Jan 19

BISHOP’S MESSAGE: Find a moment of peace, video

A QUIET moment to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas is the gift Catholic Bishop Bill Wright wants to give.

Bishop Wright spoke to parishioners at St Benedict’s Primary School at Edgeworth yesterday, discussing his Christmas message and urging people to find a tranquil moment for contemplation among the seasonal chaos.

He said that while family and presents were important parts of celebrating Christmas, it was worth seeking a moment that could provide clarity as the season’s stress bore down.

‘‘Somewhere there’s this quiet minute where you think what are we celebrating [and] for me it’s normally right after the midnight mass,’’ Bishop Wright said.

‘‘[You realise] God wanted to be with us and come not as a great big powerful person … but come to live like us and in a way show us how to live like him.

‘‘Somewhere in the mad rush, take a break and listen to Silent Night.’’

The bishop delivered his message to dozens of parishioners, parents and children as students performed two nativity plays and several songs.

St Benedict’s principal Mark Hornby-Howell said students had honed their skills for weeks.

‘‘Whilst they naturally get caught up in the idea of presents and Santa, holidays and time with family and friends, they also understand the importance of the season from a Christian perspective,’’ he said.


I am thinking that preparing for Christmas is a bit like getting oysters fresh from the tide-line. To get such oysters you must put time aside, get up and out and doing, probably travel around a few places before you find what you’re looking for, endure the difficulties not of crowded stores but of sharp shells and wet feet on slippery rock, prise off the oysters and make your way home again.

And back at home you will have to shuck the oysters, which looks easy when someone else does it, until finally you can have your feed.

And then you have to clean up afterwards. It’s an awful lot of effort, but it is undertaken for one of life’s very considerable pleasures.

That, I think, is where it is like what we put ourselves through to celebrate Christmas.

If the special feeling of Christmas was not quite so great, we surely wouldn’t bother.

But what is the ‘‘oyster’’ in our Christmas time that is worth all that effort?

Why do we shop and wrap, write and post, decorate and cook, travel and ring, meet and talk, catch up and visit? What are the moments we are looking for, the oyster-swallowing moments that make it worthwhile?

For some people, it’s all about the children. They’ll do the lot mainly for the pleasure of seeing the little kids so excited about Santa, wide-eyed in front of the tree and the presents, running back and forth showing things to dimly-remembered relatives.

To see children transported to such special, special moments: for some that is the joy of Christmas.

For others, it is about family. That everyone gets together and shares the peculiar Christmas rhythm of having special rituals to perform, but also time to sit and be idle, to relax and to get all the news.

It is building again, and celebrating, our connections with one another.

Please enable Javascript to watch this video SHARING THE FUN: Bishop Bill Wright with children from St Benedict’s Primary School at Edgeworth. Picture: Marina Neil

Even the inevitable difficult moments and revivals of old arguments serve to remind us that we are family: we have bonds that go beyond agreeing or even liking each other.

We belong in this mob, for better or for worse perhaps, but we do belong.

Then there are the blessed folk who really do love giving. Whether it is the presents in the family or the time serving at the charity Christmas lunch, or the opportunity to be heartily nice to strangers without scaring the pants off them, some people just love the chance to be at their best, without the normal constraints.

Christmas gives us an excuse to do good without embarrassment. In the present age, that pleasure is a rare enough.

All these things are good.

For me, though, the moment I get to consume my Christmas ‘‘oyster’’, to savour the highlight of the whole exercise, comes somewhere in the quiet of the Midnight Mass.

Now, I’m not getting pious here, or making it up. This is just what I feel, year after year. At some point in Midnight Mass, it strikes me that God came among us, not in power and majesty, but as a small child, as a member of a little family, as a man of normal human thoughts and feelings.

In the quiet of Christmas Eve, I touch into that sense of God-with-us: ‘Tonight a child is born for us, a son is given to us. He is Christ the Lord.’’

What is your Christmas ‘‘oyster’’ moment? What keeps bringing you back to Christmas? And how can you share that specialness with your family or with others generally?

Whatever your Christmas ‘‘oyster’’ is, may God bless you and yours with it abundantly this year. Happy Christmas!

Jan 19

Women lose babies while being held in immigration detention, James Cook University professor Caroline de Costa says

Australian politics: full coverageSarah Hanson-Young: Agony of children treated worse than animals

Two women being held in immigration detention have lost their babies after repeatedly being turned away from medical care, a leading obstetrician says.

James Cook University professor of obstetrics and gynaecology Caroline de Costa said there is an “urgent need” for more doctors and nurses with obstetric qualifications in Darwin’s detention centres and for improved care on Christmas Island.

While visiting immigration detention facilities in Darwin Professor de Costa met mothers and pregnant women who had not been able to see a midwife, she wrote in a piece for the health blog Croakey.

She said all of the women had been turned away while trying to get healthcare for themselves or their children. Postnatal care and help breastfeeding were “minimal at best”, Professor de Costa said.

“I spoke to two women who had recently lost their babies in Darwin; both stated that prior to their babies’ deaths they had presented to the clinic with complaints (decreased fetal movements, baby stopping breathing) that would be taken seriously in a general medical context anywhere else in Australia,” she said. “Both had been turned away from the clinic over several days.”

“While I have no way of corroborating their stories and it is impossible to say that the stillbirth and the early infant death which later resulted might have been prevented by earlier intervention, their stories are sufficiently consistent and alarming to warrant immediate efforts to improve current care arrangements,” she said.

She witnessed many of the women and children in detention being called by numbers, rather than their names.

Professor de Costa visited Darwin’s three “alternative places of detention” with the permission of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, International Health and Medical Services and security company Serco. She said there appeared to have been about 40 births to asylum seeker women at the Royal Darwin Hospital in the past few months and up to 60 women were expected to give birth there between now and the end of February.

This week the government’s decision to disband the Immigrant Health Advisory Group caused outrage among the nation’s top doctors, including the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

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Jan 19

Flanagan ban will not spark exodus: Noyce

Eye of the storm: The Cronulla players are fiercely loyal to coach Shane Flanagan (centre, back). Photo: Anthony JohnsonCronulla boss Steve Noyce says he is not concerned the Sharks’ playing squad will be decimated if a one-year ban for coach Shane Flanagan is upheld.

Cronulla’s playing roster is fiercely loyal to Flanagan, who has played a major part in attracting a host of big-name signings, including Todd Carney, Beau Ryan, Michael Gordon and Luke Lewis in recent years.

But Noyce quashed any concerns Flanagan’s ban could spark an exodus from the playing stocks with the club’s chief executive saying no player had a get-out clause in their contract if Flanagan was not the club’s head coach.

Noyce said the roster would “definitely” remain intact for 2014.

“I think the more we are business as usual the more people will respond,” Noyce said.

“If we pause and hesitate, or however we get on with it, it will dictate how everyone at a member, sponsorship, player, fan and stakeholder level reacts.

“It’s important we show leadership and direction.”

Test prop Andrew Fifita and back-rower Wade Graham are among the big-name players off contract at the Sharks at the end of next year.

Noyce said the fallout from the NRL’s $1 million fine and a potential ban for Flanagan would not disrupt contract negotiations.

“Andrew had an amazing 2013 season,” Noyce said. “Like all the World Cup players, he is entitled to a well-earned break.

“Roster management is something you are dealing with all the time. We’ll work our way through all those issues as part of the business.”

The playing squad returned to the training field on Wednesday morning, again minus Flanagan.

Veteran coach Peter Sharp, now a reluctant head coach, took charge of the ball-work session along with under-20s coach James Shepherd, while trainer Mark Noakes led the team during their fitness session.

While Sharp is the likely caretaker coach in Flanagan’s absence, Fairfax Media understands the club’s former captain Brett Kimmorley enjoyed a round of golf with some of Cronulla’s directors recently.

Kimmorley’s family still lives in the Sutherland Shire, despite the former halfback being part of Canberra’s coaching staff.

Noyce, who broke the news of Flanagan’s ban to the playing group on Tuesday morning, said he told the squad to keep going about their training as they usually would.

“We spoke yesterday as a team and as a club about being ‘BAU’ – business as usual,” Noyce said. “We’ve got to adapt to being business as usual.

“I watched them train for a while [on Wednesday], but I was getting tired watching them train hard so I retreated back to my office.

“They were doing a pretty gruelling field session and they understand about us being business as usual and finishing the off-season in a good way as it’s been a good two months in terms of training and new players coming to the club.

“Each year there is excitement as you give some of your younger players an opportunity at full-time training.

“We’ve got two experienced assistants in James and Peter and they were looking after them.”

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Jan 19

ICAC has shown the way on corrupt coal licences

Eddie Obeid: his family was paid $30m for their part in the Mount Penny deal Photo: Kate Geraghty Found to have acted corruptly: Travers Duncan. Photo: Rob Homer

Made $5 million out of $136,000: John Maitland. Photo: Peter Braig

ICAC: Licences must be torn up, profits confiscated

The corruption watchdog has invited the NSW government to do what fair-minded NSW citizens would expect them to: pass special legislation to tear up three mining exploration licences tainted by corruption and take back proceeds from those involved in, or who had knowledge of, the corruption.

Premier Barry O’Farrell has given those affected until January 15 to show cause why he should not act.

Ordinary citizens are appalled by the behaviour uncovered by the Independent Commission against Corruption in its inquiries into the allocation of mining licences. Not only have our elected representatives Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald been found to have acted corruptly but so have prominent members of the business community and the union movement. No doubt there will be howls of protest from the companies affected and possibly from the mining industry.

But the proposal to enact special legislation, after a full ICAC inquiry, will not affect the certainty of title for anyone who obtains a mining licence legitimately.

The other alternatives, to use existing provisions of the Mining Act, are more vulnerable to challenge as the eminent Bret Walker, SC, pointed out in advice to ICAC.

As for the argument that it was the ministers who acted corruptly, not the companies, this misses the point that it takes two to tango when it comes to corrupt conduct.

Corrupt conduct when it goes undetected delivers benefits to both the person paying the benefit and the person receiving it. But it is not a victimless crime. The victim is a robust fair society and in this case, the NSW taxpayer.

Hitting those who participated in the bank account by enacting legislation to take back any proceeds, as ICAC proposes, is essential to ensure that this sordid chapter in NSW’s history serves as a lesson for the future.

The Obeid family have already received at least $30 million for their part in the Mount Penny deal. They have been agitating for a second $30 million payment from the directors of Cascade Coal, a private company with the right to explore. Five directors of that company – coal mogul Travers Duncan, RAMS Home Loans founder John Kinghorn, lawyers John McGuigan and John Atkinson, and investment banker Richard Poole – were also found to have acted corruptly by concealing the Obeids’ involvement in the tenement from officials. Their attempts to turn a quick profit by selling Cascade into a listed company, White Energy, where they were also directors, for $500 million failed last year.

In the case of the Doyles Creek mine, union boss John Maitland made $5.9 million out of his $166,000 initial investment after he convinced then mining minister Ian Macdonald to directly grant him an exploration licence.

It was said to be a training mine but was a very big mine over a valuable deposit. Maitland and his associates knew it and misled and deceived departmental officials, ICAC found. Co-founders Craig Ransley and Andrew Poole, also found to be corrupt, have made big profits too, when they sold Doyles Creek into the listed company, NuCoal.

What of those shareholders who bought into Nucoal? ICAC has also recommended that the government consider a fund to compensate innocent investors who are hurt by the cancellations.

And spare a thought for the citizens of Bylong and the Upper Hunter, who have fought against these mining projects, only to feel, perhaps rightly, that they were somehow fighting with one arm tied behind their backs. There will be celebrations in these rural communities.

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Jan 19

AJ Lucas positions for UK fracking growth

Britain is moving ahead with plans to accelerate the search for shale oil and gas as Australian group AJ Lucas is moving to speed up its shale gas exploration program there.

A British government report has found that more than half of the country could be suitable for shale gas fracking, according to local media reports.

The environmental impact of stepped up shale gas exploration would be “manageable”, consultants AMEC said, according to the reports, even though as many as 2,880 wells could be drilled for oil or gas in a new licensing round, which could squeeze water supplies for some communities.

AJ Lucas, via its 43.7 per cent owned Cuadrilla joint venture has extensive exploration acreage in the UK, as does Dart Energy.

Much of the UK acreage would use fracking, which involves injecting large volumes of water to split shale rocks deep underground to access gas, the report found.An estimated three quarters of the water could be used again, which the UK Environment Agency is seeking to maximise in a bid to limit the environmental impact of the use of large volumes of water.

According to the government report, domestic shale gas production could total 4.32-to-8.64 trillion cubic feet of gas throughout the lifetime of a well over an estimated 20 years.

This would be sufficient to supply a quarter of the UK’s annual demand, the report found.

Greenhouse gases during the exploration phase could be up to 0.96 million tonnes of CO2 – totalling just over 15 per cent of the UK’s emissions from all oil and gas production, the report found.

Domestically produced gas would have lower emissions than imported liquefied gas, the report argued.

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