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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.

Tromp walkabout was no picnic, more a fresh entry in grim Australian storybook

Mysterious journey: Mark and Jacoba (Coby) Tromp. Mitchell and Ella Tromp talk to media in Silvan. Photo: Daniel Pockett

Riana Tromp is still in hospital. Photo: Facebook

Mark Tromp leaves the Wangaratta Police Station (right) at night after being found. Photo: Mark Jesser

A scene from Australian horror flick Wolf Creek.

Guy Pearce in the Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Lucien John, David Gulpilil and Jenny Agutter in the film Walkabout.

A scene from Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Among the many images gleaned from the Tromp family’s ill-fated car journey from outer Melbourne into the wilds of NSW – a long, 1500-kilometre road to nowhere – one remains more frightening than the rest.

The finer details of it are thin because the man who found Riana Tromp, 29, the eldest child of the successful berry farming family from Silvan, has opted not to elaborate beyond the basics. But what we know is Keith Whittaker, of Goulburn, got in his ute to drive to Canberra last week and felt a kicking on the back of his seat.

Mr Whittaker found Riana huddled in the back, “catatonic”. That is, not moving, staring straight ahead, unresponsive. He called the police and she was taken away and remains in Wangaratta, back in Victoria, in the care of mental health workers alongside her similarly affected mother Jacoba, who had also walked out on the trip.

Out there somewhere was father Mark Tromp, tailgating a random driver in Wangaratta late at night before vanishing himself, into dark parkland on the regional city’s fringe, the keys left dangling in the ignition.

When news of the Tromps’ disappearance first broke, it already felt familiar. It felt like a variation on the Netflix show Stranger Things, itself a pastiche on missing-people stories from the 1980s. The strange gaps in the information also read like something out of the 1990s TV show the X Files, with its protagonists fleeing from technology but tracked just the same.

But the real echoes are much closer to home.

Return to Riana dazed and mute in the back of a stranger’s ute, unable to say who she was or what had played out – this narrative is straight from an Australian horror story, the road-trip gone wrong.

It has been a common trope in Australian storytelling since Europeans first arrived, starting with the bush tales, the Victorian gothics, the movies. From the many retellings of Bourke and Wills to Patrick White’s Voss to those 1970s classic films Walkabout and Picnic at Hanging Rock, the premise remains the same. City folk head into the bush and get lost, metaphorically and physically.

“Australian roads are hunting grounds,” wrote Katherine Biber, a legal scholar, criminologist and historian from the University of Sydney, in 2001. She was writing about masculinity in Australian cinema but of course femininity is challenged out there in the beyond, too – the female victims of Wolf Creek, the “girl” in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, even the cross-dressers of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The hunting grounds, wrote Biber, are “stages upon which elaborate pursuits and counter-pursuits are played” but the roads lead nowhere, instead acting as stages for “the performance of a series of cultural rituals”.

This new drama, she says, takes place in the car, or the vehicle, a “micro-habitat.”

In Rianna Tromp’s case she was in the original Tromp car that set out from Silvan, a grey Peugeot wagon owned by her sister, then she was in the vehicle that her sister allegedly stole, then she was found in Kevin Whitaker’s ute.

Like so many Australian road trips before them, it starts as a journey to destinations unknown. The Tromps didn’t know what they were looking for or where they were headed, son Mitchell told the media, just that they had to flee.

As the white boy says in the film Walkabout, “I don’t suppose it matters which way we go”.

Mitchell, who was the first to leave the trip in Bathurst, threw his phone out the window at Warburton, not far from home. The explanation given here is that the trip was supposed to be technology-free, he bought his phone and, when urged, chucked it out. From then the family were off-grid.

The irony is that by driving away into the Australian bush there were more people looking for them and tracing their movements than ever before.

Members of the family stuck in Wangaratta delayed their trip back to Silvan this week, telling friends they were intimidated by further feelings of surveillance by the TV crews camped in their driveway.

In Picnic at Hanging Rock, all the girls’ watches at the doomed picnic party stop, at noon, foreshadowing what was to come. In some ways Mitchell Tromp throwing his phone out the car window while going through the Warburton forests was the Tromps’ final and very equivocal farewell to the world they wanted to escape for a while and, for this trip, the end of common sense and logic.

In all, it lasted five days, but time appeared to shift for the Tromps, as if they had all entered some kind of temporal zone far away from normality and the usual chronologies of family life.

The Tromps were turning into urban legends even before they were all found.

While they were still whereabouts unknown, witness reports came in, various family members seen here or seen there.

A man with a pup-tent was seen walking into the coastal town of Bega and police swooped, thinking it was Mark. It wasn’t, but it could have been. Cabins and huts along the Hume that showed signs of disturbance were combed for clues- a muesli bar wrapper could speak volumes.

The one verified sighting came with its own pop culture reference – the young couple in Wangaratta who said Mark Tromp tailgated them after 10pm were out catching Pokemons on their mobile phones in the local reserve.

It culminated in the news photographs of Mark, after he had been found after three days wandering, flipping the bird to media outside a police station, from inside a car, the stress and isolation of what he had been through showing. It was misread as defiance, but friends say he is not an angry or defiant man.

Thankfully, this is a story with a happy ending, an Australian gothic in which everyone returns to civilisation and their their families. But it’s still a mystery, even to the Tromps themselves.

Standing outside the family home, expressing their joy and relief that their father had been found safe and well, Mitch and sister Ella struggled to say what happened.

“There’s no one reason for it,” Ella said, when pressed. “It’s bizarre.”

In time, there may be an explanation for what triggered this trip into the unknown. But perhaps there won’t be.

As the gardener says at the end of Picnic at Hanging Rock: “Some questions got answers and some haven’t.”

Anyone needing support can contact Lifeline: 13 11 14 www.lifeline杭州.au; or Beyondblue: 1300 224 636 www.beyondblue杭州.au.

Green slip reforms would leave most motorists to fend for themselves

Injured motorist Desmond Goulding. Photo: Sylvia Liber In-Young Joyce helps her husband Myung Jin Juong at their home in Epping. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Myung Jin Juong and wife In-Young Joyce at their home in Epping. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Most people injured on the road face losing their common law rights to sue insurance companies for ongoing medical costs and lost wages under radical changes to the compulsory green slip insurance scheme.

They would also lose their rights to any legal representation to challenge a disputed assessment of their insurance claim.

Under state government plans to overhaul the compulsory third-party insurance scheme, the minority of motorists who are most seriously injured would retain common law entitlements to lump sum compensation payments and legal representation. Others with less serious injuries would be given limited statutory benefits to income replacement and medical benefits for a maximum of five years.

The vast majority of injured motorists suffer less serious injuries, which can prevent them from returning to work, and will fend for themselves under the planned changes. They will no longer be able to claim for a lump sum payment for future expenses and income loss. They will be cut from the defined benefits scheme after five years.

“Under the new laws, almost no one will have the right to a solicitor. That’s disgusting,” said injured motorist Desmond Goulding, 64, from the Illawarra.

“How can a normal person go up against insurance companies. That’s ludicrous.”

A $400 million spike in fraudulent insurance claims in Sydney’s western suburbs and inefficiencies which result in just 45¢ in every green slip dollar being returned to injured motorists has spurred wholesale reform of the scheme which covers more than 2 million people.

Danielle De Paoli, from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, said fraudulent claims had increased the cost of the scheme, but there were other cost-saving alternatives to cutting benefits and redefining the entire CTP scheme.

The Baird government appointed State Insurance Regulatory Authority deputy chair Nancy Milne and former Labor Party industrial relations minister John Della Bosca to assess the fairness and affordability of the proposed scheme.

Their report released last week says the insurance industry is calling for an internal insurer dispute resolution process which would allow it to have the final say on disputes with claimants.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, a member of the standing committee on law and justice, which last month reviewed the CTP scheme, said the proposed changes would be particularly unfair on manual workers.

“A nurse or carpenter who relies on a healthy body to do their job can lose their entire career with an injury that is assessed at well below 10 per cent whole person impairment,” he said.

“They face losing their right to claim for ongoing wage loss over their entire career and have it replaced with a statutory benefit that will run out after a maximum of three to five years.”

Mr Shoebridge said the joint parliamentary committee report highlighted a “grossly disproportionate share of green slip premiums that go to fatten up insurer profits”.

“Over the lifetime of the scheme they have taken one dollar in five and the regulator has repeatedly failed to address this,” he said.

“John Della Bosca savaged workers compensation benefits 15 years ago and the government clearly sees him as someone they can rely on to do the same with CTP.”

Mr Della Bosca implemented cuts to the workers compensation scheme in 2011. Unions portrayed him as the “butcher” of workers compensation.

Government sources say Mr Della Bosca has been recognised for his significant experience in delivering important social reforms including his advocacy and leadership of the NDIS. This was said to be testament to his ability to engage with complex reform.

Mr Shoebridge said he had no doubt Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello was more committed to addressing problems with the scheme than his predecessor Greg Pearce, whose planned CTP reforms failed.

Mr Dominello said his focus is on delivering a better scheme for injured road users and motorists. He said the government’s reforms were supported by social service advocates and will end “the days of insurer super profits and see a significant reduction in premiums”.

“It is not fair that only 45¢ in every green slip dollar goes to injured road users, nor is it fair that NSW motorists are being asked to pay the highest premiums in the country,” he said.

Insurance companies including Suncorp, Allianz and NRMA have made significant donations to the NSW Liberal Party and Labor Party in recent years.

In 2015/16 Suncorp’s financial contributions to political parties included $33,930 to the Liberal National Party and $34,300 to the Labor Party.

Richard Shields, the Insurance Council of Australia’s head of government and stakeholder relations, is a former deputy director of party affairs for the NSW Liberal Party. He was also touted earlier this year as a potential rival to conservative senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells in a factional challenge from the moderate wing of the party.

A spokesman for ICA said the insurance council draws talent from all sides of politics. “These people are highly professional and they work on policy matters with political parties of all persuasions,” he said.

Spokesman Campbell Fuller said the NSW CTP scheme was “broken” and in need of reform to create a fairer more affordable scheme to better support the most seriously injured motorists. He said the number of motorists who would need treatment after five years was very small.

“Fraud and exaggerated claims add an estimated $75 to every premium,” he said.

“The final design of the scheme has yet to be determined, so it’s premature for any stakeholder to make definitive claims about how a reformed scheme may deal with issues such as claims, benefits, profits and disputes.

“The ICA rejects any suggestion of a link between proposed changes to the CTP scheme and political donations by its members. The ICA and its members are committed to transparency in the area of political donations.”

A spokeswoman for Suncorp said it works with all governments and political parties to “drive the best outcomes for customers and the wider community”.

“To that end, Suncorp is bipartisan and transparent in its engagement with government.

“We agree with the government that the current NSW CTP scheme is broken and in need of reform. We support the proposed reforms to the scheme that tackle rising incidences of fraud involving legally represented claims, while delivering the best health outcomes for motorists and improving affordability.”

Top Education: Company at centre of donations furore a beneficiary of streamlined visa program

Top Education chief executive officer Minshen Zhu with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Top EducationThe education company at the centre of the donations furore that halted the front bench career of Labor senator Sam Dastyari is one of the greatest beneficiaries of the government’s new streamlined visa program, new data from the federal Department of Education reveals.

Data released this week shows that 98.5 per cent of Top Education students are international, more than double the Australian private higher education institution average of 42 per cent. It has one of the highest proportions of international students of any private higher education institution in NSW.

Of the 13 local students the institution has enrolled, only 46 per cent successfully completed their first year.

Last year, the 1000 student institution was one of only 22 private education providers to be granted access to the government’s simplified student visa framework, previously only available to universities. The move fast tracked the process for international students to obtain visas and enrol at the Eveleigh campus, opening it up to millions of lucrative student dollars.

The company donated $44,275 to the Liberal Party in 2014/15, while also footing the $1670.82 personal bill for Senator Dastyari’s travel expenses that led to his resignation from Labor’s front bench this week.

Based on a conservative calculation that multiplies the cost of its cheapest degrees and diplomas across its student numbers, the institution, run out of a ground-floor office in a University of Sydney building, earned $10 million in international student fees last year.

But the actual figure may be much higher. Department data reveals that the college had 171 students listed in the discipline of “society and culture”. The only degree it offers in that area is law, costing each student $80,000, netting it up to $13 million.

Top Education is also the only non-university private provider to be accredited for its law degrees by the federal government’s Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency and one of a handful of Australian institutions to be listed on the Chinese government’s official “white listing” of preferred overseas institutions for Chinese college students.

In 2013, Labor senator Kim Carr rejected the company’s application for a streamlined visa when he was the minister responsible for higher education after being lobbied by its chief executive Minshen Zhu.  He is a well-connected political figure in Australia and China as a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the Communist Party’s people’s forum.

On Friday, Mr Carr told Fairfax Media he was concerned about Top Education’s proposal because the Department of Immigration had advised him that there was a “very high level of risk” associated with the move to extend the simplified visa process.

“The department gave me emphatic advice that the risk levels of extending the simplified student visa framework were too high,” he said, referring to border protection concerns.

“Despite the fact that they had been significant contributors to the Labor Party, their case was not able to be sustained on the department’s advice at the time,” he said.

“There are some really serious questions to be asked here. How is it that this policy change occurred?”

On Friday, former federal education minister Christopher Pyne said any link between donations and the college’s visa application was “completely wrong”.

“The only reason they would have been given streamlined visa processing is they, along with 20 other education businesses in Australia, met the requirements that the public service decided were required,” he told Channel Nine. “It has nothing to do with the Liberal Party or the Labor Party or the government of the day.”

Top Education declined to comment.

Roseville’s big blocks offer buyers more bang for their buck

This contemporary addition enjoying a north-east aspect at the back of 4 Glen Road introduces a wonderful wow factor. Photo: Supplied This penthouse at 13/10 Nola Road comes with two double bedrooms, each with built-in storage. Photo: Supplied

With multiple living areas at entry level and flexible bedroom accommodation upstairs, 22 Merlin Street is a good proposition for families with school-aged children. Photo: James Rice

Roseville’s median house price is $2,306,000, similar to the median prices in Cammeray and Naremburn, which are closer to the city.

So why buy in Roseville? You get a whole lot more bang for your buck, with an average land size of 914 square metres compared with 411 square metres in Cammeray and 339 square metres in Naremburn (based on sales over the past 12 months).

It’s better than a two-for-one deal, with a train station thrown into the mix providing a city commute of just 20 minutes.

“I think the suburb is under-valued,” says McConnell Bourn agent James Matheson.

“A lot of buyers looking in Cammeray and Naremburn are now focusing on Roseville, so there’s a lot of room for growth.”

With its tree-lined streets and character homes, Roseville marks the beginning of the leafy upper north shore but has the advantage of being right next door to bustling Chatswood, a shopping and dining mecca.

On the northern border, plans for a new school on the UTS Ku-ring-gai site to open in 2019 will further boost the suburb’s appeal.

Rated in the upper north shore’s top five for liveability, according to a recent study by consultants Tract and Deloitte Access Economics, Roseville scores well for mobile and internet coverage, proximity to employment hubs, tree cover and transport.

“There’s great access down to Macquarie, it’s very family-friendly, safe and really pretty,” says Matheson.

A shortage of stock this year has helped secure some strong sales, including five house sales of more than $4 million, three of them in Roseville Avenue.

New apartments have sprung up along Boundary Street and in Victoria Street helping to push the median apartment price up to $855,000.

But there are still plenty of walk-up units in the suburb, with prices starting at a little under $600,000.

4 Glen Road, Roseville.

1. 4 Glen Road Guide: $2.8 million 4 bed 3 bath 3 car Built 1920s; renovated 2006 Land 813 square metres Inspect Sat and Wed, 1.30pm-2pm Agent McConnell Bourn, 0415 419 442 Auction September 17 Last traded for $900,000 in 2003 See more at: domain杭州m.au/2013012565

Embracing the best of old and new, this family home is set in a quiet cul de sac within walking distance of the station, cafes, cinema and Loyal Henry Park. Sitting behind a timber fence and a formal garden with manicured border hedging, the property retains its traditional Californian bungalow facade with a covered verandah, but a contemporary addition enjoying a north-east aspect at the back of the house introduces a wonderful wow factor. Encompassing two living areas with raked ceilings separated by a fireplace, the addition opens seamlessly through two wide sets of bi-fold doors.

Step out onto an outdoor terrace and up to a level lawn surrounded by tiered hedging with a cubbyhouse tucked into one corner. Back inside, the open-plan kitchen has a stone-wrapped island bench with breakfast bar seating, European appliances and a gas cooktop. There are four bedrooms at the front of the property, the main with a generous walk-in wardrobe and en suite.

Room for improvement: Consider installing a swimming pool in the back garden.

22 Merlin Street, Roseville.

2. 22 Merlin Street Guide: $2.3 million 4 bed 2 bath 3 car Built 1930s; renovated 2000 Land 1042 square metres Inspect Sat and Wed, noon-12.30pm Agent Savills Cordeau Marshall Lindfield, 0412 565 682 Auction September 17 Last traded price unknown See more at: domain杭州m.au/2013014423

This substantial property is located on Roseville’s coveted east side, where you’ll find a greater number of large, level blocks compared with west of the Pacific Highway. With multiple living areas at entry level and flexible bedroom accommodation upstairs, the home is a good proposition for families with school-aged children. A wide entry foyer leads to a formal lounge with fireplace on the left and a formal dining room on the right bookended by two outdoor entertaining areas.

There is a stone kitchen with European appliances adjoining a family meals area which opens onto a deep back garden wrapped in established greenery. Upstairs, access to the master bedroom is via an office with built-in cabinetry, a space which would also work as a nursery.

Room for improvement: Open up the back of the house to the garden.

13/10 Nola Road, Roseville

3. 13/10 Nola Road Guide: $1.25 million – $1.3 million 2 bed 2 bath 1 car Built 2011 Size 196 square metres Strata levy $1878 a quarter Inspect Sat and Wed, 11am-11.30am Agent Richardson & Wrench, 0413 384 545 Auction September 21 Last traded for $925,000 in 2010 See more at: domain杭州m.au/2013016694

Designed by architects Bates Smart, Pavilions is an up-market complex of 32 apartments positioned west of the highway a short walk from Roseville station. Set behind tiered, landscaped gardens at the end of a cul de sac, Pavilions has proven popular with downsizers, professionals and small families. This penthouse comes with two double bedrooms, each with built-in storage.

The main has a full en suite and access onto the balcony. The combined kitchen, living and dining room has timber floors and track lighting. An island kitchen features stone benchtops, a mirrored splashback and stainless steel Smeg appliances. Glass bi-fold doors open onto a wrap-around balcony with a leafy outlook. There is ducted airconditioning, secure intercom entry and lift access from the secure basement carpark.

Room for improvement: Use the boundary wall on the balcony for a vertical garden.

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.

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.