Monthly Archives: June 2019

Family ‘traumatised’ over NSW acid murder

The son of murdered Sydney woman Monika Chetty doesn’t believe anyone deserves to die the way his mother did.
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Ms Chetty, 39, died in the burns unit of Concord Hospital in January 2014 some 28 days after she was found in bushland at West Hoxton suffering chemical burns to 80 per cent of her body.

Detectives believe she was doused with acid and, more than four years later, they’re still determined to catch the killer.

Ms Chetty’s 19-year-old son, Daniel, says the family remains traumatised.

“We just want answers,” he said while wiping away tears at a Sydney press conference.

“There are no words to explain. It’s so brutal. You can’t just do that to someone or any living thing.”

Police say Ms Chetty, who was homeless at the time of her death, may have known her attacker and was too frightened to seek medical treatment or report the assault.

In two decades as a policeman, Detective Chief Inspector Dean Johnstone says he’s never seen such “horrific” injuries.

“There is absolutely no doubt she was in extreme pain,” he said on Monday at a public appeal.

“If there’s anyone out there who does have information about this horrendous crime you need to come forward.”

The 39-year-old victim, who’d been estranged from her family since 2010, had been sleeping rough near the bushland reserve where she was found by police.

She repeatedly refused help from people and instead only sought cash, leading police to believe she was under pressure to provide money to someone at the risk of being harmed.

Police also believe the mother-of-three deliberately misled them about where the attack happened to protect herself and her family from any reprisal.

Ms Chetty, who was a qualified nurse, told police she was attacked at Bigge Park in Liverpool after she refused to give a cigarette to an unknown male but a forensic examination has ruled that out.

“With that kind of injury and that kind of pain she must have been in incredible fear to not speak to authorities,” Det Insp Johnstone said.

Evidence suggests Ms Chetty was doused in acid between five and 10 days before she was found in bushland at West Hoxton.

Police still don’t know where the attack happened but, given the amount of acid they believe was poured on Ms Chetty, they’re confident the crime scene is still detectable.

Lines of inquiry include the possibility that Ms Chetty may have been involved in a visa marriage scam.

She was described by her family as a “happy and lovely” woman who cared for everyone around her.

Catholic report ‘urges’ quota mechanism to give women power in the church after child sexual abuse scandal

Silent no longer: Catholic women back quota call in church Response: n Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge and Catholic Religious president Sister Monica Cavanagh on Friday at the n church’s formal response to the child abuse royal commission.
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Evidence: n Catholic University Professor Neil Ormerod told the royal commission child sexual abuse figures bore out a view that women in decision-making positions in the church were needed. Picture: Wolter Peeters.

Shattered: n Institute of Company Directors chair Elizabeth Proust wrote of her devastation at evidence of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Picture: Dominic Lorrimer.

Reservations: n Catholic University Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven did not endorse a final Truth Justice and Healing Council report responding to the child abuse royal commission. Picture: Supplied.

Figures: Former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson leaves Newcastle Court after he was convicted of concealing child sexual abuse. Adelaide diocese pioneered the appointment of women to decision-making roles two decades before Wilson’s appointment in 2001. Picture: Darren Pateman.

Leader: Truth Justice and Healing Council chief executive Francis Sullivan was respected through the five years of the royal commission for speaking out about the Catholic church’s history of child sexual abuse. Picture: Alex Ellinghausen.

TweetFacebookThe abuse, the cover ups, and the apparent lack of care by so many in the church hierarchy (I cannot call them Church “leaders”) has been the lowest point of my life in our church.

Truth Justice and Healing Council deputy chair Elizabeth Proust

“We will need to become an even smaller church, humbler, more diverse, with greater leadership by lay people (women and men) before there is any chance of a revival.”

Council member and Brigidine Sister Maree Marshsaid governance roles for women are “for the most part non-existent in dioceses and management roles are few” and clericalism, “with its sense of entitlement, exclusivity and superiority”, was “clearly evident”.

Devastated: n Institute of Company Directors chair Elizabeth Proust wrote of her struggle coming to terms with the full extent of the Catholic church’s failings on child sexual abuse. Picture: Nigel Welch.

In 2016 Pope Francis said clericalism reduced lay people to the function of “errand boys and girls”.

Sister Marshsaid clericalism in the n Catholic Churchkept “others in their place” and included “bullying”.

“It has become patently obvious during the past five years that there is a great divide in the n church –theologically and pastorally. The vast majority of people desire the kind of church that is inclusive, humble and service-oriented –not one of privilege, position and power reserved to a few,” Sister Marshsaid in herstatement.

Truth Justice and Healing Council member and Monash University Professor Rosemary Sheehan said the royal commission’s final report was “shameful reading” and the Catholic Church, “if it is to remain meaningful, must examine its preoccupation with hierarchy, with secrecy, with who is permitted into the ministry, with the exclusion of women from the decisional life of the church”.

Council member and Curtin University Adjunct Professor Maria Harries said she needed to be convinced that “the structures of the church implicated in their permitting of such abuse and the protection of perpetrators will really reform itself”.

Report: n Catholic University Vice Chancellor Professor Greg Craven did not endorse a report calling for a type of quota mechanism to put women in power positions within the n Catholic church. Picture: Supplied.

“How does the church itself generate the reforms to its clerical, gendered, hierarchical culture and its governance structures in order to ensure we don’t repeat this cataclysmic series of abuses?” she said.

In a statement contained within the council’s final report Professor Craven criticised the royal commission forits “reliance upon ill-defined concepts like ‘clericalism’,” butnoted the church had to“closely consider how the laity may work in an enhanced way with clergy and bishops”.

In2017 ’s male religious orders apologised to female religious orders for the harm caused to children and the shame it had brought upon Catholic women, “especially on the women in whose schools and institutions abuse took place”.

The male orders “committed themselves to addressing the causes of male abuse of power”, Sister Marshwrote in her statement to the Truth Justice and Healing Council.

In its final report the council noted the limited participation of women was consistently raised as an issue at the royal commission and across many parish-based consultations.

“Whether women would have brought a different and important perspective to both personnel decisions and the management of allegations of abuse of children by clergy and religious was a point often raised,” the council said.

Abuse: Former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson gave evidence about the low rate of child sexual abuse in his diocese a year before he was convicted of concealing child sexual abuse in the Hunter region. Picture: Darren Pateman.

In its formal response to the royal commission, released on Friday, ’s bishops and religious orders did not specifically address the role of women as decision-makers in the church, but accepted in principle a royal commission recommendation for a national review of church governance, to include “the participation of lay men and women”.

In evidence at a final royal commission public hearing into the Catholic Church in February, 2017,Archbishop Philip Wilson said he accepted women in decision-making roles when he became Adelaide Archbishop in 2001, and “transformed” the roles so they operated “within the system of canon law” by making women chancellors.

Wilson resigned from the position in July after he was convicted of concealing the child sex crimes of Hunter priest Jim Fletcher.

The royal commission was told Adelaide Archbishop Leonard Faulkner appointed women to decision-making roles in the 1980s apparently without seeking permission from Catholic Church hierarchy, and possibly by “working on a loophole” in canon law.

During Friday’s media conference Catholic Religious president Sister Monica Cavanagh said the church “still had a way to go” in recognising “women and their potential”.

In 2017 a landmark five-year study of child sexual abuse within the church found gender was a key factor in the abuse scandal.

“The lack of the feminine and the denigration of women within church structures is one key, underlying risk factor in the abuse,” said study authors and former Catholic priests Dr Peter Wilkinson and Professor Des Cahill.

The risk of offending was much higher among religious brothers with little contact with women,who were educated at male-only schools, appointed to male-only schools and living in all-male communities, the report found.

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Protesters stop coal train at Sandgate: three arrested and charged

Protesters stop coal train at Sandgate: three arrested and charged TweetFacebookPROTESTERS put a halt to coal train movements at Sandgate on Monday, effectively blocking the rail passage into Newcastle Port.
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The group fromFrontline Action on Coal caused the shutdown about 7am.

One activist, identified by the group as university student Sarah Barron,setup a large tripod on the tracks and suspended herself over the rail line. The entire incident was live-streamed by the group on social media.

“ exports more coal than any other country, this makes us one of worst contributors to climate change,” a statement from Ms Barron read.

“Setting domestic emissions targets — something our governments have so far failed to do — is not enough.”

Police were called to the scene and can be seen on video trying to coax the protester from the tracks. Ms Barron was later safely removed from her post and taken into police custody.

Officers arrested two women – aged 20 and 24 – and a 32-year-old man.

The older woman and man were charged with enter inclosed lands interferes with, or attempts or intends to interfere with, the conduct of the business or undertaking and cause obstruction to railway locomotive or rolling stock.

The younger woman was charged with enter inclosed land or not prescribed premises without lawful excuse and cause obstruction to railway locomotive or rolling stock.

They were all granted conditional bail and are due to appear at Newcastle Local Court on Thursday October 4.

Newcastle City Police District Commander Superintendent Brett Greentree, said public safety is the first priority when it comes to protest activity.

“We support the rights of individuals and groups to protest peacefully, but not when it impedes on their safety and the safety of others,” Supt Greentree said.

“Entering a rail corridor is extremely dangerous and it’s lucky no one was seriously injured in the incident.”

The protest was a promotion for the group’s Newcastle meet up scheduled later this month.

Frontline Action on Coal is a community led, non-violent action group against fossil fuel development and expansions.

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Bono loses voice, U2 concert cut short

‘I’ve seen a great doctor and with his care I’ll be back to full voice,’ Bono wrote on U2’s website.U2 frontman Bono has assured fans nothing is seriously wrong with his voice after he was forced to cut short a concert in Germany.
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The Irish star, 58, suffered a “complete loss of voice” at the band’s Saturday night concert in Berlin and the show ended early.

He has now posted a message on the U2 website telling fans he will be back for the rest of the group’s tour.

The post is entitled “Back On Song, Back To Berlin”, and reads: “I’ve seen a great doctor and with his care I’ll be back to full voice for the rest of the tour.

“So happy and relieved that anything serious has been ruled out.

“My relief is tempered by the knowledge that the Berlin audience were so inconvenienced.

“There was an amazing atmosphere in the house, it was going to be one of those unforgettable nights but not for this reason…

“We can’t wait to get back there on November 13th.”

The message was accompanied by a sketch and a picture of a handwritten note which said: “PS To the ones who sang Red Flag Day for me last night, thanks, those are some high notes in that one … as always, ‘you take us higher’.”

After the show ended on Saturday, band members Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr and the Edge posted an apology on the website.

The statement said: “Bono was in great form and great voice prior to the show and we were all looking forward to the second night in Berlin, but after a few songs, he suffered a complete loss of voice.

“We don’t know what has happened and we’re taking medical advice.

“As always, we appreciate our audience’s understanding and all our fans’ support in Berlin and those who travelled from afar.”

How much does the NSW government spend on major tourism events? Including the Newcastle 500 Supercars

How much does the NSW government spend on major tourism events? SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 Champion Jamie Whincup. Picture: Jonathan Caroll
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SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 Champion Jamie Whincup. Picture: Jonathan Caroll

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 Champion Jamie Whincup. Picture: Jonathan Caroll

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 Champion Jamie Whincup. Picture: Jonathan Caroll

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 Champion Jamie Whincup. Picture: Jonathan Caroll

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 Champion Jamie Whincup. Picture: Jonathan Caroll

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 Champion Jamie Whincup. Picture: Jonathan Caroll

CHAMPION: Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver Jamie Whincup WINS! Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

Supercars Championship leader Jamie Whincup fastest and Scott McLaughlin 7th at the end of P1 for the Coateshire Newcastle 500. Photo: Mark Horsburgh

Harrison Chapman checks out the Aussie Touring Cars as the V8s speed around the Newcastle track. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Ivan Stevovski, John Graham, Irek Janiszewski were trackside for the three-day event. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Dave, Katrina and James Spruce from Newcastle. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Allira and Koby Jones at the track. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Bruce, Karen, Justin and Marcus Piper snacking on some

Leigh Hudson from the Central Coast checks out the race merch at the Supercars precinct. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Lisa Horan had a great view of the track from near Fort Scratchley on Sunday. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Tim Blatch and Ian Billett, trackside at the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Peter McHugh and Steve Karbowiak just past the hairpin. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Elise Pope, Chelsea-Anne Lewis and Denise Downing at Foreshore Park in the Newcastle Supercars precinct. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Riley and Koby Bambach from Newcastle race the miniature version at the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Harrison Chapman checks out the Aussie Touring Cars as the V8s speed around the Newcastle track. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Michael Johnson and Tracey Nicholson trackside at the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Harvie Oldham at the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

A scene from the grandstands at the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

At the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Peter and Charlie Barnett near the hairpin at the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Red Bull Racing Team fans Lucas and Kathy Moore from Sydney. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Colby Brooks near Fort Scratchley. Photo: Simon McCarthy

A scene from the grandstands. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Armidale boys Pat and Glen Frost taking in the atmosphere at the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Brayden Ward from Port Macquarie. His folks said they were loving the Supercars and would be back for next year’s race. Photo: Simon McCarthy

V8S: James Condon living it up at the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Kyah Fuller and Veronika Augustinova. Veronika is from the Czech Republic, but is now living in Brisbane. Photo: Simon McCarthy.

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

Emma and Daniel spotted at the Newcastle 500. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Matt Mac, James Hannigan and Jacky C on the water at the Newcastle 500. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Hunter Baxter from Adamstown. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Luke, Gabrielle and William Darcy taking a walk along the water as the Supercars scream by on the track. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Gracy and Steve Tattersell from Newcastle outside Customs House on Saturday. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Allan Williams (right), a Novocastrian now living in Brisbane, has been close friends with Ken Fraser for more than 40 years. They organised to meet up again at the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Shayley Crisp, Marnie Newsam and Jamie Walpole were on the grid to checkout the V8 Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy.

Troy and Nate Petley from Sydney traveled up for the Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Cayden Lobach from Charlestown was trackside for his first Supercars event. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Spotted at the Newcastle 500. Photo: Simon McCarthy

SUPERCARS: Tempest Solution/Pastro Custom driver Zach Loscialpo has his car extinguished after fire broke out underneath during race 14 of the Toyota Racing Series on the Newcastle street circuit, Saturday, November 25, 2017. Picture:AAP Image/Darren Pateman

SUPERCARS: Layne Woodhead of Wyonga and Brett Springett of Tuggerawong showing their allegiances. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Photo: Supercars, Twitter

Photo: Simone de Peak

Photo: Simone de Peak

Photo: Simone de Peak

Photo: Simone de Peak

Photo: Simone de Peak

Photo: Simone de Peak

Photo: Simone de Peak

Photo: Simone de Peak

Photo: Simone de Peak

There was carnage on the Newcastle streets in Toyota 86. Photo: Twitter

Photo: Supercars, Twitter

Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes after her hot lap with Craig Lowndes in his Triple Eight Commodore. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes after her hot lap with Craig Lowndes in his Triple Eight Commodore. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes after her hot lap with Craig Lowndes in his Triple Eight Commodore. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes after her hot lap with Craig Lowndes in his Triple Eight Commodore. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes after her hot lap with Craig Lowndes in his Triple Eight Commodore. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes after her hot lap with Craig Lowndes in his Triple Eight Commodore. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes after her hot lap with Craig Lowndes in his Triple Eight Commodore. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes after her hot lap with Craig Lowndes in his Triple Eight Commodore. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes after her hot lap with Craig Lowndes in his Triple Eight Commodore. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Marg Ble

Supercars Championship leader Jamie Whincup fastest and Scott McLaughlin 7th at the end of P1 for the Coateshire Newcastle 500 today. Photo: Mark Horsburgh

Supercars Championship leader Jamie Whincup fastest and Scott McLaughlin 7th at the end of P1 for the Coateshire Newcastle 500 today. Photo: Mark Horsburgh

Supercars Championship leader Jamie Whincup fastest and Scott McLaughlin 7th at the end of P1 for the Coateshire Newcastle 500 today. Photo: Mark Horsburgh

Photo: Edge Photographics

Photo: Edge Photographics

Photo: Edge Photographics

Photo: Edge Photographics

Photo: Edge Photographics

SUPERCARS: Hunter driver Charlotte Poynting was given the honour of driving the first lap of the new Newcastle street circuit in her Aussie Racing car during practice, Friday, November 24, 2017. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Touring Car Masters, Number 3 driven by local- Cameron Mason. Proud mumma Wendy Mason is just shining it up ready for the race!

SUPERCARS: Violet Fitzgerald of Thornton sleeping in her mum Karen Green’s arms, next to the track at Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Mick Myles, Glen Thackteray and Bruce Conroy are enjoying the atmosphere outside the bars in Foreshore Park.

Shane Green, Lee Harris and Dean Wyman, all of Taree

Carolyn Taylor

Lincoln Godwin

Shannon and Michael Gibbons from Tamworth

Shane and Alex Mead from Elemore Vale

It seems everyone is at the Supercars today! Picture sent in by Glen Fredericks

“My hubby and daughter have been there since 8am. They are loving it!” – Susan McBride

David Murray and Graeme and Fran Edman from Medowie

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SUPERCARS: Young spectators peeking out from the footbridge at turn 1 of the Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 on Friday, race goers arriving on the ferry from Stockton. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SUPERCARS: Police out for the Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SUPERCARS: Mark Ferguson of Hamilton and his dog Patch who are wandering around town soaking up the atmosphere before attending on the weekend. Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SUPERCARS: Free travel this weekend for ticket holders to the Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SUPERCARS: Volunteer Stephen Mudd of Maitland helping Tasmyn Gray and Georgia Melliger of Belmont at the Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Warren Leadbeatter

Warren Leadbeatter

Keith Griffith

Warren Leadbeatter

Warren Leadbeatter

“Pole position on Pitt straight with harbour views for us” – Fleur Morgan

“Well done Newcastle great track, great atmosphere and the right place! Having so much fun with family and friends.” – Domenic Albanese

Kelly Gamage

AAP

Spotted at the Newcastle 500. Photo: Simon McCarthy

A scene from the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

A scene from the Newcastle Supercars. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Sam Webber from Sydney in the granstand overlooking the straight into the Nobbys Beach hairpin. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Inderjeet Singh from Toronto. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Harold Cutrubi and Rod Pritchard from Muswellbrook. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Matt Osborne and Maddy Smith from Newcastle in the heart of the race precinct. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Azar Spooner from Newcastle was in the race precinct to see the impressive aerial acrobatics performed by the RAAF Williamtown. Photo: Simon McCarthy

James Smith and Luke Dorgan from Gosford

Novocastrains Megan and Les at the Newcastle 500. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Bec Sommerlad and Alex Munro. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Zarra Mason and Jasmine Markovski were promoting WD40. “We can fix anything,” Zarra said. “We’re superheroes.”

Baby Abigail Hardes was sporting pink earmuffs for the race. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Stuard Gill helps young Amarlia Gill get a better view of the track. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Trackside, Jackson Kirkwood. Photo: Simon McCarthy

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

V8S: Big crowds for the Supercars Newcastle 500. Picture by Simone De Peak

Big lines at the autograph session. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

Big lines at the autograph session. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

Big lines at the autograph session. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

Big lines at the autograph session. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

Big lines at the autograph session. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

Big lines at the autograph session. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

Big lines at the autograph session. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

Newcastle 500 Supercars – Newcastle Foreshore. Day Three. Picture shows Kylie Jane singing the National Anthem. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

SUPERCARS: Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver Jamie Whincup celebrates winning Race 26 and the Supercars Championship. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

SUPERCARS: Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver Jamie Whincup celebrates winning Race 26 and the Supercars Championship. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

SUPERCARS: Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver Jamie Whincup celebrates winning Race 26 and the Supercars Championship. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

SUPERCARS: Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver Jamie Whincup celebrates winning Race 26 and the Supercars Championship. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

SUPERCARS: Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver Jamie Whincup celebrates winning Race 26 and the Supercars Championship. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

SUPERCARS: Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver Jamie Whincup celebrates winning Race 26 and the Supercars Championship. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 – Newcastle Foreshore. Day Three. Picture shows kids playing in the fountain outside Customs House. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 – Newcastle Foreshore. Day Three. Picture shows kids playing in the fountain outside Customs House. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 – Newcastle Foreshore. Day Three. Picture shows kids playing in the fountain outside Customs House. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 – Newcastle Foreshore. Day Three. Picture shows kids playing in the fountain outside Customs House. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

SUPERCARS: Newcastle 500 – Newcastle Foreshore. Day Three. Picture shows kids playing in the fountain outside Customs House – Tyler John, front. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

SUPERCARS: Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver Jamie Whincup celebrates winning Race 26 and the Supercars Championship. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

SUPERCARS: Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver Jamie Whincup celebrates winning Race 26 and the Supercars Championship. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

Newcastle 500 Supercars Sunday grand finale. Winner Jamie Whincup sprays team mates with champagne from the top of his car at the podium. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

TweetFacebookShedding light on funding decisionsDavid Shoebridge, NSW Greens Upper House MP, says DNSW’s determination not to release information was one of the clearest examples of “just how broken our laws are”.

“This matter really exposes how agencies that are fighting against transparency game the system,” he says. “They game it with internal delays. They engage in protracted, often unmeritorious legal battles and even when they’re found to be clearly at fault by the tribunal they still don’t release the information.”

Penny Sharpe, Labor’s spokeswoman for tourism and major events, says: “The Berejiklian government operates a regime that is more about freedom from information than giving the public access to information about the work and expenditure of the NSW government.”

So what are the skeletons that DNSW is afraid to let out of its closet?

In April 2015, theHeraldrequested information about how much money DNSW had contributed to events such as Vivid Sydney, New Year’s Eve celebrations, and Sydney Festival as well as various musicals and stage productions.Documents that would shed light on how these funding decisions are made were also sought.

Some of the events supported by DNSW have been successful, others have been ridiculed by critics and shunned by audiences.

Vivid Sydney, for example, has grown into one of the city’s biggest cultural events. Premier Gladys Berejiklian said 2.3 million attended the 2017 festival, and asserted that overseas and international visitors had injected $143 million into the state’s economy. The festival is owned, managed and produced by DNSW.

However,The Addams Familymusical, which received funding from DNSW, closed early in 2013 after poor ticket sales, andproducers of the show werelocked in a battle over pay and conditions with its production crew,theHeraldreported in 2013.

It is not the only dud investment made by the agency.NSW taxpayers lost at least $1 millionin 2016 after the Sydney Sings festival, spruikedby Leo Schofield, was cancelled.

A DNSW spokesman refused to confirm the amount of money given to Sydney Sings, saying it was “commercial in confidence”.

That is anexcuse trotted outto avoid telling taxpayers how much money is spent on events, according to Shoebridge. “If a private entity wants to contract with a government agency and receives taxpayers’ money there should be an expectation of complete transparency.”

Sharpe says: “While there are some legitimate commercial concerns in relation to Destination NSW, that should not be an excuse to refuse to provide information that is in the public interest.”

DNSW is not just in the business of fun and games.Residents of Newcastle Easthave been fighting the agency’s secrecy for years to obtain details about the Newcastle 500 Supercars event, which they claim has harmed local businesses, damaged their homes, affected the health of vulnerable people and disrupted their lives.

In her forthcoming bookWrong Track: What Drove Supercars to Newcastle, Christine Everingham writes:”The Newcastle 500 clearly illustrates how state sponsored – yet privately owned – major events, provide the perfect cover for deals to be done without the inconvenience of public scrutiny.”

DNSW has an annual budget of $159.7 million, according to its 2016-17 annual report. Its chief executive Sandra Chipchase was paid $452,250 (plus allowances). The annual report also lists the agency’s hefty expenses such as “advertising” ($30.9 million) and “promotion” ($95.2 million).

DNSW rebuffedtheHerald’s request for documents about its spending, claiming an “overriding public interest” against disclosing why and how much it spent on these events, triggering the long-running quest to uncoverdocuments how it spends taxpayers’ money.

Years of requesting internal and external reviews, sending endless emails and an official complaint about the agency’s tardiness in responding have led, on more than one occasion, to a windowless rooms in the John Maddison Tower in Sydney’s CBD where theHeraldand DNSW’s team of lawyers put their arguments before the tribunal.

‘It can be years of delay’Some secrets may be worth keeping for reasons of defence or security. But should the amount of money spent on imported musicals, Vivid’s light shows or the New Year’s Eve fireworks also be a state secret?

A DNSW spokeswoman gave up one piece of the funding jigsaw in May, revealing the agency spent about $6.8 million on the lights component of this year’s Vivid. “The total cost of Vivid Sydney includes a mix of government funding from other NSW government agencies, private enterprise events (more than 600) and commercial sponsorship,” she says.

Under NSW’s FoI law, there is a presumption in favour of disclosing government information. It also gives members of the public an enforceable legal right to ask for information and various avenues to appeal a decision.However, those laws provide enough excuses for public servants to keep their secrets, take inordinate amounts of time to make decisions or seek tocharge high feesfor searching and photocopying documents.

Figures compiled by the Information and Privacy Commissionsuggest the NSW government is becoming more secretive: “Across all departments and sampled smaller agencies the desktop audit found that compliance with the mandatory proactive release requirements had declined to 76 per cent, compared with 89 per cent in 2015-16.”

The number of FoI requests made in NSW was 14,651 in 2015-16 – less than half the 34,249 requests made in Victoria, according to theNational FoI Metrics dashboard. NSW bureaucrats also refused a far higher percentage of FoI requests than their counterparts in Victoria.

Shoebridge says government agencies and departments seek to avoid handing over information that is time-sensitive: “It’s not just months of delay, it can be years of delay to get the most basic information.”

Sharpe is not impressed with the operation of the state’s FoI law either.“Every request is met with delay, defer and the charging of exorbitant amounts of money to release basic information,” she says.“In some cases public servants claim they don’t have the resources to process the requests. This is completely unacceptable and is forcing more and more appeals to NCAT.”

A spokeswoman for theNSW Department of Justice said she could not comment on individual cases but a review concluded last year that the state’s FoI laws were “well-supported and are operating efficiently”.

“However, it also made a number of recommendations to provide greater clarity about the operation and objectives of the GIPA Act and [Government Information (Information Commissioner)] GIIC Act, to benefit from agencies and applicants, and to help ensure the Acts continue to promote open government in NSW,” she said. “The report is currently under consideration by the NSW government.”

Matthew Mason-Cox, a Liberal Upper House MP,said in April the state governmenthad developed a “perverse culture of secrecy” that threatened the public’s confidence in its decision-making over issues such as the Powerhouse Museum and redevelopment of football stadiums.

Concerns have also been raised about government secrecy at afederal level.

Judgements handed downDinnen delivered her first judgement in September 2017 that appeared to vindicate theHerald’s efforts to access information that the law presumes should be made available.

“In circumstances where the information is sought by the Applicant for the purpose of investigative journalism into the funding of and by Destination NSW, I consider that the public interest considerations in favour of disclosure carry significant weight … ,” she said.

Shoebridge says the tribunal’s judgment had highlighted flaws in the agency’s handling of the FoI request.“What really annoyed me when I read the decision was just how amateur they were in saying no,” he said. “They were not just arrogant and dismissive, but they were also incompetent.”

In her latest decision, delivered last week, Dinnen appeared to agree with this assessment, raisingthe possibility of referring the agency to the NSW Ombudsman or Information Commissioner “in relation to systemic agency issues of compliance” with FoI laws.

So will DNSW finally tell NSW taxpayers how it spends their money?

A DNSW spokeswoman said the agency was considering its position.

The Sydney Morning Herald

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