September, 2019

EDITORIAL: Political debate over junk food

ONE of the most extraordinary things about Greg and Sylvia Ray’s 2010 book of photographs, Newcastle, The Missing Years, was the obvious contrasts it revealed betweenthe slim and wiry Novocastrians of the between-wars years, and the battle of the bulge weighing all toomany of us down today.

No matter how we carve up the figures, 21stcentury Australians are increasingly overweight, shaped by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and a diet that relies all too heavily on processed and packaged foods.

Sadly, it has been the Newcastle Herald’s melancholy duty to report that things are as bad in some parts of the Hunter as they are anywhere in the country. The Australian Medical Association recently putthenational cost of obesity at almost $7 billion a year, and as various studies and surveys have shown, the problem is worse, on average, in areas of lower socio-economic advantage.

In simple terms, the richer you are, the healthier and thinner you are likely to be. There are exceptions of course, but when “big data” is crunched in the name of population health, the trends are undeniable. And they are only getting worse.

In Canberra this week, nutritional experts have been pushing the federal government to do more to convince Australians to eat less, but with limited success. An organisation known as the Obesity Policy Coalition –whose members include the Cancer Council and Diabetes Australia –has restated the case for a tax on sugar, but the initial response from the major parties has been less than enthusiastic.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson would have echoed the thoughts of many when she said it was up to the individual to take responsibility for what they put in their mouths. But if this logic had been applied to tobacco, then Australia would never have begun taxing tobacco in the ways that it did, leaving to massive and probably permanent drops in smoking rates. In a similar light, some argue that refined sugar is more of a poisonthan a nutrient, but as many foods are broken down to glucose in our systems, the evidence is perhaps less than clear cut. In reality, we are the shape we are for a variety of reasons, and diet is only one of them. The state does have a role in protecting us as consumers, but we, too, have our own responsibilities, especially when it comes to the food choices of our children.

In the meantime, why not join the crowd on Bathers Way, andwalk some weight off?

ISSUE: 38,472

Witnesses planned forgery to take Ron Medich’s money, murder trial hears

Ron Medich has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Michael McGurk. Photo: Peter Rae Lucky Gattellari is the key Crown witness against Ron Medich. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Two key witnesses testifying against Ron Medich in his murder trial conspired to forge his signature and take money from his bank account, a court has heard.

Mr Medich, 68, is accused of ordering the fatal shooting of his former business partner, Michael McGurk when the pair were suing each other for millions of dollars. But defence counsel claim Mr Medich is being scapegoated by the real mastermind, Lucky Gattellari, another business partner who was attempting to conceal massive thefts with the contract killing.

On Monday, a NSW Supreme Court jury heard two telephone calls from six months after the murder between Gattellari and his then driver and debt collector Senad Kaminic, 49.

The pair were heard discussing a plan to find a copy of Mr Medich’s signature in his office. At one point, Gattellari said words to the effect “Ron’s in Queensland”.

Mr Medich’s barrister, Winston Terracini, SC, questioned Kaminic about a proposed forgery.

“You were asked by Lucky Gattellari to get a copy of Mr Medich’s chequebook, or one owned by a company of Mr Medich, and copy his signature,” Mr Terracini put to the witness, who agreed.

“You knew that was wrong,” Mr Terracini said. Kaminic accepted it was.

He also accepted Mr Terracini’s suggestion “you were led to believe that Gattellari was going to get monies out of Mr Medich’s account”.

Gattellari has told the court he received $500,000 from Mr Medich to pay for the murder and passed on the bulk to Kaminic, who found the men who carried out the shooting.

Defence counsel has suggested Gattellari, who was in business with Mr Medich at the time, arranged a series of unauthorised loans that amounted to thefts.

While Gattellari said he owed Mr Medich between $14 million and $16 million at the time of his 2010 arrest, he denied he “milked him for years” saying it was “impossible to steal 10 cents from Mr Medich without him knowing about it”.

Gattellari denies he was afraid Mr McGurk, 45, would expose any financial misdealings.

Both he and Kaminic have received significant cuts to their sentences for pleading guilty to their roles in the murder and for testifying against Mr Medich.

Kaminic said Mr Medich described Mr McGurk as a “hero” around September or October 2008 and recommended Gattellari join his business ventures.

But by the following year, the relationship had allegedly soured to the point where Mr Medich called Mr McGurk a “piece of shit” and a “motherf—er”.

Kaminic previously testified that as the murder plot progressed, Mr McGurk became known as “our friend”.But on Monday he agreed under questioning that around the same time Mr Medich would refer to a certain woman as “our friend”.

Kaminic said he knew whom Mr Medich was talking about based on his tone.

“When he was talking about [Mr McGurk] he would talk more through his mouth and he was angry,” Kaminic said. “When he was talking about her, he was happy.”

The trial continues. 

Sydney CBD and South East light rail crowding rates exceed bus and train ‘crush capacity’

An artist’s impression of light rail at Randwick. Photo: SuppliedPassenger crowding on the $2.1 billion Sydney inner-city light rail is forecast to easily exceed “crush capacity” rates for buses and heavy rail, raising questions about patronage on key sections of the line.

The analysis is contained in a capacity report for the Sydney CBD and South East light rail, due to open in 2019, commissioned by Randwick City Council.

Discussing the Anzac Parade corridor, the report by EMM Consultants says passenger capacity is historically 2.5 people per square metre for Sydney trains and 2.8 people per square metre for buses.

But there is a maximum capacity of 466 people for each tram on the light rail, which the report says equates to 3.3 people per square metre.

This rate is “about 25 per cent higher than the average of the previously identified maximum crowding levels (which were defined as crush capacity) for either Sydney trains or buses,” the EMM report says.

However, it argues that the “maximum practical crowding level” is about 80 per cent of the stated capacity, or about 380 people per tram.

“Once an operating tram gets above this level of crowding (which is 2.65 persons per square metre ), there is going to be a tendency for passengers to wait on the platform and hope the next tram is less crowded rather than try and force their way on,” it predicts.

The report was commissioned by the council as part of its residential growth strategy.

It finds that when the light rail opens in 2019 the Randwick section will be at full capacity, meaning one-third of express bus services will need to be retained to meet commuter demand in its first year of operation.

By 2031, almost half the current 80 morning express services will need to be kept, the report says.

Tony Bowen, a Labor member of Randwick City Council who is opposed to the light rail, said the report “is another concerning feature of the entire proposal that calls into question whether the necessary studies were done at the planning phase”.

Opposition planning and infrastructure spokesman Michael Daley said the project was “destroying capacity on Anzac Parade and will carry no more people than the buses currently do. That $2 billion could have been much better spent in other places in Sydney.”

But CBD Coordinator General Marg Prendergast said the government has always said light rail “is part of an integrated transport solution to cater for growth and changing demand and will complement express, local and cross-regional bus services”.

The project “will deliver significant increases to public transport capacity throughout the day, in conjunction with a redesigned bus network that will continue to provide direct services between the South East and CBD, including existing peak period express services and some all-stops and cross regional routes”.

Is the black dog the elephant in the room for our football codes?

Mitchell Pearce at The Banksia Project mental health evening. Shane Webcke struggled with life after football.

Dan Vickerman played 63 Tests for the Wallabies. Photo: Jason Oxenham

I’ve been thinking about this column for a while. I just haven’t written it because, like most blowhard columnists, I can’t come up with a neat solution to put in the last paragraph.

I don’t even have a point. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe the best we can do is just talk about this stuff and hope it helps. To tell others that they aren’t alone.

In the course of most weeks, I will talk to dozens of people around footy and other codes; coaches and chief executives and chairmen and past and present players, and they will regularly tell me about sportspeople wrestling with the very real thought of suicide.

“I have three current players seriously dealing with depression,” one club boss said on Monday. “And two former players. I talk to them about it every day.”

It’s the plight of the former player that comes into focus right now following the heartbreaking news that former Wallabies second-rower Dan Vickerman, 37, died at his family home in Sydney on Saturday night.

“I think everyone was shocked by it,” former Wallaby and Brumbies captain Owen Finegan told ABC News. “It was devastating. We all play on an old boys team called the Silver Foxes and Dan had expressed a number of times how difficult his transition was and it is difficult for a lot of professional sports people, especially when you’ve had 10 or more years at the top of the game.”

Vickerman has been widely remembered as an intense player on the field, a beautiful soul off it. As so often happens when someone suddenly dies, those left behind wonder what they could’ve done to prevent it.

It would be premature and insensitive to mull over such things at this time. But it’s important to speak about the broader issue of depression among our professional sportspeople.

For sport, the black dog is no longer the elephant in the room. It’s been dragged out into the light.

But can sports do more to deal with it? Or are the major codes just putting up a Power Point display in front of some disinterested players but ticking the “mental illness” box nonetheless?

I’d suggest they are not. Players have rarely had so much support around them. But it’s clear that there can never be enough.

In rugby league, several young players have taken their own life in recent years. And then, last December, former Parramatta and Roosters player Chad Robinson was lost after a long battle with depression.

ABC broadcaster Craig Hamilton has been a mental health crusader since 2000 when he suffered a manic episode at Broadmeadow train station en route to cover the Sydney Olympics. When he’s not calling rugby league, he is often crossing the country talking about mental health.

When I phoned him on Monday, he was on his way to Central Queensland on a speaking tour with retired star Preston Campbell.

“When they are players, they become a person they think they are,” Hamilton said. “When they retire, they ask: who am I?”

In other words, players are given superhero powers for 10 years, maybe more. And then it’s suddenly taken away – the money, the physicality, the perfectionism – and the void can’t be filled.

Years ago, former coach Warren Ryan was in conversation with Broncos prop Shane Webcke, who admitted to struggling when he retired from playing.

“You need something to retire to,” Ryan said, “not something to retire from.”

After a long pause, Webcke said: “That’s probably the most profound thing I’ve ever heard.”

But sometimes having something to retire to isn’t enough, and on that score you can look at Grant Hackett.

He left the pool as an Olympic hero, and straight into a suit and tie and a high-ranking job at Westpac. He had a gig at Channel Nine and speaking engagements coming from all corners.

But none of that replaced the structure and discipline that came with eyeballing the black line at the bottom of the pool every morning.

Last Thursday night, Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce fronted the Banksia Project’s mental health lecture at the University of NSW. Having turned his life around in the space of the year, Pearce feels it’s necessary to give a little back.

Some readers lazily dismissed the ensuing story – which wasn’t solicited by Pearce or the club – as a cliched tale of redemption, but if they’d read it he actually had a warning.

“The war never stops,” Pearce said.

It’s a war that’s never going to be won, but Hamilton argues the best way to fight it is by talking about it.

“I don’t know how many phone calls I’ve had over the years from professional sportspeople,” he says. “I’ve never quoted them, never told anyone about those conversations but they’ve all said: I am really struggling. And they haven’t told no one.

“It’s important to let them speak to people who have been to hell and back. These were my symptoms. I wasn’t sleeping. I couldn’t eat. I had total social isolation. The normal things that made me happy no longer made me happy. I had dark thoughts. Then I had suicidal thoughts … I honestly don’t know many players in professional sport have heard those stories; the confronting, personal stories about what it’s like to battle mental illness. Those stories need to be told, they need to be heard.”

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All eyes on Julie Bishop’s visit to Washington for signs of normalisation between US and Australia

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be scrutinised by global political analysts and commentators while she is in Washington. Photo: Louise KennerleyForeign Minister Julie Bishop has dashed to Washington for a series of high-level meetings as the US seeks to soothe relations with allies bruised in the early days of the Trump administration.

Usually, the presence of an Australian foreign minister in Washington is barely noted beyond the canape tray of diplomatic circles – but this trip will be closely scrutinised, following so soon after the controversy about the now infamous “worst call” between President Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull.

Analysts are carefully watching – perhaps hoping – for signs the US is reverting to a more conventional foreign policy after the early volley of presidential firecrackers.

Australia has won a new notoriety in US politics over recent weeks, shared between popular late-night talk shows as well as foreign policy boffins, as a harbinger for how Mr Trump has performed.

Those judgments will inevitably feed into a contrast with the atmospherics that surround a state visit to Australia by China’s premier Li Keqiang, expected next month.

Ms Bishop will meet in Washington with Vice-President Mike Pence, who spent the weekend seeking to assure European leaders of America’s commitment to security for the continent.

She will also hold talks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has carefully sought to dial back early threats to more aggressively confront China in the South China Sea.

But Australia’s agreement with the US to resettle refugees – which Mr Trump publicly blasted as a “dumb deal” – is likely to be played down as officials seek to quietly make progress.

Instead, the focus will be on a push for extra Australian forces in Syria and Iraq as Mr Trump’s self-imposed 30-day deadline for a comprehensive plan to defeat Islamic State expires next Monday.

That offensive began last week when US Defence Secretary Jim  Mattis held a 50-minute meeting with his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, on the sidelines of a NATO summit.

Questions will undoubtedly be raised over whether Australia is acting in response to Mr Trump’s outrage over the refugee deal.

Ms Bishop was in the US in late January before the flare-up over the telephone call, and in the days the Turnbull government was still clutching to hope Mr Trump would not scupper regional trade talks, known as the Trans Pacific Partnership.

But that trip was not to Washington, and Ms Bishop made a point, when announcing this visit, to emphasise “Australia is an open, liberal trading nation” while also spruiking the benefits of the Australia-US free trade deal.

She will also want to settle dates for the next joint meeting of Australian and US defence and foreign ministers, known as AUSMIN, usually an annual gathering but never secured in the last months of the Obama administration.

And having just at the weekend walked the demilitarised zone with North Korea, Ms Bishop will need to be especially conscious of landmines in Trump’s America now, too.

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