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May 10, 2012

No surprises for sport in 2012/2013 Australian federal budget

No surprises for sport in 2012/2013 Australian federal budget

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Australia’s Olympic medal count by year
Image: Commonwealth of Australia.

On Monday in Canberra, the Australian government released its annual budget, one that promises a A$1.5 billion surplus for the year, but little was said of the potential impact of the budget on Australian sport in an Olympic year when Australia is looking to earn the fewest medals since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. There were no apparent surprises for the sports sector in Australia in this budget. The budget, available online, claims A$380 million has been spent preparing for the 2012 Olympic Games.

According to Keith Lyons, the University of Canberra Director of the National Institute of Sport Studies, sport is an important part of Australian culture and the development of sport enjoys bipartisan support. The sport “budget supports infrastructure developments and reflects a renewal of Australian sport venues post Sydney [Olympics] 2000. The Active After School investment reflects a commitment to support participation and engagement in physical activity and sport.”

When Tony Naar of the Australian Paralympic Committee was asked about the impact of the budget on his organisation’s efforts, he said there was little to report as there were “very few previously unannounced initiatives… the overall level of program funding was in line with the final year of the current funding cycle”.

Parliament House Canberra, Australia, where the budget was announced
Image: JJ Harrison.

The budget promises to support cricket, specifically the 2015 Cricket World Cup, and soccer (football) with the 2015 Asian Cup by allocating funding for facility improvement. A$50 million will be spent on redeveloping the Sydney Cricket Ground, A$30 million on redeveloping the Adelaide Oval, and A$15 million on redeveloping the Bellerive Oval in Hobart. A partnership between the government, New South Wales Government and the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust will cover additional costs associated with the Sydney Cricket Ground with work completed by 2014. Local sporting infrastructure will be supported in the budget with A$30 million earmarked for this, A$10 million specifically to improve Melbourne’s Olympic Park Precinct, A$5 million to support football in western Sydney, and A$3 million for Football New South Wales to build a new headquarters.

The budget promises assistance to parents to defray the cost of their children’s extracurricular activities including sport as part of the SchoolKid Bonus, which will replace the Education Tax Refund. Support for school based youth sport with A$39.2 million allocated to Active After-School Communities, a program that reaches 190,000 children, which encourages them to participate in school sports. In an attempt to curb drowning deaths of young children, an initiative has been launched to improve water safety that will be run through early childhood centres. A$19.2 million was extended to the Australian Sport Commission to run its Active After-School Communities program in 2012/2013 with similar funding for 2013/2014. 2,000 schools and 1,300 after/out of school programs will benefit from the funding.

Community Street Soccer was allocated A$1.0 million for 2012/2013 and A$1.6 million for 2013/2014. Aimed at bringing the homeless and unemployed into the community through participation in soccer, Reclink Australia will be given the funding to implement the program.

A$4.8 million was allocated to the Clontarf Foundation in New South Wales to support local sport and utilised elsewhere encourage Indigenous girls to participate in sport in Western Australia, Northern Territory, Victoria and Queensland through the Sporting Chance Program.

Canberra’s Centenary celebrations are addressed in the Federal budget, with A$2.6 million allocated for 2011/2012, A$2.0 million allocated for 2012/2013 and A$1.0 million allocated for 2013/2014. Some money will go towards sport as a part of these celebrations.

The Federal government is investing in Glenorchy, Tasmania, budgeting A$8.7 million in the redevelopment of the King George V sports and community precinct, with the money given to the local government. Not all of the money is earmarked for sport, with some money paying for a dedicated office for the Migrant Resource Centre.

A$1,870,000 less was budgeted for the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority from what was actually spent in 2011/2012’s budget. The government expects A$5.8 million in savings in the next four years because of changes in athlete doping testing.

In the 2011/2012 budget year, A$2,729,510 was spent on Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport in special appropriations. The 2012/2013 budget earmarks A$1,117,783 for this category. All money in the category is allocated in line with the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995. In the Sport and Recreation Special Account out of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet appropriation budget, the cash flow and balance opened the budget year with A$920,000 and receipts totaled A$317,000.

In the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport appropriation budget, the Sport and Recreation Special Account had has an opening balance of A$949,000. Estimates for receipts for 2012/2013 are A$537,000, up from A$220,000 in actual receipts in 2011/2012’s budget. The Australian Sports Commission spent A$214,534,000 in 2011/2012 in their first budget category, and have a smaller budget of A$101,942,000 for 2012/2013 in the same category. In their budget second category, they spent A$54,159,000 in 2011/2012, with the 2012/2013 budget increasing the budget to A$166,201,000. For total appropriations, the first area decreased by a total of A$117,170,000 and the second area saw an increase in of A$114,353,000.



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February 11, 2012

Attention drawn to high suicide rates in Scotland, Russia, Australia

Attention drawn to high suicide rates in Scotland, Russia, Australia

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

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Three nations in three continents have seen attention focused on high suicide rates this week. A study found Scotland’s suicide rate to be increasing away from neighbouring England, Russian press and politicians are examining the world’s third-highest teen suicide rate, and new figures showed increasing Aboriginal children’s suicides in Australia’s Northern Territory.

“Until the highest authorities see suicide as a problem, our joint efforts will be unlikely to yield any results,” Boris Polozhy of Moscow’s Serbsky psychiatric center said yesterday. Only fellow ex-USSR nations Belarus and Kazakhstan have higher teen suicide rates than Russia, which is at around 20 per 100,000 nationally. Tuva, Siberia and nearby Buryatiya have rates of 120 and 77 per 100,000 respectively. Thursday saw national children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov say 4,000 youths kill themselves each year.

Cquote1.svg I have seen websites that offer a thousand ways of killing oneself Cquote2.svg

—Zurab Kekelidze

Top Health Ministry psychologist Zurab Kekelidze yesterday responded to expert calls for action, promising to “very soon… start implementing” a plan of action to tackle the issue. He said Russian schools, which are criticised for understaffing and perceived inattention to bullying, should teach psychology.

Kekelidze asked the Russian Orthodox Church to help the suicidal, and severely criticised popular online forums dedicated to suicide, where methods are compared. “I have seen websites that offer a thousand ways of killing oneself,” he claimed. Astakhov wanted schools to offer assistance via a social networking presence and tackle online bullying.

The overall national suicide rate is decreasing — down from 42 per 100,000 in 1995 to 23.5 two years ago. The high rate amongst teens is attributed to both school problems and violence at home. Recent high-profile cases include yesterday’s death of a twelve-year-old who hung himself at home in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, and two fourteen-year-olds who jumped hand-in-hand to their ends from a building in Lobnya, Moscow.

Around fifteen people jump to their deaths each year from Scotland’s Erskine Bridge.
Image: Baaker2009.

Researchers from the Scottish cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Manchester in England, have been looking at data from 1960 to 2008. Although Scotland had the lower rate until 1968, England and Wales has had the lower rate since. Both areas had increasing rates until the southern side started to fall in the ’90s, and in recent years the gap has significantly increased.

Data was sorted by age, gender, and method; marked increases were seen among Scotsmen aged from 25 to 54 with hanging increasing in popularity. The female rate has remained largely static.

“This study adds to our understanding about patterns of suicide in Great Britain by producing sound evidence on divergences in long-term trends in Scotland compared to England and Wales,” said Professor Stephen Platt, a lead researcher from Edinburgh University‘s Centre for Population Health Sciences. “In a future companion paper we will suggest explanations for the persisting higher rate of suicide in Scotland.”

Fellow joint lead researcher Roger Webb of the Centre for Suicide Prevention of Manchester University said the high Scottish hanging rate was “of particular concern as hanging has high case-fatality and is difficult to prevent, except within institutional settings.” He noted “a public information campaign about hanging” could be one way of reducing the rate. Paid for by the Scottish taxpayer, the results appeared in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Hanging is a popular method in Scotland and the Northern Territory, giving cause for concern among academics.
Image: Chris 73.

In an incident with parallels to the recent Moscow deaths, in 2009 Scottish and British media publicised a high-profile case in which two teenagers leap together from the Erskine Bridge, a famed suicide spot over the River Clyde where an estimated fifteen people kill themselves each year.

Cquote1.svg We now have a situation in the territory where there are almost as many female as male suicides Cquote2.svg

—Howard Bath

This week also saw Howard Bath, Children’s Commissioner for Australia’s Northern Territory, suggest the area had the highest proportion of Aborignal girl suicides in the West. There has been a significant increase since an emergency intervention five years ago in response to a report titled Little Children are Sacred which documented widespread sexual abuse of Northern Territory children and failures by authorities to adequately respond.

A national government-backed Northern Territory suicide inquiry is ongoing and due to report next month. The inquiry has heard clusters of deaths occurred around East and West Arnhem, Katherine, and the vicinity of Alice Springs. The Tiwi Islands had a very high rate from 2000 to 2005, but has now not had a suicide for a year.

Female suicide rates have greatly increased to account for 40% of Northern Territory suicides amongst those aged less than eighteen. “We now have a situation in the territory where there are almost as many female as male suicides,” said Bath. Lack of information is a problem; the all-party inquiry has heard evidence of much under-reporting and poor data collection. The Menzies School of Health’s Gary Robinson called for a Queensland-style register of suicides.

Robinson suggests cannabis-induced psychosis to be a contributing factor but laments “The big problem is nobody keeps any data. Everything is based on impressions.” He also suggested bullying, as in Russia, is a problem while Bath notes violence against women may also take a role. “Aboriginal women are being hospitalised for assault at 80 times the rate of other women… Exposure to violence greatly increases the risk of a person taking their life.” He also notes “I am concerned, as the commissioner, about children who are frequently exposed to violence in the home or in the immediate family.”

As with Scotland, hanging is a popular choice. “The method chosen is usually hanging and it is a particularly lethal method, far more than an overdose,” said Bath. New South Wales, with the nation’s largest indigenous population, has a suicide rate of one per 100,000 but the Northern Territory rate is over 30 per 100,000.



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August 23, 2010

Australian federal election 2010: Parliament hung

Australian federal election 2010: Parliament hung

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Monday, August 23, 2010

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Australia’s parliament will be hung after this year’s federal election. With 73% of the nation wide vote counted, the governing Australian Labor Party has been confirmed to have 50.7% of the two party preferred votes, and predicted to win 73 seats in the House of Representatives, 3 short of majority.

The coalition of the Liberal and National parties has 70 secure seats and predicted to win 73 seats. This figure includes Queensland’s Liberal National Party and the Northern Territory’s Country Liberal Party, both of which are mergers of the local branches of the Liberal and National parties.

The Australian Greens have picked up their first seat at a general election in the House of Representatives. Adam Bandt is projected to become the member for the Division of Melbourne. The Greens vote in the Senate reached 12.95%, meaning 1.26 million Australians voted for the party in the upper house. Its predicted tally of nine senators will guarantee it the balance of power in the Senate.

Two days after the election, a handful of seats are still in doubt. Sky News and ABC report that three seats are in doubt, while the Australian Electoral Commission lists four.

Rob Oakeshott, a re-elected independent, told ABC Television that he and the other independents want a stable government. “If we can’t get that, let’s go back to the ballot box,” he said.

“At the launch of our campaign this morning we had representatives from the Opposition, the shadow minister for youth as well as the Greens spokesperson for youth showing that this is not about who people vote for, it’s about the fact that they’ve got the chance to vote,” said Prime Minister Julia Gillard as she launched the campaign five weeks ago.

The ALP came to power in 2007 after they won 83 seats in the House of Representatives under the leadership of Kevin Rudd. In July 2010, Rudd was replaced as leader of the ALP and as Prime Minister by Ms Gillard.

Tony Abbott became leader of the Liberal Party of Australia in December 2009 replacing Malcolm Turnbull, who had replaced Brendan Nelson two years previously.


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February 6, 2009

Plane makes emergency water landing in Darwin Harbour

Plane makes emergency water landing in Darwin Harbour

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Friday, February 6, 2009

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A Piper Chieftain, similar to the one involved in the accident

An Australian twin-engined Piper Chieftain carrying five passengers safely landed in the waters of Darwin‘s harbour today. The pilot of the aeroplane, Steve Bolle, experienced some engine trouble shortly after departing from Darwin International Airport. Darwin is the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, situated on the Timor Sea.

It is not yet known what caused the incident.

The aircraft’s flight plan took it over water, giving the pilot few opportunities to land the plane on ground. Bolle decided to land in the water, as opposed to the beach, as the firmness of the ground on the latter was not known.

The plane ditched in shallow water in the harbour, and Bolle and his five passengers were able to safely wade to shore.

The Piper Chieftain was en route to Maningrida, located half a thousand kilometres east of Darwin, according to the aeroplane’s owner, the Australian information technology company CSG.

“We would like to congratulate the pilot following all emergency landing and evacuation procedures and his very professional handling of the situation,” CSG said in a statement.

A few weeks ago, the pilot of an Airbus passenger jet departing from La Guardia in New York City also successfully ditched in water after bird strikes disabled both of the aeroplane’s engines.



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April 25, 2006

Cyclone Monica degraded

Cyclone Monica degraded – Wikinews, the free news source

Cyclone Monica degraded

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cyclone Monica was expected to hit Darwin as a category five storm, with winds of up to 350 km/h (220 mph). But the national weather bureau downgraded it to category two on the morning of April 25, 2006, when it lost power after making landfall. Monica was a category five cyclone when it touched down in the remote Aboriginal community of Maningrida, in the Northern Territory, late on 24th night.

A spokeswoman for the Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services said some parts of the area had been damaged by the storm. Maningrida “certainly suffered extensive damage to some buildings and structures,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald, although no serious injuries have been reported

Tropical Cyclone Monica now poses no risk to the Northern Territory of Australia. Monica was downgraded to a tropical low, but the cyclone has the potential regroup over the warm seas north of Australia. Monica could intensify back into a category two or even three cyclone before striking the north coast of Western Australia at the NT/WA border.

Cyclone Monica hit Australia just a month after category five Cyclone Larry tore through the community of Innisfail, about 100 km (60 miles) south of Cairns. Thousands of homes were destroyed by Cyclone Larry, with a damage bill expected to top A$1bn ($707m, £405m).

“A cyclone watch is current between the Daly Mouth River right through to the Kimberley” says Ms Jenny Farlow, an NT forecaster.

Meanwhile the cyclone has hampered government efforts to crack down on illegal fishing in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Rough seas combined with busy officers have grounded the effort to a halt, and three Indonesian fishing boats in Australian waters are reported to have gone unchecked.

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February 10, 2006

Australian governments to meet for first COAG meeting of 2006 today

Australian governments to meet for first COAG meeting of 2006 today

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Australian Parliament House, where the COAG meeting will be held

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) will meet in Canberra today for its first meeting of 2006. Members of COAG are the Prime Minister, State Premiers, Australian Capital and Northern Territory Chief Ministers, and the President of the Australian Local Government Association. COAG is chaired by the Prime Minister.

On the agenda is a wide range of issues such as health, economic reform, regulation, and education.

The state leaders (all of whom are members of the Australian Labor Party), met last night to develop a strategy for dealing with John Howard, Australia’s Prime Minister.

Health

COAG is expected to agree on a AU$1 Billion health package. The centrepiece of the package will be reforms to mental health care. Other elements of the package include the introduction of the national health call centre network, accelerating the implementation of a national electronic health records system, and reducing the number of disabled young people living in nursing homes

Mr Howard said yesterday “I want all of the heads of government of this country to understand it’s a serious issue and the Australian public will expect no less than a coordinated genuine commitment by all of us to try and solve the problem.”

Mr Howard told federal parliament yesterday part of the problem can be attributed to the closing of mental health institutions. “There is abundant evidence that that process went too far, and whilst I do not advocate and I do not believe Australia would benefit from turning back the clock to the institutions of old, nor can we as a decent society tolerate having people with mental illnesses out in the community unsupported and untreated.” said Mr Howard.

The Mental Health Council of Australia’s Chief Executive, John Mendozza said there needs to be a massive injection of funds into mental health care and it needs to happen quickly.

“Any Australian who has attempted to access mental health services through the public system will have found that unless they are extremely unwell, and that is a danger to themselves or the community, they probably won’t gain admission to those public mental health services, and that simply is not good enough.” said Mr Mendozza.

The Prime Minister has also accused cannabis of playing a role in Australia’s mental health problems. “I think we are paying a dreadfully heavy price for the abuse of what was so called recreation and socially acceptable drugs despite the clear evidence, unaccepted until a few years ago, that these things were doing massive damage within our community,” Mr Howard told parliament yesterday.

“I will ask them (the state premiers) to agree with me that part of the solution to the mental health problem is a tougher line on marijuana, and I imagine they will agree with me,” said Mr Howard.

Mr Howard signaled that he supported the move in New South Wales to increase penalties for cannabis, especially hydroponic cannabis which the NSW government claims is stronger. “I welcome the change in direction of many of the states,” he said.

The Mental Health Council of Australia has warned the government of over-estimating the role of cannabis in mental health. John Mendozza told ABC “I don’t think we should overstate the role of cannabis in the nation’s mental health crisis. It is a factor, but it is not the reason that we now face a mental health crisis.”

“The real reason is that governments collectively have under-funded the investment in community services for well over a decade and hence we have a large unmet need in the community.” said Mr Mendozza.

The national health call centre network was announced by the federal government in January as a means of reducing the number of people going to hospital emergency departments for treatment. Under the plan call centres would be set up with trained nurses who could advise people on the best cause of action to take for a wide variety of health problems.

Under the health package the introduction of an electronic health records system known as HealthConnect will be fast tracked. Governments promise that HealthConnect will improve the quality and safety of health services by providing timely and accurate medical history on a patient. Participation in HealthConnect will be voluntary and patients may withdraw at any time.

Education

COAG will also discuss setting up a national inquiry into early childhood education. The inquiry is expected to explore the possibility of free access to pre-school education. COAG documents warn “By the time Australian children enter formal education, they have very different levels of preparedness for life and learning,”

“Australia’s investment in early childhood development before school entry remains low by international standards.” says the documents.

COAG is also to explore how to implement a system to ensure trade qualifications gained in one state can be used in another. Under the current system, the majority of trade qualifications gained through state technical colleges are not recognised in other states. Only the small percentage of courses which award certificates under the Australian Qualifications Framework are recognised nationally.

The federal government has also indicated that it wants $11 million spent over four years ease skills shortages in trades such as plumbing and electrical. Federal opposition education spokeswoman, Jenny Macklin said “Eleven million over four years will have little or no impact on the raging skills crisis which is hurting Australian businesses and families,”

“It will provide just 900 training (places). The Australian Industry Group has predicted that by 2010 we will need 100,000 extra skilled tradespeople if we are to address the skills crisis.”

Economic Reform and Regulation

The topic of economic reform is expected to arouse debate at the meeting today as the federal, state and territory governments argue about how to fund it.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks has been one of the key figures behind the plan which has been worked on by state and federal officials over the past past six months.

From 1995 until 2004, the federal government made payments to state and territory governments for reaching milestones in deregulating their economies. If a state failed to meet a required reform as determined by the National Competition Council payments were withheld until the milestone was met. John Howard abolished the scheme stating that the states and territories already received enough revenue through the GST.

The states are said to be arguing that the federal government should be sharing the revenue achieved through their reforms.

It is expected the plan will fail to reach agreement and will have to be considered by a working party.

Federal treasurer Peter Costello has said that economic reform should be bought about by abolishing eight state and territory port and export authorities and create a single national regulatory authority.

The treasurer also indicated he would like to see utility regulation become a federal responsibility.

“Australia would be better served if it could get a uniform system of regulation in relation to ports and port access, in relation to access regimes generally, and in relation to utilities,” Mr Costello said.

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February 7, 2006

New South Wales set to adopt harsher anti-cannabis laws

New South Wales set to adopt harsher anti-cannabis laws

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Tuesday, February 7, 2006

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New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma has proposed strengthening the states anti-cannabis laws. The government is undertaking a complete rewrite of such laws in response to concerns voiced by some health professionals about the link between the drug and mental health issues. The proposed legislation will also increase jail sentences for those convicted of growing cannabis hydroponically.

“There is growing evidence of a link between long-term cannabis use and the incidence of severe mental health problems,” said Mr Iemma.

Under the plan the current cannabis cautioning system, introduced in 2000, is to be reviewed. Cannabis users would be required to attend counseling to “understand the link between cannabis use and mental illness” to avoid being charged for their first offence. At present those issued with their second cautioning notice are required to call a counseling service.

Revised Penalty System

Current penalties do not distinguish between hydroponic cultivation and other forms of cultivation. The new set of penalties proposed by Mr Iemma include:

  • $220,000 fine and/or 10 years gaol for growing 5-49 hydroponic plants (same as present)
  • $385,000 fine and/or 15 years gaol for growing 50-199 hydroponic plants (currently this is given to those found growing 250-999 plants)
  • $550,000 fine and/or 20 years gaol for growing 200 hydroponic plants or more (currently given for growing in excess of 1000 plants)
  • Two years gaol for theft of electricity to power hydroponic growing houses
  • 12 months gaol for those found with any form of cannabis on their premises (for a first offence)
  • Five years gaol for those found with any form of cannabis on their premises (for a second offence)
  • Creation of child endangerment offences for parents who allow their children inside hydroponic grow-ops.

Hydroponic cultivation

Those found hydroponically growing cannabis will be hit particularly hard by the new laws. Mr Iemma defended the government’s proposals by referring to expert advice on the effects of this type of cannabis on users. “Regular cannabis use can exacerbate mental illnesses and associated criminal activity. Experts tell us that potent, hydroponically grown cannabis is a particular problem,” he said.

The content of THC in cannabis changed sharply in the 1970s with the rediscovery and spread of the sinsemilla technique, wherein the material used by the unfertilized female plant to create seeds is diverted to the production of trichromes, which contain THC. Potency rates have risen slowly but steadily since then with the refinement of various cultivation techniques. These techniques also have resulted in much greater yields.

The concentration of THC in cannabis as related to genetics, correct nutrient supply and precise lighting may be controlled by hydroponic cultivation, however these conditions are also regularly met using soil-based growing techniques.

Under the new laws hydroponic cannabis houses will be subjected to the same search and warrant powers as those which are used for the manufacture of amphetamines and heroin.

Support and Concerns

Dr John Currie from Drug and Alcohol Services at Sydney’s Westmead hospital supports the government’s position, telling ABC “there is growing evidence that the long term use of cannabis can cause mental illness, whether you’re predisposed to it or not”.

“Equally as worrying for us is that just ordinary people who don’t have a mental health problem can still get trouble when they do have long term use of cannabis” said Dr Currie.

The Prime Minister has also accused cannabis of playing a role in Australia’s mental health problems. “I think we are paying a dreadfully heavy price for the abuse of what was so called recreation and socially acceptable drugs despite the clear evidence, unaccepted until a few years ago, that these things were doing massive damage within our community,” Mr Howard has said in parliament.

Mr Howard signaled that he supported the move in New South Wales to increase penalties for cannabis, especially hydroponic cannabis which the NSW government claims is stronger. “I welcome the change in direction of many of the states,” he said.

The Mental Health Council of Australia has warned the government of over-estimating the role of cannabis in mental health. John Mendozza, the Councils Chief Executive, told ABC “I don’t think we should overstate the role of cannabis in the nation’s mental health crisis. It is a factor, but it is not the reason that we now face a mental health crisis.”

The government’s claims are based in part upon an Australian study conducted in 2002, which found regular use of cannabis among teen-age girls to be predictive of later anxiety and depression, though not that among boys. A different study published in 2005 actually found that those who suffer with depression and use cannabis “for medical reasons” reported less depressed moods.

Research has shown that cannabis use is risky for adolescents with an abnormal COMT gene (which occurs in about 25 percent of the population of Northern European descent). Compared to the rest of the population, those with the abnormal gene and who smoke cannabis regularly during adolescence have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia later in life, though none of these factors separately predicts the illness.

Opposition and Concerns

On the other hand, New South Wales’ government proposals has been met with stiff opposition from various factions, including parts of the medical community. Doctor Alex Wodak, of the Australia Drug Law Reform Association in an interview with Australian Broadcasting Company said “I think many people, not just me, see this as more motivated by concern about the March 2007 elections than any public health measure.”

“If governments were really serious about cannabis and in favour of draconian responses for a drug which after all, doesn’t cause any deaths, then what would they do about a drug that causes 19,000 deaths in Australia a year – namely tobacco?” asked Dr Wodak.

The NSW laws contrast with calls from the Australian Democrats in South Australia for a relaxation of anti-cannabis laws. State leader Sandra Kanck said, “politicians and media commentators are getting on the bandwagon, saying we need to recriminalise the personal use of marijuana. That would make around 476,000 South Australians – 40 per cent of the population – retrospective criminals. About 75,000 people in the state would break the law each week if marijuana was criminalised. We need to recognise that drugs are used, and have appropriate policies to deal with that. Prohibition didn’t work in America in the 1920s and it won’t work now”.

Anti-Cannabis laws in other Australian jurisdictions

South Australia, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory already distinguish between cannabis which is grown hydroponically or using artificial light and conventional cannabis for possession offences.

South Australia also goes one step further by having separate penalties for cannabis possession in public and in private. In South Australia possession of up to 20 cannabis plants for personal use is punishable by a $500 fine.

When compared to other jurisdictions the Australian Capital Territory has the lightest penalties for cannabis offences. Penalties for cannabis possession range from $100 for possessing 25 grams of leaf or 2 or less “non-artificially cultivated” plants to a $5,000 fine and/or 2 years gaol for possessing an amount of cannabis not covered by the above.

The Northern Territory has some of the toughest anti-drug laws in Australia when contrasted with other states. A person can receive a 25 year gaol sentence for having more than 20 plants in their possession.

Cannabis policy directions in other Western countries

The NSW government’s decision to introduce tougher penalties for cannabis cultivation and possession comes at a time when other Western countries are relaxing their laws in this regard.

In the United States, anti-cannabis laws vary greatly from state to state with respect to personal use, medical cannabis and cultivation. Cannabis is still broadly prohibited under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and the federal government selectively enforces the law so as to frustrate various forms of legalization at state and local levels, for example in Gonzales v. Raich.

Personal cannabis use in the Netherlands is subject to a policy of official tolerance, though it remains technically illegal. The Netherlands regulates the sale of cannabis in coffee shops, though the non-tolerance of cultivation above five personal plants creates an irregularity of supply (the so-called “back-door problem”). Legislation is under consideration to address this by regulating commercial cultivation. The current Protestant government has sought to limit the number of coffee shops, and in border towns bar sales to foreigners.

Certain provinces of Canada have adopted a policy of non-enforcement of anti-cannabis laws against personal use, to the point that in the Vancouver and Toronto areas, operation of cannabis cafés is tolerated, though they are not permitted to sell. Cultivation is still aggressively interdicted. The city of Vancouver has drafted a licensing model similar to the Netherlands, which has not yet gone into force. The recent elections have brought a minority Conservative government, which may bring reversals in liberalization of cannabis laws.

In the United Kingdom cannabis has been reclassified as a Class C drug, making it less likely for an individual to be arrested for possession. There is political pressure in the UK to either schedule strong cannabis separately or reverse the rescheduling altogether, citing the alleged dangers. On the dangers of strong cannabis, there is a similarity of public discourse especially between the UK and Australia.

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December 14, 2005

Jury convicts Murdoch of outback murder

Jury convicts Murdoch of outback murder – Wikinews, the free news source

Jury convicts Murdoch of outback murder

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005 A jury has delivered a unanimous guilty verdict in the Darwin trial of the man charged with the murder of missing British backpacker Peter Falconio.

It took the jury more than eight hours to reach a verdict. 47-year-old Broome mechanic, Bradley John Murdoch, has also been found guilty of the assault and deprivation of liberty of Mr Falconio’s girlfriend Joanne Lees. Mr Falconio’s body has never been found.

Murdoch flagged down Mr Falconio and Ms Lees on a remote Central Australian highway in July 14, 2001. He then shot Mr Falconio and bound Ms Lees with cable ties and threatened her with a gun.

Telling jurors that he “entirely agreed” with their verdict, Chief Justice Brian Martin sentenced Murdoch to a mandatory life sentence. Murdoch’s defence lawyer, Grant Algie, indicated an appeal would be lodged against the conviction. “Obviously we are disappointed with the result,” he said.

Outside court, Ms Lees said she hoped Murdoch would tell her and Falconio’s family the location of her partner’s body. “Today marks an intense period of distress for myself and the Falconio family. This will enable us to take another step (forward),” she said.

The eight-week trial heard from 85 witnesses and had more than 300 exhibits tendered. The court heard that Mr Falconio and Ms Lees were travelling around Australia when they were flagged down by Murdoch. Murdoch told them he saw sparks coming out of the exhaust of the couple’s orange Kombi van and took Mr Falconio to the back of the vehicle to show him. Ms Lees heard a gunshot before Murdoch bound her hands with a pair of cable ties. She managed to escape the van, and hid in bushes for hours until she flagged down a road train.

DNA matching Murdoch’s was found on the T-shirt Ms Lees was wearing when she was found. The court heard it was 150 quadrillion times more likely to match the DNA of Murdoch than any other person in the Northern Territory. Matching DNA was also found on the gear stick of the van and inside the cable ties.

In his defence, Murdoch claimed he had nothing to do with the crime. He admitted to the fact he was a drug-runner, detailing numerous trips across Australia. His former drug-running partner also gave evidence, saying he believed Murdoch was filmed at a truckstop after Mr Falconio was murdered.

Murdoch has been in prison since August 2002. He was arrested in Port Augusta over the abduction and rape of two women in South Australia. He was acquitted of those charges, but immediately arrested over the Falconio case.

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December 10, 2005

Australian activists break into Pine Gap spy facility

Australian activists break into Pine Gap spy facility

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Australian Federal Police (AFP) have arrested six people following a breach of security at the secretive Pine Gap Joint Defence Facility in central Australia on Friday.

The members of the group Christians Against All Terrorism (CAAT) breached base security at dawn and two of them infiltrated two perimeter fences and scaled a building, before being arrested. Two of the protesters photographed themselves atop a building inside the spy base.

A Northern Territory police spokeswoman said three men and two women had been charged over the incident while another woman would be summoned to appear in Alice Springs court next week over obstructing police. The spokeswoman said the activists had allegedly cut holes in the external and internal fences at the defence facility. She said the combined charges carried a maximum penalty of seven years jail.

The group claims it was the first break-in of its kind at Pine Gap. The group spoke yesterday of their efforts to conceal a digital camera memory stick in the clothing of key members to avoid the images being confiscated by police.

Four of the protesters are from Queensland, one is from New South Wales, and the other is from Victoria. They say they wanted to conduct a citizens inspection of the controversial Pine Gap facility. “We could not allow the US and Australian governments to continue to conceal the role of Pine Gap in the ongoing war in Iraq,” said Sean O’Reilly of the group. “It’s time the Australian public knew the reality of what is happening on our land.”

Group member Jessica Morrison claims there is a lot of secrecy surrounding the facility. “So for me it was an attempt to come to a place that I think propagates death and start to proclaim truth,” she said.

Two of the group were released on bail facing charges, including: unlawfully entering a prohibited area destroying or damaging Commonwealth property; trespassing on Commonwealth land; damaging property under the NT law. A sixth member was arrested for aiding and abetting but was released without charge.

Up to 30 police officers were stationed at a roadblock at the turn-off to Pine Gap at 6:00 a.m. local time and Gap staff were ordered to remain in their cars at the roadblock.

CAAT member Brian Law, said four of the group split into two groups and entered the base in a co-ordinated movement. He said four members walked 10km through thick scrub and entered the base at 4:00 a.m. local time. Mr Law and the fourth member arrested, former human shield Donna Mulhearn, 37, (taken hostage by militants in Fallujah in Iraq last year) were released.

Mr O’Reilly said the group conducted a citizens’ inspection in protest at Pine Gap’s involvement in the ongoing war in Iraq after the group had been refused official entry by Defence Minister Robert Hill. “We could not allow the US and Australian governments to continue to conceal the role of Pine Gap in the ongoing war in Iraq,” Mr O’Reilly said.

It was unclear last night whether the group would be charged under the Federal Government’s tough new anti-terror laws. They were bailed to face the Alice Springs Magistrates Court next Wednesday.

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December 8, 2005

Australian government paves way for nuclear waste dump in Northern Territory

Australian government paves way for nuclear waste dump in Northern Territory

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Thursday, December 8, 2005

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The Australian Senate has passed legislation to force a national nuclear waste dump on the Northern Territory (NT). Despite opposition from Aboriginal land owners, the NT government, environment groups and Labor the Federal Government can now officially build a nuclear waste repository in the NT after the legislation for the waste dump passed the Senate today. The Radioactive Waste Management Bill was passed with 34 in favour and 29 against.

The two bills override the Northern Territory’s objection to the radioactive waste dump after the South Australian government opposed a previous preferred site near Woomera. According to Federal Labor opposition MP, Warren Snowdon, it is the first time since 1978 that Territory law has been overridden. “It’s an absolute disaster and it shows contempt for the Northern Territory community, it shows absolute contempt for land use planning in the Northern Territory,” he said.

The Territory Labor Government has been a resolute opponent of the plan, saying a nuclear dump will expose residents to a new security threat.

The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Clare Martin, says transporting nuclear waste to the Territory would make it vulnerable to terrorists looking to make a dirty bomb. Ms Martin says experts on the issue have raised concerns about security at a national nuclear waste facility.

She says scientific debate played no part in the Federal Government’s decision to build a dump in the Territory and nuclear waste could be a target while it is being moved to the Territory. “You’d have to look at how far around a country you’re going to be transporting things like intermediate nuclear level waste,” she said.

“And if you’re going to put such a nuclear facility in the middle of central Australia you’ve got to get the waste there by road and that’s thousands of kilometres.” She says the Commonwealth should not expect any cooperation from her Government.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation‘s (ANSTO) Craig Pierce says there would be no point trying to use low level waste to make a dirty bomb because the waste is mostly gloves and labcoats. “It simply would make no sense to get this material and want to blow it up,” he said.

Alice Springs on a large scale map

“It would have no impact at all. On the intermediate level, that will have a high level of security when it is transported. It won’t be transported for very far on road, on land, and it will have an appropriate level of security.”

The Australian Conservation Foundation said it expected community anger would escalate, now the bills had passed. “Last year the federal government gave the people of the NT an absolute categorical assurance there would be no dump in the NT,” ACF nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney said. “Today they have broken this promise and bulldozed through bad law in an attempt to gag community concern.”

“Under the government’s proposal, 130 truckloads of radioactive waste would be driven from Sydney’s Lucas Heights reactor, through NSW, to an as-yet unnamed site in the NT in the first year alone, with dumping to continue for decades,” he said.

The Australian Greens say the legislation could be manipulated to allow waste from other countries to be stored in the Northern Territory. The party is angry that amendments they proposed were not considered when the bill was passed. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says the legislation is not strong enough.

“In the bill, there were some provisions to supposedly keep out international waste,” she said. “We don’t think they go far enough and that they are open to manipulation and interpretation. So what we were trying to do is absolutely positively ensure that international waste will not be brought into this facility.”

The NT Environment Centre’s Gary Scott has hinted at civil disobedience similar to that seen during the anti-uranium mining protests at Jabiluka. “I don’t think Territorians are going to take this lying down unless that is in front of bulldozers,” Mr Scott said.

The Centre’s Peter Robertson has emphasised the importance of the waste dump for the federal government to realise its plans for a second nuclear reactor. “If we get the dump, Sydney gets the reactor”. Establishing a national waste dump is a precondition for the operating license for the proposed OPAL nuclear reactor which will replace Lucas Heights in Sydney.

Robertson pointed out that the issue of waste is creating an international crisis for the nuclear industry, with no storage plans for the more than 250,000 tonnes of high-level radioactive waste currently in existence.

A detailed study of three Defence sites – Fishers Ridge, 43 km south-east of Katherine, Harts Range, 100 km north-east of Alice Springs, and Mount Everard, 27 km north-west of Alice Springs – will be conducted next year, with the facility to be operational by 2011.

Traditional owners of Athenge Alhere – an estate group of the Arrernte Nation – have voiced their dissent to the nuclear dump and say they don’t want waste from Sydney’s Lucas Heights nuclear reactor brought to their land. “Because the land we take care of, because all our ancestors lived in this land and hunted on this land as well, so it’s mainly because of the animals and the next generation of our kids and their children, so we still say no,” traditional owner Benedict Stevens said.

Coalition MPs, including Northern Territory Country Liberal senator Nigel Scullion, secured a number of amendments to the bill. They included the ability of the NT government and indigenous land councils to decide on other site options, a prohibition on the storage of high level and overseas waste and the free storage of the NT’s own waste.

The South Australian Government says tenacity staved off a nuclear dump on its land. SA Environment Minister, John Hill, says there could be a federal election before the facility’s finally built. “It will take them some time to construct this facility and that gives you some opportunities,” he said.

Mr Hill says waste should be stored closer to Lucas Heights in Sydney where it is generated. Radioactive waste is currently stored at over 100 locations across the country, including in hospital basements in major capital cities and at universities.

Update: NT farmers have threatened to take action if a site near their farms is selected for the dump. Fishers Ridge, south of Katherine, is one of three Commonwealth sites earmarked for the facility. Sharon Shaw’s farm 12 kilometres from the Fishers Ridge site. “The thing that worries us the most, it’s on top of a Tindal Aquifer which really concerns us in the fact that there’s many sink holes that turn up every wet as the ground is always shifting,” she said. “Any normal person without an environmental degree or anything would realise that this ground is unstable.”

Related Wikinews

  • “Opposing a nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory” — Wikinews, October 30, 2005

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