OUR SAY: Christopher Pyne fails over higher education reform

THE rejection of the Coalition’s higher education bill by the Senate on Tuesday night should now prompt all parties to use the Christmas recess to do their homework in an area of public policy Australia cannot afford to get wrong.
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A centrepiece of the shambolic Hockey budget, the deregulation of tertiary education, which was to include raising fees, raising the cost of student loans and cutting funding to universities, is not just a matter for federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne to revisit.

The Opposition and the universities need to reconsider the current state of higher education and what students and institutions need for a viable education sector in the future.

Mr Pyne needs to drop the Churchillian bluster and talk sensibly with the Opposition, cross bench MPs and, above all, the public about what needs to be done. His second crack at the legislation, tabled yesterday, is a big improvement on the regressive and punitive policy the Senate tore up, but it is not there yet.

Sticking with the existing student loan scheme is a good start, as is a funding package to help universities transition to the competitive model he says is inevitable. But is it?

Faced with a huge cut in funding, most university vice-chancellors have supported the transition to a US style model if more help is offered.

They are petrified their funds will dry up, followed quickly by their research programs and then their academic standards and international standing.

That would certainly be the case if federal funding was cut by the intended 20 per cent and nothing replaced it.

If Labor wants to preserve a regulated system where fees are controlled and more Australian students are enroled it needs to present a viable alternative. Many universities, including vocationally focused regional institutions like Charles Sturt University, might take a different view of Mr Pyne’s model if they were presented with a real choice.

University students and their families dodged a bullet on Tuesday night. They expect the universities and their elected representatives to be far better prepared when parliament resumes in 2015.

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ALP: Power privatisation would hurt health, education funding

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson at John Hunter Hospital on Wednesday. Picture: Phil HearneTHE GOVERNMENT’S plan to privatise the state’s electricity network will mean less money for hospitals, schools and TAFEs in the Hunter, Labor politicians claimed on Wednesday.
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Opposition Leader John Robertson, Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp and member for Charlestown Jodie Harrison spoke with nurses at John Hunter Hospital while on a tour around the region.

They said the nurses were “fearful of further budget cuts if electricity is privatised”.

Mr Robertson said that electricity privatisation would be disastrous for the Hunter.

He said that last year the electricity companies paid $1.7 billion to the Baird Government in dividends and other tax-equivalent payments.

Mr Robertson said this revenue stream would be permanently lost once electricity was privatised.

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said: “Our residents will be stuck paying higher electricity prices – while even more money is sucked from local hospitals and schools.”

Charlestown MP Jodie Harrison agreed.

“With the Abbott Government already cutting $25 billion from NSW hospitals and schools, it is severely misguided for the Premier to be killing off crucial revenue that comes to the budget from the electricity companies,” she said.

“Hunter hospitals like John Hunter, Calvary Mater and Belmont are already overstretched, while local TAFEs are slashing courses and staff.

“I understand the Premier will be addressing a business lunch in Newcastle tomorrow.

“My message to him is that services in the Hunter cannot afford more cuts.”

Health Minister Jillian Skinner rejected the concerns voiced by the Labor MPs.

“This is mere politicking by Labor – they continue to put politics before patients,” she said.

“I can assure the community there is no $3 billion cut to health – this is a Labor fabrication.

“This year’s recurrent health budget is $18.7 billion – a 5.2 per cent increase on last year.

“Labor’s last health budget was $15.5 billion.”

Protesting inequities worthwhile

MARIE Gill (Adv, Nov 27) is quite correct when she states that Australians have it better than most people in the world and she is also correct when she says that we all have to help pay for our comparatively high standard of living.
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Few people will argue with these sentiments. However, what people are complaining and protesting about are the injustices of the policies of the Abbott government, their seemingly focused push to increase inequity in our society by enabling the wealthy to become richer and forcing those struggling to become poorer.

Marie may like to call pensioners, the unemployed, the young, the sick, those seeking a better education and all their supporters, whiners and whingers but if the Abbott government’s policies mean that these people lose entitlements and services when the wealthy don’t then clearly they have good reason to complain and protest.



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Diesel spill chokes up Albion Park creek

EPA and local business reps, along with Illawarra firefighters inspect Albion Creek. Picture: ROBERT PEETA leak of diesel choked up to 200 metres of an Albion Park creek on Tuesday night, with fears it could have entered Lake Illawarra.
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Fire and Rescue NSW crews worked to contain what was believed to be a diesel spill into Albion Creek, just off the Princes Highway at Albion Park Rail.

‘‘FRNSW crews putting booms in Albion Creek to contain a diesel spill. Another boom in place at Lake Illawarra,’’ Fire and Rescue NSW posted on Twitter at 8.45pm.

FRNSW Inspector Brendan Cox confirmed the incident, near Creole Place.

‘‘They said it covered about 200 metres,’’ Insp Cox said on Wednesday.

‘‘The Environmental Protection Authority and our crews are going back [on Wednesday] to look again.’’

The EPA is now investigating the incident, after investigators ‘‘observed odours and an oily sheen on the water.’’

‘‘Water samples have been taken by EPA to help determine the nature of the pollution. Clean up actions are being progressed,’’ an EPA spokesperson said in a statement.

‘‘The exact source has not yet been identified but it appears the pollution may have come from a nearby light industrial/commercial area.

”The EPA will work with Shellharbour City Council in investigating the cause of the incident to try and determine the source of the pollution and the necessary measures to prevent a recurrence.’’

Mechanics, car yards, a fuel distributor and a petrol station are all in the immediate vicinity of the spill.

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Achieving dreams

AMBER Rosebottom never dreamt she would finish high school. But now the young mother of two has her sights set on an even higher goal.
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Amber, 22, this year completed Year 12 at Mildura Senior College and is anxiously awaiting her Australian Tertiary Admission Rank to gain university entry.

And even though the results won’t be released until later this month, Amber has already achieved something no one has before.

LEFT: Mildura woman Amber Rosebottom with her son Cayden. Amber is the first woman to finish Year 12 through Zoe Support.

She became the first woman to complete Year 12 through Zoe Support, a not-for-profit organisation which provides help for young or otherwise

unsupported mothers.

“I feel honoured,” she said. “It’s awesome to have done it.”

Amber left school at 15, fell pregnant and, without the support of her family, said Zoe Support had helped her “in every way” after the birth of her daughter Skyla, 4, and Cayden, 2.

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Mildura recognised

MILDURA Mayor Glenn Milne said a week-long trip to China as part of a sister-cityarrangement with Dali last week was “absolutely worthwhile”.
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REWARDS: Mildura Mayor Glenn Milne and his deputy John Arnold with the “Friendship City for Exchanges and Co-operation with China” award and “Certificate of Honour”. Picture: Louise Donges

Cr Milne and his deputy John Arnold represented Mildura Rural City Council at the 2014 China International Friendship Cities Convention which attracted representatives from around the world.

The visit also allowed the councillors, as well as Mildura Development Corporation and SuniTAFE representatives, to engage business and education sectors in an effort to develop future opportunities for theregion.

Cr Milne yesterday said the awarding of a “FriendlyExchange and Co-operation” award to Mildura at the convention was recognition that the city was “right up there” with Australian capital cities in their international sister-city relationships.

“You can’t overstate the importance of China,” Cr Milne said.

“They like to build relationships – that’s part of their culture – and if you don’t do that you’re never going to be able to trade with them,” he said.

“They want to get to know you, they want to know that we live in a good community, that we accept their people and that they can be confident in that.

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Local volunteers to be rewarded

BILL Burns and Jean Thomson will be honoured in a ceremony tomorrow after both were named 2014 MADEC Volunteer of the Year.
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Bill Burns

Both were chosen for their dedication and work within the community.

Mr Burns is a member of Mildura Woodturners and Woodworkers, Mildura District Historical Society, the Mallee Sub Brand of the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia, Red Cliffs-Irymple RSL, Heart Beat Sunraysia Branch and volunteers at the Mildura Library.

Ms Thomson has been a member of Creative Living, Denbeigh Embroidery Group and Mildura Bobbin Lace Group for over 30 years and is a member of St Margaret’s Anglican Church where she volunteers in their office and Op Shop on a regular basis.

The MADEC Volunteer of the Year Award is open to individuals who are members of a MADEC Community group whose achievements have had a widespread influence in or beyond their local community.

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Mosque delay

An artist’s impression of the mosque. Image supplied.A LAWYER for Bendigo residents trying to kill a planning permit for the city’s first mosque has claimed adverse media attention played a role in scaring off potential expert witnesses from presenting evidence against the development.
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On what was meant to be the final day of a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing into objections from a group of about 14 people, lawyer Robert Balzola successfully requested more time to produce expert evidence for the case against the mosque. The only witness he called during the hearing was his head client, Bendigo woman Julie Hoskin.

The mosque proposal had received Bendigo council planning approval back in June when mysterious black balloons began to appear around the regional city, including at the doors of councillors who had supported the project.

An anonymous email sent to theBendigo Advertiserhad claimed the balloons represented a stand against domestic violence, which it then linked to sharia law and the rise of the Islamic community in the region,The Agereported.

The objectors group, lead by Ms Hoskin, has maintained their concerns are related to planning issues, including noise pollution and traffic congestion that would come from any large development.

However, an initial letter Ms Hoskin sent to the council shortly after the permit was approved had included concerns about the impact of sharia law, the tribunal heard.

Another Bendigo resident’s concerns, also read out during the hearing this week, had included safety fears, because “Islam hates Christians”.

An expert town planner who appeared as a witness for the council on Monday told the hearing the proposed Rowena Street site in East Bendigo was an “ideal” location for a mosque, and that it would act as a buffer between nearby residential zones and heavier industrial zones.

On Wednesday, lawyers for the council and the permit applicant, the Australian Islamic Mission, objected to Mr Balzola’s request for an adjournment, saying his clients already had nearly six months to find expert witnesses and file reports.

Mimi Marcus, representing the Bendigo council, also said the claims that experts had turned the group away due to media reporting on the issue were unsubstantiated.

Ms Marcus said she was aware some witnesses approached by Ms Hoskin had declined for reasons that were not related to media at all. Mr Balzola said there were other hurdles to obtaining expert witnesses that had been raised by his group, including raising the money to pay for their services.

He said he’d recently secured a planning expert and an engineer who were prepared to give evidence for Ms Hoskin’s group but refused to name them publicly.

VCAT president, justice Greg Garde, allowed the adjournment and scheduled the hearing to continue on February 23, 2015.

An application to amend eight of the permit conditions made by the Australian Islamic Mission, which was being heard alongside the objections case this week, was also adjourned, despite VCAT hearing the council and AIM had reached an agreement.


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Albion Park fencing furore tops angst list

Jim McCallum has handed over the reins after eight years. Picture: SYLVIA LIBERFrom the multimillion-dollar Destination Albion Park project to the controversial RTA fence that almost ‘‘killed the town’’, it was an eventful eight years as president of the Albion Park Chamber of Commerce for Jim McCallum.
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As much a community group as it is a business chamber, Mr McCallum handed over the reins of the organisation to long-time secretary Graeme Morrison at last month’s annual general meeting.

Mr McCallum, the proprietor of Ravensthorpe Guesthouse – and former Illawarra soccer star and jingle writer – said the main reason he joined the chamber was to gain some insight into the local area, after shifting from Mt Kembla.

The controversial barrier on Tongarra Rd angered pedestrians and Albion Park business people.

His interest was initially sparked by Delmo’s controversial proposal for a $376 million Illawarra Regional Business Park, an industrial development ‘‘now dead in the water’’.

He said his time as president started with the Child Friendly by Design project, before Destination Albion Park took priority.

He was happy with the result of the multimillion-dollar project and paid tribute to former Shellharbour Council administrator David Jesson for ending what he believes was negativity towards Albion Park shown by the council.

Shellharbour Council’s development control plan for Albion Park was viewed as another victory for the chamber, but it was the controversial pedestrian safety fence on Tongarra Road built in 2011 that created the most angst.

‘‘The fence went in on a whim,’’ he said.

‘‘In the eye of the RTA safety officer it was a ‘must do’ thing, but the reality is a fence like that is death for a town.

‘‘It cut income to some businesses by 40 per cent.

‘‘People are recovering, but you can never get back what was lost.’’

Moving forward, the chamber is facing new challenges in the form of the proposed Albion Park Rail bypass and linking that with a Albion Park bypass on Tripoli Way.

Mr McCallum plans to remain on the chamber executive and will maintain his roles with Shellharbour Tourism and the South Coast Regional Tourism Organisation.

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Festive table to suit the budget

Picture: Villeroy & Boch Christmas table settings
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Picture: Villeroy & Boch Christmas table settings

EVERYONE has their own tastes and traditions when it comes to serving up Christmas dinner.

Last year my sister-in-law decreed that there would be no washing up so the grown-ups could have a rest, and disposable plastic plates and cutlery ruled the day.

At the other end of the scale, I have a friend who has always done the full baked dinner, complete with sizzling turkey carried ceremoniously to the table.

It doesn’t matter what end of the spectrum your family falls into, there’s a wide choice of tableware to create a festive-looking Christmas table.

On a budget, or aiming for a casual look, check out the discount department stores for some cheap but stylish plastic tableware in green and red.

Slightly up the scale, but still affordable, are the dinner sets available in specialist homeware shops like House.

When I was younger, kid-free and idealistic, I bought four four-piece Maxwell and Williams dinner sets.

They’ve been gathering dust in the garage ever since, but in the unlikely event we ever host Christmas those white plates edged in gold will look pretty schmick with the plastic knives and forks!

Heading for the top-end of the scale, Villeroy and Boch have seasonal red and white, green and white or Christmas motif dinnerware.

Of course, it’s possible to mix things up with the bulk of the dinnerware from the budget or middle-of-the-road scale, with a few accent pieces to house snacks on the coffee table.

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