Campbell still standing

The Transport Minister, David Campbell, survived a no-confidence motion in the NSW Parliament yesterday after the government used its numbers in the lower house to vote down the motion, put by the Nationals leader, Andrew Stoner. Mr Stoner had flagged his intention to put the motion today, citing the gridlock caused by the F3 freeway crash and other alleged bungles in Mr Campbell’s portfolio, such the scrapped CBD Metro project. But the government brought forward the debate to yesterday afternoon. Mr Stoner said this was a tactic aimed at burying the vote beneath news of the hospital reform negotiations in Canberra and the killing of Carl Williams in prison.
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Liquor prosecutions on the wane

THE number of liquor licensing prosecutions brought after the former premier Nathan Rees’s crackdown on binge drinking has declined since September, falling sharply after the first two months of operations.But inspectors say it is a sign of the success they are having with the most violent venues.The Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing found 10 licensed premises in breach after inspections in July. Eleven were found to be in breach in August, but only five in September, three each in October and November, and one each in December and January. The numbers rose slightly in February to four and in March to seven.Inspectors prosecuted 47 alleged breaches from July to March, including the World Bar in Kings Cross, the Mean Fiddler at Rouse Hill, the Ivanhoe Hotel in Manly and the Bristol Arms Retro Tavern in the city.The revelations follow a Herald report that the office had begun doing compliance audits by phone and had stripped inspectors of the power to order licensees to change their practices.The NSW Police Association vice-president, Scott Weber, said the Keneally government was putting the profits of publicans before public interest and called for a return to regular random on-site checks.”The [report] confirms what operational police have reported from the field – that OLGR inspectors are nowhere to be seen.”Ms Keneally has continually parroted the ‘personal responsibility’ line of the Australian Hotels Association. Who ordered the OLGR to wind back its compliance activities and why? Who is pulling the strings?”A licensing lawyer, David Sylvester, who successfully fought prosecutions against the Tea Gardens Hotel and the Gaslight Inn, said inexperienced inspectors had not even spoken to patrons they claimed were intoxicated.But a spokesman for the office said intensive case management of high-risk venues, where the office focuses its efforts, had improved compliance and on-site inspections had not decreased.
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Pushed or fell? Jury examines cliff death scene

ON A coastal headland with sweeping ocean views, a yellow flag marked the site where Des Campbell camped with his wife, Janet Fisicaro. Just beyond the trees where their tent was pitched, the headland drops 50 metres to rocks below. Ms Fisicaro plunged to her death from the cliff on March 24, 2005.With Mr Campbell on trial for her murder, a Supreme Court jury yesterday inspected the area where the 49-year-old spent her final hours. Her husband of six months had taken her on an overnight camping trip to the Royal National Park, not far from their new Otford home. Mr Campbell told police he found her body at the base of the cliff after she left the tent to go to the toilet, the trial has heard.Prosecutors allege that, motivated by a desire for her money, he pushed her over.Mr Campbell, 52, denies the allegations and has pleaded not guilty to murder.The trial moved from the courtroom to the alleged crime scene yesterday so jurors could inspect the campsite.After a warning that the visit would involve a 45-minute walk through bush and examination of the cliff top, several prospective jurors were excused due to fitness issues or their fear of heights.The jury was accompanied yesterday by the trial judge, Megan Latham, court sheriffs, detectives, and lawyers for the prosecution and defence.They trekked along a bush track to reach a headland just south of Burning Palms, and pushed through spiky thigh-high vegetation to get to the campsite.The Crown Prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi, QC, has told jurors it was ”the most unlikely, uncomfortable and unsafe camping spot” imaginable – and alleged Mr Campbell chose it deliberately as he planned his wife’s murder. The trial has heard evidence that Mr Campbell, who had served in the army, was an experienced camper, but that Ms Fisicaro had been scared of heights and had never camped.A crime scene officer, Detective Sergeant Greg Moon, showed the jury relevant features, including the campsite.Just metres away, on the edge of the cliff, another yellow flag marked where a shoe print had been found by police.The trial has heard the print partially matched the tread on Ms Fisicaro’s sneakers and that branches had been broken off a nearby tree. The jurors were secured with safety harnesses before examining the spot.The jury remained at the site after sunset to observe light conditions equivalent to when Ms Fisicaro had died and were to trek out later using torchlight.The Crown contends that with daylight saving and a full moon rising before sunset, there would have been ample light and Ms Fisicaro would not have accidentally stumbled off the cliff.The trial continues.
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Going cheap: economy to London for $11,429

TRAVELLERS wishing to fly to Europe can expect to pay exorbitant fares when airports re-open, aviation experts warn.Clearing a backlog of thousands of stranded passengers and accommodating those who had delayed travel plans would force airlines to do away with discounting, said the executive chairman of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, Peter Harbison.”The passengers who are stranded will be filling up seats for quite a while, and as a result if you want to buy a seat in the short term you will have to pay through the nose for it,” Mr Harbison said.On the British Airways website yesterday, an economy-class return ticket to London departing before the end of the month was $11,429.Singapore Airlines listed first-class return tickets from $15,518.10 and business-class fares from $11,032.50. Qantas had no flights listed for the next two weeks.Hopes that the disruption would soon ease were dashed yesterday with a new ash cloud heading back into key European airspace.The Icelandic volcano that has grounded aviation in Europe showed signs of renewed activity, delaying a decision to ease the no-fly bans.”The volcano eruption in Iceland has strengthened and a new ash cloud is spreading south and east towards the UK,” said NATS, the British air navigation provider. ”This demonstrates the dynamic and rapidly changing conditions in which we are working.”Mr Harbison said it was unusual for travellers to pay the full fare, which was typically about $4800 return economy to London. But they could now expect that to be standard.”Airlines will usually sell cheap seats three or four days before a flight but there will be no discount seats available. There won’t be the discount fares we’re used to getting and the ‘real fares’ from which everything is discounted are far higher than anyone dreams of paying.”A Flight Centre spokesman, Haydn Long, expected the steep prices to continue for up to three months. ”We’re already coming into a busy season for Europe travel and all the people who couldn’t travel will be travelling a little later in the season.”Mr Harbison said airlines might be tempted to raise prices but ”most of them are aware that a lot of their customers have long-term relationships so they don’t want to be seen to be too ugly”.
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Corruption inquiry over death

GANGLAND killer Carl Williams was left for dead for more than 20 minutes after he was attacked in the day room of the Acacia unit of Barwon Prison, despite the assault being captured on several security cameras.And Victoria’s Office of Police Integrity will join the investigation after allegations that corrupt police or former police are implicated in his death.Prison security footage shows that Williams was attacked from behind on Monday, then dragged about a metre to his cell and dumped inside. The alleged attacker then shut the door of the cell, leaving his victim fatally wounded.He used a towel to cover a pool of blood in the day room.After more than 20 minutes the alleged killer, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and a second inmate, ”Little Tommy” Ivanovic, notified staff that they might like to check on the welfare of Williams. Prison officers found him dead in his cell.Closed circuit cameras show one inmate detaching the reinforced seat support from an exercise bike in the day room and waiting until Williams was vulnerable. He was sitting at a table reading a newspaper when he was attacked. The footage shows he was struck in the head at least eight times.The attack took less than 10 seconds. ”He didn’t have a chance,” a prison source said.Police said there was no indication of any tension in the hours before the attack, although one prison source said there had been some bickering.The cameras are usually monitored but at the moment Williams was assaulted they were not because a prison officer was performing other duties. It is not known if the alleged killer knew the cameras were not being monitored. A former inmate who is suspected of organising at least one previous murder is under investigation over possible connections to the Williams hit.Police have established a financial link between the outside suspect and Ivanovic – one of two inmates present when Williams was attacked.Ivanovic and the accused killer have been interviewed by homicide squad detectives. Both refused to answer questions.Ivanovic has been listed as a prosecution witness against Paul Dale, the former drug squad detective charged with the mur-der of police informer Terence Hodson, who was shot dead with his wife, Christine, in their Melbourne home in May 2004.Hodson had agreed to give evidence against Dale and Detective Senior Constable David Miechel over an attempt to steal $1.3 million of drugs. Miechel was jailed but the case against Dale collapsed. Dale is accused of organising the murder of Hodson to prevent him testifying.Part of Ivanovic’s statement was leaked to the mainstream prison system. An inquiry failed to find the source of the leak.The Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Simon Overland, said police were confident they could establish how Williams was killed but would need to investigate why he was attacked.It could have been the result of a jailhouse spat or might have been organised by an unknown third party. He said Deputy Commissioner Ken Jones would oversee the investigation.Williams had been sentenced to life with a minimum of 35 years. He was a key figure in the Melbourne underworld’s vicious gangland war.Mr Overland said there was nothing to suggest his killing would spark further murders as most of Williams’s allies were either dead or in jail.Williams was allowed to associate with only two selected inmates because of fears for his safety.The unit can house 10 inmates but only three were in the section on the day.The director of the Office of Police Integrity, Michael Strong, said his office would have oversight and review of the police investigation of Williams’s death.Mr Strong said he made this decision after speaking to the Deputy Commissioner and the State Coroner, Judge Jennifer Coate.
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Rudd’s health revolution

THE federal government will cut a separate GST revenue deal with every state and territory other than Western Australia, if necessary, to secure its health and hospitals reform package after the mining state held out against signing a deal yesterday.The West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, the only Liberal leader, refused Mr Rudd’s key demand to surrender 30 per cent of his GST revenue to fund the reforms, which would make the Commonwealth the dominant funder of health and hospital services.NSW and Victoria, which had also been holding out over the GST, dropped their opposition after Mr Rudd threw more money on the table, taking it to $5.4 billion in inducements for the states and territories over the next four years.Starting from July 1, the $5.4 billion includes funds for 1300 sub-acute beds, 2500 aged-care beds, mental health including access to mental health services for 20,000 young people, elective surgery and emergency departments to reduce waiting times to four hours.The money will be found through cuts in costs in the budget on May 11.The NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, walked away with $1.7 billion.In a significant concession, Mr Rudd agreed that each state could establish its own funding pool. Into this, the Commonwealth would put its 60 per cent of health funding and each state would contribute 40 per cent.The state would then be responsible for disbursing the money to the new local hospital networks which will administer the hospitals day to day. Hospitals will be paid for each service provided with an ”efficient price” set by an independent regulator.Ms Keneally dropped her objection to surrendering 30 per cent of GST revenue after getting everything else she had asked for. Ms Keneally, who will hold a cabinet meeting today to discuss the package, said she had not capitulated on the GST. ”We came here to negotiate. I never said it was my way or the highway,” she said.By mid-afternoon, the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, whose opposition was more entrenched, crumbled after Mr Rudd offered another $800 million for beds and agreed to the pool system Ms Keneally had negotiated.But Mr Barnett held firm. He did not object to the health reforms but refused to hand over his GST. He said he was willing to put the revenue into a health pool rather than have the Commonwealth do it for him.”The Commonwealth essentially taking one-third of the total GST pool is not acceptable to me and it is not acceptable to WA,” he said.Unless Mr Barnett signs up by July 1, WA could be excluded from the deal and lose the $552 million in extra funding that it won.Mr Rudd said he did not feel it was worth penalising West Australians over an accountancy issue. ”I’m really confident that Colin and I will find a way through this,” he said.Mr Rudd dropped his threat of a referendum, saying that with seven of the eight jurisdictions agreeing, it would not be necessary.Should Mr Barnett hold firm, Mr Rudd said the federal government had legal advice that it was ”perfectly valid” to draft a new GST agreement with the seven states and territories which supported the health plan and another with WA. ”There is no suggestion that WA would undermine the health outcomes for the rest of Australia,”’ he said.But separate agreements would require federal legislation, meaning the Senate would be involved.The independent senator Nick Xenophon said he had an open mind and would need more detail, while Family First’s Steve Fielding said he wanted a full briefing from the Prime Minister before considering what he would do.The opposition would not comment on what it might do in the Senate but condemned the health plan yesterday as a failure of policy and a new layer of bureaucracy.”It’s a plan for a bigger bureaucracy – not better hospitals,” said the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott.Mr Barnett indicated he could scupper the entire deal by suggesting one state’s holding out would prevent the government altering the intergovernmental agreement that governs the distribution of GST revenue.”I would think you’d need every state and territory to sign up to the deal,” he said.Mr Barnett said the only solution was for Mr Rudd to bow to WA. He claimed his state was already disadvantaged by the formula that distributes the GST.
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Valero commits suicide in jail

Former boxing champ Edwin Valero committed suicide in his jail cell yesterday just hours after he was arrested in his wife’s killing.The former lightweight champion used his own clothes to hang himself in his cell early yesterday, Venezuelan Federal Police Chief Wilmer Flores told reporters.He said Valero tied his clothes to a cell bar to hang himself.Valero was found by another inmate, who alerted authorities in the police lock-up in north-central Carabobo state.Valero still showed signs of life, but they were unable to save him, Flores said.The 28-year-old was detained on Sunday on suspicion of killing his wife, the gravest in a string of problems that had threatened to derail his career.Prosecutors said Sunday night that they had planned to charge Valero after they found the body of his 24-year-old wife in a hotel in Valencia.The boxer left the hotel room around dawn Sunday and allegedly told security he had killed Jennifer Viera, Flores said.The fighter was a household name in Venezuela and had a huge image of President Hugo Chavez tattooed on his chest, along with the country’s yellow, blue and red flag.His all-action style and 27-0 record – all by knockouts – earned him a reputation as a tough, explosive crowd-pleaser. Venezuelans called him “Inca,” alluding to an Indian warrior, while elsewhere he was called “Dinamita,” or dynamite.The former WBA super featherweight and WBC lightweight champion had been in trouble with the law before.Last month, Valero was charged with harassing his wife and threatening medical personnel who treated her at a hospital in the western city of Merida.Police arrested Valero following an argument with a doctor and nurse at the hospital, where his wife was being treated for a series of injuries, including a punctured lung and broken ribs.The Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that Valero was detained March 25 on suspicion of assaulting his wife, but his wife told a police officer her injuries were due to a fall.When the boxer arrived moments later, he forbade Viera from speaking to the police officer, and spoke threateningly to the officer, prosecutors said in a statement.The Attorney General’s Office said a prosecutor had asked a court to order Valero jailed but that the judge instead placed him under a restraining order that barred him from going near his wife, a condition he repeatedly violated.* Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling SANE Helpline 1800 18 7263; Lifeline 131 114; Salvo Crisis Line (02) 8736 3295; beyondblue 1300 22 46 36.AP
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NRL referees stood down over gaffe

NRL referees Ben Cummins and Gerard Sutton have been stood down from this weekend’s round of matches after inadvertently sin-binning the wrong player last weekend.Cummins and Sutton were held to account for a poor performance in Parramatta’s 22-8 win over South Sydney on Sunday, which reached its lowest ebb when Eels skipper Nathan Cayless was sin binned following a string of penalties in the second half.Replays showed that Daniel Mortimer and not Cayless had in fact committed the indiscretion when he stripped John Sutton of the ball.”Referees will continue to crack down on teams that continually breach the rules but it is clearly unacceptable for the wrong player to be sent to the sin-bin,” said referees boss Robert Finch, who backed the continued use of the sin-bin.”Referees are accountable for their performances and between the two of them this error should not have occurred.”It is now up to both Ben and Gerard to work their way back into the top grade, which I am sure they will do.”AAP
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‘Amazing’ woman survives 18-metre mine shaft fall

State Emergency Services volunteer James Abel being lowered in a sling. Photo: NSW Department of Primary IndustriesA 30-centimetre-wide hole at the bottom of a disused mine shaft is believed to have saved the life of a woman missing for two days 18 metres below the ground in a remote opal town in the NSW far north-west.
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Donna Synnerdahal, 47, plummeted down the mine shaft as she was walking home from a friend’s mineral claim on Nebia Hill, an opal field just west of the Lightning Ridge town centre, on Saturday evening.

She was rescued last night after a three-hour search and is in a serious condition in Dubbo Base Hospital, recovering from spinal and head injuries, as well as bad cuts all over her body.

State Emergency Services volunteer James Abel being lowered in a sling.

State Emergency Services volunteer James Abel being lowered in a sling. Photo: NSW Department of Primary Industries

While police and paramedics say it’s remarkable Ms Synnerdahal survived the fall onto the shaft’s rocky bottom, the man who rescued her believes it was a narrow horizontal drive space that saved her life.

“I think that when she’s hit the bottom of the hole the impact’s been taken away [because] she’s sort of hit [the ground] on a bit of an angle and slid down into [the drive] so it hasn’t been a sudden sort of a stop,” State Emergency Services volunteer James Abel said.

“That’s only an opinion but I think that’s what saved her life in all honesty.”

Police say Ms Synnerdahal’s ordeal began after 5pm on Saturday, when she was last seen leaving a friend’s mineral claim.

Her recollections were hazy but she told police and Mr Abel she had been walking with her dog and somehow fell into one of the hundreds of old mine shafts littering the opal field.

The shaft is a couple of metres off a mine access road used by residents who live on the field and for two days Ms Synnerdahal heard cars driving past, oblivious to her plight.

“She just thought it was all over for her because she could hear all these vehicles passing by,” Mr Abel said.

“She said ‘Oh I didn’t know if anybody would know [I was gone]’ and I said ‘Well obviously someone up there cares enough for someone to have come looking for you.'”

In fact, friends reported Ms Synnerdahal missing later on Saturday night after she did not arrive home.

Walgett police commander Chief Inspector Bob Noble said officers found Ms Synnerdahal’s home intact with no sign of anything suspicious having happened.

Police waited for 72 hours before calling in the SES and starting a search between Ms Synnerdahal’s mineral claim and the friend’s claim where she was last seen.

“We did a scope up through this pretty thick vegetation. We checked a couple of abandoned mine holes along the way,” Mr Abel said.

“As we approached the top of the hill … there was three or four of us there who heard the noise at the same time and we heard a yell from the bottom of the hole – she must have heard our voices from the top.

“At that stage we couldn’t see how far down she was or how deep the hole was because the edge of the hole was fairly exposed and quite dangerous.”

Mr Abel, deputy regional controller, ran to get rescue equipment while a female police officer stayed to reassure Ms Synnerdahal.

“She was saying ‘I’m here is anyone there, don’t go, don’t go,'” he said.

The 36-year-old, who works as a computerised mapping co-ordinator for Walgett Shire Council, was the first one lowered down into the mine shaft.

“That was the first visual I had with her and I had a torch. It was quite dark down there because it was just a direct [one metre] vertical shaft that goes straight down,” Mr Abel said.

“You can’t even stretch your arms out either side of you it’s so confined.”

Ms Synnerdahal was sitting on the bottom of the mine shaft with her legs stretched out into the drive.

“It was only about a [30-centimetre] gap and she had her legs in there so she was able to stretch slightly,” he said.

A paramedic was hoisted down a short time later and, after giving Ms Synnerdahal water and first aid, she was strapped into a brace and pulled up out of the shaft ‘attached’ to Mr Abel, shaken but relieved.

“She was quite embarrassed about her predicament but I said ‘don’t worry’,” he said.

“She was quite calm, she was an amazing woman with what she went through. It just blows me away I tell you.”

The NSW Department of Primary Industries is investigating the accident.

– with The Ridge News

Leaders strike a deal on hospitals

A deal has been done for an historic nationwide overhaul of Australia’s health system.
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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said this afternoon the commonwealth would retain a third of GST from the states and territories and direct it to the health system, funding 60 per cent of building, equipment, teaching and services in 762 public hospitals.

The Commonwealth would also fund all GP, primary care and aged care services, he said.

‘‘This, ladies and gentlemen, is a very, very big reform of the health and hospital system of Australia,’’ Mr Rudd said.

Victorian Premier John Brumby, who initially had been a strong opponent of the reforms, said the big achievement of the agreement was that there was “more money now’’.

‘‘All of us … have argued that what we needed across Australia was more money now,’’ he said.

‘‘Not a commitment to more money in 2013-14 or beyond.’’

But WA Premier Colin Barnett said he would not be signing on to the deal as it stood.

Mr Barnett said he supported many of the measures, including those around elective surgery and extra beds, but the sticking point remained the plans for a federal clawback of GST.

He also supported governance arrangements.

‘‘But the third aspect of the commonwealth essentially taking one third of the total GST pool is not acceptable to me and it is not acceptable to Western Australia.’’

Mr Barnett said WA was still prepared to sign the agreement, as long as the Commonwealth compromised on the GST clawback.

WA wants to hang on to its GST revenue, but is prepared to pay an equivalent amount of money into a special health fund.

‘‘So, in other words, the outcome would be exactly the same, but we would not agree to the Commonwealth taking, in a pre-emptive way, one third of our GST,’’ he said.

The states and commonwealth spent two days of frantic negotiations before agreeing to the hospitals funding plan.

The deal was brokered by allowing the states to direct GST revenue into a state-controlled funding pool that will then operate local hospital networks.

– with AAP