Monthly Archives: May 2019

‘National crisis’: Toxins detected at 300 times the safe level in Defence sites

Perth’s HMAS Stirling navy base.Toxins have been detected at more than 300 times the recommended safe levels in ground and surface water at numerous Defence sites across Australia, prompting warnings of a “national crisis” requiring intervention from the Turnbull government.

Potentially hazardous levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were detected at Townsville RAAF Base, HMAS Stirling at Perth’s Garden Island and in other isolated cases, preliminary testing by the Department of Defence revealed.

The testing was conducted as part of a long-running investigation into water contamination in the proximity of several Defence sites, including the RAAF base in Williamtown, near Newcastle, and the Army Aviation Centre at Oakey, in Queensland.

The department will begin an investigation of the 12 sites next year, and will supply “alternative sources of drinking water” to any nearby residents who source their water from a bore, and to other residents in “exceptional circumstances”.

The department also urged caution, reminding concerned residents that according to the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth), “there is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects”.

On-site tests at the Townsville base found chemical levels in groundwater as high as 61.4 micrograms a litre, or 300 times the safe level. No off-site tests were conducted. Similar levels were reported near Perth’s Garden Island, based on historical data.

Slightly excessive levels of PFAS were also detected on isolated occasions near the RAAF base in Darwin, HMAS Cerberus on the Mornington Peninsula, HMAS Creswell in Jervis Bay and around the Albury Wodonga Military Area at Bandiana.

The screening levels used by Defence are more conservative than those used by Australian health authorities, but higher than those considered safe in the US.

The suspected carcinogens arise from the historic use of firefighting material called aqueous film-forming foam, which Defence began to phase out in 2004. The chemicals can also be found in waterproofing agents, food packaging and non-stick cookware.

Mariann Lloyd-Smith, senior adviser at the National Toxics Network, said the levels detected at Townsville were “incredibly high”. She called on Defence to return to the sites “instantaneously” and conduct off-site water monitoring.

“I’m delighted I’m not living anywhere near the Townsville base, because those levels are shocking,” she said. “At HMAS Stirling the figures are just as bad. It is now time for some independent body to be established, because you cannot have the polluter investigating their own our pollution. It is just unacceptable.”

Defence released the preliminary report online on Tuesday afternoon and did not respond to Fairfax Media’s request for an interview. In statements posted online, the department said the purpose of the tests was “to get an initial snapshot only” and subsequent investigation and consultation would inform its future actions.

Williamtown and Oakey were Australia’s first proven cases of high-level PFAS contamination. Last week, a group of more than 400 Williamtown residents launched a class action against the Defence Department, citing mental anguish and loss of property value. Oakey residents are also understood to be pursuing a class action.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, who sat on a related Senate committee, told Fairfax Media: “There can be no more denying that contamination associated with Defence operations is a national crisis deserving of an immediate response from the Turnbull government.”

In its online statement, the Department of Defence said it took environmental investigations “very seriously”, and acknowledged it was not a health authority, urging residents to respond with measure and caution.

“Most people living in developed nations will have levels of PFAS in their body as these compounds have also been used in common household and industrial applications,” the department said. “However, because these compounds persist in humans and the environment, enHealth recommends that human exposure is minimised as a precaution.”

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Kevin Rudd accuses Malcolm Turnbull of lying over asylum seeker ‘begging’ claims

The then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull listens to the then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Glen McCurtayneThe public feud between Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd has escalated, with the former Labor leader accusing the Prime Minister of lying about their private discussions on asylum seeker policy.

Mr Rudd has challenged Mr Turnbull to provide evidence to support his repeated assertions that he “begged” Mr Rudd not to dismantle the Pacific Solution policy introduced by John Howard to stop the boats.

He has branded the Turnbull account a “total reinvention of history” to “try and pretend he has had a consistent position on Manus and Nauru”, saying Mr Turnbull was not even opposition leader when the policy was dismantled.

The charge came as Mr Turnbull branded Mr Rudd a “liar” in an address to his MPs and used the Parliament to ramp up pressure on Labor to support the Coalition’s lifetime ban on refugees processed offshore visiting Australia, with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton suggesting the move was a precursor to refugees being resettled from Nauru and Manus Island.

Mr Turnbull has consistently maintained he “begged” Mr Rudd not to dismantle the Pacific Solution, which included detaining asylum seekers in camps on Manus Island and Nauru, boat turnbacks and temporary protection visas.

“The Labor Party came into government and were warned by many people including me,” Mr Turnbull told ABC radio last month. “I was leader of the opposition. I begged Kevin Rudd not to change John Howard’s border protection.”

Mr Rudd’s office has collated 16 such statements since October last year, with Mr Rudd saying they represent a “post-facto fabrication”.

“I am making this statement because Mr Turnbull continues to lie about his own position on asylum seekers policy when, in virtually every interview, he falsely alleges he ‘begged’ me at the time not to change Howard’s policy,” Mr Rudd says in a statement provided to Fairfax Media.

“Mr Turnbull’s record on this matter is as truthful as his statements during the notorious Godwin Grech affair,” he added, in a reference to the affair that triggered a collapse in Mr Turnbull public approval when he was opposition leader in 2009. “Both rest on absolute falsehoods.”

Mr Turnbull launched a scathing attack on Mr Rudd while mounting a passionate defence of the proposed ban when he addressed Coalition MPs on Tuesday, insisting those on Manus and Nauru “were put there by Kevin Rudd”.

Citing last week’s claim by Mr Rudd that Labor intended to review its decision to reopen camps on Manus and Nauru in 2013 after 12 months, Mr Turnbull told the MPs Mr Rudd had “once again lied” about his record on border protection policy.

Mr Rudd was asked by Fairfax Media earlier this year to respond to the assertion that Mr Turnbull begged him not to dismantle the Howard-era policies. His reply arrived on Tuesday afternoon. Relations between the two men have deteriorated since the Turnbull government’s decision not to nominate Mr Rudd for United Nations secretary-general.

“There appear to be major problems with the accuracy of Mr Turnbull’s account,” he said.

“First, the government announced in December 2007 the end of Mr Howard’s Pacific Solution. This was consistent with our pre-election commitments. This was completed on the 8 February 2008, when the last asylum seekers left Nauru. The problem is Mr Turnbull was not opposition leader at the time. Dr [Brendan] Nelson was opposition leader,” he said.

“Second, on becoming opposition leader in September 2008, Mr Turnbull had little to say on asylum policy, let alone ‘begging’ me to restore Mr Howard’s policy.”

Mr Rudd maintains Mr Turnbull’s first comments on asylum seekers policy were made in a November 2008 press conference when he said: “I am concerned that the government is not sending a strong enough signal that it will not tolerate people smuggling. Now that’s all I have to say about it”.

He asserts it was not until December 2008 that Mr Turnbull “flagged his single concern as being one about temporary protection visas, not Manus and Nauru”.

“Once again, Mr Turnbull is re-writing history to appeal to the mad right of his own party in order to hang on to his increasingly imperilled job.”

Mr Turnbull’s office responded, saying: “As leader of the opposition Malcolm Turnbull repeatedly opposed Kevin Rudd’s dismantling of strong border protection policies.” It pointed to a number of public statements by Mr Turnbull in 2009, including one where he said: “We had policies in government which were effective. The Rudd government abandoned them and, as a consequence, we have seen a dramatic increase in unauthorised boat arrivals.”

2GB broadcaster Alan Jones forced off air indefinitely over health concerns

2GB radio presenters Alan Jones and Ray Hadley with shareholder John Singleton on Tuesday. Photo: Ben RushtonOutspoken broadcaster Alan Jones will be forced off-air indefinitely for major back surgery, sparking concerns by colleagues over his recent run of ill health.

The top-rating breakfast presenter and TV host, who is reliant on a walking stick, told staff at Sydney station 2GB that he will take indefinite leave from November 21 to be “sliced and diced” by doctors. “I have had all sorts of problems for a lot of years and it’s just got hopeless at the moment,” he said.

“I have had in the past three interventions in my back and now the thing has got chronic, so I am in for some major surgery. I wanted to leave it until the end of the year but unfortunately I can’t because of the pain. Pain has never killed anyone by the way, but this has got out of control.”

Jones, who is thought to be 75, told Fairfax Media that his back problems started during his time as coach of the Australian rugby team in the 1980s and had worsened. “I used to get injections in my spine every three months and that would give me some sort of relief but none of that is working,” he said.

He said he hoped to be back on air within “weeks, not months” after his operation. “You’ve got to be tough. You just take a tablespoon full of cement and toughen up.”

The veteran broadcaster also rejected rumours that his recent weight loss was the result of cancer. Jones said that he had deliberately slimmed down after doctors warned him in March that he had become insulin resistant and was at risk of diabetes.

“I was very lucky when I went to see someone some months ago about my back that the blood tests were taken,” he said. “So I am not dying of cancer, much to the dismay and chagrin of my critics. I hope they get me off that slab … I plan to be back.”

Jones is unlikely to return to work in time for the release of the year’s final radio ratings survey, on December 13, which is expected to mark his 200th career win across stations 2GB and 2UE, which are co-owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Fellow 2GB broadcaster Ray Hadley said he was concerned about his long-time colleague’s recent ill health. “He’s a good mate, I’m very worried about him,” he said.

“[But] he’s coming back, it’s not as if he’s disappearing, he’s just having some surgery on his back. His listeners are tremendously loyal … They’re not going anywhere as long as they know he’s coming back fit and well.”

Tower Cinemas screening ofSophie Mathisen’s debut feature film, Drama

Power of Sisterhood: Sophie and Dominique Mathisen, co-producers of Drama, a romantic friendship movie releasing nationally on November 17.

A LITTLE bit of Newcastle goes a long way.

Such is the case for emerging actor and director Sophie Mathisen, whose debut feature film, Drama, will screen at Tower Cinemas on Thursday, November 17 as part of its Australian release through the innovative FanForce distribution model.

Mathisen’s family moved to Newcastle when she was in her adolescence, attending Holy Family School, The Junction Primary and thenMerewether High School.

Heavily influenced by Merewether High School teacher Janet Gillam, Mathisen pursued her interest in the arts, obtaining a bachelor of dramatic arts from the Victorian College of Art and entering the masters program at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

Mathisen, 29, wrote Drama over eight months in 2013 and shot the movie in Paris over a month. She directs and stars in the featurewith her sister Dominique, a professional make-up artist, also co-producing.

The movie reflects independence in both tone and topic. It was made on a $310,000 budget achieved through crowdfunding, with considerable goodwill from professional actors involved in the joint French-Australian production. The cast includes Nicole Da Silva and Tom Wren, both friends of the Mathisen sisters, Sophie’s close friend and actor Jonathan Burteaux and French film star Francois Vincentelli. The soundtrack was created by Newcastle musicians Trent and Kyle Grenell, founders of The Seabellies (now working as Blitzberg).

Mathisen describes it as a “friendship romantic comedy” and says it is very indicative of her own and her sister’s experiences. The film follows the character of Anna, an Australian actor living in London. She’s been split up from her partner John for a year and isn’t landing auditions. She travels to Paris to meet up with her best friend, Jean, who is in a relationship with his French partner.

“I was very much aware at 23that things don’t go to plan,” Mathisen says, reflecting on her life and her movie. “I had a catastrophic breakup with a man much older that me. That was the relationship I had pinned my life on. You know, I grew up with 10 Things I Hate About You. Any of the real romantic comedies told me this was the thing that would typify my life. When it didn’t work out, I was shocked.

“It was strange, but very liberating.

“Realistically, the relationships we have are being sold in our early teens in the movies. They are the things that hold us back from real authentic engagements. For me, that has been the friendships. Longstanding, authentic, emotionally invested friendships.”

For Mathisen, her movie does reflect the changing boundaries of a new generation, the “shift to equality”.

“I am so excited now,” she says. “I can’t look at a romantic comedy and believe that: my girlfriends’ or boyfriends’ relationships pan out in so many different ways. It doesn’t follow a Garry Marshall trajectory [Pretty Woman, The Runaway Bride]. No Richard Gere is going to turn up with a rose.

“That’s OK, that’s fine. We are far more aware and adept than we have ever been. I wanted to make a film that spoke to that.

“Dating the Enemy (Claudia Karvan, Guy Pearce) did that for me in the ’90s. It’s OK to be single, OK not to have your shit together. I really wanted to make something that said women, or men, could think ‘I’m a f ––– ing mess but I’m still nailing it’.”

Drama has had a good run on the festival circuit in Europe and the US, obtaining screenings in London, Chicago, Portland and New York. Despite their best efforts, the Mathisens were unable to attract any Australian government funding.

Yet, they have pushed ahead, eventually making an agreement with FanForce, a distribution company that allows a movie to be released simutaneously online ($5 download on iTunes and Google Play) and at cinemas.

While the Mathisens realise they may never make back their investment, or that it may take several years to pay back their supporters, they also know it’s an investment in their careers and those of their cast and crew, which they were committed to making at least 50 percent female.

“The biggest hope for me, I know it sounds altruistic, the biggest hope is that it will inspire other production companies to take on women. We are absolute nobodies. But for us, it is an important thingthat it becomes a wave or a movement. That is the greatest thing we can hope for. We judge women for their investment and what they are willing to sacrifice.”

Drama screens at Tower Cinemas on November 17..

Williamtown gets Joint Strike Fighter maintainence contract

Joint Strike FighterWILLIAMTOWN’S statusas the home of the Joint Strike Fighter is set to be further enhanced after the federal government announced a major maintenance contract for the planes is set to come to the base.

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne announced on Tuesday that Australia had been chosen as a major repair hub for the Joint Strike Fighter across the Asia-Pacific Region.

Worth about$100 million across Australia, the contract is for the component parts of the planes, and follows on from a similar announcementlast year that will see Australia assume responsibility for the F-35A’s airframe.

A large chunk of the new contract is set to come to Williamtown, afterBAE Systems was awarded about 40 per cent of the work.

Steven Drury, the director aerospace for BAE, said the company would begin work making sure its site in Williamtown was ready to take on the responsibilities.

He said the contract –coupled with the airframe announcement –would mean close to250 jobs in Williamtown.

“But it’s only the first 10 per centof all the components around the world [and] this announcements means we are now better placed to be winning more work in the future,” he said.

With further contracts to be awarded, Mr Pyne said the decision meant Australia was in a “prime position” to expand its role.

“What this means is that Australian industry will be responsible for the deep maintenance of components of the Joint Strike Fighter,” he said.

“While countries operating the Joint Strike Fighter will look after the basic maintenance – like changing the tyres on a car – Australia will be responsible for much deeper, complex and high value repair of the jets, similar to changing the timing belt or overhauling the engine.”

The regional contract means Australia will also work on the planes from South Korea and Japan, as well as Asian-based fighter planesfrom the United States.

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