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Time to act on air pollution says man who became ‘canary in the coalmine’

Gasping: Uniting Church minister Wes Hartley and wife Beverley Biggs at Mayfield in 2013. Within months they were forced to leave after a doctor warned Reverend Hartley a respiratory condition could shorten his life.A DOUBLING of coarse particle pollution from coal mines in the past five years has left the Hunter with some of the state’s worst air quality readings in 2015, promptingawarning from theUniting Church minister who was gasping for breath within weeks of moving to the region.

“What surprised me most about living in Newcastle was the total, almost fatalistic, acceptance of an environmental situation that would be unacceptable in most other parts of Australia,” retired minister Wes Hartley, 69, said from his home in Busselton, Western Australia.

“The reality is that out of nowhere a serious respiratory condition emerged shortly after we moved to Mayfield in 2013, and within months my doctor was telling me I had shadowing on the lungs and I had to leave.”

Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) has called on NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman to make 2016 the year of committing to controlling particle pollution after air pollution figures for 2015showedNewcastle suburbs with some of the state’shighest 24 hour concentrations of coarse particle pollution.

Stockton recorded 24 hour coarse particle pollution readings of up to 101.4 micrograms per cubic metre in 2015, or more than double the national 24 hour standard of 50, while Mayfield recorded 84.7, Carrington 80.6, Wallsend 77.5,Newcastle 70.4 and Beresfield 64.9.

Sources of coarse particle pollution in Newcastle include uncovered coal wagons and export terminals.

Stockton also recorded the highest annual average of fine particle pollution, at 9.63 micrograms per cubic metre, or significantly greater than the new nationalannual average of 8 micrograms per cubic metre.

The EJA said all 14 of the Hunter region’smonitoring sites recorded exceedances of the 24 hour average for coarse particle pollution, with the highest concentrations recorded at Camberwell (86.7), Singleton (85.3), Mt Thorley (85.2), Merriwa (83) and Singleton South (82.5).

While Sydney and Wollongong recorded the highest 24 hour average concentrations of fine particle pollution in 2015, Muswellbrook with readings as high as 31.2 micrograms per cubic metre, and Stockton at 30.9, were above the new national 24 hour average of 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

EJA researcher Dr James Whelan said particle pollution caused a range of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and contributed to the premature deaths of more than 3000 Australians each year.

“There is no ‘safe’ concentration below which particle pollution does not cause adverse health impacts,” Dr Whelan said.

“Coal mining is responsible for almost half of annual national coarse particle (PM10) emissions. Coarse particle pollution from coal mines has doubled in the last five years and trebled in the last decade. Fine particles (PM2.5) primarily result from combustion processes. Major sources include coal-fired power stations, motor vehicles and wood heaters.”

In December Australia’s state and federal environment ministers agreed on new particle pollution standards, although NSW rejected calls from Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory to commit to World Health Organisation standards of 20 micrograms per cubic metre for annual average fine particle concentrations.

Dr Whelan said controlling coal dust emissions from uncovered stockpiles and wagons would be “a great start” to a NSW Government commitment to meeting the new national standards.

Reverend Hartley arrived in Mayfield in February 2013, expecting to stay for a lengthy period as the Uniting Church equivalent of Bishop of the Hunter.

By April he thought he was coughing, and within weeks was coughing to the point of exhaustion, vomiting without warning, unable to speak, lethargic, and experiencing breathlessness similar to chronic asthma.

“We moved back to Busselton where we had been living but it took me eight months living in a pollution-free environment to recover,” he said.

“I was, literally, the canary in the coalmine.

“I can only speak from my own experience as someone not used to the environment in Newcastle, but with more and more people moving into the Hunter I think it’s a factor that needs to be taken into account.”

A NSW Environment Protection Authority spokesperson said the NSW Government recognisedthe concerns of residents living in Newcastle and the Hunter and hadfocused significant resources on better understanding air quality in theregion.

“This includes two particle characterisation studies currently underway in the Lower Hunter that will provide a better understanding of the sources contributing to elevated particulate levels in places like Stockton and Carrington, and help focus regulatory efforts,” the spokesperson said.

“These studies are due out in early 2016. The NSW Chief Scientist andEngineer is also continuing her review of rail coal dust emissions management.

“It should be noted that elevated PM10 and PM2.5 levels in Stockton are likely due to higher amounts of sea salt in the area resulting from its proximity to the beach. Also, the figures for the highest 24 hour concentrations of PM10 emissions in the Newcastle area given by EJA were recorded during the state wide dust storm event on 5-6 May.”

Jamie Briggs inappropriate bar incident was serious: Malcolm Turnbull

Junior minister Jamie Briggs resigned following an ”incident”.Jamie Briggs: an ambitious MP who overstepped the markSome enchanted evening turns to a hangover for Jamie Briggs

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has contradicted reports the Hong Kong bar incident that ended Jamie Briggs’ ministerial career was little more than a playful misunderstanding, describing the female diplomat’s complaint against Mr Briggs as a “serious matter”.

The former cities minister, who is married with three children, admitted to a lapse of professional judgment after behaving inappropriately towards a female employee of Australia’s Consulate-General in Hong Kong.

The woman, who is in her 20s, reported his behaviour to her superiors which sparked two independent investigations, the results of which were considered at cabinet level.

According to the first details of the incident, which emerged in newspaper reports in Mr Briggs’ home city of Adelaide, the incident involved a kiss on the woman’s cheek and remark about her “piercing eyes”.

But in his first public statement on the scandal, more than 24 hours after the Liberal minister fell on his sword, Mr Turnbull appeared to dismiss the idea that the incident could be interpreted as playful flirtation.

“This is a serious matter,” he said.

“It was considered very carefully with due process, consultation with senior colleagues, it was considered very, very carefully.

“Ministerial standards were breached. His conduct did not live up to the standard required of ministers and as a consequence, he reflected on that and made a decision to offer his resignation which I accepted and it was the appropriate course of action.”

Mr Turnbull remains under attack by the Opposition for what it calls “grotesque media management” in getting the Briggs’ resignation announcement and the sidelining of Special Minister of State Mal Brough out the door on the same day.

Shadow special minister of state Gary Gray called on Mr Turnbull to explain why Mr Briggs waited a month to resign for his behaviour during the late night drinking session in the bustling Lan Kwai Fong party district of Central, Hong Kong.

“This grotesque form of media management that would think it appropriate to drop this out in the week between Christmas and New Year in order to avoid questions is absolutely appalling,” Mr Gray told Fairfax Media.

Mr Gray said he would be writing to the Public Service Commission and Mr Briggs seeking a clearer timetable of when the complaint was lodged and action taken.

“We don’t want anything released that will identify the public servant but we should understand when the government knew of this event, why it was necessary to carry out several investigations and why it took so long,” he said.

Mr Gray said the matter should have been dealt with before Parliament rose for the year in December.

“This should have been dealt with in a transparent way in the parliament with a simple statement to conducted in an open way with an apology and resignation from the minister and most importantly with dignity and the protection for the Commonwealth public servant,” he said.

Mr Turnbull insisted there was no delay in dealing with the Jamie Briggs issue.

“The announcement about Mr Briggs was made on the first business day after Christmas and the decision was taken just before Christmas. So the process that we went through following the complaint about the incident becoming known was a proper due process, very much in accordance with the code of ministerial standards,” he said.

Mr Turnbull described Mr Brough’s sidelining as a “political decision” as the Australian Federal Police investigation into his involvement in the procuring of Peter Slipper’s diaries remains ongoing.

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need2know: Oil slides, shares follow

Local shares are poised for a flat open as shares drifted lower overseas on further weakness in oil

What you need2know

SPI futures flat at 5290

AUD at 72.77 US cents

On Wall St, late, S&P 500 -0.4%, Dow -0.3%, Nasdaq -0.4%

In Europe, Stoxx 50 -0.79%, FTSE 100 -0.64%, CAC -0.52%, DAX -1.08%

In London, BHP -1.96%, Rio -0.96%

Spot gold down $US8.33 or 0.8% to $US1060.78/oz at 3.01pm New York time

Brent crude down $US1.35 or 3.6% to $US36.44/bbl at 2.36pm NY time

What’s on today

Thursday: Australia November credit.

Stocks in focus

Deutsche Bank has a ‘buy’ recommendation on Flight Centre (FLT) and a $46 target price.

Macquarie Wealth Management has an ‘outperform’ rating on Austal (ASB) and a $2.26 target price.


China has suspended at least two foreign banks from conducting some cross-border yuan business until late March, limiting their scope to profit from a widening gap between the currency’s exchange rates at home and abroad.

The US dollar’s share of allocated currency reserves rose to 64 per cent in the third quarter this year, from 63.7 per cent in the second quarter, data from the International Monetary Fund showed.

Russia’s rouble and the South African rand weakened at least 1.1 per cent versus the US dollar, leading declines in emerging currencies, which slid for a third day, driving the gauge of 20 emerging currencies 0.2 per cent lower.


“The most important things for Glencore is to keep our investment-grade rating and to find areas where we can cut production,” said director John Mack, a former chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley. “We are not backing out of trading. We are as aggressive as we have ever been in trading.” Mack said the company remained bullish on Chinese demand for commodities.

Brent crude slid back towards 11-year lows as US stockpiles swelled and Saudi Arabia reiterated a commitment to keep pumping oil. A Reuters poll estimated that data would show a 2.5-million-barrel draw in the week ended December 25, but US crude stocks rose by 2.6 million barrels.

The most-active May iron ore contract on the Dalian Commodity Exchange rose to a session high of 324.50 yuan ($US50.01) a tonne, before paring some gains to close up 2.9 per cent at 321 yuan.

United States

If the S&P 500 closes 2015 higher, it will be its fourth consecutive annual gain, while a loss would make it the worst year since 2008. The index has risen as much as 3.5 per cent in the year and was down 9.3 per cent at its low in August.

Apple was the heaviest drag on all three major indexes, falling 1 per cent. Concerns about potentially soft iPhone sales have hit the stock in recent weeks. Netflix and Amazon苏州美甲美睫培训学校, the S&P 500’s top two performers in 2015, were down 0.96 per cent and 0.04 per cent respectively.

“I just don’t see any upside leadership,” said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York. “I’d be happy if we ended the year right here.”

Weight Watchers soared 23 per cent, extending gains for the third day after the company launched an advertising campaign last week featuring Oprah Winfrey.


European stock markets fell on Wednesday as weak commodity prices impacted the shares of mining and energy companies. European equities are heading for their worst December since 2002, down 4.6 per cent.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index lost 0.5 per cent at the close of trading, after the previous session’s 1.4 per cent gain. The volume of shares changing hands was 40 per cent lower than the 30-day average. Markets will shut on Friday for New Year. Some including Germany, Switzerland and Italy, will also close for New Year’s Eve, while others will have shorter trading hours.

The DAX, up 9.6 per cent in 2015, will rally 9.8 per cent to 11,792 next year, according to the average of 13 strategist projections compiled by Bloomberg. Natixis’s prediction calls for an 18 per cent surge.

What happened yesterday

The benchmark ASX 200 index closed 1 per cent higher at 5319.9, while the broader All Ordinaries lifted 0.9 per cent to 5366.4. The Santa rally so far has lifted the ASX 200 more than 8 per cent since its December 15 nadir of just over 4909. The index is now within 1.7 per cent of its position at the start of the year – 5411.

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Big Bash League 2015: Fan takes spectacular catch off Chris Gayle’s massive six

Howzat: The spectator takes a screamer in the thick of the crowd. Photo: Screen grabMichael Klinger and Shaun Marsh in record standWhy you can’t keep a catch at a BBL game

Etihad Stadium often plays host to spectacular high marking during winter, but on Wednesday night there was a comparable speccy taken at a Big Bash League match – by a member of the crowd.

Perth paceman Jason Behrendorff’s remarkable one-handed return catch, to remove Melbourne Renegades’ Cameron White, was relegated to the second-best take by the efforts of the man sitting on the second tier of the stadium who dived across fellow patrons to snare the chance.

West Indies enforcer Chris Gayle clubbed three sixes in making 41 for the Renegades in their 10-wicket loss to the Scorchers. The biggest of them, off veteran spinner Brad Hogg, was dispatched 99 metres over wide long-on.

The ball was set to land about two metres to the right of the spectator. Rather than be dissuaded by that, that spectator rose from his seat and flung himself to his right in pursuit of the catch.

In a season hitherto dominated by poor catching in the crowd at BBL matches, the spectator got one back for the public by claiming the chance at full stretch, while using on the heads and backs of a man and woman in front of him.

While both of the latter patrons were stoic, and seemingly uninjured, by having someone jump on them without warning, the catcher was ecstatic. After throwing the ball back on to the field of play he raised his arms in triumph.

That the spectator was took the catch while horizontal was reminiscent of the spectacular mark taken by high-flyer Warwick Capper for the Sydney Swans over Hawthorn’s Chris Langford in the 1987 qualifying final of what was then known as the Victorian Football League, now the Australian Football League.

The irreverent Capper took to Twitter to give qualified congratulations to the catcher.

“We’ve gone to the judges and mine is better! Not enough ‘Hollywood’ in his! Super effort though, mate. haha,” Capper said.

Given the spectator had to return the ball, the quality of his catch may persuade Cricket Australia to revisit a proposal to let spectators who catch a six to keep the ball, similar to baseball, or at least be given a replacement ball or some official memento after the match.

The crowd of 26,787 was a BBL record for Etihad Stadium for a match excluding derbies between the Renegades and Stars.

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A big year for council, with much more to come in 2016

Council is an integral part of the fabric of the local community – making decisions that reflect the diversity of our people and planning strategically for future growth and economic stability. Our shared vision for Newcastle 2030 guides the many projects, activities and services we provide throughout the local government area, leading us to become a smart, liveable and sustainable city – a place where people want to live, work, play and raise families.

We are at a critical point in our city’s history and the decisions we make today will shape Newcastle and affect our future. Improved transport networks, revitalisation of the city centre and further growth in the diverse local economy will be key drivers in sustaining our future. Council’s commitment to support the city renewal project Renew Newcastle with $30,000 annually for three years is just one example of how we are working towards supporting the emerging creative industries.

REVITALISED: Nuatali Nelmes at a completed section of the Bathers Way project – the shared pathway linking Newcastle’s seven coastal precincts. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

This Council is committed to bringing the city back to financial stability through our long-term financial plan while protecting local services and community amenitiessuch as pools, parks, libraries and cultural facilities both in the city and suburbs. In addition, we are planning for greater community change through the Wallsend Master Plan, the Foreshore Plan of Management and the Local Planning Strategy.

We also want to capitalise on our city’s unique history, wonderful cultural facilities and burgeoning café culture, which are major attractions to both locals and visitors. Council is committed to retaining Newcastle’s heritage, continuing to support and improve the Regional Art Gallery and Museum and helping people learn more about our history. This year we introduced five new self-guided walking tours that allow people to explore Newcastle’s past and present.

Over the past year we have made tremendous progress on our four priority projects. We have completed major sections ofthe Bathers Way project as well asbeach revitalisation; we opened a new wildlife arena and amenities block at Blackbutt Reserve; our building façade improvement scheme is upgrading80 city businesses and our place activation initiative has delivered popular projects such as Hit The Bricks.

The community came through a traumatic event together this year in the form of the April super storm. So severe was the damage that Newcastle was declared a natural disaster zone, and we are still working to repair the significant amount of damaged infrastructure, which included the loss of 10,000 trees.More than 50,000 people attended the Anzac dawn service at Nobbys to pay their respects to those who fought for our country. Thousands more joined services across the city. My sincere thanks go to the Council staff, the community, RSL sub-branches and local businesses who worked so hard to deliver such moving events, just days after our region had been so devastated.

Last summer Newcastle continued to impress internationally by staging the Asian Cup, the biggest football tournament Australia has ever hosted. Broadcast to approximately 800 million people worldwide, itwas the most watched Asian Cup ever.

Newcastle is clearly experiencing a rebirth, and growth and change always come with challenges and sometimes difficult decisions. Council is committed to a consultative leadership approach so that we face these challenges together and we make decisions with full understanding and consideration of community perspectives.

Cr Nuatali Nelmes is NewcastleLord Mayor