‘We pay for access’: Minerals Council’s admission on political donations

The Minerals Council of Australia has admitted it makes donations to political parties to gain access to politicians, an unusually candid statement from a donor about the influence of money in politics.
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The mining lobby group’s submission to a Senate committee examining the role of donations in Australia’s political system contrasts with the explanations given by other lobby groups and businesses, which said their donations were intended to support democratic processes.

“The MCA makes the political contributions detailed above because they provide additional opportunities for the MCA to meet with members of parliament,”the Minerals Council said.

“The MCA uses these opportunities to update members of Parliament about conditions in the Australian minerals industry and the policy priorities of the MCA.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison with a lump of coal during question time at Parliament House last year. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In its submission, the organisation said it donated more than $90,000 to political parties over 2015-16 and 2016-17.

The Senate inquiry was established by Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers and is looking at ways to improve the integrity of the political system.

The chair of the committee, Greens leader Richard Di Natale, said the Minerals Council had “admitted what we’ve known all along” by saying it was paying for access.

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“Our democracy is broken when a major mining lobby group feels comfortable publicly saying they pay for access to the old parties without fear of any consequences,” Senator Di Natale said.

The Minerals Council, which played a critical role in high-profile campaigns against the former Labor government’s mining and carbon taxes, has recently clashed with its largest member company,BHP, over the lobby group’s advocacy for coal.

Chief executive Brendan Pearson, an advocate for new coal-fired power stations, stepped down in September after BHP said it was reviewing its membership.

Former Minerals Council chief executive Brendan Pearson. Photo: Paul Jeffers

In Crown Resorts’s submission to the committee, the gambling giant said the cost of campaigning meant “political parties in Australia rely heavily on donations in order to communicate their messages and policies” to the public.

“Crown makes donations to registered political parties to support the democratic and electoral process in Australia,” the company said in its the submission.

“Crown does not expect the monetary contributions made to registered political parties to have any outcomes for shareholders.”

ANZ Banking Group said it had a role to play in “supporting democracy” by making donations.

“Our donations are aimed at promoting the development of social and economic policies to benefit Australia,” the bank said.

The Insurance Council of Australia, which represents insurance companies, said it donated to help parties mount campaigns and support a “stable political environment”.

The Age

Primary school program to stop cyber-bullying

HEALTHY HAROLD: Life Education has been teaching students about healthy lifestyle choices in NSW since 1979. School health education provider, Life Education, launched a new program on Wednesday aimed at tackling the rising problem of online bullying.
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The program, to be rolled outat the start of 2018 school year, comes following the death of 14-year-old Northern Territory girl Amy Everett.

Ms Everett had been subjected to both online and in-person bullying, and tragically took her own life on January 3.

She had been the face of a marketing campaign for Australian hat company Akubra, at age six.

Read more:Tears for dolly as family and friends gather in Katherine

Her death highlights the renewed concerns about cyber-bullying which prompted Life Education to create the new module – ‘Relate, Respect, Connect’.

The program will be aimed at children aged 10-13 and teach them how to construct safe and respectful relationships.

“We must take a constructive approach to the problem rather than assigning blame,”Life Education spokesperson Kellie Sloane said. “Often, young people don’t see the link between their actions andconsequences.

Statistics from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute showone-in-three boys and one-in-four girls as young as eight and nine years old, are experiencing bullying on a weekly basis.

Further, over 60 per centof primary school students are nowon Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

“Across our community there is a need to promote tolerance and respect,” Ms Sloane said.

“There is more to cyber-bullying than just teaching children how to block the culprits.”

The new program will complement a cyber-safety module for children aged 8-10 ‘bCyberwise’ the organisation commenced in 2016.

That module was their most sought after program in the past 12 months, reaching around 70,000 students across the country.

Life Education has been teaching students about healthy lifestyle choices in NSW since 1979.

In 2017, they delivered their health education program in the Hunter to 26,462 studentsacross48 preschools, 129 primary schools and foursecondary schools.

To contact 24-hour service Lifeline – phone 13 11 14

The rise of boutique travel, a new way to see the world

A new category of travel known as boutique travel is on the rise; a fully-immersive cultural experience while still being comfortable and safe at the end of the day. This article was sponsored byThe Adventure Travel Group
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Somewhere between backpackers with their turtle-shell packs sleeping on steel bunk beds,and cashed-up travellers enjoying a $400-a-night resort is a thirdcategory of savvy travellers.

They’re called the boutique travellers. The category is the natural progression of the increasingly hipGen X –those who’d choose a moody hole-in-the-wall wine bar over a fine-dining table in a chef-hattedrestaurant.

They enjoy immersing themselves in left-field art galleries, listening to live music with the localsand buying handmadeat the markets over mass-produced counterparts.

Instead of following tours, they design their own –they rent cars while travelling in small groupsand write their own itineraries.

The rise in boutique travel is reflective of a changing travel industrylargely lead by the rise of the web, says Anthony Hill. Hill has worked and operated adventure travel companies inEurope, Africa, Latin America andAustralasia for over 30 years.

“Over the years I have followed how the travellers experiences and travel style has matured,” he explains.

“Where once the traveller would take the limited travel itineraries in brochures as gospel, now they use the internet to search and want to travel further aboard to more remote areas.

“This desire to experience the ‘real’ destinations that haven’t been overdeveloped for tourismhas created the need for boutique travel andtouring.”

Bhutan, on the Himalayas’ eastern edge is known for its monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes including steep cliff faces.

Anthony says boutique travel experiences can range from three star to five star accommodation right through to an Indian palace or remote tented camp. The appeal of the accommodation for the boutique traveller lies in the authenticity and personality the accommodation offers, not how fluffy the towels are or how cheap the beds are.

Often this means boutique accommodation is smaller, includingfamily-run bed-and-breakfasts, converted structures,stand-alone villas -accommodation that offers complimentary cultural immersion.

But travellers can encounter issues when bypassing the expertise of the travel agent and curating trips based on the information available online from vendors.

“Unfortunately the quality assurance in the industry has not kept up with this global expansion,” says Anthony

“Thismakes it difficult for travellers to compare and select the best hotel for themselves. Afour star hotel in Pariscan be a completely different standard to a fourstar in Phuket.”

It’s for this reasonAnthony says the savvy boutique traveller will still invest in the quality assurance and safety of travel companies like The Adventure Travel Group.

Recently his team created ijurni (ijurni苏州美甲学校), a curation of tours for travellers who “like their creature comfortsbut also enjoy experiencing real destinations”.

“For this reason all of our ijurni packages feature local culture, local food and wine, history and local attractions,” he says.

Hill says the focus is on creatinga fully-immersive experience that is engaging for travellers from start to finish.

“Boutique touring is not all about the destination;it is about the journey and what happens enroute to that destination.”

This article was sponsored by The Adventure Travel Group

Make it your business to help entrepreneurs

COOKING UP: Entrepreneur Dante Valentinis plans to overcome council hurdles, including food safety regulations, that shut his cart down. Picture: Dave AndersonBRAVO and good on you,Dante Valentinis, for having a go.
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Brickbats to council for their lack of encouragement to this young entrepreneur.

The story of Dante opening his very unusual coffee wagon at Bar Beach (‘Squabble over coffee cart’,NewcastleHerald,16/1) deserves praise but also reminded me of my own dealings with council when I attempted to open a hot potato shop in Darby Street in the early 1980s.

I had seen this idea in Victoria while on a short holiday and thought that it would go well in Newcastle. Hot potatoes were being sold all over Victoria, mostly outdoors. I approached Newcastle council for advice but received little, just a brochure regarding regulations from their Food Surveillance Unit.

A council officer atour request came to look at the building so we could find what modifications were needed to the building before we opened. I recall his remarks were that we would probably fail selling food in Darby Street, andwent on to say that we should just modify the building and remove and re-do it if it did not suit the regulations. There was no encouragement or assistance.

The business succeeded in spite of council’s hurdles because of sheer hard work and persistence. We were forbidden to do what they do in Victoria and the rest of the world, to prepare and sell food outdoors.

We were told that eating outdoors was unhealthy. Theyobviously did not know about barbecues.

It should be noted that the businesses in Victoria were assisted by their local councils, even helping to designing a perspex box to hold ice and contain the cold fillings. Dante has gone a step further and has installed a generator.

Very little changes with our council, but I wish Dante the very best. He has shown a lot of initiative but will need a lot more persistence. We all need food standards, no arguments there, but we may need encouragement and assistance to help small business in Newcastle.

Denise Lindus Trummel,MayfieldPraise for top AussiesEVERY day is Australia Day for me but never more than January 15, 2018. I watched the news recently and, as someone with 34 years in the field of emergency services, I feel I’ve never been more proud than I was to watch the succession of stories about the dreadful crash on the M1, the locating and the rescue of the young man in the motor vehicle crash and the bushfire at Tomago.

There were our heroes, professional and unpaid, as they worked together.

They didn’t distinguish between the people they saved on the grounds of religion, colour, racial origin, gender or any other element.

They never distinguish between the idiots and the unfortunate, they just rescue them be it incredibly hot or freezing cold.

And they don’t very often get to make speeches about how good they are and what great work they do, unlike some of our more loathsome public figures.

I dips me lid to you, ladies and gentlemen.

Tim Egan, SconeWhen refugees cameI THINK the 26th of January was not an invasion but more a large wave of refugees arriving from a place where there was starvation, capital punishment, imprisonment, unemployment and discrimination on idealogical grounds such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Similar groups were displaced by the tyranny of ruthless land owners. Georgian England and Ireland were in a time of great suffering of the working class and Australia happened to be their destination.

Tony Richards,Tighes HillTime to buy, not sellGEOFF Black’s letter on privatisation (Letters, 16/1) raises the answer in clear terms as to why Newcastle Buses have implemented such an illogical timetable.

The sooner we all face the facts regarding the huge disadvantage of privatisation of our services and assets, then the sooner we can put the brakes on and even perform a U turn.

In my opinion, very little benefit to the people has come from privatisation at any stage.

While there have been success stories in community housing and employment services, I believe virtually every other privatisation strategy has become obvious as a cash fix for desperate governments who pander to a big end of town institution with a low sale price, dropping everyday people into the deep end with rising usage prices, reduced services and the scourge of job losses.

I am hoping that with the huge wake up call we have had with the Newcastle bus service privatisation, that many more people awake to the need to stop the sell-offs and commence a program of acquisition and rebuilding of our asset and service base.

John Gilbert, councillor, Lake Macquarie City CouncilEXTRA HANDS AREHELPFULI REFER to Karen Nottingham’s excellent letter (Letters, 9/1) entitled ‘Secret to better school results is not in the classroom’. I suggest it happens well before the classroom.

May I illustrate this from personal experience? When I married in 1967, there followed two pregnancies, little girls. Very much against my will I stayed home to look after them.

I had a breakdown as I was ambitious for a career. My love for them won the day despite my suffering. What love I gave them was enough to provide a solid sense of confidence in themselves and in their abilities to conquer the world.

Karen is right, so very right, about the problem of reducing poverty. Politicians haven’t got a clue about the problems ordinary people face.

After my breakdown I never did get a proper paying job, but have worked for many years as a volunteer in a church charity where we see many one parent families. The kids involved are invariably behind the eight ball from the word “go”.

They lack self esteem, have poor educational performance, no ambition, no future and a bleak outlook.

My kids were lucky. I have come to see that the breakdown was the best thing that ever happened to me and I do my bit for Australia by being not only a devout Christian and follower of Jesus, but a dedicated, passionate and committed socialist.

I thank Karen for her insightful, timely and accurate letter.

Margaret McLellan, Cardiff

Rail unions preparing for statewide strike

DERAILED: Passenger rail workers across NSW have voted for a campaign of industrial action including a 24-hour strike on January 29. The Rail, Tram and Bus Union says there will be no trains on that day.NO Hunter trains will run on the Monday after Australia Day unless unions and train management can settle an escalating dispute over pay and conditions and the controversial new timetable for Sydney trains.
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Rail, Tram and Bus Union state secretary Alex Claassens told the Newcastle Heraldthat Monday, January 29, had been chosen for the statewide rail strike to minimise disruption.

“There’s never a good day for things like this but it’s a pupil-free day, there’s no kids at school and it’s the Monday after the Australia Day on Friday,” Mr Claassens said.

He said sevenunions and the management of Sydney Trains and NSW Trains were still in negotiations over the enterprise agreement, with about 10 issues, including pay, still to be settled.

The RTBU and the Berejiklian government have been at loggerheads in recent days over big delays for Sydney commuters triggered bythe introduction of new Sydney train timetables. The government initially accused the union of a covert campaign to have drivers take sickies, but the chief executive of Sydney Trains, Howard Collins, subsequently acknowledged that the new timetable needed an extra 150 drivers to run the new timetable and its 1500 extra weekday services.

Mr Claassens said thebreaking up of Sydney Trains into “sectors” was a factor in the driver shortage, because drivers working in one section of the system were generally prohibited from driving in another, even in times of shortage.

He said the unions believed the government had broken the system into sectors as a pre-privatisation move, but it was backfiring now. He said the ability to move drivers between sectors was one of the issues under negotiation.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance had criticised the RTBU for campaigning for a pay rise of 6 per cent a year, saying that if the government wages cap of 2.5 per cent was good enough for teachers, nurses and police, it was good enough for train drivers.

But Mr Claassens said it was an opening, ambit claim, decided on by members who were “annoyed about the big salaries being thrown around for managers”. Hesaid the strike involved all staff working for NSW Trains and Sydney Trains. Services would end at midnight on the Sunday night and resume after midnight on Tuesday morning.

He expected the government may invokethe Essential Services Act to stop the strike. He said rail management had been talking with the State Transit Authority about obtaining buses to replace trains, but the scale of the task made it highly unlikely.

Mr Claassens said the unions were lift with little choice but to start industrial action because months of talks were getting nowhere on the substantial issues.

He said NSW passenger train drivers earned substantially less than their counterparts driving freight trains.

He said they also earned about 20 per cent less than passenger train drivers in Queensland and Victoria.

He said the government had claimed the average Sydney train driver was on $113,000 but he said it would take overtime to achieve that sort of money.

He said the base rate for suburban drivers was $75,000, while for CountryLinkcountry drivers it was $85,000.

Verdict on lake stink welcomed

VERDICT: ANL managing director Patrick Soars at his Cooranbong site. He was “very happy” about the court’s decision to grant development consent. Picture: Rob HomerFor 18 years, the Cooranbong ponghas infuriatedresidents, andhad Lake Macquarie council at loggerheads with composting company Australian Native Landscapes (ANL).
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But itappears a ruling in the Land and Environment Court could finally bring the long-running dispute to a compromise, with both sides welcoming the verdict of Commissioner Susan Dixon.

For ANL, a development application has been approved that will allow it to continue operatingat its Crawford Road site, where the company has been stationed since May, 2000.

And the council has been able to secure a raft of strict consent conditions – several of which ANL opposed – that it hopes will eliminate pollution and a stench that residents have labelled“indescribable”.

“We’re very happy about it,” said ANL managing director Patrick Soars.

“We’ve got the approval so we can move forward. The resolution is we’ve got a legal business here.”

In relation to the conditions, Mr Soars pointed out his company still had the right of appeal.

But a council spokeswoman presented a different view, arguingthe parties were at odds over the extent of controls needed to safeguard against pollution.

She said the judgement produceda favourable outcome for the council.

“Council was successful in obtaining conditions requiring a range of environmental controls for the site,” she said.

“These controls include prohibiting use of the existing leachate dam until appropriate environmental measures are implemented.”

In a written judgement, Commissioner Dixon also suggested it was the conditions –and not the DA approval itself–that was at the crux of the matter.

“This is not a case about whether development consent should be granted …but rather, what conditions should be imposed on any consent granted by the court,” it read.

“Parties have provided the court with competing versions of the draft conditions of consent.”

The case can be traced back to development approvals –granted by the council in the late 1980s – for composting at the site, which did not require any measures to stop polluted run-off draining down a slope into the environment.

In 2000, ANL constructed a dam,bunding and overflow area to contain the discharge and bring the facility into line with modern standards.

However over the yearsthere have been persistent complaints from neighbours, who claim they are plagued by foul odours from the site.

In 2015, Lake Macquarie council took the company to court over the alleged odours, in addition toconcerns about water and land pollution.

At the hearing, it was discoveredthere was no DA approval for either the dam, bunding or a wood-chip stockpiling area on the land.

ANL lodged a DA with the council, but it was not approved, on the basis it did not addressthe odour and pollution problems.

The company appealed to the Land and Environment Court, which granted it the consent this month, but with a series of conditions recommended by the council.

Those included an expanded overflow area for run-off, and operational plans focusedon combating odours and water pollution.

The court heard from residents, who alleged there had been in excess of 100 incidents at the site.

“Collectively, the local objectors told me that they have been impactedby offensive odours and noise from the operations on the site over a protracted period of time –and, that they continue to experience substantial adverse odour impacts,” Comissioner Dixon’s judgement read.

“They said their repeated complaints … to the EPA about offensive odour and noise from the activities on the site have, in effect, been ignored.”

An NSW EPA spokeswoman denied that was the case, saying it had placed “strict conditions” on ANL’s licence, including managing odour. She said licencewas being reviewedand additional conditions would be imposed, if necessary.

“The EPA has investigated and responded to reports of odour, this has involved inspections of the premises at different times of the day and night,” she said.

ANL’s lawyersargued that the council’sproposed conditions were unreasonable and invalid, because they were unrelated to the development at hand. They were instead mattes for the EPA to address, under the company’s environmental pollution licence.

However Commissioner Dixon disagreed.

“The council’s draft conditions do quite appropriatelyinclude operational conditions focused on controlling adverse odour and water pollution and unacceptable noise,” her judgement said.

Aussie contingent hit hard, but the future looks bright

The post-Bernie world for Australian tennis has started to reveal itself after just six locals advanced to the second round of the Australian Open – the lowest number in four years.
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Nick Kyrgios, Ashleigh Barty and Daria Gavrilova look set to carry the nation’s hopes deeper into the tournament but, truth be told, the local contingent was hit hard by some tough opening round match-ups.

The Australians to exit in the first round included 18-year-olds Alex de Minaur and Alexei Popyrin, as well as Thanasi Kokkinakis and qualifier Destanee Aiava, who were handed no gimmes when the computer spat out the tournament draw.

Alongside Australia’s three seeded players – Kyrgios, Barty and Gavrilova – John Millman, Matthew Ebden and Olivia Rogowska will also be striving to reach the third round at Melbourne Park.

Australia started with 17 players in the men’s and women’s draws but, this year, that list most notably didn’t include Bernard Tomic, a nine-year Australian Open veteran of sorts who fell at the final stage of qualifying. The 25-year-old’s career has been in free-fall in the past 12 months and he opted against taking part in Tennis Australia’s wildcard play-off in December before, somewhat surprisingly, turning up for the qualifying rounds.

It was a horror day for Australia at Melbourne Park on Tuesday as Ajla Tomljanovic, Lizette Cabrera, Aiava, Jordan Thompson, Popyrin, Kokkinakis and de Minaur all headed for the exit.

Barty was the saving grace, however, staging an impressive come-from-behind win over three sets against the big hitting Belarusian rising star Aryna Sabalenka late on Rod Laver Arena.

It’s hardly unusual to have a small contingent of locals progress beyond the very early rounds at the home major, but Australian tennis officials can surely look forward with optimism.

Popyrin was exposed to the glare of a grand slam for the first time and, importantly, won an epic second-set tie-break 16-14 before succumbing to 30-year-old American Tim Smyczek. Likewise, wildcard Aiava featured on centre court against world No.1 Simona Halep and, a moment of hyperventilation aside, showed how her power game has great promise.

Kokkinakis had it tough against Daniil Medvedev, pushing the Russian strongly in an entertaining four-setter.

So, regardless if Tomic ever graces the Melbourne Park courts at this time of year ever again, there are others who will demand your attention.

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The Buzz

REAL THING: Lauryn Hill will return to Australia for the first time since 2014 to perform at Bluesfest this Good Friday.SOUL INJECTION Byron Bay’s Bluesfest strengthened their line-up again on Thursday by adding ‘90s R’n’B icon Lauryn Hill to theEasterfestival. The USartistis famous for her time with The Fugees, that spawned hits like Killing Me Softy and her neo-soul classic solo recordThe Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.Hill performs on Good Friday and joins a line-up ofRobert Plant, Lionel Richie, Kesha, John Butler TrioandSheryl Crowe.
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GUITAR MAESTRO Phil Emmanuel will introduce his new band to Newcastle audiences when he performs at the Wickham Park Hotel on February 9. The guitar legend’s latest band featuresChontia (vocals), ParrisMacleod (keyboards), Garry Ward (bass) and Tom De Voss (drums) and will perform songs from Emmanuel’slatest album, The Best So Far. Sydney blue-rockers Bounty Hunters will provide support.

LEARNING TOURCanberra indie-folk band The Gypsy Scholarsreleased new singleCold Handson Friday from their forthcoming debut EPand to celebrate they willplay the Lass O’Gowrie Hotel on February 2.

ROCK EXPERIMENT Blues-rocker The Amanda Emblem Experiment playsthe Stag and Hunter Hotel on Saturday to support her debut EPBitten By Love.All the tracks are linked by a similar lyrical theme.

CELTIC CABARETSpiegeltent Newcastle will feature a Celtic-folk make-over after Scotland’s Breabach were announced for the three-week cultural showcase.Traditionally Speigeltent has featured mostlycabaretacts, such as this year’s headliner Blanc de Blanc, who was the creative mind behind Madonna’s Rebel Heart tour.Breabach play at Spiegeltent on April 3.

Level of first home buyers jumps to five-year high

The proportion of first home buyers entering the property market has reached its highest level in five years after state and federal government intervention lifted the market out of a near-all-time low a year ago.
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The rally has seen the proportion of loans to first home buyers jump to 18 per cent, according to Wednesday’s figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, surging from 13 per cent in January last year.

The rise comes as investors increasingly leave the cooling property market, particularly in Sydney where Chinese buyers are losing interest after a string of crackdowns and fears the market has peaked.

NSW still recorded among the strongest gains in the country, with 12,000 loans for owner occupiers commencing at a growth rate four times that of Victoria at 2 per cent.

The last time the proportion of first home buyers was this high was in September 2012, when the median house price in Sydney was $645,000 and $529,000 in Melbourne. Median prices in both cities have nearly doubled since then.

Banks were forced to clamp down on risky lending by the Turnbull government and regulators last year amid fears they were putting economic stability at risk and forcing out young would-be homeowners.

At the same time, the NSW and the Victorian governments encouraged first home owners into the market by offering stamp-duty concessions.

The latest figures show those measures now appear to be working, with analysts tipping a further decline in investor dominance in 2018.

“Our expectation is for the share of investor loans to drift a little lower in 2018 as enhanced macro-prudential measures force domestic banks to decrease their exposure to this group,” said JP Morgan economist Tom Kennedy.

But keeping the supply of homes accessible to first home owners could be more of a challenge in the long term, with the figures also showing a softening in demand for newly constructed dwellings.

According to trend estimates, loans in that sector fell by $18 million in November, or 0.9 per cent, while falls were also recorded in loans for houses for rent or resale, which were down 2.3 per cent.

The seasonally adjusted figures show the total value of investment housing commitments was relatively flat after a 1.5 per cent gain in November.

The figures follow a separate report which showed consumer sentiment rose in January for a second month to the highest in four years, adding to recent signs that households were starting to get over a spending slump following a long period of tighter household budgets.

The ‘good time to buy a dwelling’ index climbed 6.1 per cent to 106.7, the highest reading since September according to the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank survey of 1,200 people.

The index was up 7.9 per cent on January last year at 105.1, meaning optimists now outnumbered pessimists in what has been the most positive start to a calendar year since 2010.

Westpac Senior economist Matthew Hassan said sentiment has continued to recover from the weakness seen in the three months to September last year, boosted by a less threatening outlook for interest rates and improving confidence in employment.

“However, the degree to which spending improves still looks likely to be constrained with the survey detail suggesting family finances are still under pressure, limited scope for further reductions in saving to support spending, and high debt levels an ongoing concern for many households,” he said.

With Reuters

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Tragedy averted after passengers told to walk on rail tracks

Tragedy averted: A loaded Pacific National coal train. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigated after a disabled coal train incident led to train passengers being directed to walk on rail tracks in the path of a speeding train. AN XPT train travelling at 118 kph came within 80 metres of hitting five train passengers and rail staff walking on a railway track north of Paterson in a near-tragedy caused by rail staff “misunderstandings”, an investigation has found.
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The guard of a two-car train from Dungog “looked up the track to see the train coming towards them”, an Australian Transport Safety Bureau report said of the May 22, 2014 incident that started with a disabled coal train and ended with aninvestigation into how the Dungog train passengers were directed to walk on the track.

The bureau report, released on Wednesday, found the train crew “detrained” the passengers without following Australian Rail Track Corporation procedures; key Sydney Trains and NSW Trains staff continued to operate under RailCorp legacy systems nearly one year after major systems changes, and communications between key people on the day led to “misunderstandings” that threatened the safety of the passengers.

Five of the six Dungog train passengers left the train at Kilbride north of Paterson at 11.25am after the train guard advised a disabled coal train was blocking the Newcastle line ahead of them and they would have to walk the track to Mirari road level crossing where a small bus was waiting.

The bureau found the guard was unaware the Pacific National coal train bound for Newcastle, that blocked the track near Paterson from 10.10am because of a mechanical failure, had been repaired enough to leave the line only minutes before the Dungog train passengers were directed to walk on the track.

The guard was also unaware a Taree-boundXPT train blocked by the coal train was also cleared to resume its journey at 11.20am and a few minutes later the XPT driver “observed a bus at the Mirari level crossing and people walking on the track approximately 300 m ahead of the train”.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau report of Paterson rail incident.

The driver “immediately made an emergency brake application and sounded the horn continuously as he brought the train to a standstill approximately 80 m short of the bus and people”.

The bureau found the guard “observed the level crossing activate” and looked up the track as the XPT approached. He“gave a verbal warning to the passengers to get off the track”, the report said.

A lengthy investigation found that “all safe working communications” to ensure the safety of passengers and crew “should have occurred between the ARTC and the Dungog train driver”. But the only evidence of a conversation between the driver and the relevant ARTC controller showed the call was confined to a question from the driver about how long the train would be delayed.

The Dungog train crew “did not comply with the ARTCnetwork rules when detraining passengers from their train and unknowingly placed the passengers in the path of” the XPT, the investigation found.

During interviews the driver, the guard and other ARTC and Sydney-based rail personnel demonstrated “confusion among the involved parties about their individual roles, level of responsibility and limits of authority with regards to ensuring passengers were detrained only when it was safe to do so”.

The report found the transition from RailCorp and its CountryLink division,to Sydney Trains and NSW Trains in July, 2013, contributed to the confusion because key operational staff in NSW Trains and Sydney Trains continued to operate under RailCorp legacy systems, “even though documented transitional arrangements had re-established lines of responsibility and authority”.

The report found NSW Trains needed to report the incident to a specified senior ARTC controller “the moment the decision was made to put people into the rail corridor”, the report found.

The bureau found the decision to direct rail passengers off a train when not at a platform “should only be considered once all other options have been exhausted or no other option exists”.

“There was a train platform at Hilldale approximately 2.9 km north of Kilbride that would have enabled the passengers to safely alight and wait for either another train or transfer from the platform to a bus,” the report found.

“This incident illustrates the importance for train crews to strictly adhere to recognised detraining and track protection procedures when transferring passengers from a stranded train to a safe place,” the report found.