Monthly Archives: August 2018

North Melbourne coach says staging hurts Lindsay Thomas’s reputation

Posted on 16/08/2018 by

North Melbourne coach Brad Scott has admitted forward Lindsay Thomas’s reputation in the football world doesn’t match his performance because of his staging for free kicks.

Scott said that while Thomas had worked hard to eradicate staging from his game, he would again confront his player about the issue after an incident in the Roos’ loss to Geelong on Saturday night.

Late in the third quarter, Thomas won a free kick against his opponent, James Kelly for a push in the back, from which he goalled. While contact was made, Thomas threw himself forward to exaggerate the force of the push, earning criticism from his coach.

“I wasn’t happy with that,” Scott said. “Whether it was a free kick or not, just play the ball, mark the ball, and if you get infringed the umpire will pay it.

“We’ve worked on that, and I think he’s improved over the last three, four or five years in that stuff. And it’s pretty clear. I’ve said to Lindsay: ‘If you keep doing that, the umpire will assume you’re doing it all the time even when it is a free kick’. So I’ll speak to him about that again.”

Thomas was North Melbourne’s most effective forward, with three goals in the 32-point loss to Geelong. But Scott conceded that Thomas’s reputation as a diver had coloured judgments of his performances.

“I’d like some people to go and compare his output over the last three years against other players in other teams who play similar positions, and I think he’d come up pretty favourably,” Scott said. “But he probably isn’t spoken about in the same glowing terms because of these things, and I think that’s important.

“But more important than that is the fact I’d hate to see Lindsay not getting a free kick when he’s genuinely infringed because there’s a perception that he plays for it. So we don’t condone it, and he’s got to stop doing it. I think he’s been better, but he relapsed on one occasion tonight.”

Players can be cited for staging by the AFL Match Review Panel, with Essendon’s Leroy Jetta and Carlton’s Jarrad Waite having been reprimanded previously.

Scott also lamented “15 minutes of madness” from his team in the second quarter, when a series of off-the-ball infringements, two involving veteran Brent Harvey and another involving Majak Daw, led to a series of Geelong goals, to leave the Roos suddenly trailing by 22 points, a deficit from which they could not regain the lead.

But he also noted that the tight control umpires enforced in the first half of the game hadn’t extended to the second half, pondering whether the umpires had been spoken to at half-time.

“People make mistakes, umpires make mistakes, and we’ve got to try to keep our composure and players have got to try to get control back of the game, and we lost control of the game for whatever reason,” he said.

“We are brutal on undisciplined rubbish and it costs the team. But I found it really hard from the vision I had in the box to identify whether players needed to be disciplined for it. I know we didn’t have any [off the ball free kicks] paid in the second half, and neither did Geelong, so probably the question that should be asked is what was said to the umpires at half-time.”

Scott’s twin, Chris, meanwhile, said that while Geelong still needed to improve to mix it with the teams above it on the ladder, the solid five-goal win had been a step forward.

“I thought we were better in a lot of areas tonight than we have been for a lot of the year,” the Geelong coach said. “We’ve still got some things that we need to work on, but … we’re starting to build and we’re starting to get some players back that hadn’t had much of a pre-season.”

He lauded the contribution of the Cats’ runners like Allen Christensen, Steven Motlop, Mitch Duncan and Josh Caddy.

“Some of our young players with speed on the outside make us a different team, particularly at Etihad, to the one we’ve been. At the moment, it’s only one game, but they’re complementing our guys who are pretty good on the inside.”

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Hey Joe, this isn’t working

Posted on 16/08/2018 by

Rebecca Bennett, 22, calls and emails 10 businesses a fortnight. Photo: Meredith O’SheaIn the bakery, down from the pub, a woman makes a tomato and cheese sandwich and  says she hasn’t been sleeping. A man reading a newspaper doesn’t look up but says: “Nobody is.”

Why is that? “The world is stressed.”

There are six people in the bakery, two of them behind the counter – and this appears to be the busiest spot in Station Street.

There’s a bustle in the supermarket carpark down and around the corner, but here, in what was traditionally the centre of downtown Seymour, a feeling of abandonment holds sway. The other shops appear empty or in a quiet state of waiting. One of them boldly proclaims: “EMPLOYMENT”.

It’s a labour hire business, Netgain. The reception area is empty, the walls are undecorated, and certainly bare of jobs on offer. One of the two office workers says there’s not a lot going, mainly cleaning, hospitality and “a bit of driving”.

Most of the cleaning jobs are out at the Puckapunyal army base, and you have to be an Australian citizen to work there. The worker sees “a lot of downcast kids coming in” and going away even more so.

Lisa Wemyss, 51, grew up in Seymour, population 6360 (2011 census). For this township, stress means a lack of opportunity. Lisa Wemyss remembers the railway jobs that went in the `80s, the Buttercup factory, the dye factory that followed soon after. Where once there were jobs aplenty in Seymour, during the past 30 years most of the work, meaningful or at least sustaining, has died.

“The kids either go away for work or they languish,” she says.

Her grown children left town to be educated and found good jobs. One of her sons, a plumber, announced he was coming home recently. She told him he had to find a local job first. “I’d rather burn my couch than have the kids lie on it,” she says.

Seymour, an hour up the highway from Melbourne’s northern suburbs, has a higher-than-average unemployment rate – 7.6 per cent according to 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. Youth unemployment sits at 17.5 per cent, according to the Brotherhood of St Laurence’s analysis of bureau figures published in February.

The several hundred people who make up these statistics in Seymour would have to apply for 40 jobs a month under the federal government’s plan to get the jobless off welfare. The government is back-pedalling on the plan because of a backlash flavoured with ridicule.

But consider this: Rebecca Bennett, 22, already calls and emails 10 businesses a fortnight, or 20 a month, fulfilling a requirement to make these “job contacts”  to qualify for her Newstart allowance of $519 a fortnight. In a year Rebecca contacts the same businesses again and again, asking if they have “anything at all.”

In recalling how she’s heard the words “no” and “sorry” so many times, Rebecca sounds a little dazed, as if she’s walked into a wall – which is precisely the case. She is one of those “downcast kids” who came asking for a cleaning job at Netgain, but was “told I wasn’t suitable”.

Although Rebecca holds onto a dream of working in the law – she dares not say the word “lawyer” – she pursued another love, and completed a certificate in early childhood development. That was two years ago, and she’s been looking for a job in childcare in the district ever since.

You might helpfully suggest: What about work experience? That’s what she’s been doing for the past two years: working for free, two days a week at a local centre. She tells you this in a voice that holds no defensive tone, no bitterness. She loves the kids, she holds on to hope.

What about commuting to Melbourne? A return train ticket, concession, is $14. Rebecca pays $180 of her allowance to her mother, Sarah, by way of bed and board. Sarah hasn’t worked for 14 years and was shocked to hear that in Joe Hockey’s Budget, Rebecca will be paid the Newstart allowance for only six months of the year.

“We’d struggle,” she says, as if struggling was something new.

Another Abbott government initiative will have Rebecca working 25 hours a week for the dole.

What this means in practical terms, no one really knows. Working for the dole is being tried throughout the country and, contrary to widespread belief, isn’t a fully operational strategy. It gets confused with “Centrelink participants” who do volunteer work for charity groups, either to “pay back” something to the community or to gain some work training.

For example, St Vincent de Paul opportunity shops are often staffed by dole-recipient volunteers seeking retail experience. At the little shop in Hamilton – in the state’s west, where two hotels have been left standing empty and a number of shops recently closed – eight volunteers are hoping their in-house training will get them a job. Shop manager, Sue, said one person recently got a job, which was seen as a big win.

Hazel Maynard, who runs the Victorian volunteer program for St Vinnies says the shop in Dandenong, a suburb in which 5000 to 6000 people are unemployed, has a large roster of Centrelink participants hoping to get a break in the wider world.

“Many of the older people stay on, because they like it,” said Ms Maynard. “But the younger ones are all hoping to move on and find work.”

While the Centrelink participation scheme provides some basic training and gives participants a small chance of getting a mainstream job, working for the dole, on the face of it, is more an exercise of dragging so-called bludgers off their hard-rubbish couches. It is an exercise steeped in paperwork, requiring reporting and supervision similar to that provided by community groups, such as the Salvation Army, which  help with community-based orders. Hold that thought.

There are positions vacant at the local club for experienced gaming staff, advertised on the lighted billboard that also advertises meal specials. Online at seek老域名.au, there’s a job for an employment consultant with one of the four Job Services Australia franchises in Seymour. One wonders if the recently departed consultant died of heartache.

Jobs Services Australia is a federal government initiative that finds work and education “pathways” for disadvantaged job seekers, including the mentally ill and homeless – and notably people in country towns. The actual work is tendered out to labour hire companies and non-profit organisations.

The Sunday Age met a JSA consultant in Seymour, a man who looks eternally weary in a Jesus fashion, who said he wasn’t allowed to talk to the media, but did so anyway.

“Unemployment is very lonely,” he said. “It’s lonely if you have family to look after. It’s lonely if you’re on your own.”

He said the people he sees – several dozen, once a fortnight – all bring their own special sack of problems, all requiring individual attention. He tells the story of a local boy who wanted to learn a trade but couldn’t get into the TAFE course without a job. The consultant found another type of college where the boy was able to “end up with better qualifications than an apprentice”. This may not have necessarily got the lad a job, but it got him somewhere.

Work for the dole may achieve that for some people, the consultant said, but for many of his clients “I’m going to have to say, ‘Look, make this as happy and comfortable as we can, while we keeping looking for a job.’ ”

In other words, people at the coalface will largely regard working for the dole as something that requires going through the motions, with no great expectation that it achieves anything. More than that, it will simply add to the workload.

“And who is going to administer it?” he said. “The local football club might welcome a dozen people helping out, but they’re not going to fund supervision. The reporting side of my job is … not insignificant.”

Seymour, he said, has a courthouse that sends a certain number of people to the local Salvation Army to do their penance in the form of community-based orders. Can the Salvos take on the 200 to 200 unemployed locals and set them to work painting fences?

Dr Bruce Redman is the Salvation Army’s territorial media relations director. He says: “Of course not … there’s a lot of effort in getting people organised and mobilised, and the paperwork aspect is substantial

“We’d like to be part of the consulting process, because we have experience in this area. But there’s been no indication of that.”

Dr Redman also voiced an opinion that’s already been shouted out loud: “A one-size-fits-all solution to unemployment just isn’t going to work.”

What does Rebecca Bennett think about working for the dole? She doesn’t say much at all, as if this is one more thing beyond her agency. “I’d like to move from here … but I’m worried about my little sister [aged 13]. What’s going to happen to her when she leaves school.

“But, you know, if they say I have to work for the dole, I’ll do it. What is it they want me to do?”

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Autism and schools – there’s a long way to go

Posted on 16/08/2018 by

Tim Chan has severe autism and cannot speak or write. He uses an electronic voice-output device to communicate and write poetry. Photo: Getty/Paul JeffersPoet and activist Tim Chan sits in the front room of his family home in Kew, his mother resting her hand gently on his shoulder. Mr Chan has severe autism and cannot speak or write, so he uses an electronic voice-output device to talk about the Australian school system, typing words that the machine reads aloud.

“The most important thing is people and their attitudes of acceptance, and treating us as people first and special needs second,” he said. “The educational policies are inclusive but often practice may not be ideal.”

Mr Chan was diagnosed with autism at three and his mother, Sarah, a psychologist, immediately got him started on an intensive early-intervention program.

He attended a school for autistic children, but Mrs Chan said it was not intellectually or socially challenging enough for him, so he moved into the mainstream system after two years.

Primary school went well for the young Tim, but Mrs Chan describes his experience of secondary school as “hellish” – the school initially tried to ban him from using his voice-output device, leaving him without a means of communication, and he struggled to make friends.

School administrators need to rethink how they accommodate children with high needs, she said. “Instead of saying what he can’t do, you [should] ask what does he need to succeed.”

According to information released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in June, 86 per cent of children with autism who attend school, either in the mainstream or special education system, reported having difficulties. Most said they had problems fitting in socially, learning and communicating.

British expert Rita Jordan will give a workshop in Melbourne this week on autism and schools as part of the Victorian Autism Conference held every two years. She said Australia had lagged behind Britain in creating inclusive school environments for autistic students, but she hoped they could learn from mistakes made in British schools.

Mr Chan benefited from the help of integration aides throughout his schooling, but Professor Jordan said too often integration aides were creating a barrier to inclusion. “No self-respecting kid is going to play with someone who comes with their own adult,” she said.

She said aides should instead be taught to observe where the child is struggling and develop support structures, including among their peers, to help them succeed.

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Families thrown into medical marijuana wrangle

Posted on 16/08/2018 by

Alison Meadows at her Montmorency home. Photo: Patrick Scala/Getty ImagesA knock at the door of a home in Melbourne’s outer suburbs last month threw three parents, all with children who suffer debilitating epilepsy, into the centre of a political debate about legalising medicinal marijuana in Australia.

Mernda couple Cassie Batten and Rhett Wallace had recently appeared on national television talking about giving their toddler a cannabis tincture oil to stop his life-threatening seizures.

The man standing at their front door was Epping Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Detective Sergeant Brett Meadows, who had been tasked with investigating the couple after a report about Cooper’s welfare was made to police.

But Detective Sergeant Meadows knew better than most what the couple were facing.  His eldest daughter has undergone three brain surgeries to stop life-threatening seizures and if they hadn’t worked, his wife says they don’t know what they would have turned to.

“We’ve got a pretty good understanding of how life-threatening it can be,” Detective Sergeant Meadow’s wife Allison Ryan said, adding that their son also suffers from seizures.

“We were fortunate enough that surgery was an option for us and ended up going down that path but our daughter was also on, at that stage, four different medications or anticonvulsant medications and still having seizures breakthrough.”

If surgery had not worked Mrs Ryan said they might have considered cannabis oil, but while it remained illegal and unregulated in Victoria she would still have had serious concerns about what they were giving their child.

“I don’t know how it’s made, I don’t know what they’re making it from, I don’t know if it’s the same product I’m getting every time.

“People like this family are obviously desperate to get some relief for their son and if it does give them that relief then surely whoever needs to look into it, needs to.”

Ms Batten and her husband were asked to hand their oil to police and go into the station to answer some questions.  They arrived with a crew from Channel Seven’s Sunday Night program and a lawyer, supplied by the program.

The dark oily substance they had been giving little Cooper in his milk was sent off to be tested.

When the program went to air, Detective Sergeant Meadows’ business card was broadcast, in a move that Mrs Ryan said had unfairly singled out her husband in a “one-sided report” that was deeply critical of the police for launching an investigation.

Detective Sergeant Meadows and the Epping team have since received a barrage of abusive emails, calls and social media attacks.

While researchers struggle to attract funding and obtain the drug for trials, the potential side-effects and benefits remain untested, and police committed to protecting children find themselves in a difficult situation.

“It is an illegal drug and everyone knows that,” Mrs Ryan said.  “Brett was following the law, he was doing his job, he did it with respect and he did it with an understanding of those parents’ situation.

“If there’s a complaint and if they didn’t follow up on it and something did happen to this child as a result of using the cannabis, they were going to be in trouble for not acting on it.  They needed to see what this product was.”

Detective Sergeant Meadows refused to be interviewed, but said he was aware his wife had spoken to Fairfax Media.

Ms Batten said she and her husband “have never faulted the police for any part of it”.  “They were as compassionate as they could be considering the situation,” she said.

The changes in their son’s condition after they started using the oil were remarkable but how it had helped him remained a mystery, she said.

“He now says mum and dad, he rolls, he eats, he drinks, he has a personality, he giggles at things, he’s close to crawling,” she said. “We don’t know how it works, all we know is that we can see the improvement. What choice did we have? It was either try it or know that we were losing him.”

NSW-based Tony Bower, the owner of Mullaways Medical Cannabis uses a cold extraction method to create his tincture oil treatments.  His tinctures contain small amounts of THC and something called THC Acid, which, he says, does not have the psychoactive qualities associated with recreational cannabis use.

“Your chances of abusing that would be the same as abusing hemp seed oil,” he said.

Although he does not have a scientific background, Mr Bower said he does have “a really good background in the cannabis plant”.  “It’s an unusual knowledge I have of the plant,” he said. “I just seem to know a lot about it, I don’t know why, but I do, its qualities, how to change it.”

He supplies about 150 families with the oil and said he would continue despite already spending time in prison for cultivating.  “I couldn’t stop because the mothers don’t have a choice,” he said.

Other suppliers have started to appear on the medical marijuana black market over the past 12 months, Mr Bower said.  “They’re just making people sick and getting people in trouble,” he said.

President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Dr Alex Wodak, said until the laws were changed desperate parents would continue to look outside of regulated medicine, leaving the door open to  “snake oil merchants”.

“A medicine that’s effective and safe is being denied to people and people are therefore being forced to go outside of the medical system,” he said.  “There’s a lot of good scientific work to be done over the next 20 or 30 years, working all this out.

“The politicians should get out of the way and leave health people to follow the usual paths.”

Both the Victorian and federal health ministers remain opposed to the prospect of legalising marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Weeks have passed since Detective Sergeant Meadows turned up at Ms Batten’s door and no charges have been laid.

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Why do roadworks cost so much?

Posted on 16/08/2018 by

A new roundabout in a local street can cost around $100,000 Photo: Dylan RobinsonAbout $800,000 for a roundabout and $21 million to widen a road. How can building and improving roads be so hideously expensive?

Construction costs are inflated by high bidding costs and poor financial transparency, federal assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs was quoted this week in advance of an industry round-table discussion on the best ways to tackle the problems.

According to a recent leaked Infrastructure Australia report, road expenditure in Australia is notoriously inefficient and roads agencies lack intimate knowledge of roads systems, resulting in frequent cost overruns.

A former VicRoads employee said the roads agency has been deskilled to the point where there are too few experienced engineers to properly assess tenders submitted by private construction companies. Doug Harley, who was manager of network modelling at VicRoads, left the agency last year after three decades, over differences of opinion regarding the cost benefits of East West Link.

Because tenders are selected almost solely on their price, he said, private companies submit cheap tenders, and then later start adding variations that end up inflating the final price well above the original quote.

However, contractors who frequently work for VicRoads say such a scenario is unlikely. Allan Williams, operations manager at regular VicRoads contractor Bitu-mill, said any road construction business that engaged in under-quoting and then over-claiming on variations would be risking future contracts. “It’s a small industry, and your reputation and your ethics come into it when you tender, not just price. You’re only as good as your last job, and companies that did that may come unstuck next time they put in a tender.”

People are often ignorant of what it costs to build a road or install a roundabout, Mr Williams said. “When you see a noticeboard for a road project and it says $5 million, that includes a lot of costs apart from the construction – it also covers the cost of design, the site investigation, relocation of services, environmental plans, traffic management, even the costs of putting together the tender.”

Costs are also boosted by high community expectations regarding environmental and safety issues, he said, with continual improvements in worksite safety and procedures meaning upfront costs are greater. “In order to protect the personal safety of the general public and of road workers, a road construction project might need to include concrete barriers, worksite diversions, traffic management and project methodology – and that all costs.”

Civil engineer and transportation expert Professor William Young, from Monash University, said competition with the mining industry can be blamed to a large extent for the high costs of road construction in Australia.

“Labour costs here are three or four times higher in Australia than in England, for instance,” he said.

Competing with the mining industry pushes up the prices of materials as well as labour.

While the Infrastructure Australia report suggested the nation’s “addiction” to road building meant spending is inefficient and unaccountable, it acknowledged this was less true at the lower levels of government. Local government, it argued, tends to retain engineering personnel “who generally do manage and ‘know’ their road networks intimately”.

In the case of Darebin, in Melbourne’s north-east, the council has a pavement management system that audits the condition of its 512 kilometres of roads. Any requests for road improvements such as roundabouts and widening need to be closely costed and put out to budget for public review.

Darebin still carries out road maintenance in-house and has a substantial number of engineers on staff, thus ensuring it is able to carry out accurate estimates of bigger projects that need to be outsourced. This limits the chance of cost overruns in the final construction price, Darebin Council’s director of assets and business services Steve Hamilton said. “We have a good idea of unit rates based on our experience.”

This is not the case at VicRoads, according to Mr Harley, who claimed the agency no longer has experience building things and no previous job estimates to work off. “VicRoads has to go for the lowest tender, and because they have been deskilled over the years, they can’t tell whether or not the price has been deflated – or inflated,” he said.

VicRoads, denies this, claiming that even though most of its road construction works are outsourced, the agency still undertakes some road and bridge design and occasional minor road construction. VicRoads’ director of procurement and contract management Mark Koliba said this has been a deliberate strategy “to ensure that VicRoads maintains capability, continues to be an informed purchaser and is up to date with current market rates”.

How much does a road cost?

VicRoads declined to provide costings on road construction, stating there are too many variables influencing the cost to be able to generalise. These include the location of the project, whether land acquisition was required, whether services such as power, water or telecommunications needed to be relocated, and the availability of suitable construction materials. Costs also vary enormously depending on how much and what kinds of traffic the road is expected to carry. VicRoads looks after freeways and arterial roads in urban and non-urban areas, while municipal councils look after local roads.

As an indicator of the variation between road building costs, a major arterial road might require asphalt to a depth of 30 centimetres, while a local street might require asphalt only three centimetres deep.

The roundabout being built at the intersection of Gisborne-Melton Road and Melton Valley Drive, Melton, was contracted to Bitu-mill at $865,000 reflecting the scope of a project that involves an arterial road, traffic management measures and relocation of services. Meanwhile, a simple local roundabout constructed in a local street is more likely to cost $100,000 or less.

What is involved in building a local roundabout?

Design                                                $3000

Construction prelims/mgmt                $8000

Site preparation/demolition                $4000

Road pavement                                  $35,000

Kerb and channel                               $10,000

Footpath/crossovers                          $10,000

Drainage                                             $20,000

Service alterations                              $5,000

Landscaping                                       $5,000

Total                                                    $100,000

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