Wool’s man-in-the-mirror incident divides industry

As the ‘man-in-the-mirror’ scandal grips the Australian wool industry, the country’s peak lobby group says they believe the head of Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) may have breached the Corporations Act.

It’s been revealed AWI chair Wal Merriman watched a focus group, which growers did not want him to attend, from behind a one-way mirror without their consent.

Wool Producers Australia CEO Jo Hall said it was unacceptable behaviour.

“This recent incident raises a number of significant questions regarding the conduct, ethics and governance of the wool industry research and development corporation,” she said.

“We certainly don’t believe that it’s appropriate conduct for any chairman of a board to be watching a confidential focus group unannounced.

Questions about culture at Australian Wool Innovation

Ms Hall said Wool Producers Australia had been vocal in the past regarding the current wool industry structure.

She said this recent incident involving Wal Merriman should prompt a review.

“We’ve been long advocating the need for an arm’s-length industry oversight of AWI in the interest of all wool growers,” she said.

“As the wool industry’s services body responsible for the expenditure of a compulsory levy, there is a requirement that AWI’s governance and conduct is nothing short of transparent and accountable, which we don’t believe is currently happening.

“There’s been a number of issues around AWI’s performance and one recent one this year has been the staff redundancies that were just exposed in the senate estimates in February.

“They were far above the legal requirements for a redundancy and at the end of the day this is wool growers’ money we’re talking about.”

Farmer wants more transparency from AWI

South Australian stud breeder, Andrew Michael from Leahcim Merinos in Snowtown, said he was still lost for words over the chairman’s actions.

He said, in his eyes, the lack of transparency had made the whole process lose credibility.

“With the chairman there, who runs his own merino stud and has been very much against the movement into technologies, to sit behind that mirrored screen, I would make a comparison of McDonalds sitting in their board meeting and you’ve got hungry jacks sitting on the other side without notification,” he said.

Mr Michael said the chair of AWI should be independent and representing levy payers without a commercial conflict of interest.

“There’s just a number of issues for too long now that have happened; personally I think the chairman of a corporate board like that needs to be an independent person,” he said.

“I think there’s been so many decisions of funding cuts in areas that shouldn’t have been cut.

“We’ve got so much to offer in the wool industry throughout the world and yet we’ve got a component in there that’s actually trying to pull back and not use the technologies that every other rural industry uses.”

Mr Michael said he agreed a change of management and restructure of the AWI was needed.

“Everyone who pays levy money needs to be quite vocal about this, to make sure something like this never happens again,” he said.

“Maybe a change of management within that corporate governance of AWI, so we that we have a chairman who is independent and has no conflict of interest.

“And then we go through that board, [ensure] that those people are diverse in their understanding of how boards work.

“Otherwise if we don’t have that and people don’t have the confidence to go and do those focus groups, it will be a slowing up of net gain and profit for the levy payers.”

However, Ms Hall said having an industry-owned body such as AWI reviewed would not make for an easy process for change.

“AWI is an industry-owned organisation and therefore growers really need to get active if they’re not happy with the performance of AWI and make their views known,” she said.

“There are constitution requirements of AWI and that’s the agreement between growers and AWI but there’s also the statutory funding agreement between AWI and the Commonwealth.

“That obviously therefore means that there would need to be government intervention to bring about change.”

ABC Rural has contacted Australian Wool Innovation for comment.

Mary Had A Little Lamb reworked for Indigenous song book

Updated September 08, 2017 14:47:39

A strikingly illustrated story about a hungry crocodile, set to the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb, is just one of the songs in a new book designed to help remote Indigenous children preserve their language.

The Yakanarra Song Book features 14 songs about animals, places, hunting and fishing, most written in the Walmajarri language of the Yakanarra community in WA’s Kimberley region.

From the Kimberley to Canberra

The book was launched at the National Library of Australia (NLA) today by Alison Lester, Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) ambassador and acclaimed children’s book author, with a performance from the children of the Yakanarra Community School.

Ms Lester and fellow ILF ambassador Chris Aitken visited Yakanarra in 2015 to work with the children and community elders Jessie Moora and Mary Vanbee, who wrote some of the songs set to tunes from the 1980s.

“Just in that short week these children made the most beautiful illustrations that you could have imagined.” Ms Lester said.

“They were excellent at not drawing clichés; when they drew trees, they drew the trees that looked like the trees out there.”

Learning and preserving language

The book was published through the ILF’s Community Literacy Program and is the third written in Walmajarri.

“It is why the foundation exists — to encourage and work with communities to publish the stories they want told,” ILF executive director Karen Williams said.

“We hope to get books into the hands of babies, toddlers before they reach school … in their first and own language, so by the time they get to school they’re used to books.”

Yakanarra year nine student Zarlia Vanbee said it was exciting to launch the book to a wide audience.

“For us it’s a big difference [because] a lot of books are not in languages,” Zarlia said.

“We want to put this out there for people to read and look at.”

Topics: indigenous-culture, books-literature, indigenous-music, library-museum-and-gallery, children, human-interest, canberra-2600, broome-6725

First posted September 08, 2017 14:42:15

‘She was like a kid in a lolly store’: Connie Johnson awarded Medal of Order of Australia

Updated September 08, 2017 19:01:16

Connie Johnson’s brother Samuel has described his pride after the Canberra mother-of-two was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia on Thursday.

Mr Johnson said he was the world’s proudest brother watching Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove place the medal on his sister’s chest.

The Gold Logie-winning actor described how “chuffed” Connie was to receive one of the nation’s highest honours for her service to those with breast cancer.

“She didn’t want to make it about her but I haven’t seen her like that since she was a kid,” Mr Johnson said.

“She was like a kid in a lolly store with all the lollies in it, not just a few.

“It was a perfect rainbow in a dark storm.”

Mr Johnson said despite the pain Connie’s loved ones were feeling in her final days, he said it was also a “beautiful time”.

“We all know that life is about much more than accolades or trophies, but the fact remains my sister has raised more than $7 million from her bedside while most other people sit on their hands and complain about not having a cure yet.

“Through all the battles she has had so many rainbows and she’s supported by a lot of people and she feels that and it’s buoyed her a lot.

“We were told she was going to die last night but she’s not ready yet – she’s enjoying her life too much.

“In her words ‘there is still so much to do’.”

Mr Johnson said Connie fought through her fatigue to stay awake for a short time to reflect on the moment with her brother – and their friendly sibling rivalry was as strong as ever.

“She’s upstaged my Gold Logie,” Mr Johnson said.

“I’m going to have to work a bit harder.”

Despite maintaining his sense of humour, he had one very serious message to spread to all women.

“Connie has appreciated being recognised for the fact she’s tried to encourage every single young mum in this land to check their boobs,” he said.

“And if they can check them on the night that she dies, she’ll be very happy.”

‘She is most deserving of our nation’s gratitude’

During the ceremony at Calvary Clare Holland House, Sir Peter described Connie as “a determined, inspirational figure and a great Australian”.

Secretary to the Governor-General, Mark Fraser, read out the official citation explaining Connie was awarded the medal for her service to people with breast cancer:

“Mrs Johnson is a person who is simply inspirational. Her creation and leadership of the Love Your Sister Village has done much to encourage other Australian women to undergo regular screening and has also raised vital funds to support cancer research.

“She has become one of this nation’s foremost advocates of the importance of early detection and the need to find a cure. In the process she’s rallied many others to join with her to assist this endeavour.

“Through her drive and determination, and in the face of significant obstacles, she’s achieved in a few short years what most people could only hope to achieve in a lifetime.

“Mrs Johnson’s efforts for our community will endure and make her most deserving of our nation’s gratitude and admiration.”

Samuel Johnson set up the charity Love Your Sister when Connie was diagnosed with breast cancer. He quit acting to devote his time to raising funds for cancer research, including riding across Australia on a unicycle.

In Connie’s final public event for the charity, The Big Heart Project, thousands of people donated millions of five-cent coins to form a record-breaking silver heart.

Connie withdrew from the public eye in May to spend time with her family, after spending years raising millions of dollars for cancer research with her brother.

She has been in the hospice since July.

Topics: breast-cancer, cancer, diseases-and-disorders, health, research, research-organisations, charities-and-community-organisations, charities, act, canberra-2600, australia

First posted September 08, 2017 08:05:45

Embassy’s Solander garden honours early naturalist

Posted September 07, 2017 15:14:28

Daniel Solander, the Swedish naturalist who sailed with James Cook and Joseph Banks on the Endeavour expedition, has been honoured with a new garden that celebrates his legacy to Australian flora.

The Solander Garden at the Swedish embassy in Canberra features some of the 900 plant species collected and described by Solander and Banks during the Endeavour’s visit to Australia in 1770, as well as species named after Solander.

The two young naturalists collected 110 previously unknown plant genera and 1,300 new species on their historic journey to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia.

A passionate nature lover

Solander (1733-82) was one of the favourite students of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who developed the modern system of naming organisms.

Solander catalogued the natural history collections at the British Museum in London and in 1768 was invited by Banks to join the scientific staff on Cook’s voyage.

He was the first Swede to sail around the globe and the first observer to scientifically describe the kangaroo.

Swedish ambassador Pär Ahlberger said he was a “typically Swedish” person — “a passionate nature lover”.

Australian historian and Solander biographer Edward Duyker said his contribution to botany had been overshadowed by his famous British colleague.

“Banks was a wealthy young man; Solander was a professional scientist who didn’t have the resources that Banks had,” Dr Duyker said.

Ongoing botanical project

The new garden replaces an asphalt parking lot and was designed with the assistance of the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

It will be added to as species are developed for the Canberra climate.

Mr Ahlberger said it was far more than just a garden for embassy visitors.

“It’s connecting … history with the present and science with the beauty of nature,” he said.

“I hope that [it] can be used to encourage Swedish botanists to come to Australia and vice versa.

“We are planning for Daniel Solander seminars which would have [their] starting point in March next year.”

Urban Ahlin, speaker of the Swedish parliament and an honorary guest at the garden’s inauguration, said Solander’s legacy was “proof of the links between Sweden and Australia”.

“I am absolutely certain that I will be back,” he said.

“I will come here when the plants are bigger than they are now and look at this wonderful garden.”

Topics: 18th-century, gardening, people, canberra-2600

Fewer Canberra children learning how to swim amid parents’ concerns over cost

Posted September 07, 2017 06:12:24

The number of kids learning to swim in the ACT has fallen by up to 1,000 participants, prompting safety concerns as summer approaches.

The Royal Life Saving Society said some in-school programs have seen participation rates fall over last two years, and out of school programs have not picked up the slack.

Royal Life Saving ACT executive director Cherry Bailey said the number of Canberra children learning to swim has fallen since 2015.

“We are a little bit concerned that the participation rate is not what it used to be, and that’s across the board for students of all ages, but particularly in primary schools,” she said.

“The big scare is the risk of drowning, and that’s what we’re all about, drowning prevention.”

Ms Bailey said swimming lessons were often overlooked as busy families try to fit in time for other hobbies and sports.

“We’re really asking the question, ‘Is that instilling a life skill, or is that something that’s just going to be enjoyable after school?’,” she said.

“We really want to make sure that children are being enrolled in these programs at a young age, so as they’re graduating through their childhood and into adolescence, and into a more explorative and adventurous lifestyle with less supervision … they’re going to be safe in those environments.”

Concerns cost too much for families with multiple children

Ms Bailey said parents have been concerned about the cost of providing swimming lessons to their children.

“The financial burden is one of the major barriers, especially if you’ve got a family of more than just a single child,” she said.

Ms Bailey has called for more funding to make learn-to-swim programs accessible across different age groups.

“The Education Department generously supports the AquaSafe program, which is dedicated to year two students,” she said.

“The fees are set at a flat rate of $50 for families, and the Government subsidises the rest.

“We’d really like to see something similar adopted for all year groups, and we think there’s going to be a combination of sponsorship from the community and organisations and corporate groups, as well as that funding from the government to reach that.”

‘They need to know how to save their lives’

While there has been a drop in the number of students taking learn-to-swim classes, Ms Bailey said there were still plenty of parents doing the right thing.

Susan Dow’s five-year-old son Oscar has been taking swimming lessons at a local pool in Gungahlin since he was one year old.

“We have rivers and lakes and beaches,” she said.

“We’re outdoorsy people and there are so many dangers in the water, they need to know how to save their lives.

“We’re very confident that he can swim.”

Tamra Wilson has three children enrolled in learn to swim classes, aged four, five and eight.

“With three kids of a similar age, who are close together, if for some reason they’re not close by or they’re not on the shore, I need to know that they’re not going to drown,” she said.

Topics: states-and-territories, children, child-health-and-behaviour, safety-education, safety, act, canberra-2600

Father calls on Government to act after paedophile’s High Court victory

Posted September 07, 2017 06:12:24

A man whose son was abused by Canberra paedophile Aaron James Holliday has called on the ACT Government to act, after a High Court victory could see him released by the end of the year.

Holliday was yesterday found by the High Court to have not broken the law when he encouraged a fellow inmate to find a “hitman” to kidnap key witnesses in Holliday’s upcoming trial.

Holliday had drafted an eight-page plan detailing how the witnesses would be forced to retract their evidence against him.

But the kidnapping never happened, when the prisoner reported him to authorities.

While the conviction of incitement to kidnap was not reinstated against Holliday by the High Court, he remains in prison for sex offences against three young boys and perverting the course of justice.

However with the incitement charges gone for good, Holliday will now likely be released by December.

The father of one of the children Holliday abused said he was utterly disappointed by the court’s decision.

“My view is the [ACT Legislative] Assembly needs to fix this straight away,” he said.

“The statute needs to be fixed.”

Loophole ‘absolutely ridiculous’

The father, who cannot be named to protect his son’s identity, called on the Government to close a loophole which meant Holliday’s actions in arranging the kidnapping did not constitute an offence.

“This appeal is concerned with a situation in which Person A incites Person B … to undertake a course of conduct that might ultimately result in Person C committing a substantive offence,” Justices Kiefel, Bell and Gordon explained in yesterday’s judgement.

As Holliday incited a fellow prisoner to procure another person to commit a crime, and the prisoner never followed through, the court found Holliday had not committed an incitement offence.

While Holliday’s conviction for incitement was struck out, he was convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

“It’s just absolutely ridiculous that it’s an offence because it might interfere with justice, but it’s not an offence because it could harm children,” the victim’s father said.

‘Very arguable case’ for change: Government

ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said he sympathised with the man’s position and would examine whether a law change was needed.

“I haven’t had the chance yet to read the High Court’s decision, but I certainly will be looking closely at the case, closely at the decision,” he said.

“I’ll be taking action to address any gaps that become apparent as a result of that.

“I think there’s certainly a very, very arguable case that this is a serious matter and is something that we need to be looking at to change the legislation.”

The boy’s father said Holliday would be eligible for release in December, and raised concerns he may not be properly monitored.

“He’s just going to be released cold,” he said.

“In other states there’s dangerous prisoners who, even if they don’t get parole, when they get released they can be under supervision, and that needs to happen in this case.”

Mr Ramsay said the Government was always open to improving laws, but the law would function as usual at Holliday’s release.

“When they are released they are released under the law as it is, and so that will be the case with this person, as is the case with any other person,” he said.

Topics: states-and-territories, courts-and-trials, sexual-offences, canberra-2600, act

Canberra businesses fight to stay afloat from impact of light rail works

Updated September 07, 2017 15:38:40

Struggling businesses say they are losing out after a light rail stop they thought was earmarked for Mitchell has been taken off the plans.

The industrial north Canberra suburb has been plagued by road closures and diversions for months as track construction continues along Flemington Road.

Local businessman Anthony Manning said his business has taken a financial hit, and without a Mitchell stop the pain has not been worth it.

“The only reason I can survive now is because we have been in operation for so long,” he said.

“If I [had] a new business it would probably be impossible to take the hit.”

Mr Manning said in the last year his gym had copped a 30 per cent loss.

“Thirty per cent means a staff member, it means $70,000 — $80,000 a year,” he said.

It has forced Mr Manning to create a new lobby group backed by 250 businesses in the suburb calling on the Government to consider bringing the light rail to Mitchell.

Their main concern is that without a local stop there would be no benefit after months of construction disturbance.

Mr Manning said a Mitchell stop was originally up for consultation, but did not appear in the final plan – with stops instead on Well Station Drive and at EPIC.

“We just want a stop in Mitchell to make the financial burdens and heartache actually have a carrot at the end,” he said.

“That would give everyone something to look forward to and something to put up with and work through.

“What the Government has done is bypassed the business district that employs 5,000 people, that has 300 businesses and they have put a stop either side, not within walking distance or parking distance.

“Essentially they are going to reduce the business attraction to Mitchell, they are going to make it harder for us in the future.”

But Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris said a stop at Mitchell was still on the cards — just not in the initial rollout.

“The future Mitchell stop is at the corner of Flemington Road and Sandford Street, where the existing bus stop is at the moment,” she said.

“I would expect we would be able to let them know well before 2020 about when that stop will become operational.”

Impact worse than the global financial crisis

Mr Manning said most of the businesses he spoke to were struggling with the ongoing construction.

Heather Campbell is one of those business owners.

She has been operating a kids’ play centre for more than a decade and her business recently posted its first loss, which was in excess of $80,000.

“We have actually seen a loss in the last financial year which obviously is having a fairly detrimental effect and making me consider my options about what the future is here in Mitchell,” she said.

Ms Campbell said that loss was a direct result of the ongoing traffic changes.

“People don’t want to sit in cars with screaming young kids, trying to get to my business when they can easily bypass the entire area and go somewhere else,” she said.

Another business owner, Quentin Ainscough, said he too had lost out from the tram construction. He is down $1,000 a week on average due to lost sales at his cafe.

After 15 years of trading he had to reduce cafe hours and cut a third of his staff.

“The road closures and traffic disturbance has had more of a negative impact than the global financial crisis,” he said.

“I would have to do something drastic with the coffee shop space, like closing, if it wasn’t for my back of house businesses which are keeping me afloat.”

Topics: small-business, building-and-construction, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted September 07, 2017 06:12:24

Emotion of same-sex marriage debate largely absent in High Court hearing

Updated September 07, 2017 05:46:31

All eyes will be on the High Court in Melbourne this afternoon as it delivers its result in the challenge to the Federal Government’s plan for a voluntary same-sex marriage survey.

For the Government, an election promise lies in the balance, a promise it has so far been unable to deliver because of a hostile reception in the Senate to its plans for a plebiscite on the issue.

The challengers would prefer the issue was decided by the Parliament.

And for many in the court this week, as the lawyers debated the meaning of the words “urgency” and “foreseeability”, there was a deeply personal dimension.

That includes one of the people directly involved in one of the two challenges — Felicity Marlowe.

Ahead of the hearing, Ms Marlowe told journalists she and her lesbian partner of 17 years had three children.

The decision is a double-edged sword for families like Ms Marlowe’s.

The polls show strong support for same-sex marriage — a result that would very likely show up in the survey, ultimately delivering the desired laws.

But Ms Marlowe said it was a high price to pay.

“In just the four short weeks since the plebiscite was announced, families like mine and trans and gender-diverse young people have already, without the campaign having even started, been subjected to vile hate and abuse,” she said.

“I am deeply concerned about the long-term impact of any eight-week public campaign.”

Emotion of issue largely lacking in High Court hearing

The same-sex marriage debate has long been a social flashpoint in Australia, involving deep personal beliefs.

But little of that was evident in the High Court challenge.

Instead the challengers took on the Government’s plans to fund the survey using a contingency fund set aside for “urgent” and “unforeseen” items.

Challengers questioned whether the survey met either of those criteria.

The court has also been asked to rule on whether the Government was breaching the constitution by not formally asking the Parliament for the $122 million for the plan.

It will have to rule on whether the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) can be legally required to run a survey of this type.

The Government has already started printing the material for the survey, so the ink can dry in time, in case the High Court clears the way for survey to start next Tuesday.

During the two-day hearing it was impossible to know what way the court will jump.

Tough questioning by the judges of lawyers engaged in challenging the survey suggested a lack of sympathy to the argument, but at least one of the judges appeared deeply concerned about the legality of spending money not appropriated from Parliament.

One thing that can be said is that the High Court has in recent times been willing to draw a line on Government’s spending money that has not been properly appropriated from the Parliament, as it did in the school chaplaincy case five years ago.

Topics: gays-and-lesbians, community-and-society, marriage, government-and-politics, federal-government, courts-and-trials, australia, canberra-2600, act, melbourne-3000, vic

First posted September 07, 2017 05:07:14

High Court to hand down decision on same-sex marriage survey today

Updated September 07, 2017 00:03:16

The High Court will deliver its decision on the challenge to the Government’s plans for a voluntary postal survey on same-sex marriage this afternoon.

Two groups challenged the plan as unconstitutional, taking particular aim at the way the survey would be funded.

The challenge is focused on the $120 million set aside for the survey, which is to be drawn from a fund available for “urgent and unforeseen” matters.

That fund can be used without parliamentary approval.

But challengers argue that the same-sex marriage survey should have been foreseeable and therefore not paid for through that fund.

They say that since the Government earmarked millions of dollars for a compulsory plebiscite on the issue, they believe the Government should have known a “Plan B” option like a postal vote would cost money.

They want the High Court to declare the funding unlawful and rule the survey cannot go ahead.

Lawyers for the Commonwealth struck back at that argument on Wednesday, telling the High Court urgency was a “relative concept”.

Commonwealth Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue told the court the Government had appropriated the money lawfully and there was nothing untoward in the policy.

He said the policy “was developed in circumstances where another policy was put forward and was rejected” – referring to the Government’s previous failed attempts at legislating a compulsory plebiscite on the issue.

“A different policy was [then] directed to that end,” he said.

He said the Government then made a decision to go with the postal survey.

Decision to use ABS unprecedented: court hears

The court also heard challenges to why the Government was asking the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to collect opinions, when it is bound by legislation to only collect statistics.

The court heard the decision to use the ABS was “unprecedented”.

Previously, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, the Acting Special Minister of State, told the Senate he was “very confident” the Government had the “constitutional legal authority” for the ABS to collect the data.

“Under [Commonwealth] laws, the Australian statistician and the ABS can request information of all Australians on the electoral roll,” Mr Cormann said.

“Indeed, there is express provision in the ABS Act for the ABS to have access to the electoral roll.”

The first of two parties challenging the survey is led by Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie, PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and Melbourne mother Felicity Marlowe.

The second group involves same-sex marriage advocates Australian Marriage Equality (AME) and Greens senator Janet Rice.

The case has been heard by the High Court during a two-day hearing in Melbourne.

The court is under pressure to deliver a swift verdict, as survey letters are due to be sent to Australian households from next Tuesday.

Topics: gays-and-lesbians, community-and-society, marriage, government-and-politics, federal-government, courts-and-trials, canberra-2600, act, australia, melbourne-3000, vic

First posted September 06, 2017 16:24:57