Nats to choose new Vets Affairs Minister

Michael McCormack will decide who will be his replacement as veterans affairs minister.New Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is set to decide who will be his replacement as veterans affairs minister within days.
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The new Nationals leader has taken on the infrastructure and transport portfolios, and will decide in the next couple of days who will become the nation’s third veterans affairs minister since December.

Party members and senators gathered for a special party meeting on Monday to see former leader Barnaby Joyce formally stand down after weeks of fall out surrounding his marriage break-up and relationship with a former staffer who is now pregnant.

“I want to make sure that people know that in me they will have a fighter. I have a huge challenge ahead of me,” Mr McCormack said after the vote.

NSW MP David Gillespie and agriculture minister and Joyce supporter David Littleproud earlier withdrew from a leadership contest.

But in a surprise move, Queensland MP George Christensen put up his hand, although his bid was unsuccessful.

Mr McCormack has previously been criticised for penning a 1993 column when he was a former newspaper editor describing homosexuality as “sordid behaviour”.

He has since apologised and voted in favour of same-sex marriage in parliament.

Despite stepping down from the leadership, Mr Joyce is still under investigation over his parliamentary expenses.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on February 21 ordered a review of whether Mr Joyce broke the ministerial code of conduct, but the review was cancelled after Mr Joyce quit two days later.

The Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority is still investigating his travel.

Mr Joyce cited allegations of sexual harassment – which he denies – as the final straw that led him to resign.

Catherine Marriott, a former West Australian Rural Woman of the Year, accused Mr Joyce of sexual harassment, but says she never intended for the allegations to go public.

Nationals federal president Larry Anthony confirmed he asked for her complaint against Mr Joyce be made in writing, but he insists he did not leak it.

“The confidentially that we were imposed on, by her solicitor and mine, we have kept,” Mr Anthony told Sky News on Monday.

Australian Associated Press

Butterflier Groves may miss Games trials

Madeline Groves may miss the Commonwealth Games swim trials despite clearing her name with FINA.She may have beaten a FINA doping panel ban but Rio Olympic swimming medallist Madeline Groves may still miss this week’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games selection trials.
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Australian head coach Jacco Verhaeren said the champion butterflier had entered the four day trials starting on Wednesday but it remained to be seen whether Groves contested them after a tough lead-up.

“I think with her we will see on the day,” Verhaeren said of the Rio 200m butterfly silver medallist’s chances.

Groves, 22, had to clear her name to contest the trials after facing suspension for missing three drug tests in 12 months.

Last October she escaped a ban when she successfully argued to the FINA doping panel that her third strike should not count because WADA testers did not do enough to find her.

Verhaeren said it had taken an emotional toll on Groves and had disrupted her preparation.

Adding to her anxiety before fronting the FINA doping panel, Dolphins teammates Thomas Fraser-Holmes and Jarrod Poort were hit with 12 month bans for the same offence.

Then Groves underwent surgery late last year to treat endometriosis, a painful condition where a lining in the uterus is found on another part of the body.

“There is a bit of a question mark (about Groves), she obviously had a very different preparation,” Verhaeren said.

“She had to deal with being on three strikes, which is obviously very difficult.

“We are very happy that it was proven that she wasn’t guilty of that, but as you can imagine emotionally it is draining.

“It puts you in a position where working hard and dealing with that is very difficult so she definitely started her preparation a bit later so let’s see where she is at.”

Verhaeren did not want to touch on Groves’ health battle but said the butterflier was back in the pool training.

The Dolphins mentor said they could not afford to push Groves ahead of the Gold Coast Games otherwise they risk burnout ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“It’s difficult to tell what level she is at but she is back in the water and training – she can look forward now,” Verhaeren said.

“(But) we got to take it easy with her and at the end of the day she needs to make a decision to get over a couple of issues – let’s hope that’s the case.”

Australian Associated Press

Blistering Finch ton has Vics on the brink

Victoria’s Aaron Finch has clocked 151 not out against WA in the Shield clash at the WACA.Victoria are on the brink of thumping Western Australia after three days of the Sheffield Shield clash at the WACA Ground, set up by a blistering Aaron Finch century and 10 Chris Tremain wickets.
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Victoria started the day at 1-70 with a 160-run lead and are within touching distance of a big win.

Despite some wobbles in the first session with Marcus Stoinis and Ashton Agar bowling well for WA, Finch put the Bushrangers on course to victory.

He smashed 151 in 122 balls to remain unbeaten when declaring at tea with Victoria 8-378, setting WA 469 to win.

Victoria looked likely to wrap it up in the last session, having WA 8-99 with the extra half-hour called.

But Josh Inglis (54) and Matt Kelly (24) survived to stumps with the Warriors 8-161. They are still 307 runs behind.

After falling to 5-153 in the morning session, Finch and Cameron White (41) guided Victoria to lunch and from there, Finch took off.

He brought up his century in 95 balls and then needed just 26 more to reach 150.

His first century since November 2016 and first ever at the WACA included 16 boundaries and seven sixes.

Stoinis (4-82) and Agar (2-115) toiled hard for WA. But having Matt Kelly hampered by a back complaint and Simon Mackin bowling a horror first over and never reappearing didn’t help.

Victoria’s pace attack was too good on a wicket offering plenty of assistance and with some cracks providing unplayable deliveries.

Tremain has backed up 7-82 in the first innings taking 3-61 while Scott Boland claimed 3-44 and Peter Siddle 2-39.

Stoinis did well with the ball for the match but knows some loose shots with the bat and not keeping the pressure up long enough with the ball has been costly.

“Obviously it’s disappointing,” Stoinis said.

“There’s a bit in the wicket and we didn’t bowl as well as we should have, and haven’t batted as well as we should have. You can’t let a good side like Victoria off the hook and that’s what we’ve done.”

Tremain has 10-143 for the game but more importantly is looking forward to closing out the important win for the Bushrangers.

“It’s vital to get a result and that’s our reality,” Tremain said.

“We need to play attacking cricket to get these results. If we want to be on top at the pointy end of this season, we are going to have to be on point the next two and-a-bit games.”

Australian Associated Press

NZ may lobby Aust on nuclear weapons ban

Nuclear disarmament could come up when NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Australia this week.Australia could be in for a lecture from New Zealand on nuclear weapons disarmament.
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NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will visit Australia for talks with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the end of the week.

She’ll be accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, seven cabinet ministers and a business delegation.

Ms Ardern delivered a major foreign policy speech to the New Zealand Institute of Public Affairs on Tuesday and announced her government will reinstate the cabinet position of disarmament and arms control minister.

Last July, 122 countries voted in the United Nations to ban nuclear weapons.

Ms Ardern flagged in the speech her government was looking at an early ratification of the treaty.

“In a modern context, the greatest challenge comes from North Korea, situated right here in our region,” she said.

“At a time when risks to global peace and security are growing and the rules-based system is under such pressure, we must recommit ourselves to the cause of non-proliferation and disarmament.”

Australia has refused to sign up to the treaty ban and did not take part in the negotiations.

The country relies on the deterrent protection from the US’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

New Zealand has long adopted a firm line in opposing development of nuclear capabilities, which at times puts the small Pacific nation at odds with some allies.

In the mid-1980s, the NZ Labour government banned ships that were either nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed, prompting the United States to suspend security treaty obligations to New Zealand.

Relations warmed a little in 2016 when New Zealand’s centre-right National government approved the first visit by a US warship in 30 years.

Asked if she’ll raise the issue with Mr Turnbull, Ms Ardern told reporters in Wellington: “I have no qualms having conversations about it.”

The leaders are likely to find more common ground on trade and economic integration issues.

“Australia is our only ally and closest friend. As in any relationship, we will have our differences,” Ms Ardern said in the speech.

Ms Ardern is expected to take Mr Turnbull to task over the plight of Kiwi convicted criminals in immigration detention.

NZ also has an ongoing offer to resettle 150 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island, which has previously been rejected.

Mr Turnbull said he and wife Lucy were looking forward to welcoming Ms Ardern and her partner fishing show host Clarke Gayford.

Australian Associated Press

Power star Gray to serve one-game AFL ban

Port Adelaide will challenge the AFL ban offered to their three time All-Australian Robbie Gray.Port Adelaide will be without star Robbie Gray for the opening round of the season after the AFL tribunal upheld his one-match ban.
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AFL match review officer Michael Christian charged Gray with rough conduct for his high bump on West Coast’s Jeremy McGovern in Sunday’s pre-season game at Leederville Oval.

In the first tribunal test of the revamped match review system, Port’s legal team argued Gray had braced for impact rather than deliberately bumped McGovern, who was treated for a concussion.

But after just six minutes of deliberation, tribunal members Wayne Henwood, Richard Loveridge and Michael Jamison ruled against the Power on Tuesday night.

Gray will now miss the season-opener against Fremantle at Adelaide Oval on March 24.

Under the new system, Port didn’t risk increasing the ban with an unsuccessful trip to the tribunal, but they do forfeit a $10,000 fee that counts against their football department’s soft cap with the decision.

Gray and club legal counsel Mark Griffin QC appeared via videolink from Adelaide for the hearing at Etihad Stadium that lasted just over an hour.

Griffin argued that Gray had just 1.28 seconds from the time the ball bounced to when contact between the pair occurred and had no other alternatives available to him.

“I tried to slow down, I braced, pulled my arm in and tried to protect myself and minimise the impact as much as I could,” Gray said in his evidence.

“I realised there would be some sort of contact and I just tried to minimise that.

“I tried to brace myself.”

McGovern lay dazed on the turf after Gray’s right shoulder made contact with the side of his head.

He left the field under his own steam, but was assessed for a concussion and didn’t return.

An Eagles’ medical report stated assessment was ongoing on Monday and it was unclear how much training or how many games, if any, the star defender would miss.

AFL legal counsel Andrew Woods successfully argued Gray could have taken alternative action – either contest the ball or tackle McGovern – and that he laid a bump rather than braced for impact in a football incident.

Australian Associated Press

Snowy 2.0 a project for future, not now

Snowy Hydro COO Roger Whitby says a planned expansion will feed future power needs.The Snowy 2.0 hydro storage expansion plan is a project aimed at meeting Australia’s electricity needs in a future with fewer coal-fired power stations.
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Snowy Hydro chief operating officer Roger Whitby told senators on Tuesday the economic business case for the massive expansion was based on Australia’s anticipated needs.

“Snowy 2.0 is a project for the future. It’s not a project for the current state of the market,” he told an estimates committee hearing in Canberra.

“This is looking forward to what will be required when a number of the existing old thermal generators are retired and we have increasing penetration of renewable energy.”

Economic modelling for the project was done before the Turnbull government announced its national energy guarantee policy.

“A well-designed NEG should enhance the viability of the Snowy 2.0 project, but we’re not assuming that in terms of what’s been done to date,” Mr Whitby said.

“Snowy 2.0 is viable for the future … where the coal-fired generation fleet is ageing, it does not appear that’s going to be replaced and obviously, we have commitments to meet decarbonisation objectives internationally.”

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency told the committee on Monday there would need a lot more storage than “simply Snowy” in the future.

“There will be a number of other projects we will need to have come into the market because Snowy 2.0 will reach a capacity around about 2030,” chief financial officer Ian Kay said.

The feasibility study found the project, while financially and technically viable, is likely to cost between $3.8 billion and $4.5 billion, far outweighing an initial estimate of $2 billion.

Snowy Hydro will make a final investment decision by the end of the year but Mr Whitby warned a lot of work needed to be done first.

That includes knowing what upgrades will happen to the network of poles and wires.

At the moment, Snowy’s ability to increase capacity is constrained by a high voltage transmission system designed three decades ago based on the delivery of coal-fired power to load centres, Mr Whitby said.

It had to be “adjusted for the future”.

Senior energy department official Rob Heferen acknowledged this, saying the aim was “to ensure that whatever needs to be sorted out is sorted out by the time the board needs to take its final decision”.

Australian Associated Press

Tas Liberals on track for tight win: poll

Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman’s popularity has jumped 13 points ahead of Saturday’s election.Tasmania’s Liberal government is likely to be re-elected with a slim majority, according to polling released days out from Saturday’s state election.
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An EMRS survey of 1000 voters released on Tuesday shows the Liberals approval rating has surged to 46 per cent.

Their support has risen 12 points since December, when it was dead even with Labor at 34 per cent.

Political analyst Kevin Bonham believes the Liberals are on track to win 13 seats – the amount required to form a majority government – on March 3, with Labor getting 10 and the Greens two.

“The Liberals seem to have succeeded in convincing voters that only they can win majority government and that causes a bit of a snowball effect,” he said.

Premier Will Hodgman’s popularity as preferred leader has jumped 13 points to 48 per cent, while Opposition Leader Rebecca White has slid six points to 41.

Ms White, however, says Labor can still win.

“I’ve been really encouraged by the amount of support I’ve received right across Tasmania,” she told reporters at Penguin while announcing $45 million for sustainable agriculture.

“It’s not just about me, it’s the strength of our team and the messages we’re taking to the election.”

Mr Hodgman didn’t buy into the survey, saying the weekend’s poll is the only one that matters.

Greens’ support has dropped from 17 per cent to 12 per cent – their lowest level in eight years.

Leader Cassy O’Connor on Monday vowed to put forward a no confidence motion in a Liberal government if they don’t reveal the origins of their donations before the election.

“We’ve seen over the last 24 hours what the Greens will do,” Mr Hodgman said.

“It’s a demonstration of the sort of chaos you’d expect when the Greens are part of a minority government.”

Backing for the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) – which was earlier in the campaign rated a decent chance of picking up a seat in the state’s north – has halved from eight per cent to four.

Jacqui Lambie told local radio her party would back the Liberals in the event of a hung parliament.

“There’s no evidence that they’re getting a seat,” Mr Bonham said of the JLN’s chances.

“In the electorate that is their strongest, Braddon, which is Lambie’s home base, their candidates are quite obscure.”

Australian Associated Press

Bentley’s world of watershed moments

WATER WORLD: Hunter Water managing director Jim Bentley at lunch by the harbour with Scott Bevan. Picture: Jonathan CarrollIt seems fitting that the boss of Hunter Water chooses Scratchleys on the harbour’s edge for our lunch. In that way, Jim Bentley and I have uninterrupted water views.
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Although like in TheRime of the Ancient Mariner, it’s water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. Apart from what’s in our glasses, that is.

Jim Bentley’s job is to ensure there is always water in the region’s glasses. And we presume there always will be. Most of us presume to the point where we don’t even think about it.

“We sort of take it for granted,” says Bentley, who believesthat’s the attitude to water in urban environments the world over. “And you don’t think about it until it might not be there.”

That scenario is becoming frighteningly real for the people of Capetown. TheSouth African cityruns the risk of running dry by the middle of the year, and residents are on daily water rations of 50 litres per person.

The Hunter is half a world away from that crisis. However, we use water as though we’re a world removed from such a drastic shortage. Bentley explains the region’s average daily usage is190 litres per person.

“Look, it’s high,” he says of that figure. “It shouldn’t carry on at that level now really. But actually people’s behaviour is quite hard to change around things like using water.

“When I first arrived here [in mid 2016], I was quite surprised we talked about Water Wise rules all the time. It sounds draconian, it sounds like, ‘This is the punishment you’ll get if you don’t comply with our rules’. And that’s going to wear thin after a period of time.”

Bentley doesn’t think even hitting the hip pocket with a strict user-pays approach to water billing is the way to go. Instead, he believes emphasising the “wise”, encouraging us to think about water usage, is more effective.If wisdom is about the head, Hunter Water has also been appealing to the heart.

Jim Bentley launching the “Love Water” conservation campaign at Grahamstown Dam. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

It has launched a conservation campaign, Love Water. Hunter Water is hoping for a combined effortto avoid restrictions being put in place, if there is not enough rain to replenish dams. The total storage capacity is currently just under 70 per cent.

“We don’t havemassive storageof water in the Hunter,” he explains. “We have enough water supply for demand under normal circumstances. What we don’t have is drought security.”

The organisation has been planning for prolonged dry times, and that includes considering costly, and often controversial, infrastructure. To build a dam, Bentley concedes, “wouldn’t be easy”, as was shown with the scuttled Tillegra dam proposal. Hunter Water is also going through the planning process for a temporary desalination plant, which would most likely be built at Belmont. But he’s emphaticwe don’t need to panic.

“We’re not on a knife’s edge, it’s under control, it’s quite good,” he assures. “But it’s not the infinite resource that people seem to have the impression of.”

Jim Bentley at lunch with Scott Bevan. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

EARLY in his life, Jim Bentley was surrounded not by water but fields. He was born in 1966in Surrey, the third of four children of a Baptist minister father.

When Jim was four, the family was transferred to the grittier environment of south-east London. He movedagain when he was eight; his parents separated. While his siblings lived with their mother, Jim went with their father, a decision that surprises him “because I was the Mummy’s boy of the family”.

“I look back and I often wonder why was that?,” he says in his softly spoken voice. “It’s one of my big regrets in life that I know I hurt my Mum by not going to live with her. But one of the great joys of my life is she’s one of my best friends.”

Jim followed his father to Oxfordshire and Berkshire, as his dream for his future firmed. Hehad his heart set on being an actor.

But it was a dream that didn’t impress his mother’s new husband, an engineer, when the teenager told him.

Bentley sayshis stepfather hit him and told him he could be an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant. The teenager asserted he wouldn’t be told what he could study. Despite that confrontation, he chose engineering.

“The smack didn’t do it,” Bentley says of why he made that decision. “I think deep down I respected his opinion. But as a 16-year-old I had to portray some kind of, ‘I’ll make my own mind up, you can’t tell me what to do’ sort of thing.”

He doesn’tregretnotpursuing acting, “but I’ve often been curious about what life would have been like. Ithink it would have been really exciting. But I also have a sense of calling in what I do.”

That calling wasn’t apparent for some years, and his introduction to a career involving water was almost accidental.After completing his degree and then attaining a doctorate in chemical engineering, Bentley figured he would be an academic. He applied for a position and missed out.

Once he wastold the disappointing news, he walked out of the office, picked up a chemical engineering magazine and saw an advertisement for a job at Thames Water.

“So at that point, whatever was in the Chemical Engineer that sounded interesting …,” he smiles.

Jim Bentley at lunch with Scott Bevan. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Thames Water had been privatised and was expanding. So wereJim Bentley’s responsibilities. By his late 20s, he was a middle manager, and “I thought I was the cat that got the cream. I had this fabulous job, I was in charge of all of Thames Water’s London major water treatment plants.”

And, he reflects, what also came wasarrogance: “I think early in my career, I was arrogant and cocky, and I think as I’ve grown up a bit, I’ve been wary of that. But I think more importantly, for an organisation, I don’t like organisational arrogance.”

He assertsthat attitude is generally bad for business. If a companybelieves it’s so good it doesn’t have to change, change will overtake it. He doesn’t believe Hunter Water has that airbut adds when you’re asking the community to be “water wise”, it is important to get away from the “arrogant” approach of educating and presuming “we know best”.

“We know what we’re talking about, but that doesn’t mean we know what the answer is to every problem,” he says.“So I want to get away from, ‘Shall we build a red one or a blue one?’ and call that consultation, and I want to get into learning with our community, rather than teaching our community.”

WATER WISE: Jim Bentley launching the conservation campaign, Love Water, at Grahamstown Dam. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

For Jim Bentley, life and ambition wereknocked into perspective in Turkey in 1999. He had been appointedThames Water’s operations director fora water supply project in the city of Izmit.A massive earthquake struck Izmit in the early hours of August 17. Bentley was in Egypt, because he had taken on the additional responsibility of being the company’s Middle East regional director.

“I think it was two nights before the earthquake we had a Thames Water Turkey family party up in the hills, eating fish and drinking raki, and Turkish dancing with my staff and their families,” Bentley says. “I remember dancing with this family; Mum, Dad, two twin sons, who both worked for us. That was one night. Went to Cairo the next day. Went to bed that night and I got a phone call at 4 o’clock that morning, ‘Put on the BBC’.”

It took Bentley almost two days to get back to the water plant in Izmit, as he negotiated the rubble and chaos:“And we drove through the gates of the plant, and I remember seeing the look of relief on people’s faces, because Jim Bey (like “Mr”) is back. And I remember thinking, ‘Jim Bey has no more experience in responding to this kind of thing than you do’. But my job was to get out of the car, look and sound confident, and to give these people a little bit of a boost.

“It was one of those moments where you have to decide, ‘Are you going to stand up and be a leader, or are you going to run away and hide?’ Fortunately, I decided to stand up and be a leader.

“It gave me a tremendous respect for the people I’m privileged to lead. They knew what they were doing, they just needed someone to tell them, ‘Yeah, that’s going to be fine’.”

More than 17,000 people were killed in the quake, and much of the city had been damaged.Bentley and his team had to locate missing employees, help find emergency housing for staff,and console those who had lost so much, including the family he had danced with.

“One of those two sons and the mother were killed when their house collapsed,” he says. “So the emotion of that will live with me forever really.”

Jim Bentley talking about water – by the water. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

After working back in England for a couple of years, Bentleyfollowed a Kiwi woman he had met to New Zealand. The relationship ended, but his love forNew Zealand blossomed. He was the chief executive of Auckland’s Metrowater for a few years, then worked in academia and as a consultant.

“I was learning new things, loved it, I didn’t imagine being anywhere else,” he says. “Then someone said to me there was a recruitment process for the MD of Hunter Water going on, was I interested.

“And I said, ‘yeah’.”

Bentley is not sure why he said that –“I surprised myself” –but he’s glad he did. He was ready to be back in a leadership role. Hethought Newcastlewas the right size to work with the university, government, and the communityto bring together all those elements, which interested him. And he wanted to make a difference.

“If we get it right, we can improve the environment, help with sustainability and enable people to have a better quality of life, and the life they want to have,” he says. “And if we get it wrong, we can damage the environment, we can run up too much debt for society, we give people not enough green space and true liveability.”

Jim Bentley at lunch, with harbour life in the background. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Bentley, who is single, is getting to know Newcastle. He enjoysattendingchurch, and he intends to play golf but has only got as far as buying a set of clubs. Andhe wonders how he can become a Novocastrian.

“Terry Lawler, my chairman, tells me it takes about three or four generations before you can be considered a Novocastrian,” Bentley explains. “He said if I marry a local, I can become a B- or C-rated Novocastrian. That’s the best I can aspire to!”

Seven doesn’t want Amber Harrison punished

Seven West Media doesn’t want Amber Harrison punished in contempt of court proceedings (file).Seven West Media is no longer seeking an order that the ex-lover of company boss Tim Worner be punished for allegedly being in contempt of court.
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Seven has launched NSW Supreme Court contempt proceedings against Amber Harrison claiming she breached a permanent gag order preventing her from leaking company documents or detailing the affair.

The former network executive assistant was not in court on Tuesday when registrar Leonie Walton was asked to set the case down for hearing.

Seven’s lawyer Ruveni Kelleher said the network was now only seeking a declaration that Ms Harrison was in contempt for breaching court orders made in 2017.

It no longer sought orders that she be punished for any contempt or that she pay Seven’s legal costs.

When the matter came before the registrar two weeks ago, another lawyer for Seven asked for an adjournment “because of the consequences” of the proceedings for Ms Harrison who had not turned up at court.

She was at the centre of a long-running dispute with the media company after she revealed details of the affair with Mr Worner and a subsequent settlement agreement.

Seven successfully obtained a permanent gag order against her in July when Justice John Sackar remarked “these proceedings have, from the outset, been engulfed in a vitriolic atmosphere”.

“The allegations from both sides, whether entirely true or not, have often been personal, scandalous, and sadly ripe for media and public consumption,” he said.

Seven launched the contempt proceedings in December claiming Ms Harrison had repeatedly breached the court orders.

The hearing is set down for May 9.

Australian Associated Press

How WA blew the boom: Langoulant

A scathing report has been handed down into how the former WA government blew the boom.For much of the 2000s Perth was awash with money and in party mode thanks to the mining boom.
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For those lucky enough to be in the mining industry as well as the Western Australian government, which collected soaring resources royalties, there was more money than many knew what to do with.

It is not news that the boom and the party ended several years ago and some undisciplined tradies overcomitted on houses and toys and couldn’t pay their debts.

But what many cannot fathom is how the state government was just as undisciplined, leaving WA with record budget deficits and debt set to pass $40 billion in the aftermath of the greatest economic boom in its history.

A major inquiry into WA’s fiscal crisis released last week by former Treasury boss John Langoulant was scathing of the former government’s financial management.

Colin Barnett’s Liberal National government of 2008-17 is portrayed as arrogantly ignoring the advice of Treasury to urgently curb spending as if the mining boom and high iron ore prices would go on forever.

Among the standout culprits, the report found, was the multibillion dollar Royalties for Regions program in which far too much of the mining royalties – 25 per cent – was wasted, “shovelled” for the last decade to rural areas at the expense of the city for projects with no business cases.

One of the most damning criticisms was a $4.3 billion contract awarded to global company Serco to run Perth’s new Fiona Stanley Hospital in Perth without a business case, and which has been beset with problems since, but there were many examples.

Mr Barnett refused to meet with Mr Langoulant for his Special Inquiry into government programs and projects, telling The West Australian newspaper last week it was a “nasty political” act.

Mr Langoulant was appointed by the current Labor government, which instructed him on the projects to probe – of which most were poorly rated.

The terms of reference only covered the Liberal National government – not Labor before it – and gave Mr Langoulant had $1.5 million to spend, of which he says $1.1 million was used.

The Liberals and Nationals fiercely defended the legacy of Royalties for Regions in building infrastructure in rural WA.

They rejected Mr Langoulant’s description of it as “the main factor that caused difficulties for the government, it destabilised financial management, the system clogged up the cabinet process”.

But how do Mr Barnett or current Liberal leader Mike Nahan defend the fact that when the WA government’s revenue more than doubled to $28 billion during 2013 – before iron ore prices fell – debt ballooned in the same period by more than 400 per cent to over $20 billion?

Debt is currently at a record level above $30 billion and forecast to peak at $40 billion-plus in the next few years, while the the current record budget deficit is about $3 billion and WA has not had a triple-A credit rating since 2014.

WA’s per capita expenditure was more than 20 per cent higher than NSW and Victoria’s last year.

Mr Langoulant rejects Mr Barnett’s excuse for the debt as being due to WA having the nation’s lowest GST share, instead saying the problems go beyond that, adding Treasury had warned the ex-premier about GST but he kept the economy on “full throttle” anyway.

He also rejects the Liberals and Nationals argument that they had to award massive public servant pay rises during the boom to avoid a brain drain, driving the budget into deficit because the pay hikes could not be unwound.

“The problem was the government spent too much and took its eye off its risk management responsibilities … our royalties were what needed to be managed,” Mr Langoulant said of the Barnett government.

“I feel for the current government, they have been dealt an impossible hand … they have got a set of finances which are beyond belief.”

Dr Nahan said no-one, including Treasury, Labor or Mr Langoulant had predicted the iron ore price in 2013-14 and WA Nationals leader Mia Davies said “everyone can look back with the benefit of hindsight”.

One of Mr Langoulant’s key recommendations – of 107 – is to be more fiscally conservative in the good times and build strong, recurrent surpluses for when things inevitably come back as happens in the boom-bust cycle of mining-exposed economies.

The Barnett government did good things for WA, especially building infrastructure such as the Elizabeth Quay river development, new stadium and major roads, but it should have been done with recurrent surpluses so the debt level would have been sustainable, he said.

Premier Mark McGowan said future generations and governments had been saddled with enormous debt and deficits and his government broadly endorsed Mr Langoulant’s recommendations to ensure future governments avoid the same mistakes.

Veteran WA political commentator Peter Kennedy said the challenge for the Labor government was to follow those recommendations, as it had major capital works to complete such as the multibillion dollar Metronet rail project and $400 million-plus new museum.

Australian Associated Press

Richmond Vale Railway Museum reopens to the public after bushfire

BACK ON TRACK: Richmond Vale Railway Museum chairman Peter Meddows inspects the repairs ahead of the museum’s re-opening. Picture: Marina NeilPublic operations will resume at Richmond Vale Railway Museum thisweekend, five months since abushfire devastated the historic site.
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A reunion forveteransof the Richmond Main Colliery will be held at the site on Saturday, before it reopens to the public on Sunday.

The reunion was planned for last yearin honour ofthe fiftieth anniversary of the cessation of coal shipping from the colliery in 1967, but had to be postponed in the aftermath of the Septemberbushfire.

“We wish to give the Richi veterans the opportunity to visit the site, see the effects of the bushfire and other events on the property, and be able to share in reminiscences of their time at the colliery or on the railway,” saidmuseum board member Graham Harper, who is coordinating the reunion.

“The museum is anxious to record the memories of these men, before they are no longer able to share them.”

The reunion will start at 10am, with afree barbecue lunch provided for veterans on theday.

RSVP isessential for catering purposes. Anyonewishing to attend is asked to call Graham on 0434 015 149.

Richmond Vale Railway Museum reopens to the public after bushfire The fire has caused significant damage at the Richmond Vale Railway Museum. Picture: Brodie Owen

The fire has caused significant damage at the Richmond Vale Railway Museum. Picture: Brodie Owen

DEVASTATED: Richmond Vale Railway Museum chairman Peter Meddows.

The fire has caused significant damage at the Richmond Vale Railway Museum. Picture: Brodie Owen

A water bombing plane in action. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

a water bombing plane in action. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

The fire crowning at Leggetts Drive . Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

The fire crowning at Leggetts Drive . Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Fire burning on Leggetts Drive. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Fire beside Leggetts Drive. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Fire & Rescue firefighters with a burning coal hopper at the Richmond vale Railway Museum which suffered considerable loss of rolling stock. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

ire & Rescue firefighters mopping up at the Richmond vale Railway Museum which suffered considerable loss of rolling stock. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

RFS firefighters from Seaham Brigade at Leggetts Drive. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Richmond Vale fire. Picture: Sage Swinton.

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

The fire from Richmond Vale Railway Museum. Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Picture: MJF Productions

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

Richmond Vale fire. Picture: Sage Swinton.

Richmond Vale fire. Picture: Sage Swinton.

Richmond Vale fire. Picture: Sage Swinton.

Richmond Vale fire. Picture: Sage Swinton.

Richmond Vale fire. Picture: Sage Swinton.

Richmond Vale fire. Picture: Sage Swinton.

Pelaw Main. Picture: Candy Chapman

Picture: Kay Hudson

Picture: Sj Dearinger

Richmond Vale fire. Picture: Sage Swinton.

Pictures: Media Response Newcastle

The fire has caused significant damage at the Richmond Vale Railway Museum. Picture: Brodie Owen

Picture: Deej Moore

Picture: Deej Moore

People watching the fire from George Booth Drive, Buchanan. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

A horse belonging to Lorraine Moss breaking through a fence after a helicopter landed in the paddock nearby on her Richmond Vale Road property. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Richmond Vale bushfire. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Lorraine Moss evacuating with her horses from her home on Richmond Vale Road. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Lorraine Moss evacuating evacuating with her horses from her home on Richmond Vale Road. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Lorraine Moss evacuating evacuating with her horses from her home on Richmond Vale Road. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Lorraine Moss evacuating evacuating with her horses from her home on Richmond Vale Road. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Cameraman Lachlan Thorburn running as a fire flares after burning through a swamp on Leggetts Drive. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Peter Meddows, chairman of the Richmond vale Railway Museum, surveying a burnt out carriage. The museum suffered considerable loss of rolling stock. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Black Hill. Picture: Sage Swinton

Black Hill. Picture: Sage Swinton

Peter Meddows, chairman of the Richmond vale Railway Museum, surveying some of the damage with other museum volunteers. The museum suffered considerable loss of rolling stock. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Burnt out carriages at the Richmond Vale Rail Museum. The museum suffered considerable loss of rolling stock. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Burnt out carriages at the Richmond Vale Rail Museum. The museum suffered considerable loss of rolling stock. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Fire beside Leggetts Drive. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Water bombing helicopters filling up from a lake in Richmond Vale. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

water bombing helicopters filling up from a lake in Richmond Vale. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

water bombing helicopters filling up from a lake in Richmond Vale. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

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Music and the mind in Newcastle

Music and the mind in Newcastle Musically Minded: Music and the mind is the theme of three events in Newcastle.
Nanjing Night Net

Newcastle-based musician and flautist Sally Walker, who is also artistic director of Twilight Musical Dialogues.

German neurologist and flautist Professor Eckart Altenmüller.

German neurologist and flautist Professor Eckart Altenmüller.

German neurologist and flautist Professor Eckart Altenmüller.

TweetFacebookSupercarCornersNewcastle architect Barney Collins designs buildings. He also has a talent for naming things.

Take the names he has bestowed uponthe corners and straights oftheNewcastle 500 circuit, with the help of colleague Michael Rodgers.

Turn 1 – Hammerhead (obvious given the number of crashes).

The Straight downWatt Street –it can only ever be called “the Straight” (agreat engineering and power reference).

Turn 2 – Cop Shop Corner (obvious).

Turns 3-6 – The Wave (near the beach).

Turn 7 – Sahara (can get covered with sand).

Turn 8 – Sticky Rice (after the restaurant on the corner).

Turn 9 – The Bus Stop (Newcastle bus terminus used to be across the road).

Straight Part 1 – Boatman’s Row (a historical reference to this place and the row of terraced housingbuilt for the men who pulled the ships into the harbour).

Straight Part 2 – The Canon (referencing Fort Scratchley).

Corner 10 – Nobbys Corner (aka lifesaver).

Corner 11 – The Horseshoe (obvious).

Corner 12 – Jet Pilot (in honour of thejet that flew over the circuitat the event,the Pilot Station and where the Supercars put on the after-burners).

Pit Straight – Moriarty’s Run (aka the Mullet Run.Moriarty was the engineer responsible for the alignment of the wharf and road).

Love for lockers leads sisters to spread Mustard joy

Sister act: Rebecca Stern, right, and her sister Jessica, left, have founded the home decor brand Mustard. THERE’S a sizeable difference between teaspoons and industrial lockers, but Rebecca Stern has leapt from one to the other withaplomb.
Nanjing Night Net

Stern has shelved her respected creative label House of Bec, which sold hand-crafted and repurposed cutlery, to launch her new brand Mustard with her UK-based sister, Jessica.

Mustard’s first effort is “soft industrial” lockers made from powder-coated steel and in six colours thatare made forkids rooms, offices and general living.

Stern has always been a collector of vintage lockers and a “thing” for metal furniture and, after having her second son a year ago,realised she didn’t want to be in her studio hammering away at jewellery.

“It got to a point where Iliked handmade things but my strengthwas in design, concept and ideas, and I loverunning a creative business,” she says.

She and Jessica, a fashion buyer, did lots of research into how to make lockers more functional before heading to China to find a manufacturer.

“It was basically taking an original design and making it better suited for modern times,” says Stern, adding that she worked to “push the parameters of possibility” with the manufacturer to achieve a design aesthetic for the Australian market.

She said the Chinese town where her manufacturer is based specialises in lockers, and she watchedas workers cut and shaped the lockers every step of the way through production.

The signature locker is the Skinny, a tall locker withclothes rail and adjustable shevling, and the second locker is Shorty, which can work as a bedside table or side table or office storage.

Wholesale and retail preorders for the lockers are moving swiftly, though Stern hadn’t trademarked her business until she and Jessica went the premium boutique trade event Life Instyle in Sydney last month.

“I just though if it’s a disaster I don’t want to spend all that money, I thought if we get the orders we’ll set up the business, and we had such a positive reaction – so many people saying it was the best thing there,” she says.

London-raised Stern says the brand name is a nod to her love for the colour, the condiment and the potential to grow the business. In factnew accessories are afoot, so tooplans for a UK launch.

“Ifeel like I have learnt so much from it, I started it as a broke single mother and my life has really changed,” says Stern.

“I kept saying to myself ‘If Ican make a living out of selling unwanted old cutlery then surely I could make it selling something else as well.

“It’s a bigger leap and biggerrisks but it’s just how I do things.”