Corbett: Fairfax doesn’t need to merge to survive

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“”The legislation simply does not meet the current needs of the industry or the community,” Fairfax chair Roger Corbett. “”The legislation simply does not meet the current needs of the industry or the community,” Fairfax chair Roger Corbett.
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“”The legislation simply does not meet the current needs of the industry or the community,” Fairfax chair Roger Corbett.

“”The legislation simply does not meet the current needs of the industry or the community,” Fairfax chair Roger Corbett.

Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett says the company doesn’t need to merge with another media business to ensure its survival, despite blasting existing media ownership laws for “restricting” the industry and “failing” Australians.

Mr Corbett called on the Abbott government to show “decisive leadership” and scrap laws that limit the reach of media companies and ban them from owning newspaper, radio and television assets in the one market.

“The legislation simply does not meet the current needs of the industry or the community. I will go further and say it restricts a modern media industry and fails the Australian consumer,” Mr Corbett said at the company’s annual meeting in Melbourne on Thursday.

“Media companies like Fairfax need to have the flexibility to operate all available media platforms in an environment of intense competition from global media and technology giants for advertising revenue and audiences.”

But Mr Corbett said that didn’t mean Fairfax – which has posted a 2 and 3 per cent drop in revenue since July 1 – needed merge with another media company to survive.

“I wouldn’t wish to imply that,” Mr Corbett said after the annual meeting.

“Fairfax has taken under [chief executive Greg Hywood’s] leadership the actions that it needs to take to readjust its business

“The point that we are making is … technology is moving the news over all those channels simultaneously in real time, and news agencies and papers and radio stations need to be able to merge that whole process because the consumer is consuming the news as they want to consume it.”

Mr Corbett said “people across government” had privately conceded to him “the “legislation’s irrelevance”, which he said was frustrating.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has indicated that he would considering altering the laws if a consensus was reached in the media industry.

Mr Corbett was tight-lipped on what media partnerships could emerge from a change in legislation, saying only that “talks are always going on and we would never comment on those”.

“But clearly if they whole market is opened, all the media companies will adjust to the space and get more efficient and a more effective distribution.”

Fairfax confirmed last month that it had met with free-to-air broadcaster Ten to discuss merger options but said that meeting had no more status than other meetings it was having with other media companies.

Mr Hywood said Fairfax would continue to cut costs in the business. The company as slashed staff numbers from more than 12,000 to just below 8000 in past years and is now turning looking for savings in its regional arm, which includes 150 newspapers and websites.

Mr Hywood said the regional cuts weren’t about closing newspapers, but creating hubs in major centres in an attempt to deliver annualised savings of $40 million by 2016.

“The cost cutting is something which is part of every business 27/7,” Mr Hywood said.

“The interesting thing is having gone through this exercise at Fairfax, is that there was perception of ‘that’s the cost of producing newspapers’. In fact that was not the cost of producing newspapers.

“We have found new, innovative ways of reducing the cost while maintaining the quality and that’s a never ending pursuit. What we do is we get capabilities within the business to be able to do that.”

Such measures have included closing down the metropolitan printing presses in Melbourne and Sydney in favour of regional centres, outsourcing subediting, increasing newspaper cover prices and cutting circulation for the printed products.

Mr Hywood said he believed the company, which reported a turnaround annual profit of $224.4 million in the 12 months to June 30, was close to delivering revenue growth.

“We’re not far away I believe as we continue to get organic growth. We do have potential with a strong balance sheet for potential acquisitions and we have made a few in the [real estate] Domain space to build our revenues up over time.”

Domain’s overall revenue has jumped 21 per cent since July 1, with its total digital business up 35 per cent. Publishing revenue meanwhile has fallen 4 per cent, and Australian Community Media dived 9 per cent.

Radio revenue was down 2 and 3 per cent, but Mr Hywood said that was “improving”.

Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival program released

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A scene from the movie ‘From What is Before’.From a 34-second Japanese animated short to a five-and-a-half hour epic about the Philippines under the Marcos regime, organisers of the first Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival are confident their program will have something for everyone.
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The full program for BAPFF – the phoenix which has arisen from the ashes of the Brisbane International Film Festival – was released on Thursday.

Eighty-five films from more than 30 countries will screen at six locations across the city between November 29 and December 16.

The festival will incorporate the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards at City Hall.

Executive chairman Michael Hawkins said he was confident the tie-in would draw crowds.

“The message we got loud and clear from APSA last year was from people who attended that and saw just a morsel of the films wanted to know where they could see the whole thing,” he said.

“That gave us great encouragement to undertake this.”

Head programmer Kiki Fung moved to Brisbane Marketing to work on BAPFF after Screen Queensland handed over control of the festival to the City Council (along with $700,000 in funding).

“It’s an opportunity for us to look at films from this region in depth,” she said.

“If you’re open-minded and curious, come and join us.”

She said one of her favourite films on the program was From What is Before, by Filipino long-form master Lav Diaz – an exercise in endurance at 338 minutes.

“You would never, ever see this film in a commercial cinema,” she said.

“But if you sit through it, he has a fascinating sense of time and space, and he takes you on a journey into history…and the effect of the Marcos regime on ordinary people in a village.”

By contrast, Japanese animated tale Let Out gets its story across in a mere 34 seconds.

“We have a special program of 14 animated shorts from across the reason, China, Japan, Russia,” she said.

Ms Fung said other highlights included a screening of Crossroads of Youth, Korea’s oldest silent film, presented by a traditional live narrator, a section devoted to women in film, the Palme d’Or winner from Cannes 2014, Winter Sleep, and the world premiere of Blood Links, the story of Australian artist William Yang’s search for his Chinese ancestors.

BAPFF executive chairman Michael Hawkins admitted another event had disrupted the festival’s marketing preparation.

“The timelines have gotten entwined with G20,” he said.

But Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said the BAPFF push would begin soon enough.

“Once G20 has gone, I think there’ll be an immediate switch of focus,” he said.

“There’ll be a sort of anti-climax when G20 finishes when people ask ‘What’s next?’ Well, this is it.”

Cr Quirk said it might take some time for people to get used to BAPFF, after 22 years of BIFF.

“I think people will warm to it, but I think whatever happens this year it will grow,” he said.

The full BAPFF program and timetable is now available online.

TOPICS: Australian Reptile Park’s tips on catching funnel webs for venom milking

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Funnel webs can be milked of their venom, which can be used to make anti-venom to stop bite related deaths.FOR anyone the sane side of Mark Holden, the news that you’re running low on funnel webs might sound just fine.
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Not so Stacey Denovan. Part of the Australian Reptile Park keeper’s job is to ‘‘milk’’ the spiders of their venom, and she’s down to her last 10. It’s getting desperate.

‘‘At our highest point last year we had three or four hundred males,’’ she told Topics.

‘‘And the males don’t live long once they’re on the shelf.’’

The park is the sole supplier of funnel web venom in Australia. It’s used to make anti-venom which, since being developed 33 years ago, has put a stop to bite-related deaths.

Where are we going with this? Look, we’ll come clean. Your help is needed.

Next time you find a funnel web in the yard, the house or the depths of your gumboot, Denovan, Topics and society need you to trap it, scoop it up and drop it off for milking.

‘‘It’s the only way we get them,’’ say Denovan.

‘‘The people who bring them in are gardeners, builders and contractors who find them digging.’’

As shown in this demonstration video, the idea is to find a jar, punch holes in the lid and corral your funnel web with a ruler. It’ll need soil in there for moisture, or some damp cotton.

‘‘They’re easier to deal with than people might think,’’ says Denovan, brightly.

‘‘They don’t jump, can’t climb smooth surfaces and can’t run very quickly.’’

Excellent. It’s a male you’re after. In the matriarchal world of funnel webs they live half as long, are routinely eaten and, with venom six times stronger than females, are in demand for milking. On the upside, they don’t have to tidy the burrow.

John Hunter Hospital and Belmont Hospital are the drop-off points for funnel webs – in a jar. We can’t stress that enough.

ONE of Newcastle’s behind-the-scenes movers and shakers has a gig tonight at the Lass O’Gowrie.

Rod Smith, the legal mind who underpinned Renew Newcastle, will front his four-piece North Arm at the Wickham live music institution. The band just released its EP Life Cycles, and is making a buzz in independent circles.

Smith is a City of Newcastle Service Award-winner for his pro bono work for Renew. With colleagues Alex McInnes and Danielle Larkin, he managed the group’s corporate compliance, tax office endorsements and lease arrangements.

And we’re told his band is worth checking out.

TOPICS finds ourselves in furious agreement with John Safran. It’s about cake.

‘‘There’s a lot of pressure to eat cake in society,’’ the filmmaker wrote this week on Facebook.

‘‘Easily more pressure than taking drugs I’ve found. You’re always insulting someone by not accepting cake. Either you’re rejecting their kindness, or insulting their baking, or implying they’re fat and greedy for gobbling cake and you’re better than them for showing restraint.’’

Exactly. Be it a school fete, wedding, funeral, end of the HSC, our birthday, your birthday, Jesus’ birthday, the latest round of redundancies, people can’t get enough of cake.

This column once shuffled to the side of our own farewell as colleagues busied themselves with a flan. A lady made it her mission that we take some home in tupperware. Why?

The thing is, some of us prefer something savoury – seafood, perhaps. Imagine debating the finer points of whatever with a mate, cracking into a crab, waving a claw for emphasis.

But that’s one idea. Who’s with us? Which food could end the rein of cake?

International film producer is a Canberra boy at heart

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Talented: Former Canberran and film-maker Matthew Metcalfe’s latest film “The Dead Lands” will be screening as part of the Canberra International Film Festival. Photo: Melissa AdamsHe grew up in Canberra and planned to join the navy after finishing university, but Matthew Metcalfe found himself sidetracked by a long-time love of movies.
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Today, the New Zealand-born producer has nine feature films, 10 television features and several music videos under his belt, and spends half his time flying to meetings all over the world.

But he says he’s never forgotten his formative years in Canberra, which is why he chose the capital for the Australian premiere of his new feature film, The Dead Lands.

Set in pre-colonial New Zealand, the film is shot entirely in te reo Maori and is the first feature film to showcase the ancient Maori martial art mau rakau.

“It’s a great action thriller, it’s that classic hero’s journey – the unwitting hero who gets sucked into events beyond his control and who has the choice to either wither away and die or to become strong and face their adversaries down,” he told Fairfax Media this week.

He had been handed the script by writer Glen Standring, optioned it straight away and then sat on it for a couple years.

“I often do that with the films I make, I think about them and wait until I feel right, and then what I did is I took it to a long-time collaborator of mine, Toa Fraser, who directed it, and who I’ve done two previous films with, and he loved it as well. So we decided together that we were going to make the film, and we both felt strongly that we would keep it in te reo, which is the Maori language, for authenticity’s sake.”

Modelled on the ’80s action thrillers he and director Fraser grew up watching, he said it was in many ways a traditional story but one that showed New Zealand history in a new light.

“I’m very proud to say that we had our opening weekend in New Zealand just this weekend gone, and it hands down beat Fury, the Brad Pitt film – we were the number one film in the New Zealand box office,” he said.

“Everyone’s really delighted about such a strong opening and such a strong response. And I think that’s just because it’s a good ride, an off-the-bat, straight-up-and-down action thriller with traditional elements, great action, great fights and a lot of heart.”

Mr Metcalfe said he had fond memories of growing up in the northern suburb of Spence, and studying at Dickson College.

“Canberra is where I went to school, it’s where I grew up, it’s where I learnt to ride a motorbike, where I learnt to drive, where I used to go out to Belconnen Mall on a Friday night,” he said.

“It’s a really nostalgic place for me that I really enjoy and have really fond memories of. People love to hassle Canberra but I really like it.”

He studied at the University of Auckland as a foreign student, and had planned to return to Australia and join the navy.

But  while he was waiting for the course to begin he discovered a mutual love of film with a friend – he had worked part-time as an usher throughout his studies – and started making films, postponing the course before giving it up completely.

The Dead Lands is due for official worldwide release early next year, but Canberrans will get the chance to see it this week as part of the Canberra International Film Festival.

“When this came up, I said absolutely, I’m a Canberra boy and I’d love to take this to Canberra, and I won’t say who but some other festivals lost out because Canberra got it first,” he said.

The Dead Lands screens at Dendy Cinemas on Thursday November 6 at 6.30pm, and on Saturday November 8 at 4pm, and producer Matthew Metcalfe will be introducing both screenings. For a full CIFF program, visit canberrafilmfestival上海龙凤论坛m.au.

Sydney Kings import Josh Childress shouldn’t expect any favours from referees

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It’s an unwritten rule in the NBA that the big names get the superstar calls. Should Josh Childress expect the same treatment in the NBL? On the basis of evidence presented in the early rounds of the season, there’ll be no special treatment for the former NBA forward. On the floor.
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Let’s be honest, the Sydney Kings’ marquee import got off lightly off the court at the tribunal for his hit on Perth forward Jesse Wagstaff. A one-game ban and another match suspended plus a $7500 fine which will hardly break his bank considering he is receiving $7 million from the Phoenix Suns this season not to play for them.

On the court, the NBL referees have not given any extra leeway to Childress, or any of the several other NBA fringe players in the NBL this season.

It’s an impossibly fine line for the refs. They can’t be seen to be handing out preferential treatment to anyone, however the NBL won’t want the likes of Childress, Perth’s Toronto Raptors draftee DeAndre Daniels or Philadelphia 76ers’ Melbourne United loaner Jordan McRae, to be roughed up by some of the more physical teams in the league. That kind of word spreads. The NBL doesn’t want NBA team officials to think there’s an increased risk of injury if they go the Down Under option for players they’ve invested in.

And Childress was definitely targeted by the Wildcats in Perth. It looked like the Kings were dished up a hefty serve of home cooking in that game. It would be hard for refs not to be swayed by the fans at Perth Arena. It’s easily the most hostile NBL arena, with an intimidating crowd upwards of 12,000 fans for most games.

The Perth players know they can get away with more on their home floor. Who could blame them? It truly is a home-court advantage in every sense of the term and the other seven sides would kill to have that kind of atmosphere in their own building.

Childress was clearly frustrated after being pinged for an iffy offensive foul called when Wildcats veteran Damian Martin slipped in front of him at mid-court but it’s highly dubious that he had position before the Sydney star made contact. Then when Wagstaff flattened him while setting a screen and the refs swallowed their whistle, he sought retribution.

His act of revenge did two things – it showed the refs and opponents in the NBL that he would not be pushed around but it also showed rival teams he can be put off his game if confronted with physical play.

Ironically, the referees this season seem to have been doing a much better job of limiting rough play and allowing matches to flow. If Childress was in the NBL a few years ago he could have expected a far rougher time of things.

Points totals have been better than last season and the extra spacing has allowed the likes of Daniels, Breakers guard Cedric Jackson and Cairns hot shot Scottie Wilbekin to display their extraordinary athleticism, a crucial factor in the NBL’s attempts to boost crowds.

Childress, who it must be said has handled the adverse publicity like a seasoned professional and unfortunately had to put up with some cowardly attacks on social media, makes his return in Wollongong on Friday night against a desperate Hawks team which has slumped to a 1-7 record and last place on the ladder.

The Hawks racked up four wins from as many meetings with the Kings last season by employing a robust style of play which got under the skin of Sydney’s previous big-name NBA signing, Sam Young.

With the back-court combination of Kendrick Perry and Ben Madgen yet to click into top gear and a young front-court which wilted in crunch time last weekend in Cairns, the 1-3 Kings need their biggest name to get the job done against the Hawks and then back it up in Sunday’s home clash with Adelaide.

All eyes will be on Childress to see if he contains or maintains his rage.

Taking it to the poll … 

The NBA Eastern Conference poll  attracted more than 1000 votes with 35% of votes for Cleveland, ahead of Chicago at 32% with Miami a distant third with 9%.

The Western Conference poll had 1808 votes and delivered resounding confidence in San Antonio (36%) to win again with the LA Clippers at 14% the next best.

Bennett lure a factor in Folau’s future

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Israel Folau, left, has given Michael Cheika his seal of approval as Wallabies coach.
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Israel Folau, left, has given Michael Cheika his seal of approval as Wallabies coach.

Israel Folau, left, has given Michael Cheika his seal of approval as Wallabies coach.

Israel Folau, left, has given Michael Cheika his seal of approval as Wallabies coach.

CARDIFF: Wallabies fullback Israel Folau says he would love to be coached by NRL guru Wayne Bennett, admitting he faces an agonising choice over his sporting future in the next 12 months.

But Michael Cheika’s appointment as Australia’s Test mentor could sway the cross-code superstar, with Folau likening Cheika to a combination of Bennett and Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy.

The 25-year-old declared Cheika “exactly what we need” as the Wallabies prepare for their first Test with Cheika in charge on Sunday morning.

Folau’s ARU contract expires after the World Cup next year and he is weighing up opportunities in the NRL, Super Rugby and Europe as his next frontier.

Folau has ruled out joining former Parramatta captain Jarryd Hayne in a bid to break into the NFL and says he will not walk away from rugby until he believes he has conquered all his challenges.

He has been coached by some of Australian sport’s greatest minds in Bellamy and AFL legend Kevin Sheedy, but he is yet to team up with returning Brisbane Broncos leader Bennett.

“Everyone would love to play under Wayne, they all say good things about him and he’s certainly a great coach,” Folau said.

“But more so everyone says he’s a great person and always has time for everyone.”

Folau also said the Wallabies had moved on from Kurtley Beale’s off-field woes and he was “missed” in the Australian set up.

“I’m there to support him. If he needs a helping hand I’m just a good mate,” Folau said. “For him being a footy player probably comes second. I’ve spoken to him and he’s in good head space.

“It will just take time for him to get things right … the boys miss him in this team environment. I think the most exciting thing would be playing footy and just getting away from it. Hopefully he gets a chance to come over.”

Cheika was thrust into the Wallabies job when Ewen McKenzie quit two weeks ago.

The NSW Waratahs championship-winner has had just two weeks and a handful of training sessions to prepare the Wallabies for a gruelling four-Test spring tour of Europe.

But Folau has no doubts he is the man for the job as the Wallabies lay the foundations for World Cup success next year.

“[Cheika’s] a bit of both [Bellamy and Bennett], he’s definitely hard but fair,” Folau said. “The way he brings out his messages to the group is similar to coaches I’ve had in the past.

“Cheika’s a great coach and he’s got a different style, the intensity is good and the boys are buying into it. It’s exactly what we need.”

The ARU is desperate to retain marquee man Folau after an outstanding transition to the sport in less than two years.

Folau played against the British and Irish Lions last year, won a Super Rugby title and the John Eales Medal this year and is a certainty to play at the World Cup, barring injury.

He ruled out a chance to join Hayne in the NFL, saying he did not have the passion to learn the game.

But French rugby is circling with cash to burn, and the NRL is also a prospect for the former Greater Western Sydney Giants, Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm star.

“There’s no timeline [for a decision]. Sometimes you do get sick of asking the same question but it doesn’t affect whether I’ll make it quicker or later,” Folau said.

“I’ve played rugby league, that could be an option. Playing rugby in Australia or elsewhere … there’s options everywhere. I don’t know.”

A relaxed Folau will be hoping to end a five-Test scoring drought when the Wallabies play Wales in Cardiff.

For most players five Tests without a try would not raise eyebrows. But such is Folau’s uncanny knack to sniff out a five-pointer, the powerful fullback is determined to cross the line again.

Folau says he will not walk away from rugby if he feels he has unfinished business, whether that is his goals for team success or individual improvement.

“It’s more fulfilling my potential and ability to play the game, there’s a lot of improvement there,” Folau said. “Once I feel that’s fulfilled, I’ll look to achieve other goals. It’s not anything to prove, I just want to improve.”

Australia crushed in T20 series opener

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As it happened
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It did not have the lingering sting of a Test series mauling but Australia’s margin from victory was, allowing for the change in formats, nearly as wide as it was in the United Arab Emirates as its international season began with a Twenty20 mauling by South Africa.

Fringe batsman Rilee Rossouw, with a one-day average of 10.33 after six matches, benefited from Proteas’ policy of resting its elite players to earn selection.

On Wednesday night he also benefited from a dropped catch, from Nathan Reardon when he was on five, to exceed his entire one-day run tally with a commanding 78.

His lusty hitting, from just 50 deliveries, fuelled a century partnership with Quinton de Kock (46) that was the basis of the visitors to coasting past Australia’s skinny total of 6-144 with an over to spare in front of 26,370 at Adelaide Oval, to get on the board first in the three-match series.

That both set batsmen fell within deliveries straddling the 15th and 16th overs slowed South Africa’s march to victory but did never threatened it, winning by seven wickets with acting captain JP Duminy (4 not out) and David Miller (9 not out) at the crease.

Openers Aaron Finch and Cameron White gave Australia a healthy start with 0-27 after three overs but slowed, and then departed, in the second half of the powerplay.

White fell for 24 after Farhaan Berhardien’s spring from cover was just enough to prevent the ball sailing over the inner ring to the unguarded boundary. It was arguably the best of a handful of fine catches claimed by the Proteas fielders in the match.

The only time captain Finch struck the ball characteristically fiercely was his first delivery, which was technically a dropped return catch by the excellent Kyle Abbott (3-21) but more so an endorsement of his reflexes that eh was able his hands up so quickly.

Finch was one of two key batsmen to depart steering a catch straight to cover. His was in the fifth over for 14; the latter was Shane Watson for 47, in the 18th over right when Australia needed to accelerate sharply.

James Faulkner, with an unbeaten 41 from 33 deliveries, produced the only innings of substance beside Watson’s.

Debutants Ben Dunk and Reardon found the boundary on 80 occasions in the recent Matador Cup, form which sealed their international promotion. On Wednesday night the left-handers produced none between them, falling respectively for two and four.

The catch which claimed Reardon rivalled Berhardien’s for skill. The Queenslander top-edged an attempted glide through slips off Abbott, after which wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock overcame his lack of height by jumping and successfully thrusting his left hand into the air to pluck the chance.

The Proteas bowlers deserved credit for limiting the home team to only five boundaries after the initial six-overs powerplay.

The last came in the 16th over when Watson launched the third of his signature bombs over the mid-wicket fence. Australia’s inability to mount a late-innings surge was influenced by selecting only one specialist middle-order batsman: Reardon. Dunk typically opens while Faulkner and Ben Cutting (8 off 8) were, at six and seven respectively, were arguably batting a rung too high.

In South Africa’s innings Reeza Hendricks continued the dirty night for debutant batsmen – excepting Rossouw, who making only his Twenty20 debut – by edging the third delivery of the match, from Doug Bollinger, behind to Dunk, who caught smartly low to his right. Bollinger should have claimed another victim in his second over when Rossouw skied a cut towards deep point when on five, but back-pedalling Reardon was unable to get a hand on it.  Australia was made to rue that blunder, especially Bollinger after the left-hander thumped him for a six and two fours to start his third over, the fifth of the match.

The Proteas easily found the boundary more regularly the Australians – and did so with their biggest hitter, Miller, still in reserve until the game was all but won.

The sense that Australia had picked one bowler too many was reinforced by Pat Cummins, playing his first international in two years, and Cutting only bowling one over between them in the first 11 overs.

Hard time for justice in clogged Newcastle District Court

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THE wheels of justice have never creaked more slowly in Newcastle District Court with statistics showing that it has gone from being the best-performing district court in the state to among the worst in just two years.
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More and more cases are languishing for months, causing a backlog that has resulted in some defendants now receiving trial dates as far away as August next year.

Only 35 per cent of defendants had their cases disposed of within six months last year – a drop from 55per cent in 2012 and a state-best 68per cent in 2011, the NSW District Court’s annual review has revealed.

That six-month period does not include a case’s journey through the local court, which in itself can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year.

Across the state the figures are just as bleak with the percentage of trial matters finalised within six months dropping from 50per cent in 2011 to 47per cent in 2012 and 33per cent last year.

Criminal barrister Peter Harper said the court’s judges and support staff were working harder than ever, but an increase in the number of cases going to trial – instead of defendants pleading guilty – and the complexity of those trials was behind the delays.

‘‘I can assure the community that the Newcastle District Court is working at least as hard if not harder than previous years,’’ he said.

‘‘Judges are still sitting full days and inevitably taking work homewith them to complete overnight and on weekends.’’

Mr Harper noted that judges were constantly squeezing in sentencing hearings and appeals around criminal trials.

‘‘While judges prioritise trials over all other matters, the end result is that there is only so many hours in a working court’s week and completing these short matters means that trials must be interrupted,’’ Mr Harper added.

‘‘And it appears to me that as time goes on crimes alleged seem to be generally getting more serious in nature, meaning that often a higher proportion of matters can only be dealt with in the District Court meaning the queue is necessarily getting longer.

‘‘As a general rule, the more serious the matter the more complicated the evidence – for example DNA and crime scene investigation – and the more complicated the evidence the longer the trial.’’

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General Brad Hazzard said the government was trying to reduce delays by increasing pre-trial discussions between prosecutors and defence lawyers.

‘‘The changes seek to reduce the length of criminal trials by encouraging parties to identify issues in dispute as early as possible,’’ the spokeswoman said.

‘‘Legal Aid NSW, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Public Defenders Office have set up a working group in Newcastle to explore the potential to finalise cases earlier.

‘‘Legal Aid NSW has also established an internal committals monitoring committee, which will aim to increase the number of committals dealt with in-house,’’ she said.

‘‘Matters dealt with in-house by Legal Aid at the committal stage have a higher rate of plea negotiation and guilty pleas.’’

Newcastle Bar Association president Peter Cummings SC noted these improvements, but said it was still obvious that the various agencies working in the criminal justice system needed more resources.

‘‘The statistics in terms of the downward trend in the percentage of trials disposed of in accordance with the criminal trial standards are alarming,’’ he said.

‘‘It is positive that a working party has been established between the public defenders, Legal Aid and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to attempt to address the delay. Ultimately, however, what is needed is greater judicial resources.’’

Coal operator convicted after worker crushed

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A HUNTER Valley coal operator has been convicted of a workplace safety offence after a miner was knocked unconscious and crushed between two pieces of heavy machinery.
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Bulga Underground Operations had pleaded not guilty to the offence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act after the incident at its Beltana coalmine on April 23, 2010.

The miner was knocked unconscious and was crushed between the toe of an automatically advancing roof support and the side of a continuous armoured face conveyor, the NSW District Court heard on Wednesday.

The worker was found semi-conscious on the ground with ‘‘severe’’ crush injuries and a large piece of roof stone lying across his thigh.

His helmet had been knocked off and he had no recollection of what had happened, Judge James Curtis said.

Just five weeks earlier another worker had been struck on the head and shoulder by a large piece of coal that was thrown towards him after it fell from the coal face while he operated a shearer.

There was also evidence that another miner had suffered crush injuries during an incident in 2008.

Bulga Underground Operations argued that the risk to the miner in the 2010 incident was not foreseeable.

Judge Curtis disagreed.

‘‘Notwithstanding the matters raised … I have concluded that the circumstances in which [the miner] came to be injured were foreseeable to a reasonable person standing in the place of the defendant,’’ he ruled.

‘‘The defendant failed to mitigate the foreseeable risk by taking the reasonably practicable measure of employing the services of an additional miner in the crew, whose sole task was to observe the drum operators and stop the advancement of roof supports if the drum operator became disabled.’’

The mine will be sentenced at a later date.

University researchers score $11m

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JOHN MAYNARDTHE University of Newcastle has been awarded almost $11million in Australian Research Council funding for projects ranging from psychology and Aboriginal history to domestic violence.
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The outcome, which places the university ninth in Australia, will deliver funding to support 27 research projects.

Professor Daichao Sheng, of the school of engineering, secured the university’s largest grant, receiving almost $800,000 to undertake a study on the mechanics of hard soils and soft rocks and their influence on the stability and serviceability of buildings.

Professor Simon Dennis, head of the university’s school of psychology, was awarded $750,000 for a project to develop a model of episodic memory, the category of memory that allows people to recall specific experiences, events and times.

The project will apply the model to both adult and child development data, enhancing understanding of when episodic memory develops.

Indigenous historian Professor John Maynard from the university’s Wollotuka Institute attracted $600,000 to examine the history of the NSW Aborigines Protection/Welfare Board in 1883-1969. It will support understanding of the impact of the board, the legacy of which remains relevant.

Conjoint Professor Lyndall Ryan, of the school of humanities and social science, received $500,000 to generate insights into how intimacy and violence affected the development of colonial settler cultures, and the legacy of these cultures.

Dr Brett Turner received $570,000 for a project exploring the potential impact of climate change and sea-level rise on Australia.

Deputy vice-chancellor research and innovation Kevin Hall said the research funding was an excellent result given the strong competition.

“Today’s announcement … is testament to the exceptional quality and breadth of research at the University of Newcastle, and the excellence of our researchers,” Professor Hall said.