debate.

In the long run it hopes to sever our alliance with the United States.

Flight test: South African Airways

South African Airways will meet all your needs when travelling business class. Photo: South African Airways An Airbus A340-600, which like the Airbus A340-300, flies the Johannesburg-Perth route. Photo: South African Airways

Our rating: 4/5

South African Airways


SA280 Johannesburg to Perth


Airbus A340-300E with 254 seats – 38 business and 216 economy.


Voyager (Star Alliance).


Business, window seat 16A.


A strong tail wind means a shortened 8 hours 35 minutes.


Daily flights to Perth.


A spacious 2-2-2 configuration offers forward-facing flat-bed seats with a generous 185.4cm (73 inch) pitch and 60.1cm (23.7 inch) width. I am in the smaller of two business cabins, in the back of two rows of 12 people. Economy’s bassinet row is just behind the curtain, but all is quiet on the baby front. Some dislike the closeness of front cabin seats (rows one and 15) to toilets and galley. If this is a concern, best avoid.


Four pieces up to 30kg plus an 8kg carry on. A distracted steward checks in our cases (two large/two small), forgetting a large artwork in a cardboard tube. We have to manhandle it on board – no problem in SAA business, an issue for Virgin Australia on the domestic leg.


An exceptionally comfortable seat trumps the beige-brown decor. It has quality padding, mattress, generous duvet and full size pillow, making sleeping easy on this night flight. There’s seat storage for toiletries, books and glasses and more on the seatback in front but that involve heaving yourself up, so best to get organised. You can squeeze past a fully extended aisle seat without mountaineering. A workmanlike unisex amenities bag has socks, skin and lip balm, eyeshade, toothbrush and paste but no earplugs. I have my own, fortunately.


A personal touchscreen, 12-inch monitor with audio and video on demand is in the seat arm. There’s an adequate selection of first release movies, classics, TV shows plus music and interactive games but really, a business class night flight enables sleeping, so why not? Seats have 115V AC power ports but no Wi-Fi.


Four polite and super-efficient business stewards get things done speedily without seeming to rush. We are encouraged to stow our duvets before landing, a slight issue for a short, half-asleep person. It leaps from its overhead locker and attacks me. My kind steward materialises to disentangle.


A delicious Methode Cap Classique is a welcome pre-flight drink – all wines are premium South African – we have shiraz and merlot from Stellenbosch and Robertson with dinner. Canapes precede a super-fresh salad and lovely warm wholegrain roll, then a tender chargrilled chicken breast with parmesan thyme crumble, baby carrots and salsa verde. My partner is delighted with his grilled beef fillet with samp risotto, roasted small tomatoes and rooibos-infused demi-glace. “Artisan” ice cream and brie, blue and provolone South African cheeses follow. Crisp linen tablecloths are always welcome. Breakfast of scrambled eggs with beef sausage, mushrooms, potato croquettes and tomatoes is very good.


I would like water served with meals as a matter of course – none was offered.


Clear and updated flight information from the captain, good food, service and comfortable seats, plus a good sleep mean all needs are met.

Alison Stewart flew as a guest of SAA.

Royal commission into child sex abuse: ‘All I could think about was … killing Father Ryan. I didn’t do it. I should have.’

Vince Ryan was convicted in 1995 for offences against more than 30 young boys. Photo: Ron Bell Bishop Roger Herft did not recall receiving serious child sex allegations about the now defrocked former dean of Newcastle, Graeme Lawrence. Photo: Max Mason Hubers

John Pirona was one of Vince Ryan’s victims. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Francis Cable, also known as Brother Romuald, leaving Newcastle Court. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Audrey Nash believes her son was abused by Francis Cable. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

“During the service, all I could think about was running to my mate’s parents’ place and grabbing the biggest two knives he had and killing Father Ryan. I didn’t do it. I should have.

“The damage that bastard’s done to my life, my family, my friends and to everybody else. I feel guilty that I didn’t do it and he went on to abuse other boys,” Gerard McDonald told the royal commission this week.

Four years after the Hunter region campaigned for a royal commission following the suicide of child sex abuse victim John Pirona, public hearings have taken place on how the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic diocese responded to child sexual abuse allegations about a notorious paedophile priest and three Hunter Marist brothers.

McDonald was giving evidence about Vince Ryan, who was convicted in 1995 for offences against more than 30 young boys. Pirona was one of his victims, and his death in July 2012 – and suicide note with the final words “Too much pain” – became the final straw for the Hunter community.

In Newcastle Courthouse this week, two of Ryan’s victims, Scott Hallett and McDonald, gave shocking evidence of Ryan giving them wine as nine-year-old altar boys and urging them to have anal sex with each other in front of other boys, and of the priest having oral sex with the boys.

Both men told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse they wanted to kill Ryan when he appeared at their high school a few years later for a church service.

Scott Hallett ended his harrowing evidence on Wednesday by asking people to “go home today, pull out a photo of yourself and one of your children when they were nine, 10 or 11 years old … and go through a couple of the statements that survivors have provided you here, and people may get a bit of an insight what our world is like”. ‘The church knew an awful lot more than you revealed in this document, didn’t it?’

At the hearings in Newcastle over the past month, senior Anglican and Catholic clergymen have struggled with their memories, stumbled over words, made concessions after documents have been produced and, on occasion, been forced to say they’ve not told the truth about their responses to child sexual abuse allegations.

They have “not recalled” a lot.

On the second day of the Catholic hearing former Maitland-Newcastle bishop Michael Malone admitted he had covered up that the church had known for 20 years that Ryan committed crimes against young boys, after he was questioned about his statements and interviews following Ryan’s conviction in 1996.

Royal commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan: “The church knew an awful lot more than you revealed in this document, didn’t it?”

Malone: “Yes.”

McClellan: “And you didn’t tell the public that you knew that?”

Malone: “I didn’t tell them, no.”

In later evidence he said the “covering up” was because the church did not want people so shocked by knowledge it had protected a paedophile priest for several decades that they would turn away from their faith.

The retired Hunter bishop, who did not attend a World Youth Day service with Australia’s bishops in Sydney in 2008, but walked across the Harbour Bridge with abuse survivors, said he reached a point where “You either had to try to defend the church or you had to try to serve the needs of survivors, and I chose the latter.”

Justice McClellan responded with the question at the heart of the child sexual abuse crisis within the Catholic Church – “Why was it ever a choice?”

Bishop Malone ventured an explanation how church law enshrined secrecy around child sexual abuse.

“Membership of the church is a bit of a strange beast insofar as the church has its own culture, its own law, its own way of obeying structures within the church, its own sacramental system, and as such, it’s divorced from society, and that has meant the church has gone along parallel lines with society, so that civil law somehow was not seen as impinging on the life of the church, in the past,” he said.

Catholic nun Evelyn Woodward told the royal commission she did not follow up once she reported allegations about Vince Ryan to a senior priest, in part because of “the position of women in the church at that time”.

“We were pretty low in the pecking order, and there was a hierarchical system which I think led me to say ‘I’ve got to hand it over to whoever’s in charge of the diocese.’ If that makes any sense,” Sister Woodward said. ‘No recollection’

One of the Australian Anglican Church’s most senior clerics, Perth Archbishop Roger Herft, did not recall receiving serious child sex allegations about the now defrocked former dean of Newcastle, Graeme Lawrence, in 1995, 1997 and 1999 from three separate sources, including another bishop and a priest, or of speaking to Lawrence on those three occasions and accepting his denials.

“Are you seriously suggesting to the commission that you have no recollection of raising an extraordinarily serious allegation with one of the most senior priests in the diocese?” said counsel assisting the commission, Naomi Sharp, on August 12, before the archbishop was shown a letter, written by him in 1995 to one of the complainants, confirming the allegation and his subsequent acceptance of Lawrence’s denial.

At an earlier hearing into the Anglican Church in the Hunter, during his time as bishop of Newcastle from 1993 to 2005, Herft stated: “No one ever raised with me directly or indirectly any matter that would have brought concern to me regarding the behaviour or otherwise of the dean of Newcastle.”

By the end of his evidence on August 29, after documents showing he received serious allegations in 1995, 1997 and 1999, Herft accepted he had been advised of the allegations, but insisted he had no recollection of those events, or of speaking to Lawrence and accepting his denials.

Two former Newcastle Anglican bishops, Richard Appleby and Alfred Holland, insisted they had never known of any child sex abuse in the diocese, and if they had they would have fought it “decisively”.

Bishop Appleby repeatedly said he had “no recollection” of being told about notorious Hunter Anglican child sex offenders Father Peter Rushton and youth worker James Brown, and denied evidence by others who said they had told him of allegations between 1983 and 1992.

Bishop Holland was repeatedly asked if he was telling the truth during his evidence about Rushton, his denial of knowledge of rumours that trainee priests at St John’s Theological College at Morpeth “might fancy little boys”, or his denial of knowledge that a Wyong priest he wrote a character letter for had been charged with raping a teenage boy.

He also denied a conversation with a lawyer who had “the ear of three bishops”, about obtaining a medical certificate stating the retired bishop was in no fit state to give evidence. Holland also denied being advised to respond to questions by saying he could not recall past events, after the royal commission produced a diocese file note indicating Holland would receive that advice.

The royal commission heard evidence a “gang of three” senior Anglican diocese members – Graeme Lawrence, defrocked priest Bruce Hoare and former diocesan registrar Peter Mitchell – protected Peter Rushton for decades, and Lawrence himself was protected by “a cohort of Newcastle Cathedral practitioners who appear, unquestionably” to have supported him.

Peter Mitchell – jailed in 2002 for defrauding the diocese of nearly $200,000 – repeatedly denied any knowledge of brown or yellow envelopes containing details of child sexual abuse by priests, despite a range of documents showing he was closely involved with the management of the files.

Justice McClellan accused former diocesan lawyer Robert Caddies of leading “co-ordinated opposition” to current Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson after a group of senior Anglicans, including Mr Caddies and former Newcastle lord mayor John McNaughton, complained to the commission in April after the bishop spoke publicly in October about being sexually abused by a bishop.

The group questioned the length of time between the abuse in the 1970s and Bishop Thompson’s disclosure.

“Were you seeking to say to the royal commission that because it’s taken so long, the bishop’s credibility should be looked at?” Justice McClellan said.

Caddies denied it.

In the witness box on Tuesday, Audrey Nash, 90, of Hamilton, the mother of Andrew, 13, who hanged himself in his bedroom in 1974, said she believed her son died because he was abused by his Catholic Marist Brother teachers, the now jailed Brothers Romuald (Francis Cable) and Dominic (Darcy O’Sullivan).

Mrs Nash, who said she had committed her whole life to the Catholic Church until recently, was in tears about the impact of Andrew’s death on her family, the sexual abuse of her surviving son by two Marist Brothers, and her uncritical acceptance of the power of Catholic churchmen.

“I feel so stupid that I used to fear and revere these people and that I used to respect them and look up to them,” she said.

Lifeline 131 114; MensLine 1300 789 978; Beyondblue 1300 224 636; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

‘In time, this world will be China’s’: business anticipates profound power shift

Port in a storm: Adam Giles, the former chief minister of Northern Territory toasts Ye Cheng, chairman of Shandong Landbridge Group. Photo: Sanghee Liu A poster promoting China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative in Hong Kong. The People’s Republic is looking to change the shape of geopolitics. Photo: supplied

In this Xinhua News Agency photo, a Chinese H-6K bomber patrols the South China Sea. Photo: Liu Rui/Xinhua via AP

Cheers: Adam Giles, former chief minister of the Northern Territory, toasts Ye Cheng, celebrating the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin. Photo: Sanghee Liu

It was in the pursuit for answers from Ye Cheng, the Chinese billionaire behind the contentious Landbridge Group acquisition of the Port of Darwin, that I found myself being bailed up instead by his two brothers, several wines deep into a carousing official banquet on a brisk December night.

I had convinced then Northern Territory chief minister Adam Giles’ minders to allow me to join their delegation touring Landbridge’s bustling port in the north-eastern city of Rizhao. But our Chinese hosts knew I was a journalist from Australia, where inconvenient questions were being asked of Landbridge’s links to the People’s Liberation Army.

One of the Ye brothers draped his arm firmly around my shoulder and beckoned for the waiters to refill our glasses. Only after we quaffed four wines in quick succession was he satisfied that he could relax his grip.

The other brother, a stockier man with an altogether calmer disposition, looked squarely at me and said, matter-of-factly: “In time, this world will be China’s.”

Sentiment in this vein is becoming increasingly pronounced here. Property tycoon Wang Jianlin​, the country’s richest man, says China should have the final say in global affairs and is now directing his energy to “change the world where rules are set by foreigners”.  Olympic swimmer Sun Yang responded to being labelled a drug cheat during the Rio Olympics by defiantly proclaiming he represented the “new world”.

Even a Chinese official, faced with protests from White House staff over security protocol as Barack Obama touched down at last week’s G20 summit in Hangzhou, knew to stand his ground. “This is our country! This is our airport, OK?” he said, an exchange that soon went viral.

The surge in pride and confidence is natural, particularly among the younger generation in well-off cities who have only known a fast-developing, increasingly wealthy China awash with opportunity.

In President Xi Jinping​ China has a leader who, as the son of a Communist Party revolutionary hero, sees it as his destiny to ensure the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

This includes a military build-up and an assertive foreign policy it sees as befitting a global superpower. China’s program of reclaiming and militarising islands in the South China Sea is a strategic stepping stone for military supremacy in its own backyard – provoked, in no small part, by the Obama administration’s signature pivot back to Asia, seen in Beijing as a naked ploy to contain China’s rightful rise.

Elsewhere, the People’s Republic is using its economic clout to rebalance the global order. Fed up with US and Japanese dominance in the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, it countered with the launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and savoured the sight of one US ally after the other – including Australia – opting in.

It has aggressively courted other major developing economies, and championed the New Development Bank established by the BRICS countries. Its hold over south-east Asia is already so strong that ASEAN member states have failed to agree on a united stance against Beijing on the South China Sea question. Xi’s signature “One Belt One Road” initiative, meanwhile, aims to reshape geopolitics across central Asia, south Asia, the Middle East and beyond through infrastructure development and trade.

In Australia, China’s short-term game is to buy the government’s silence on the South China Sea, making it clear there would be ramifications if it were to follow the US lead and send warships on freedom of navigation missions in the disputed waters. In the longer run, it aims to see Australia edge away from its trilateral strategic partnership with the US and Japan.

It is in this context that, as ABC political editor Chris Uhlmann​ reports, Australia’s domestic spy chief Duncan Lewis warned of the national security risks posed by political donors acting on behalf of the Chinese government. It is also why Labor senator Sam Dastyari​’s poor judgment in accepting payment for legal and travel bills and then pledging support for China’s stance on the South China Sea proved so damaging to his career.

The concern within intelligence agencies over growing Chinese influence in Australia spans donations to politicians and universities, urging community groups to press Beijing’s cause, increasing control over Chinese-language media and buying space in mainstream media – all of which have been documented by Fairfax Media in recent months.

Over in Darwin, the Giles government is likely to be remembered for scandal and dysfunction.

But it will have another legacy. Following the Port of Darwin sale – and the ensuing furore – the federal government tightened its foreign investment review regime to cover all key infrastructure including airports, ports and electricity networks, whether the bidder is private or state-owned. In a shake-up of the Foreign Investment Review Board former ASIO chief David Irvine was appointed to strengthen oversight. Rejections of Chinese bids for cattle company Kidman & Co and electricity network Ausgrid followed.

Suggestions that the focus on Chinese-linked investment or donations is disproportionate, xenophobic or worse are off the mark. No other country has both the resources and ambition to reshape Australia from within.

Awareness is the key. And the revelations of the past two weeks are sure to have focused the attention of our parliamentarians, from the Prime Minister down to Labor’s “junior senator”.

Philip Wen is China correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Australia to start making military drones ahead of future warfare dominated by machines

Australia is to start making its own military drones, officials have revealed, and former defence chief Sir Angus Houston said he expects that the “vast majority” of war fighting will be done by unmanned machines within half a century.

Colonel Andrew Jones, the Army’s aviation program director, told a major military and defence industry gathering in Adelaide this week that Defence wanted Australian firms to help build a small, tough drone that soldiers can fit in backpacks and send out to spy on enemies on the battlefield.

Colonel Jones indicated it would be just a first step in what he called “sovereign” drone technology – or unmanned aerial vehicles as Defence prefers to call them. He said it could be the “start of something big” that included “more than just intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance”.

Beyond being eyes in the sky for soldiers, drones are most typically used to fire missiles on enemies such as terrorist organisations, and Australia has signalled plans to start using such weaponised unmanned vehicles.

Underscoring the widespread feeling within military circles that drone technology is streaking ahead, Sir Angus, who was Chief of the Defence Force from 2005 to 2011, told the Land Forces 2016 conference that Australia had been too slow to take up unmanned military systems such as aerial drones during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

“If you look forward, 50 years from now … I think all the platforms that will be out there on the battlefield, the vast majority of them, will be unmanned and we need to basically embrace that future with enthusiasm and with a great deal of innovation because if we don’t, we’re going to get left behind and we’re going to be caught short,” he said.

Sir Angus, who now heads the advisory board of the South Australian government’s defence industry organisation, said the Australian Defence Force had not been forward-thinking enough. While the ADF had rented “rudimentary” drones in the early stages of the wars, “I would submit that we were underdone in that area”, he said.

“We need to learn the lessons of what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan because next time the conflict might be much more challenging than the ones we’ve just experienced,” he said.

He said unmanned underwater and land military vehicles were also going to be “crucially important”, and the Army “must get into” drone attack helicopters because to do otherwise would be too dangerous in the kind of lightning-fast firepower of future conflicts.

“When you look at the lethality of the battlefield that we face in the future, you wouldn’t want to be sending people in manned helicopters into that environment. The unmanned vehicle is the way to go … because you’re not going to last very long in the lethal battlefield that we envisage for the future,” he said.

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne told the conference this week that “remotely operated platforms” – another term for drones – was going to be a priority of the government’s $640 million Defence Innovation Hub.

Colonel Jones said the government was currently operating about 20 American-made Wasp AE small drones, which are backpack-sized, weigh 1.3 kilograms and can fly for up to 50 minutes at a range of five kilometres while streaming live colour and infrared video back to soldiers on the battlefield.

He said the second stage of the same program was aimed at “learning how much can we do in Australia”. It will be the first time Australia has built military drones.

“We think all those sort of things are well within the capacity of Australian industry, with a little bit of focus,” he said.

Currently drones are remotely piloted from the ground. Group Captain Guy Adams, the RAAF’s director of unmanned systems, said there was a “fair amount of work to be done” before drones could be made more autonomous but he said that the Defence Science and Technology Group was working on a “trusted autonomy system”.

Reece Clothier, president of the Australian Association for Unmanned Systems, said: “It’s great to have this coming from the government that there is a desire and a push for industry-based capability in niche areas. There’s a significant amount of money being invested by Defence in this area.”

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World Suicide Prevention Day: Research shows far-reaching impact of a lost life

John Bradley says grief still manages to “ambush” him. Photo: Penny Stephens Support groups such as Compassionate Friends have helped him John Bradley manage his grief. Photo: Penny Stephens

John Bradley has three children. The eldest is in Melbourne, he says, the youngest lives in Paris, and the middle one is buried in Springvale.

It has been just over 10 years since John Bradley’s daughter, Heather – a budding actor – took her own life. Yet Mr Bradley says grief still manages to “ambush” him.

“Last Sunday was Father’s Day,” he says. “I had some contact with my surviving children, but obviously not with Heather. Those days, I feel, you get ambushed in your grief.

“I can hear just a bit of music, see something – a photograph – or bump into someone.

“I went to see the opera The Tales of Hoffmann. I thought this would be a wonderful spectacle. But one of the scenes was a girl who was just about to take her own life. She had long, curly red hair, just like Heather. I just burst into tears. It was overpowering. I wasn’t expecting it.”

New national research into the ripple effect of suicide reveals that those “touched by suicide” show high levels of distress over a long period of time, ranging from one to 58 years.

A collaboration between Suicide Prevention Australia and New England University, the study –The Ripple Effect: Understanding the exposure and impact of suicide in Australia – surveyed 3220 people who said they had been been affected by suicide in some way.

The report’s lead researcher, New England University associate professor Myfanwy Maple, says this is the first time a  study of this scale has been undertaken in Australia.

The World Health Organisations estimates that more than 800,000 people die by suicide each year. Dr Maple says that according to the latest ABS 2014 Cause of Death data, 2864 Australians took their own life.

Dr Maple, who is also a director on the board of Suicide Prevention Australia, says exposure to suicide exists across the community.

“So we know that there is going to be stress immediately after a suicide death, or immediately after someone has attempted suicide,” she says.

“What’s important in this research is to show that stress goes for longer periods of time for some people.

“The next stage is how do we identify those people who are going to need support and what’s the best time to offer it to them.”

She says one solution is to think beyond the mental health model of suicide prevention and towards community awareness and reducing stigma.

“Recent research from the United States suggests that 135 people are impacted by each suicide death,” Dr Maple says. “Australia can no longer ignore the ripple effect of pain suicide brings when it touches our lives.”

The report’s findings, she says, show that as part of suicide prevention activity, there is a need to focus on those who have been exposed to suicide.

“People who have been exposed to suicide deaths are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, actions and behaviours,” Dr Maple says.

“So … being exposed to suicide may increase your risk of suicide yourself.”

Mr Bradley says that after the death of his “beautiful and talented daughter” at 25 years old, he too “fleetingly” thought of joining her.

But being introduced to, and volunteering for, support groups such as Compassionate Friends has helped him manage his grief.

“They gave me the inspiration to keep on going …to a degree it saved my life,” he says.

“When Heather died, I thought she would be reunited with her mother [who died seven years before]. They are both interred quite close to one another in Springvale.

“Rather than me take my own life to be with them …I secured a plot in the same garden bed in Springvale, so eventually I will be with them.

“Death ends a life, but it doesn’t end the relationship.”

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.

For help or information call Lifeline on 131 114 or SuicideLine on 1300 651 251.