Early claims from Tropical Cyclone Marcia exceed 4000

A damaged house after Tropical Cyclone Marcia hit the coastal town of Yeppoon in Central Queensland. Photo: Shelly AllsopInitial claims from property and car owners in areas hit by Cyclone Marcia have risen to 4350 but insurers have conceded the figure is likely to rise sharply when residents  return to their homes and assess the damage.
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Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the damage from the cyclone, which hit the north Queensland coast on Friday morning, was widespread and  most of the worst-affected areas of Rockhampton and Yeppoon were still without power on Sunday.

“We’ve had assessments at the moment of over 1500 houses that have had some kind of structural damage, and in Yeppoon and Rockhampton around 100 severely impacted,” she said. “By severe, [I mean] that people can’t go back into their homes.”

Reports suggested that 55,000 properties had been damaged and 60,000 houses had lost power.

Insurance companies said it was too early to predict the size of the claims bill.

One industry insider doubted it would reach the $1.1 billion claims bill triggered by the Brisbane hailstorm in December although there were concerns that because Rockhampton and Yeppoon had not be subjected to a category 5 storm for several years, many buildings had not been upgraded to withstand high winds.

When Cyclone Marcia hit the coastal town of Yeppoon, north of Rockhampton, winds had reached 285km/h.

More than a third of the 4350 claims recorded by the Insurance Council of Australia were from Suncorp customers.

Suncorp said it had “activated” an extra 200 people at its call centre and was encouraging customers to lodge a claim if they suspected their property had been affected.

“Our initial assessment is a combination of destructive winds, fallen trees, flying debris and flooding have caused the majority of damage to homes and motor vehicles in impacted areas,” a Suncorp spokesman said.

QBE said it had received 150 claims by late Sunday.

By 10am on Sunday, IAG had received 350 claims via its NRMA and CGU brands.

The Insurance Council said companies would be able to set up mobile claims units in recovery centres being organised by the Queensland government in Rockhampton and Yeppoon.

Construction work at the three large LNG projects on Curtis Island in Gladstone is expected to resume on Monday. The sites were placed in effective lockdown on Thursday ahead of the approach of Cyclone Marcia.

Kevin Berg, general manager, Gladstone, for Bechtel, the US engineering contractor heading up construction of all three projects, pointed to some flooding at the sites but no serious damage, accidents or injuries.

“There have been some excess water issues but we are looking to return to normal construction as soon as we can do so safely,” Mr Berg said on Sunday.

Bechtel sent some workers home to Gladstone on Thursday when it halted construction but many others hunkered down in cyclone-proof accommodation on Curtis Island to wait out the storm.

The cyclone disrupted LNG loading at one project already in production on Curtis ISland, BG Group’s $US20.4 billion Queensland Curtis venture. The tanker moored at the QCLNG jetty to load LNG was forced to sail to calmer waters outside the harbour. It was understood to be preparing to sail back to the project site to resume loading.

Gladstone harbour was reopened on Saturday for daylight hours only, which allowed Bechtel to get its ferry services running.

BHP said coal railing and shipping from Gladstone and Hay Point on Queensland’s central coast were temporarily halted on Thursday evening but operations had returned to normal by Sunday.

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Highland bands compete at annual gathering

Listen to the band: Drummer Peter Muir, of the Warrnambool and District Pipe Band, and pipier Stacey Riches play during the Ballarat Highland Gathering at Lake Wendouree. PICTURE: JEREMY BANNISTERVICTORIA’S highlandcommunity converged at Lake Wendouree on Saturday for the annual Ballarat HighlandGathering.
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The competition is state pipe bands’ last opportunity to compete before the state championships held in Geelong next weekend.

The day was previously run by Royal South Street Eisteddfod and now by Federation University Australia Pipe Band.

There were about 15 teams competing from all over the state, including school bands from Scotch College, which won grade three and the juvenile section, and Haileybury, which won grade four.

The City of Whitehorse took out grade two and Moorabbin won grade one.

Federation University Australia Pipe Band president Tim Bodey said it was ‘‘an absolutely fantastic day’’ set on a beautiful backdrop of the lake.

“The highlight is always the all-in at the end of the day, where all musicians from the bands come together,” Mr Bodey said.

They played Scotland the Brave, one of eight songs all pipe bands know and play together at the end of their meets.

With about 20-25 musicians in each band, about 400 competitors played on the day, bringing their family members and supporters along.

Mr Bodey said there would have been about 800 spectators, plus another couple of hundred for the highland dancing competition.

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Call for joint inquiry into greyhound racing

A GOVERNMENT-ordered review into the state’s greyhound industry won’t be independent or rigorous enough to expose cruelty, claims the Greens.
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Denison Greens MHA Cassy O’Connor wants to set up a parliamentary committee to examine the greyhound racing industry, saying whistle-blowers exposing cruelty need better protection.

Surrounded by re-homed greyhounds in Hobart yesterday, Ms O’Connor said she would move to establish a joint house inquiry when Parliament returns next month.

“Since ABC Four Corners revealed that the practice of live baiting is rife in at least three mainland states, members of Parliament have been flooded with emails from concerned Tasmanians demanding action,” Ms O’Connor said.

“If live baiting is so prevalent in the industry interstate, it is almost certainly happening here.

“We need to put this industry under the spotlight of a parliamentary inquiry, where witnesses can be called and confidential, in-camera evidence heard where necessary,” she said.

Ms O’Connor said the industry review ordered by Racing Minister Jeremy Rockliff was not independent or rigorous enough.

“I don’t believe it will encourage whistle-blowers to come forward,” she said.

“We believe it’s time for Parliament to take a hand here,” she said.

Premier Will Hodgman did not rule out supporting Ms O’Connor’s proposal, but said he was confident any concerns would be raised in the review.

“We’ll certainly look at what’s being proposed, we want to make sure that this issue is thoroughly investigated, we have a zero tolerance policy,” Mr Hodgman said.

A Labor spokesman said Parliament should await the outcome of the current industry review before determining whether any other action was required.

“If there is any evidence of live baiting occurring in Tasmania it should be taken to the appropriate authorities,” the spokesman said.

Tasracing chief executive Eliot Forbes last week said he was confident the Tasmanian industry was well regulated and there was no evidence of live baiting.

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Growing Ballarat region’s tourism

Tourism generates $500 million into Ballarat’s economy and 2000 jobs for the region.BALLARAT’S peak tourism body hopes to work with the government to grow the tourism sector.
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Ballarat Regional Tourism director George Sossi said he was glad the state government was recognising the important role tourism played in the region.

“Tourism is the fifth-most important business sector for Ballarat,” he said. “It generates $500 million into the economy and 2000 jobs for the region.

“It’s great to see the state government recognising its role and ramping up its efforts.”

Mr Sossi said $370 million was directly injected into the economy annually, and up to$200 million more through a flow-on effect.

“We (Ballarat) have a growing tourism market for events – people coming to cultural and sporting events.

“There are also a lot of day and overnight travellers coming to see our tourist attractions.”

Mr Sossi said BRT hoped to work with the government in its plans to grow the tourism sector for regional areas.

Tourism and Major Events Minister John Eren said tourism was worth about $2.4 billion more to the state’s regional areas than to Melbourne.

“Tourism remains one of regional Victoria’s most important industries,” he said.

For Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges, tourism generated 34 per cent of the gross regional product.

On Phillip Island, it contributes 37.9 per cent.

“The Andrews Labor government will grow the tourism sector as part of our plan to create jobs in regional Victoria,” Mr Eren said.

“These fact sheets provide regional tourism businesses in Victoria with a clearer economic snapshot of their

region.”

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Mount Isa residents seek water answers

MORE than 200 members of the Mount Isa community attended a public water form on Thursday night in a bid to receive much-needed answers about water rates and restrictions.
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Mount Isa Water Board chairperson Rowena McNally made a short presentation outlining the concerns she believed were key for residents.

Ms McNally said at no time had water that had been provided been unsafe to drink, and she reiterated that Lake Moondarra was owned by Mount Isa Mines and Lake Julius was also not owned by the water board.

Mount Isa District Superintendent Russell Miller pushed the point the board was governed by legislation.

Some of the questions heard at the forum included whether the blooms of Salvinia at the Clear Water Lagoon had been poisoned.

The board said those allegations had been investigated and no poisoning had taken place.

The board also spoke of its assets and infrastructure to defend its staffing and vehicles.

“We have 15 staff. We have got ageing infrastructure,” Ms McNally said.

“We were paying an enormous amount of consultant costs.”

“We have nine cars and 15 people. We need to have good, safe vehicles. These are so the water board can be as efficient as possible.”

It was also asked if Mount Isa council had considered charging ratepayers for the water they used as individuals.

“If you pay on individual consumption, you would have your city turned into a dust bowl,” Cr McGrady said.

“Yes, it is often discussed, but it comes down to this is the way it works across the state.’’

The question of water tanks was also raised, with residents traditionally unable to install them due to lead risks.

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Police in joint drugs initiative

SNIFFING AROUND: Drug detection dogs at work at the Cloncurry Airport.POLICE have made significant inroads in their bid to smash Cloncurry’s drug supply after intercepting a shipment into the outback town.
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Cloncurry police were joined by detectives from the Mount Isa Criminal Investigation Branch, Mount Isa Tactical Crime Squad and Mount Isa and Cairns dog squads for the raids.

A series of search warrants were executed by police on Cloncurry residences early last Wednesday morning when a quantity of the drug ice, cash, an illegal firearm, ammunition and utensils for weighing and smoking dangerous drugs were seized.

A 37-year-old Cloncurry man will appear in the Cloncurry Magistrates Court on March 13 on charges relating to possessing and supplying amphetamines, possession of money obtained from supplying amphetamines, and the unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition.

A 22-year-old Cloncurry man will also appear in the Cloncurry Magistrates Court on the same day on charges relating to the possession of a utensil used to smoke dangerous drugs and possession of scales used to weigh dangerous drugs.

A 21-year-old Cloncurry female was also issued a notice to attend a drug diversion program after being found in possession of a drug smoking utensil.

Police, using a drug-detection dog, combined the raids with passive searches of passengers and their luggage on the incoming flights to Cloncurry Airport.

In a joint initiative by Cloncurry police and Australia Post to prevent the delivery of drugs into the town via the postal system, drug detection dogs were used to search all mail and packages at the Cloncurry Post Office last Thursday. Police say no illegal items were located during searches of the postal system and Cloncurry Airport.

Cloncurry Senior Sergeant Brad Rix said he was pleased that the community could see results coming from information given to police by the public.

“Police are encouragedby the increase in specific information they are receiving regarding persons engaging in drug-related activity, and can assure the public that affirmative enforcement days such as these will continue to be used to investigate drug-related information,” Senior Sergeant Rix said.

He said he was hopeful that the public would continue coming forward with information to help police rid the town of drugs.

He said the arrests come as part of an ongoing commitment to investigate the use and supply of dangerous drugs, particularly amphetamines, within the Cloncurry community.

“Police will continue to implement these and other strategies in their efforts to eliminate drugs from the local community, and to prosecute those persons possessing and supplying dangerous drugs,” Senior Sergeant rix said.

“Any member of the community with information regarding the use or supply of drugs is urged to contact Cloncurry Police Station on 4742 8888 or Crime Stoppers on 1800333 000.”

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Mayor pledges rates cut

MOUNT Isa mayor Tony McGrady has promised to resign from his post if he cannot deliver lower rates in the next budget.
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Tony McGrady

“I have given a commitment to the people of Mount Isa that in the next council budget we will abolish the $440 levy and, as a result of some other activities taking place, we will be in a position to reduce water rates,” he said.

“If I can’t do that, I will resign after the budget.’’

Cr McGrady said those who turned up for the public form on Thursday night had plenty of questions.

“I’m absolutely delighted. Over 200 people turned up and they have obviously done their homework as the standard of questions were some of the best I have ever heard,” he said.

“Whilst people didn’t always agree or were not always happy with the answer, I think they accepted it,’’ he said.

‘‘The meeting was held, I think, in a very dignified manner and I think that every person that came has gone home at least understanding the situation and problems and that’s what a caring community should always do, have the information so that they understand the reasons why the governments, whether it is state, federal or local, have to make the decision that they do.”

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Push for next NSW parliament to consider voluntary euthanasia laws

Nationals MP Trevor Khan watched his father die a slow, painful death, and now supports euthanasia. Photo: Dallas KilponenIn the early days in the nursing home, when he could still speak,Keith Khanasked his son Trevor to help him die.
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He had waited until they were alone. The elderly retired doctor, incontinent and unable to walk after a catastrophic stroke, told his son: “I just want to go. You’ve got to help me to go”.

Trevor, having no idea how to carry out such a thing and believing his father would probably die in a few months any way, said no.

“But he went on for well over two and a half years like that, it was terrible. It was an ignoble end,” Trevor, an upper house Nationals MP, said.

In the years after his plea was denied, Mr Khan snr seemed to look straight through his son.

“You wondered whether he harboured resentment because you didn’t act on his request. I’ll always live with that fear,” Trevor said.

Among the many issues competing for the attention of NSW politicians ahead of the March 28 election, few can be more important than how people die.

During the past 15 years, attempts to pass voluntary euthanasia legislation in NSW have consistently failed – most recently in 2013 when proposed laws were soundly voted down in the upper house.

Even among those who support such legislation, finding the right model is fraught. Opinions differ on which patients should be eligible, the extent to which doctors and family should be involved and what safeguards are needed.

But there is talk of advancing the issue in the next term of parliament. MPs have discussed forming a cross-party working group, and advocacy group Dying with Dignity will hold a forum at Parliament on Wednesday.

The group has also surveyed lower house MPs about where they stand on the issue of assisted dying laws.

Of the 77 MPs who responded, 13, all Liberal-Nationals, were opposed. They include Premier Mike Baird, a committed Christian, who said he understood his position was not shared by everyone, and that the issue “continues to cause a considerable amount of pain for many people”. He supports a conscience vote on the matter.

Sixteen MPs from across the political spectrum gave either qualified or full support. Twenty-one MPs did not respond to the survey and 27 were non-committal.

Dying With Dignity NSW president Sarah Edelman said the result was at odds with the community, which according to polls, overwhelmingly supports assisted dying laws. She questioned the influence of the religious lobby over politicians.

Right to Life NSW president Simon McCaffrey, whose organisation opposes voluntary euthanasia, said the practice of doctors helping people to die “compromises a doctor’s primary role which is to heal, comfort and reassure [a patient] that we value them so much, we can’t assist a process which kills them”.

Mr Khan jnr said had legally assisted suicide been an option when his father was gravely ill, he would have helped him to die.

“For many people, there is just no sweet end,” he said.

“It won’t be everyone who chooses [legally assisted suicide] – in fact it will probably be a limited range of people. But that should be their call.”

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Region’s issues considered

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A NORTH West development group is gearing up to find ways to boost the supply chain between Mount Isa and Townsville.

FUTURE: MITEZ president David Glasson.

Mount Isa to Townsville Economic Development Zone president David Glasson said the landscape had changed since the group’s last annual meeting in Townsville last December.

MITEZ members have started the year with a change of government in Queensland and a number of burning issues affecting the region are now likely to be considered in a different light.

Mr Glasson said the organisation never indicated its support or otherwise for the sale or lease of assets such as the Mount Isa to Townsville rail line and the Port of Townsville as we agreed that would require a mandate from the people before it could proceed.

“Previously, our 50-year freight study had made specific recommendations towards improving the overall efficiency of the network such as an independent co-ordinator to monitor the operations and customer needs within the supply chain including the rail and port, however, those recommendations were set aside once these assets were tied up in a proposed sale,” Mr Glasson said.

Other major issues MITEZ had in the firing line for the region included increasing water allocations on the Flinders River, incentives for exploration and junior miners, uranium mining and major infrastructure items such as the Hann Highway.

The issues will be discussed by MITEZ members including state member for Mount Isa Rob Katter at a meeting in Hughenden on February 27.

With a new Labor government, issues such as water allocations and mining will need strong plans from key leaders and development group such as MITEZ.

Uranium mining is likely to once again be slapped with a ban by Labor after the previous LNP government opened it up for development.

But uranium prices still remain too low for major companies to make a decision to start production. The lower prices could open the door for smaller uranium miners to turn a profit.

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Giant miners use tactical nous to keep profits up

MINING multinationals Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Glencore are all reporting positive developments at their Hunter operations, using cost-cutting and volume growth to minimise the impact of falling prices.
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Posting its annual results earlier this month, Rio said its Australian coal business had returned ‘‘$US21million [$26.9million] in underlying earnings in a difficult price environment’’.

Lower prices meant its earnings for thermal coal, for power stations, were down by $176million.

Rio’s chain of mines from Bengalla near Muswellbrook to Hunter Valley Operations and Mount Thorley Warkworth, west of Singleton, formed a ‘‘large, high-quality resource with shallow, stable geology’’.

Selling thermal coal under a single ‘‘Hunter blend’’ was a major focus for 2015. Anglo, which is pushing to expand its Drayton open-cut and sell its closed Dartbrook underground, said it had cut its Australian mining costs by 16per cent.

It had cut its Australian cash costs from $95 a tonne in 2012 to $79 a tonne in 2014.

This figure does not include royalties or financing costs.

Its average price for Australian thermal coal fell from $107 in 2013 to $90 in 2014, but the Australian dollar was about 10per cent higher last year.

So the fall was much smaller in Australian currency, from about $95 to $91.

Glencore’s ‘‘averaged realised price’’ for 2014 was a reported $92.30 a tonne at current exchange rates, down 13per cent on 2013.

Glencore’s Australian coal production rose from 65million tonnes in 2013 to 69.5million tonnes in 2014. This was despite a three-week shutdown over Christmas.