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(Australian Associated Press)
Top stories around the states in 2016
It was a mighty win for the battlers when NSW Premier Mike Baird caved in after intense pressure and reversed his controversial decision to ban greyhound racing. Declaring, “I got it wrong”, the premier announced in October he would instead introduce a new, strict industry regime. Mr Baird had for months insisted the ban was “the right thing to do” after a report detailed systemic animal cruelty, live-baiting and mass slaughter of uncompetitive hounds. It was hoped the backflip would quell disquiet within his government but it wasn’t enough to save the Nationals in November’s Orange by-election.
Two years after Sydney’s deadly Lindt Cafe siege, the deadline is approaching for a NSW coroner to reveal his thoughts about what happened, the police response and how to prevent a repeat of the tragedy. Michael Barnes will base his findings, due in early 2017, on evidence from more than 120 witnesses heard over more than 100 days. Wrapping up the inquest’s public hearings in September, he declared it was not his role to lay blame. But the question of whether ASIO could have done more to stop gunman Man Haron Monis before the December 2014 siege, in which two hostages were killed, is expected to go unanswered as evidence relating to the intelligence agency’s involvement is unlikely to be made public.
He was the Labor kingmaker credited with the rise and fall of three NSW premiers. But 10 days before Christmas, corrupt former factional heavyweight Eddie Obeid, 73, was ordered to swap his stately Hunters Hill mansion for a jail cell for at least three years. The spectacular fall from grace came after Obeid was found guilty in July of hiding his family’s stake in several Circular Quay cafes while lobbying a senior public servant to preserve their lucrative leases in 2007. Premier Mike Baird savaged the former Labor minister after the sentence, announcing that legislation would be changed to ensure Obeid was stripped of his $120,000 a year pension. The saga brought to an end one of the biggest political scandals in NSW history. Obeid will be eligible for parole in 2019.
The world’s worst ever recorded thunderstorm asthma event caused at least eight deaths and forced more than 8500 to hospital when it hit Melbourne in November. The health system wasn’t set up to cope with the unprecedented level of demand, which the health minister described as like “150 bombs going off” at once. The pollen grains absorbed moisture during a thunderstorm and then burst into hundreds of tiny allergenic fragments, small enough to penetrate deep into the airways. This prompted in asthma even in people who had never had it before.
Who would have thought a new pay deal for 800 Victorian career firefighters in a largely volunteer organisation might help determine the course of a federal election? The bitter pay battle between the CFA and the United Firefighters Union has dragged on for years, but it reached a peak during the federal election campaign when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised to intervene. The battle still isn’t over – the new deal hasn’t been put to a vote despite the entire CFA board and leadership being sacked or resigning – but Victoria was the only state where Labor had a net loss of federal seats.
Spare a thought for Patch and Ted, two pampered pooches who now have to ride in a car like everyone else. The pet dogs of Corrections Minister Steve Herbert caused a scandal when it was revealed Mr Herbert ordered his taxpayer-funded driver to use his ministerial car to pick them up and chauffeur them more than 120 kilometres between his homes. Mr Herbert insisted it was “once, possibly twice”, but he couldn’t say. Eventually he sniffed the wind and realised he was in trouble and resigned.
A fun day out turned to tragedy on October 26 when four people were killed on one of the most popular, and tame, theme park rides at Dreamworld. Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett and his partner Roozi Araghi died when their raft on the Thunder River Rapids ride flipped. Somehow two children, aged 10 and 12, who were on the ride, were flung free and survived. The horrific event touched the hearts of a nation. Dreamworld management came under severe criticism for trying to re-open park three days after the deaths and while police were still conducting an investigation. It retreated and the Gold Coast fun park re-opened on December 10, just five days short of its 35th anniversary .
Adani’s controversial Carmichael coal mine received its final approvals in December, more than six years after it was first slated for Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The $21.7 billion project – to be the largest mine in the southern hemisphere – had faced several hurdles. Most came from litigation brought by green activist groups who claimed it would further imperil the Great Barrier Reef. The project is set to provide a jobs boost to regions suffering high unemployment, with some 10,000 positions expected to be generated over its 60-year lifespan. While spruiking the generational jobs, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Indian mining giant had given her an “iron clad” guarantee it wouldn’t use foreign workers on 457 visas. Construction on the project, which includes a rail link to the Abbot Point coal terminal, is expected by July 2017.
Almost 800 workers were left high a dry when Townsville-based Queensland Nickel collapsed early in 2016. The company went into voluntary administration in January and by April it was in liquidation. At the centre of the collapse was QN’s one-time saviour, businessman and former federal MP Clive Palmer, and his nephew, Clive Mensink, the sole appointed director. Records showed QN donated $288,516 to Palmer’s political Palmer United Party shortly before the company initially laid off 237 workers at the Yabulu refinery. Palmer fronted Federal Court proceedings over the collapse but Mensink was nowhere to be seen. Palmer failed in three attempts to stop giving evidence at the federal court hearing where liquidators were trying to show he acted as a shadow director.
From the sense of panic in Adelaide on September 28 you would have been forgiven for thinking an apocalypse was upon the city. In reality a wild storm had downed transmission towers in South Australia’s mid-north and turned off some wind farms, dramatically increasing demand on the state’s biggest power interconnector with Victoria. It overloaded, cutting power and driving people to light candles across the state. Power was back in Adelaide in a few hours but stayed off for days in some regional areas. The blame game followed, with SA’s plunge into darkness sparking a national discussion on the reliability of renewable energy and leading Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to urge SA premier Jay Weatherill to “keep the lights on”.
To dump or not to dump nuclear waste was a question on many South Australians’ lips in 2016, after a royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle suggested storing nuclear waste could reap billions of dollars for the state. Premier Jay Weatherill said the idea could only go ahead with bipartisan support and public consent, which both seemed to wane in November when a 350-strong citizens jury overwhelmingly rejected the idea and the SA opposition withdrew its support for it. But a broader statewide consultation with more than 50,000 people found 43 per cent supported the idea, 37 per cent opposed it and 20 per cent were undecided. Mr Weatherill has flagged a future referendum but would need the Liberals’ backing.
They say “third time’s a charm” but SA’s voluntary euthanasia supporters may be hoping 16 is a luckier number, after the 14th and 15th attempts to legislate the option in the state failed in 2016. Labor MP Steph Key introduced the 14th bill in February but a lack of support for it led Liberal MP Dr Ian McFetridge to issue a 15th bill in September with stronger safeguards. That bill was defeated in early hours of November 17 on the controversial casting ballot of speaker Michael Atkinson after MPs were deadlocked at 23-23 in a conscience vote. TV presenter and advocate Andrew Denton had spruiked the bill and said it’s defeat would not end the issue.
The ruling Country Liberals government was obliterated when Territorians went to the polls in August fed up with four years of scandal. The CLP was reduced to just two seats in parliament following a single term in office marred by defections, leadership spills and 18 cabinet reshuffles. Labor snapped up 18 of 25 seats in the landslide election win alongside five independents in an unprecedented makeup. Women make up the majority in Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s new ministry, snagging five of eight cabinet positions. His predecessor Adam Giles says the Don Dale youth justice scandal cost him his seat, which he held for eight years with a margin of about 19 per cent.
Ms Dhu, a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman, was treated inhumanely and her death in custody could have been prevented if doctors diagnosed her illness earlier, WA Coroner Ros Fogliani found. Ms Dhu died two days after being locked up at South Hedland Police Station in August 2014 for unpaid fines totalling $3622. She died during her third visit in as many days to the Hedland Health Campus from staphylococcal septicaemia and pneumonia after an infection in her fractured ribs – caused by her boyfriend – spread to her lungs. Officers thought Ms Dhu was faking illness and was coming down from drugs, while medical staff also thought she was exaggerating and had behavioural issues. Footage from the lock-up showed police dragging and carrying Ms Dhu’s limp body. Another showed an officer pulling Ms Dhu by the wrist to sit her up before dropping her, causing her to hit her head.