Department confirms employee mining link in Ridgelands $5 million community fund case

Concerns: Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush, council staff and Ridgelands Resources representatives after the company’s secret approval condition with the NSW Government to fund a $5 million community fund was made public. A HUNTER Departmentof Planning employee married to a coal miner playeda key role in mining company Ridgelands’ attempt to cut a community fund from $5 million to $500,000, prompting questions in NSW Parliament about associations with the mining industry and ending months of silence from the NSW Government about department involvement.
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Documents obtained by theNewcastle Heraldunder freedom of information legislation show themid-levelemployee recommended the reduction in March, 2017, despite the $5 million fund being a condition of Ridgelands’exploration licence consent, and despite the company’sfailure to establish and publicise the fund “as soon as reasonably practical”from 2013, as required under the licence.

The employee said her unit had“no objections” to a“significant decrease” in thework programRidgelands was required to complete within the exploration licence’s five years, including establishing the fund, because the companyhad experienced“circumstances beyond”its control.

Confirmation of department support for the reduction has raised new questions about whether it played a part in the Resources Regulator’s decision not to prosecute Ridgelands for breaching the condition –with a maximum penalty of$1.1 million if convicted. The Resources Regulatoraccepted an enforceable undertaking from Ridgelands in June.

While the department on Thursday continued to deny the community fund condition was varied, an email written by a Ridgelands consultant to a Hunter department employee in July, 2017 showed Ridgelands believed the “revised community fund spend” was “negotiated and approved” by the department.

“Where does this leave Ridgelands? I would have thought an approved variation would put Ridgelands in a legally strong position,” wrotethe consultant after a meeting with Muswellbrook Shire Council in July, 2017, during which Ridgelands offered the council $500,000.

Email from Ridgelands consultant to Department of Planning manager after questions about $5 million community fund reduction.Herald’sattempts to obtain documents through freedom of informationrevealed this week that the department supported amending the community fund so that funded projects“have a commercial value toRidgelands”.

“Neither Ridgelands nor the department conducted any sort of public consultation or made any of that information transparent before apparently reaching an agreement between them. The attempt to vary the condition without a public process was, in council’s view, unlawful,” Mr Rush said.

He said there were other occasions wheremajor project proponentstold the councilthe departmenthad assured them of an outcome before any public consultation or process.

Referral: Resources Minister Don Harwin declined to answer questions in NSW Parliament about Hunter mining controversies after allegations were referred to ICAC this week.

“These are all matters which should now be the subject of a judicial commission of inquiry,” Mr Rush said.

In Parliament Mr Harwin declined to answer questions about Ridgelands, after confirmingallegations raised by sacked Department of Planning mining titles operations manager Rebecca Connor had been referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

“I’m not confident that matter isn’t connected to the matters that have been referred to the ICAC so I am not going to add anything to my answer at this stage,” Mr Harwin said.

Department secretary Carolyn McNally referred allegations by Ms Connor to ICAC this week after theHeraldspoke to a farmer, 83, whose agricultural land objection to a NSW mine in August, 2016was not assessed before the mine was approved three months later.

The department denied receiving the objection but an employee produced it shortly after a mining licence was granted in October, 2017.

The farmer was not advised his objection was found until September, 2018, one month after Ms Connor complained to the NSW Ombudsman that she was sacked after making a protected disclosure to a superior about the farmer’s case.

Mr Harwin told Parliament he would be“doing whatever I can to make sure there’s a satisfactory outcome as far as all of the stakeholders involved” in the farmer’s case if the matter was not referred to ICAC, but he was waiting for a briefing from Ms McNally.

Labor resources spokesperson Adam Searlesaid it was“staggering the minister appears to not have been briefed on the issue of the‘lost and found’ mining objection” after months of controversy about Ridgelands.

“It is clear the minister has no control of his portfolio and that there now needs to be a full external inquiry into theadministration of mining in this state,” Mr Searle said.

“As to Ridgelands, the matter of why thecommunity fund obligation was reduced from $5 million to just $500,000, and what has been done about it, has never been properly addressed by the minister.”

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Former public servant an unlikely hitman

David Eastman emerged as a suspect in the murder of Colin Winchester early in the investigation.When n Federal Police Assistant Commission Colin Winchester was shot twice in the head outside his Canberra home in January 1989, the instant speculation was it had been a mafia hit.
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After all, the mafia did that sort of thing, and not just in the movies.

In July 1977, anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay was shot dead in Griffith.

The subsequent Woodward Royal Commission found he was murdered on the orders of an offshoot of the Calabrian crime group Ndrangheta.

Colin Winchester was involved in investigating organised crime involvement in cannabis plantations outside Canberra.

Yet the comprehensive investigation into his death – of the most senior policeman to be murdered in – found no evidence of mafia involvement.

Very early on, one man emerged as the prime suspect and a most unlikely one at that – former Treasury official David Eastman.

Now 73, Mr Eastman has twice faced trial for the Winchester murder.

In November 1995, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

This week, a second jury found him not guilty after a lengthy retrial.

Mr Eastman resigned from the Treasury in 1977. When he wasn’t immediately snapped up by high-paying financial firms, he set about returning to the public service.

The public service clearly had no desire to have him back as he had proved to be a difficult employee, supremely intelligent but with an abrasive personality and an inability to get on with workmates and many others he encountered in daily life.

Yet he was persistent, engineering his return by steadily overturning a series of administrative decisions.

By the end of the 1980s, his long-sought goal was closer than ever – with one sticking point.

In December 1987, he had been charged with assault over an altercation with a neighbour over a parking spot.

Mr Eastman believed an assault conviction would bar his return to the public service and set about having the charge dropped, lobbying politicians and police and ultimately Mr Winchester in a meeting on December 16, 1988.

He was told the case would proceed.

Prosecutor Murugan Thangaraj SC said Mr Eastman had developed a murderous hatred of police, who he believed were acting corruptly, and that hatred focused on Mr Winchester.

Mr Eastman was first interviewed by police the day after the murder and only because of his meeting with Mr Winchester.

Significantly, he could not account for his whereabouts at the time of the murder.

He said it was his habit to drive around and have a takeaway meal but couldn’t say where he had been the previous night.

Meantime, police embarked on a detailed examination of the crime scene, starting with a pair of spent .22 cartridge cases and identifying the murder weapon as an American-made Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic rifle.

That weapon has never been found but police narrowed it down to a single rifle sold by Queanbeyan man Louis Klarenbeek.

Cartridge cases from when Mr Klarenbeek test-fired the rifle, plus those provided by a previous owner, matched those found at the crime scene.

Mr Klarenbeek, who’s since died, never identified the buyer and said it wasn’t Mr Eastman.

But in 1993, another man came forward to identify Mr Eastman as the man he had seen at Mr Klarenbeek’s home.

There was more. Police bugged Mr Eastman’s apartment home and recorded him muttering supposedly incriminating admissions.

Mr Eastman’s first trial proved far from smooth as he abused the judge and repeatedly fired, hired, then again fired, a succession of lawyers.

The prosecution case was mostly circumstantial, though some evidence – such as gunshot residue in his car boot matching that from ammunition at the crime scene – appeared damning.

Mr Eastman was never going to do his time quietly and mounted a series of appeals and legal challenges, culminating in the Martin inquiry, which in 2014 recommended his conviction be quashed, specifically citing dubious evidence about gunshot residue.

Nineteen years after being jailed, Mr Eastman walked free and there it might have ended.

But it was decided there should be another trial, which started on June 18.

That featured none of the antics of the first trial. Mr Eastman sat quietly throughout.

He didn’t give evidence, but his lawyer George Georgiou SC mounted a solid defence, nibbling away at the prosecution evidence and raising the possibility it was the mafia all along.

Again the prosecution case was wholly circumstantial, with Mr Thangaraj stressing the many pieces of evidence which he said, when taken together, formed a compelling case that Mr Eastman murdered Mr Winchester.

But the jury wasn’t convinced. Almost 30 years after the murder, they found Mr Eastman not guilty.

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Renew Newcastle hopes liquor licence, Supercars kick-start station revival

READY TO GO: Steven Johnson’s Ford Mustang, the leader of the Touring Car Masters series, parked on the platform at Newcastle Station on Thursday. Renew Newcastle boss Christopher Saunders hopes the organisation’s efforts to revive Newcastle Station are back on track after finally securing a liquor licence for the venue this week.
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Mr Saunders said on Thursday that Renew had been operating with one hand tied behind its back since The Station, as it is now branded, reopened with a well attended launch party two months ago.

He admitted the organisation had received internal criticism from the state government’s Revitalising Newcastle program, which is also its landlord, about a lack of activity at the site.

But he was now hopeful the liquor licence, which was delayed after objections from some nearby residents, would provide the group with revenue to stage concerts, performances, movie nights and other activities.

The next major event on The Station’s calendar is this weekend’s Newcastle 500 Supercars race, where Renew will host a trackside viewing area, bar and barbecue run by New Lambton Football Club.

The venue, which has christened itself The Station-Masters Bar for the weekend, will be inside the race precinct and open from Friday to Sunday.

Vehicles in the Touring Car Masters series have set up their pit garages on the station’s platform.

How to enter the station bar during the Newcastle 500 this weekend.

Renew Newcastle, agrassroots, non-profit cultural organisation with a celebrated record of reviving vacant commercial spaces on a shoestring budget, seemed astrange bedfellow for the government’s pro-development revitalising program when it was announced as the winning tenderer for The Station in December.

Two months into Renew’s 18-month lease,the venue has largely failed to live up to expectations it would be a lively entertainment space.

Mr Saunders said this was due to an absenceof public funding for Renew, which had once received up to $150,000 a year in local and state government grants.

It had received some sponsorship from Hunter Water in September, without which it would have folded.

“For an organisation that’s been going for 10 years, a non-profit that is providing a civic service for the whole community, let’s face it, this is the first year we have not had any funding,” he said.

“Why does a small, under-funded, under-resourced organisation face this expectation that we will deliver this major project for the city for nothing?”

The lack of funding has clearly been a source of tension between Renew and its government masters, and Mr Saunders has been keen to protect his organisation’s reputation during what has been a difficult two months.

He posted a message on Facebook last week which read: “Just clocked up my 200th volunteer hour at The Station. That’s 200 hours on top of my 36 hour week.

“This whole venture has been made possible because people are giving their time to make this work for Newcastle.

“The Station can be the city’s playground but we are all going to need to play nicely together and pitch in to make it work. Hope to see you down here sometime soon.”

On Saturday, he posted another missive showing an empty Hunter Street Mall at 5.55pm and a crowd at The Station at 6.05pm with the words: “I remember a couple of years back when Renew had the Mall activated.

“I wonder if The Station will prove to be a more sustainable activation.”

Mr Saunders said on Thursday that liquor sales were always intended to be The Station’s main revenue stream, but Liquor and Gaming NSW delays in granting the licence seemingly contradicted the government’s desire for the venue to help revive the city’s nightlife.

Public submissions on the application closed in August, and the licence was granted on Wednesday.

Itrestricts The Station to staging live, amplified outdoor music to 12 times a month, but Mr Saunders said this should be enough to make the venue viable.

Newcastle City Council approved a development application in September for the “temporary activation” of the former rail terminus, including a cafe, technology laboratory, rehearsal spaces, concerts, outdoor movies, food trucks and markets.

The application drew 20 objections from residents, including one from Newcastle East Residents Group, concerned about noise and anti-social behaviour.

Mr Saunders said he hoped this weekend’s car race would help kick-start revenue for more activities at The Station.

It will host a Big Al’s pop-up restaurant on the platform on Friday, Saturday and Sunday next week and a Renew Newcastle 10thbirthday celebration the following Sunday, December 9.

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Letters to the editor November 24 2018

NO PROTECTION: A reader argues that stronger penalties should apply to those who harass victims of sexual assault. For support call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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TO Kerry Redman, George Garnsey, Garry Blair and Don Fraser (Letters, 16/11):I have a daughter going through a sexual assault case. She now has few friends, no social life, no school to go to next year, no self esteem andwill have to stop playing sport due the merciless abuse and attack on her character.

Everyone for some reason supports the male even though none of them have seen the evidence. Sorry, Kerry, but there are no laws in place to protect them. Don, please don’t get your daughters or grand-children to scream from the rooftops or I fearthe same will happen to them.

I have been told that this is just society andthe way it is. If that is the way it is, what a disgraceful society we live in.No wonder girls andwomen are too scared to come forward andreport sexual assault. Something needs to be done, anddone now.

People who attack sexual assault victims need to be held accountable as I consider them just as bad as the perpetrator.

Name withheldWATCHDOG WAS ON GUARDI WRITE regarding the Jan Davis opinion piece (‘Dirty deeds done at Rutherford while watchdogs slept’, Newcastle Herald,16/11).The NSW Environment Protection Authority strongly rejects assertions that pollution at the Rutherford Truegain site and its impact on residents has been ignored.

The EPA has issued 18 penalty notices since 2000 and on each occasion the company has been forced to make improvements. The EPA has also successfully prosecuted the company twice in the NSW Land and Environment Court, for water pollution in 2003 and for failing to operate in a competent manner in 2014. The company’s licence was revoked earlier this year.

Suggestions that EPA officers have not been vigilant in monitoring Truegain closely and pursuing them for breaching their environmental licence, and for odour offences, are false.

Details of regulatory action taken by the EPA are available on the EPA’s public register.

Even with the best efforts of EPA investigators, insufficient evidence has sometimes been available to prosecute, including witnesses who have been unwilling to make formal statements to the EPA.

Prosecuting environmental crimes requires the EPA to put evidence before the court to the criminal burden of proof, that is, beyond reasonable doubt.

It is important that community and government work together to detect and prosecute environmental crimes. I encourage anyone with information about this or any other site to contact the EPA’s Environment Line on 131555.

In June 2017, the EPA ordered the landowner to remove all liquid from the premises’ spill containment system and lawfully dispose of it, and then do so again within 48 hours of any rainfall event.

The landowner’s contractor has commissioned an EPA-licensed mobile waste treatment plant and is treating the contaminated water.

The EPA is also continuing to investigate any other potential sources of PFAS in the Stony Creek catchment and is targeting industries where PFAS chemicals have been used or stored.

The public should have complete faith that the NSW Environment Protection Authority promptly investigates pollution and takes appropriate and effective action to protect the community and the environment, including holding the polluters at Truegain to account.

Mark Gifford, NSW Environment Protection Authority associate chief executive and chairBENEFITS ARE YET TO EMERGEWE are stillwaiting to find out the benefits of Supercars to Newcastle.

We have been asked to believe that our lord mayor and councillors were not privy to the contents of original agreement before it was signed with Supercars (‘Supercars services deed kept secret from councillors’,Herald,9/6).

We need to look at the inconvenience over many years, not just over a weekend but for weeks every year.

It affectsthose who reside in the east end and those who would like to access the beaches and businesses in our beautiful city.

We also have suspicions about the numbers attending the Supercars weekend as recently revealed by mobile phone records (‘Phone data counters Supercars crowd tally’, Herald, 16/11).

The benefits to businesses in the area is questionable. The amount paid to Supercars has never been made public. We have a right to feel deceived and not consulted about a major event in our city and we are still paying for it and will be for a very long time.

So now we are asked to be happy about this event?I don’t think so.

Denise Lindus Trummel,MayfieldPLAN TO INVESTIGATE ITI BELIEVE the call for an ICAC investigation into mining planning approvals in this state (‘Planning department corruption allegations referred to ICAC’, Herald,22/11) is well overdue.

The formerjudgewho ledthe ICAC investigations that exposed Obeid, McDonald and Maitland, David Ipp QC,repeated his lack of confidence this year when he describedevents surrounding the Ridgelands Resources approval as a “Claytons” process (‘David Ipp, QC accuses NSW government of ‘elaborate Clayton’s’ mining licence procedures’, Herald,20/3)

He said thatwhen government “doesn’t respect its own laws it’s a recipe for corruption”.

Those of us who live in the ever-increasing shadow of mining approvals know this very well.

It is time for the NSW government to allow the truth to be known.

The banking royal commission was similarly opposed by government, and we now know what a hotbed of lies and corruption that exposed.Independent investigation must happen in this case, and soon.

Judith Leslie,BulgaKEEP TRACK OF MISTAKESNEWCASTLE, we’ve done it again. Or should that be, it’s been done to usagain!

Wednesday night I was reading the Supercars website and saw their lead headline announcing “tram tracks to be covered for Newcastle 500” (‘Tram tracks to be covered’, Herald, 22/11)

I love Supercars andI’m proudly from the Hunter but I’m not a Newcastle street circuit fan.

With that declaration made, I believe rightly or wrongly thatthis once again makes us look stupid as a city. I’m increasingly disappointed that others’ mistakes make Novocastrians look like buffoons.

Garry Blair,MaitlandLETTER OF THE WEEKThis week the pen goes to Adam Walton, of Toronto, for his letter on giving the light rail a chance.

SHARE YOUR OPINIONEmail [email protected]苏州夜总会招聘.au or send a text message to 0427 154 176 (include name and suburb). Letters should be fewer than 200 words. Short Takes should be fewer than 50 words. Correspondence may be edited and reproduced in any form.

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Marcus Harris wins China Test call-up

Justin Langer has likened likely Test debutant Marcus Harris to a little brother, insisting the opener who once shunned his mentorship can help halt n cricket’s malaise.
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Harris, who was included in ‘s 14-man squad for the first two Tests against India, is set to debut at Adelaide Oval on December 6.

A baggy green will cap a remarkable turn of events for Harris, whose career has gone from strength to strength since he walked out on Langer-coached Western to join Victoria in 2016.

Much has been made of Langer lamenting at the time how Harris’ “performances have been mediocre with flashes of brilliance”.

But the former Test opener, now in charge of the national team, says talk of bad blood is incorrect and hurtful.

“I love him. He makes me laugh every time I see him. When I read those things it’s like a dagger to my heart,” Langer told reporters.

“It’s absolute myth and I hate myth.

“Marcus Harris is like my little brother.

“I used to throw millions of balls to him.

“And then he’d get 20 and I’d want to shake him every time and say you’re getting 20, that’s mediocre … what he’s done to his great credit is become consistent.”

Langer sent Harris a congratulatory message after he scored an unbeaten 250 in the Sheffield Shield last month. Another text followed the recent selection meeting.

“He said ‘welcome to the brotherhood you little bastard’,” Harris told reporters.

“It (the mediocre comment) didn’t really wind me up … I understood that if you put a lot of time into someone and they leave the state, you’d be upset. That was fine by me.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him … we ended on good terms.”

Langer agreed.

“I tried to talk him into staying … we had a big hug and we’ve been in touch ever since,” he said.

Former coach Darren Lehmann is among the good judges to have likened Harris, who has scored 1951 Shield runs at 47.58 since joining Victoria, to Langer.

Harris and Langer’s shared history predates their time at the WACA. Both openers started their career at Perth club Scarborough.

“Everywhere I looked he was on the TV or down at Abbett Park. I definitely watched him,” Harris said.

“I haven’t tried to copy him at all, it’s just the way it’s ended up.

“We had the same batting coach, that probably had a bit to do with it.”

Chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns noted it wasn’t just Harris’ recent innings that caught the eye of selectors.

“He made plenty of runs, he’s displayed the mental application we believe is required … he has performed in high-pressure matches, including Sheffield Shield finals,” Hohns said.

Harris’ Victoria teammates Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Chris Tremain and Peter Siddle were also included in the squad.

Usman Khawaja was selected and has overcome a knee injury, seemingly leaving Harris and Handscomb locked in a battle for the final spot in the XI.

squad: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (capt), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Chris Tremain, Peter Siddle, Peter Handscomb.

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