Tag: Northern Territory


Push for a Northern Territory treaty ‘lost momentum’ after Mick Dodson’s resignation, acting commissioner says


The Northern Territory's acting treaty commissioner has conceded the process towards an NT treaty "lost momentum" following a scandal that saw the resignation of the former commissioner last year.

Key points:

  • A key report guiding the path to a treaty in the NT is due to be handed down in March
  • Former treaty commissioner Mick Dodson resigned from the role last June
  • His replacement, Tony McAvoy, will step away from the role after the report is finalised

Tony McAvoy SC, a prominent Sydney-based barrister and treaty advocate, began in the role in Darwin last week and will remain commissioner until a key report is handed down in March.

Since March 2019, the Treaty Commission has been working to highlight a path to treaty or treaties with First Nations people in the NT.

A report due by the end of March will advise the government on the outcome of extensive consultations and a treaty framework.

Mr McAvoy's predecessor, former Australian of the Year Mick Dodson, resigned from the role in June 2021 and apologised after allegations surfaced that he verbally abused a woman at a football match.

"There's no escaping some loss of momentum," Mr McAvoy said of the fallout of Professor Dodson's resignation.

"But I can see a high level of goodwill from both the government and the Aboriginal community, particularly the land councils, but across the community."

Mr McAvoy said his entire office was impacted by Professor Dodson's resignation.

"I feel as though the people in the office felt some of the pressure that comes with that sort of media attention," Mr McAvoy said.

"But they are very professional people, and they were able to continue on in the role they were engaged to do."

Mr McAvoy said he would ensure all parties understood where the report was heading before it was tabled, to speed up the process.

"There are not going to be shocks and there's not going to be a lengthy time period required for consideration of what's in the report," he said.

"People should have a fairly good idea and be able to move quickly.

"I think that's a necessity. It's a necessity to ensure the momentum that is now being developed is not lost again."

Tony McAvoy confirmed he would not continue in the role beyond March.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

Despite some setbacks, the high-profile silk said the commission was close to finalising the document.

He also confirmed he would not be leading the commission after tabling the report.

"I came here on the understanding that I would continue my practices as a senior counsel," he said.

"I have other roles to do, and part of my commitment to the Northern Territory government included an understanding that I have existing obligations that I can't, and I'm not prepared, to set aside."

However, he rejected suggestions his departure would create further instability in the office, saying the next part of the process was a "new stage".

"The stage that will be reached by the tabling of the report is a significant milestone," he said.

"It is a continuation of a long process, but I don't think having to change the commission in any way, in terms of its leadership, is going to affect its ability to do what needs to be done."

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Businesses says Northern Territory’s new border rules will be another setback


Last Christmas, it was near impossible to book a table at Jimmy Shu's famed Hanuman restaurant in Darwin's CBD.

Key points:

  • Chamber of Commerce chief executive Greg Ireland says people are reconsidering visiting the Northern Territory, despite borders opening next week
  • All arrivals will need to stay in a high-vaccination zone for two weeks, effectively blocking trips to the territory's most-popular destinations
  • Health Minister Natasha Fyles says the government needs to strike a balance

Now, after months battling rolling cancellations, staff shortages and confusing border rule changes, the celebrated restaurateur says that, for the first time, he's preparing to close over the festive period.

"We would usually fill the whole restaurant. Now we can fill the inside and maybe just two or three tables outside," he said.

"I look at the bottom line, and it is less than last year."

Mr Shu says he, and business owners across the Northern Territory, are now grappling with yet another setback.

Next week, the territory is opening its borders to all vaccinated arrivals, scrapping quarantine and introducing new rules that will limit arrivals to staying within the "high-vaccination zones" of Greater Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs for their first 14 days in the Territory.

Mr Shu said the sweeping changes would empty his restaurant even more.

"We're dependent on the tourist dollar," he said.

"Even if it's not a tourist, it is the relatives who come to visit the locals.

"Business is not going to be the same again. For us, we might be looking at even downsizing."

Read more about the Omicron variant:

Greg Ireland says businesses have not been consulted by the government. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)Tourists 'reconsidering travel' to NT

NT Chamber of Commerce chief executive Greg Ireland said the requirement to stay in a high-vaccination zone for two weeks had caused significant challenges for several industries, with popular spots such as Uluru, Kakadu and Litchfield effectively off-limits for visitors.

"People are reconsidering their travel to the territory on the basis that they can't get out and see the jewels of the crown which are in the remote areas," he said.

Mr Ireland said the rules put strict limitations on travellers arriving from COVID-free regions, such as Western Australia and Tasmania.

"It certainly came as a shock to business. We weren't expecting them, we hadn't been consulted on them and very loud and quick reactions from the business community, as well as many others, say that this is just creating too much concern," he said.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles defended the government's approach to the border, despite criticism about a lack of consultation.

"We've acknowledged that the tourism and hospitality industry has been one of the hardest-hit … it has certainly been a very bumpy ride and, unfortunately, that will continue into the future as we transition from a pandemic to an endemic," she said.

"But we will continue to listen closely to industry and work with them."

Ms Fyles said the government was now reconsidering the rule banning tourists from low-vaccination zones such as Uluru.

Rick Jones says the Northern Territory government's COVID-19 restrictions have caused a constant flow of cancellations and refunds.  (ABC News: Michael Franchi)Call to ease restrictions for the vaccinated

For Rick Jones, the chief executive and owner of Kakadu Air, a small tourism company that has operated scenic flights across Kakadu and Katherine Gorge for more than 40 years, the wet season typically sees a downtick in bookings.

However, over the past week, he's seen significant losses as even more cancellations mount.

He said that, despite recording a loss of almost $1 million in cancellations between June 30 and September 30 of this year, his company did not qualify for government assistance.

Now, he said, the restrictions were another nail in the coffin.

Bruce Kennon says he would like to see the Northern Territory's border restrictions eased further. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

"The whole idea of a holiday in the Northern Territory is to go and see parts of the Northern Territory," Mr Jones said.

"Tourists won't even be able to go to Adelaide River to see the jumping crocs."

Mr Jones said he would like to see border restrictions eased for all vaccinated arrivals.

It's a sentiment shared by Bruce Kennon, the owner of The Rugby Shop in Darwin's CBD, who said "virtually locking" people in the high-vaccination zone of Darwin won't help businesses.

"We rely very heavily on the tourist market … but you can't have them isolated or confined to a certain space" he said.

"If they come to the territory, they are going to want to see the territory," he said.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Gina Rinehart sells two Northern Territory cattle stations for more than $60m


Two of Gina Rinehart's Northern Territory cattle properties have sold for a combined total well in excess of $60 million. 

Key points:

  • Two of Gina Rinehart's NT cattle stations have been sold
  • Willeroo was bought by the NT's Brett family for $40 million
  • SA's DiGiorgio family bought neighbouring Aroona Station

The Northern Territory's Brett family has purchased the 171,000-hectare Willeroo Station, 125 kilometres south-west of Katherine, according to documents obtained from the Land Titles Office.

The neighbouring Aroona Station sold to the DiGiorgio family from South Australia's south east.

In March this year, Ms Rinehart put a significant chunk of her northern cattle portfolio on the market, offering seven properties, covering nearly 2 million hectares, for sale.

Willeroo and Aroona were both purchased by Ms Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting in 2017 for more than $30 million and $20 million, respectively. 

Willeroo Station has been owned by Hancock Prospecting since 2017.(Supplied: Elders)

Hamish and Georgia Brett own the Coomalie Holding Depot export facility near Adelaide River and Waterloo Station near the WA/NT border.

The Brett family declined to comment on the purchase.

Aroona sells to South Australian family 

Aroona Station covers 147,500 hectares on Willeroo's northern boundary, with the Flora River flowing through the property.   

The DiGiorgio family owns a winery in SA's Coonawarra and also run sheep and cattle in the same region. 

Frank DiGiorgio told ABC Rural his family was looking to diversify its agricultural interests. 

"The property looked, on the face of it, a lovely property to have a look at, both in its relation to position, proximity to markets, and the fact that there is an abundance of water — secure water all year-round," he said.

"It was a pretty compelling offering." 

Mr DiGiorgio said the family would not be "re-inventing the wheel" in managing the property, retaining the staff and cattle program.

"We will have family members travel up there from time to time, to get a bit of a handle on things, and also learn what Territory agriculture is about," he said.

"It's a different ball game to what we do down here, so we'll have to adopt the practices that work up there and see what other opportunities may arise in that region.

The Flora River runs through Aroona Station, south-west of Katherine.(Supplied: Elders)

"There are probably other opportunities at Aroona to develop portions of the property to make it more profitable for its beef operation, not just horticulture or cotton or whatever might be on the horizon in that region." 

Hancock Prospecting has invested more than $2 million into Willeroo Station since its purchase, upgrading water storage, fences, yards and accommodation, according to a website advertising its sale.

More than $3 million has been spent on similar improvements at Aroona, including $630,000 on a "digital mobile radio system" according to the website.

Hancock Prospecting's agent did not respond to a request for comment.

Get the latest rural news

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘I definitely wouldn’t have bought one without the subsidies’: Julie got $16,000 to buy her first EV


When Julie Hoang needed to upgrade the family's ageing diesel car, she didn't at first consider buying an electric vehicle (EV).

Then she saw the subsidies, and pretty soon she was swanning around in a sleek white electric Peugeot.

"I definitely wouldn't have bought one without the subsidies," she says.

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The four-door hatchback would have cost an eye-watering $50,000, but the government gave her an $11,000 rebate.

On top of this, it bought back her diesel clunker for about $5,000.

"That's a higher value than what it's worth," Julie said.

All up, the subsidy and buy-back reduced the cost of the car to $34,000; more expensive than a diesel model, but not by too much.

The catch? (And sorry to get your hopes up).

Julie lives in France. 

Public EV chargers are fast becoming a familiar sight in European cities.(Getty: Carsten Koall)

Governments around the world are offering juicy purchase incentives to speed car ownership to EVs — and it appears to be working.

EVs made up 22 per cent of new car sales in France in September 2021.

In Australia, which has some small state EV subsidies but no overarching national ones, EVs account for about 1.6 per cent of new car sales.

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Industry groups have been calling for sizeable national incentives for years and hoped they'd arrive with a long-anticipated federal government EV strategy, which was released last week.

But they didn't arrive: The Prime Minister ruled them out, saying Australians would have to wait for the carmakers to offer cheaper cars.

"I trust Australians that when they are presented with good options at good prices — they'll make good choices," he said.

So what subsidies and tax concessions (known collectively as purchase incentives) are other governments dangling before the car-buying public?

Here's what's on offer in Australia, compared to a selection of other countries around the world.

Australia

  • Australian Capital Territory: New EVs are exempt from stamp duty (about $1,350 for a $45,000 car)
  • New South Wales: The first 25,000 EVs sold (worth less than $68,750) attract a $3,000 rebate. New and used EVs (worth less than $78,000) are also exempt from stamp duty (roughly the same as in ACT)
  • Victoria: New electric and hydrogen vehicles (worth less than $68,740) attract a subsidy of $3,000 and pay a lower rate of stamp duty
  • Queensland: Electric and hybrid vehicles pay a reduced stamp duty
  • Tasmania: New and used EVs are exempt from stamp duty
  • South Australia: The first 7,000 EVs purchased in the state attract a $3,000 subsidy, and new EVs are exempt from registration fees up to 2025
  • Northern Territory: Slightly lower registration fees for EVs.

But these purchase incentives are, or will be, cancelled out by "EV taxes" in some states:

  • Victoria: EV drivers pay a road user charge of 2-2.5 cents per kilometre (for an average distance covered per year, that's about $300, so over 10 years it cancels out the subsidy)
  • South Australia and New South Wales: From 2027, EVs will pay a road user charge

New Zealand

New Zealand offers rebates of $NZ8,625 for new EVs and $NZ3,450 for used ones, and has flagged a "cash for clunkers" buyback scheme.

United States

EV buyers get a federal tax credit of up to $US7,500 and President Joe Biden is pushing to increase that figure to $US12,500 for US-made models.

There are also extra state-based EV subsidies. In California, residents can access a rebate of up to $US7,000 on new EVs.

An electric vehicle charging station in California.(Getty: Frederic J. Brown)China

The world's largest EV market has electric car subsidies of 18,000 Yuan ($3,822).

United Kingdom

The UK offers grants of up to 3,000 British pounds ($5,500), as well as other incentives, such as exemption from the vehicle excise duty and London's congestion charge.

Ireland

Ireland offers subsidies and tax relief of up to 10,000 euros ($15,700) for purchasing a new EV.

Germany

Germany has EV subsidies of up to 9,000 Euros ($14,200).

German carmakers are also offering generous diesel vehicle buyback schemes, ranging from 6,000 ($9,400) to 10,000 euros ($15,700).

Volkswagen employees assemble the body and powertrain of a VW EV in a Dresden factory.(Getty: Sebastian Kahnert)Norway

Norway offers generous exemptions from various carbon, road and sales taxes that make EVs cheaper to buy than petrol or diesel cars.

In September 2021, EVs made up 77.5 per cent of all new cars sold in the country.

Are Australia's incentives enough?

The Grattan Institute says that to get Australia's transport sector emissions to net zero by 2050, 50 per cent of new car sales will need to be zero-emissions vehicles by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2035.

(Zero-emission vehicles can also be hydrogen cars, but most of the time we're talking about EVs, which are much more popular.)

How feasible is this with existing incentives?

According to government modelling, we will fall short of these targets.

The federal government's EV strategy released last week estimates that, under current policy settings (and without national rebates), EVs will make up only 30 per cent of new light vehicle sales by 2030.

The EV strategy states: "Reducing the total cost of ownership through subsidies would not represent value for the taxpayer, particularly as industry is rapidly working through technological developments to make battery electric vehicles cheaper."

France, meanwhile, has seen so many EV sales that it's even slightly reduced its subsidies since Julie bought her Peugeot.

Speaking from a small village in the south of France, Julie said she was also benefiting from a low-interest loan for EV purchases, as well as avoiding paying sales tax to insure the car.

"It reduces the insurance quite a bit," she said.

These incentives haven't removed all the barriers to buying an EV— there's still the problem of limited public chargers and a new anxiety about running out of juice if she ventures to Lyon or Marseille.

"It's the blocking issue at the moment," she said.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Police fine Darwin man for breaching self-quarantine rules, as NT confirms more COVID-19 cases


Darwin 0800

A 52-year-old man has become the first person in the Northern Territory to be given an on-the-spot fine for breaching self-quarantine rules.

Key points:

  • The man had returned from overseas last Monday and was meant to be self-quarantining
  • NT Police have said fines of $1,099 will be issued for any breaches after a warning
  • Four new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the NT on Tuesday

Northern Territory police said the man was fined in Darwin for failing to comply with directions of the Chief Health Officer.

The man returned from overseas last Monday and was meant to spend 14 days in self-quarantine.

No details were given about how he breached the quarantine order.

A police spokesman said the man was handed an infringement notice for $1,099.

Police officers, along with Australian Defence Force personnel, are carrying out about 200 spot checks each day on people who are in quarantine.

NT Police have said someone would be fined if they breached a quarantine order again after being warned.

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap

NT COVID-19 snapshot

  • Territorians diagnosed with COVID-19: 21
  • Cases detected in the NT: 22

Get the latest information from the SecureNT website.

Four positive tests in overseas arrivals

Four new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the Northern Territory on Tuesday, bringing the number of people diagnosed in the NT to 19.

All four were people who had returned from overseas.

There has been no community transmission of the virus in the NT to date.

Two Darwin men in their late 20s were admitted to Royal Darwin Hospital on Tuesday afternoon.

One flew from Sydney to Darwin on flight VA1351 on Friday, March 20.

The other flew from Melbourne to Darwin on flight QF838 last Wednesday.

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

Secure NT said both men had been in self-quarantine since arriving in the Northern Territory.

Earlier on Tuesday Health Minister Natasha Fyles said two women in their 40s had tested positive for the virus.

One woman who had been in the Philippines flew to Darwin from Sydney last Friday on flight QF 840.

The NT Public Health Unit planned to contact passengers sitting near the woman and two men on their flights.

The second woman recently returned from a European cruise on MSC Fantasia.

Secure NT said no contact tracing would be done in that woman’s case because of the delay between her return and becoming unwell.

How do I get tested in the NT?

  • If you can’t contact or get to your GP, but you have the symptoms, you should call 1800 008 002
  • This is a dedicated NT-wide coronavirus (COVID-19) number for people who need to arrange testing only
  • If you live in Darwin and need to arrange testing, call the Public Health Unit on 8922 8044
  • Patients who are tested should remain isolated at home until they receive their test results
  • For general advice, Territorians can call 1800 020 080

Latest information from SecureNT website

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:


Video: Under the microscope

(ABC News)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Michelle wants to speak out about her abuse. An archaic law stops her from going public


Darwin 0800

Michelle* looked out of a window, across a sweltering street in Darwin’s central business district, while she recounted her “greatest secret.”

Key points:

  • Sexual abuse survivors in the NT are not allowed to speak to the media
  • Journalists face up to six months’ jail and hefty fines for naming survivors — even with written consent
  • Proposed changes to NT legislation will allow sexual assault survivors to speak to the media under certain conditions

A woman who is at the top of her field in the public service and played a senior role in Australian embassies around the world, was vulnerable.

She said her abuse started when she was 11 years old.

“I was just a child. We were in a small class. I was 11. I loved school, but then it came to be a place I dreaded to go.”

Gagged by law, finally this woman can tell her story
Grace Tame was groomed and abused by her maths teacher when she was 15. For the first time, she can finally share her story.

She was born in the Northern Territory and pursued a career in the public service in Canberra after graduating from university.

The ABC cannot reveal her identity, even with her consent.

Unlike other Australian jurisdictions, “gag laws” in the Northern Territory prevent sexual assault victims from using their real name or showing their face when speaking to the media.

Journalists face up to six months’ jail and hefty fines for naming them — even with written consent.

In a bid to change that, the NT Government tabled a bill late last year to allow victims to share their stories — and while it needs to be debated in Parliament before being passed — advocates have slammed the draft legislation.

Despite years of campaigning for change, Nina Funnell, creator of the #LetHerSpeak campaign, said she had “major, serious concerns” over the bill.

“I’d say it has been reactionary it has been rushed through because of the pending election and in its current form, it still suffers several weaknesses,” she said.

“It would be a major victory for paedophiles and rapists if it’s passed in its current form as it continues to silence victims for protracted periods of time.

“It produces a double standard where perpetrators can talk to media from the get-go [after being committed to stand trial] and control the narrative but their victims need to wait till all avenues of appeal are exhausted.”

But the NT Attorney-General Natasha Fyles defended the changes, and said the bill was going “through the same process all legislation does”.



Photo:

Michelle and Jessica say the abuse took place in after hours “prayer sessions”. (ABC News: Emma Machan)

‘He said he saw something special in me’

Michelle went to a Catholic educational institution. She said she excelled at mathematics and was a diligent student. That changed, she said, when a teacher at the school told her she needed to go to an after-hours “prayer session”.

“He started by picking me out from the classroom one day. He said he saw something special in me, and that I needed to go to these prayer sessions with other students. But only some special ones could go,” she said.

“It was the late 1960s and a time when people just trusted teachers and priests.

“There was nothing inside me that told me this was unusual or wrong.”

Unpursued in the Top End
The NT has the highest percentage of sexual assault reports not pursued by police.

But Michelle said she quickly realised that something was terribly wrong.

“It started with him asking for us to strip. We were confused, I remember thinking as a 10-year-old girl, what has this got to do with prayer?”

“Then it changed to more hand-on abuse. And progressed to penetration.”

The teacher died in the early 2000s.

Jessica* was also present in those after-hours “prayer sessions”. She said “pairs of girls” would be brought to an alcove space in the school after-hours and “touched up”.

“It was messed up. I remember my heart was beating so quickly when he put his hands on me, on my chest. I felt so disgusted,” she recalled.



Photo:

Jessica says she lost “all faith, all trust” after being called into a “prayer session”. (ABC News: Emma Machan)

A downward spiral

Jessica, a self-confessed drug addict living in the suburban outskirts of Darwin, said she had struggled with depression and anxiety since her teens and blamed that moment in 1970 when she was called into a “prayer session” as “stuffing my life up”.

“I lost all faith, all trust, and still struggle with a sense of hopelessness,” she said.

“I am not proud of some of the decisions I have made but feel that in some ways I didn’t stand a chance after what happened because I was in pain.”

Neither Jessica nor Michelle’s matters were heard before the royal commission or received any out of court settlements.

A ‘horror show’ for victims
The typical sexual assault reported to police has shifted, experts say, and the current legal system is “totally ill-equipped”.

While Michelle was overseas at the time at the time of the royal commission, both friends said they were also reluctant to go through the process of testifying — fearful of how painful and drawn out it would be.

Sexual assault support services:

But they said they still wanted to share their personal stories of alleged abuse to encourage others to “tell someone”.

And they said any decisions about identifying themselves in that process should be up to them.

“It is a weight off you, as corny as that might sound,” Michelle said.

“It’s as if there is this black hole in my life, this part of me that I can’t confront. But by sharing the evil, it takes on less of a spectre.

“But I feel it is wrong that NT laws haven’t caught up with the rest of Australia.

“The decision to come forward and publicly share our stories isn’t an easy one, but it should be ours to make.”

A push for new laws

On November 28 last year, the NT Government tabled a bill to amend the existing Sexual Offences (Evidence and Procedure) Act 1983.

The bill is being examined by a parliamentary scrutiny committee but if approved in its current form, the changes mean adult sexual assault survivors in the Northern Territory will be able to speak to the media and show their identity as long as they provide prior written consent, have no mental impairments and do not identify other victims who want to stay anonymous.

The proposed bill will also allow the media to identify people who say they are victims, including Michelle and Jessica, where no charges have been laid.

In October last year, Tasmania’s Attorney-General Elise Archer committed to amending section that state’s Evidence Act, a similar piece of legislation which also barred Tasmanian survivors from talking to the media.

Tasmania is expected to change its law early this year, which means until the Northern Territory follows suit, it will be the only jurisdiction in Australia which does not allow survivors to self-identify.



Photo:

Nina Funnell, creator of the #LetHerSpeak campaign, said she had “major, serious concerns” over the bill. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

But the NT Government’s draft legislation has been heavily criticised by Ms Funnell.

“The reforms they are proposing only go halfway,” she said.

As it currently stands, the draft bill only allows survivors to speak to the media after all avenues of appeal had been exhausted by the offender, a process which could take years.

“There’s absolutely no legal reason for that,” Ms Funnell said.

“The onus should be on the defendant to apply for a suppression order if they think there is a particular reason why a victim should not be able to speak out.

“There are already appropriate safeguards in place to protect trials and to protect the interests and rights of defendants.”

“We are robbing survivors of the basic dignity of being able to use their name and we are robbing them of the right to stand on the steps of a courthouse on the day of the conviction and tell the world that they won.”

Ms Funnell said allowing survivors the right to be named gave them back power and control and could also inspire other survivors to come forward.

Fyles defends draft bill

Ms Fyles was asked why the proposed bill banned survivors from speaking until the entire appeals process was finalised.

“This timing is proposed to ensure a fair trial for the defendant and that there is no prejudice,” she said.



Photo:

NT Attorney-General Natasha Fyles says there are some survivors in the NT who want to share their stories. (ABC News)

She defended the changes in the bill.

“Off the back of the #LetHerSpeak campaign which encourages victims of sexual offences tell their stories, the Territory Labor Government acknowledges that there may be victims who want to tell their stories and therefore waive the prohibition on publication,” she said.

“Some victims of sexual assault want privacy and anonymity, and this Government respects that too.

“These amendments will allow those who want to share their stories the opportunity to do so without legal parameters preventing them.”

In NT, a person charged with sexual offences cannot be named until they are committed to stand trial.

Ms Funnell said she was disappointed the NT Government did not attempt to change this section of the law, by allowing the media to name a person from the point they were charged — as was in the case in most Australian jurisdictions.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Australia has six ‘new’ species of native gecko


Broome 6725

Six new native gecko species have been discovered during the course of a two-decade long research program by the Queensland Museum and Griffith University.

Key points:

  • Genetic testing has revealed six new species of native gecko, which also have subtle differences to the Asian house gecko
  • The “new” geckos, which are found mostly in northern Australia, have smooth tails and fewer claws than their famous cousins
  • New species are identified in Australia quite frequently, according to one reptile expert

The university’s Dr Paul Oliver, who is also a senior curator at Queensland Museum, said identifying the new species required painstaking detective work.

“Part of the reason these common species have been undiscovered for so long is that they’re very hard to tell apart,” he said.

Tail tips from the creatures were analysed to identify the genetic differences.

“Although we can’t tell them apart, [other geckos] certainly can,” he said.



Photo:

This native Geyhra arnhemica was discovered almost four hours east of Katherine, in the Northern Territory, at the Wongalara Sanctuary. (Supplied: Stephen Zozaya)

The story in a tail

Despite being as common as the Asian house gecko, which can be found in many homes across Australia, native geckos have three distinct differences:

  • Asian house geckos make the famous gecko “clicking” sound, but their Australian cousins are much quieter
  • Asian house geckos have spikes on their tails, while the six native geckos share smooth tails
  • Native geckos do not have a claw on their first toe, whereas Asian house geckos have claws on all their toes



Photo:

The Gehyra lapistola can be found in bushland, like this one that was spotted in the NT’s Fish River. (Supplied: Steven Richards)

Where to find the new species

The newly discovered Australian geckos, according to Dr Oliver, are fairly widespread.

“They’re basically dotted across northern Australia, from Broome to as far south as Brisbane,” he said.

The Northern Territory is home to the Geyhra arnhemica and the Gehyra chimera, found in rocky ranges towards the Top End.

Gehyra gemina occurs widely through the northern deserts of Western Australia and Northern Territory, with the Geyhra chimera and Geyhra calcitectus found mainly in the Kimberley region.

North-west Queensland has the Gehyra lauta, better known as the “ghost gecko” for its pale appearance, and it can also be seen in bushland in the north-eastern Northern Territory.

If you find a gecko a long way away from people in the bush, Dr Paul Oliver said the probability is that it’s a native gecko.



Photo:

Gehyra lauta — better known as the “ghost gecko” — has been spotted in north-west Queensland and the Northern Territory. (Supplied: Mark Hutchinson)

New discoveries nothing new

Steve Wilson, the author of the Guide to Australian Reptiles, said new species were constantly being identified by researchers and wildlife enthusiasts each year.

“We had about 1,100 Australian reptile species, and over the past three years we’ve had another 80 added to that,” Mr Wilson said.

Mr Wilson said there were two common ways to identify new species of animals.

“One is to turn over a rock and say, ‘That’s a new lizard that no-one has ever seen before,'” he said.

“The other way is to look at a species that has a wide distribution and genetically test them [and they] turn out to be different, which is what’s happened with this new discovery.”

Mr Wilson says anyone who finds an unusual animal should take a photo of it and the location and send them to the Queensland Museum.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Regional Australia cops brunt of rainfall from ex-tropical cyclone Esther


Australia

Heavy rain from ex-tropical cyclone Esther has fallen across regional Australia overnight, and it’s set to continue.

Key points:

  • There has been heavy rainfall in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, the NT, the ACT and Tasmania
  • The weather is a result of ex-tropical cyclone Esther, which made landfall in February and has been making its way across Australia ever since
  • More rainfall is expected today and severe weather warnings are still in place across the country

After making landfall in the Gulf of Carpentaria on February 24, ex-tropical cyclone Esther made its way across to the West Australian coast before doing a U-turn and moving back over the Northern Territory.

New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, the ACT, the Northern Territory and Tasmania all copped a drenching.

In Victoria, State Emergency Service (SES) crews received at least 100 calls for help as the state received more than a month’s worth of flooding.

The worst hit areas were Wodonga in north-east Victoria, Kilmore north of Melbourne and the bayside suburb of Frankston.



Photo:

The flooding in Melbourne has affected tram lines. (ABC News: Pat McGrath)

In NSW a severe weather warning for heavy rainfall and damaging winds was this morning in place for much of the state’s west and the ACT, but were mostly cancelled in the afternoon.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Jiwon Park said widespread falls of between 40 and 70 millimetres were expected, but that falls of more than 100mm would be possible if there were thunderstorms.

In Sydney between 10 and 30 millimetres of rain was expected.

Mr Park said it would be the same in much of the state’s east.


Infographic:
There is more rain on the way for eastern Australia in the coming days.
(Supplied: BOM)

Roads closed in Central Australia

In Central Australia the heavy rain led to significant road closures.

An Emergency Operation Centre was set up in Alice Springs on Wednesday to coordinate the response to local flooding in the Tanami Desert in the NT’s centre.

The BOM warned that despite easing conditions, it could take several days for the flooded roads to reopen.

“We’re likely to see these flood watches continue for the next couple of days, however the severe weather associated — the heavy rainfall and damaging winds — is likely to start to ease,” meteorologist Chris Kent said.

Heavy overnight falls in Queensland, Tasmania

In Queensland, the best overnight falls were in the state’s south-west near the NT border, with 214mm recorded at Thargomindah in two days.

Earlier weather warnings for heavy rainfall and damaging winds had largely been cancelled by Thursday afternoon.




Photo:

There were grey skies in Australia’s southernmost capital. (Supplied: Kyla Judd)

Meanwhile, in Tasmania the state’s north east was bearing the brunt of the widespread rainfall.

The highest fall since in the state was 81 mm at Gray on the east coast since 9:00am on Wednesday.

There was heavy rain throughout the day in Hobart, making for a wet commute for CBD workers.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


What a record-breaking Northern Territory deluge really looks like


Darwin 0800

Torrential rain was greeted like an old friend in Northern Territory communities this weekend after a tropical weather system induced record-breaking deluges across the Top End.

Key points:

  • Wagait Beach, a short ferry ride from Darwin, copped 515mm of rain in a 24-hour period
  • The rain has been heralded by locals after a brutally dry 2019
  • The island of Dum In Mirrie received 562mm in 24 hours — a new NT record

Colossal downpours drenched the Northern Territory on Friday, with the small island of Dum In Mirrie south-west of Darwin receiving 562mm in 24 hours — an amount the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) confirmed is a new Northern Territory record.

The rains came as part of a tropical low system stalked the North Australian cost and threatened to hit Darwin as a tropical cyclone.

With little more than a weather station and tidal flats on the tiny island of Dum In Mirrie, the ABC has yet to hear local testimony of the day’s unprecedented rains.

But in populated Top End towns from Wagait Beach (515mm), Pirlangimpi (164mm) and Charles Point (185mm), residents said the rains were like nothing they’d seen in years.

External Link:

Wagait flooding FB vid

But how much did it really rain, historically speaking?
External Link:

Matt Brann tweet

While the BOM has confirmed the reading at Dum In Mirrie broke the NT’s daily rainfall record (previously 544mm in the Roper Valley in 1963), the 562mm on the island does not crack the top-10 biggest daily readings recorded in Australia.

The highest ever daily rainfall total in the country — 907mm at Crohamhurst, QLD in 1893 — was barely threatened by the tropical storms.

The 515mm at Wagait Beach is now the second highest ever daily rainfall recorded in the NT.

From the vantage point of the local native plant nursery, Wagait Beach local Jack Ellis watched on in disbelief as his plants soaked up more than half a wet season’s worth of rain in a single day.

‘An amazing waterfall wherever you looked’

Mr Ellis, who runs the local plant nursery, said the rain was “as heavy as he’d seen”.

“The rain started just after 9:00am. I went out and checked the gauge and saw we’d had 30mm and I thought, ‘wow, that’s good’, because it’s been very dry up here until then,” he said.



Photo:

Wagait local Jack Ellis zoomed around town capturing images of flooding on Friday. (Supplied: Jack Ellis)

Mr Ellis said the rain bucketed down “basically non-stop” until the late afternoon on Sunday.

“And then, like all good public servants do, it stopped shortly before about 5:00pm,” he said.

“If you could just imagine standing under a waterfall for almost a day — that’s what it was like.



Photo:

The creek at Wagait Beach nearly tipped 0.8 metres during the deluge. (Supplied: Rick Gosper)

“It just kept coming and coming. Enormous, heavy rain, and it just bucketed down with virtually no wind.

“It was quite pleasant: just this amazing waterfall wherever you looked.”

Mr Ellis said he recalled days where the community had received over 100mm in a day, including one deluge of 250ml when Cyclone Carlos swept across the Top End.

External Link:

Wagait Beach is a 120km journey by car from Darwin or a 10-minute ride by ferry.

“Even on that day I thought we were going to head over to the shed and build an ark at that stage,” he said.

At about 5:00pm, when the rain had slowed, Mr Ellis, an ex-newspaper man at the Litchfield Times, drove around Wagait Beach taking photographs of flooded roads and sodden bushland.

While he said he could see no critical damage to local infrastructure, Mr Ellis said a key concern was the inaccessibility of the local pub.

“The other major disaster was they had to cancel the 5:00pm, 6:00pm and 7:00pm ferries because the wave action against the jetty was such they couldn’t safely tie up to ferry people off,” he said.



Photo:

Locals reported minor flooding, with no critical damage, around the Wagait Beach community. (Supplied: Territory Image)

Deluge replenishes a diminished water supply

Across the NT, the rain brought varying relief to towns facing acute water shortages, where some aquifers had failed or were at critical lows.

Wagait Beach resident Naomi Irvine said she was thrilled to see her melaleuca trees under water and her water tank filled to the brim after a prolonged dry spell in 2019.



Photo:

The historic downpour provided nourishment to the mini paperbark garden at one Wagait resident’s home. (Supplied: Naomi Irvine)

“I absolutely loved it because last year we didn’t get any rain; lately it’s been so hot and dry so to get that kind of water is just fantastic,” she said.

External Link:

Melissa Mackay tweet

“Most of the residents up here have water tanks so we get pretty excited about this kind of rain … it means we can fill up.”

Mr Ellis said the rain had fully replenished his two 22,000 litre tanks which were empty before Friday.

“That usually takes me about three to four weeks of really good rain,” he said.

Due to a lack of rainfall in 2019, Mr Ellis said local residents had been drawing water from large holding tanks piped in from external bores, or paying considerable money to have their tanks filled.

“Now, I don’t think there’d be an empty tank in Wagait Beach at this time,” he said.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Documents reveal ‘extreme and ill-advised’ secret plan to take land along the Ghan line


Darwin 0800

Federal cabinet documents kept secret for 20 years have revealed plans to create new laws to take land from Aboriginal people in the way of a proposed 1,400-kilometre rail line through the Northern Territory.

Key points:

  • The newly released documents show criticism against the Ghan plan
  • Aboriginal groups said the move would be unfair to traditional owners
  • Papers also show statehood plans were in advanced stages 20 years ago

The ambitious rail line, taking freight and the Ghan passenger train between Australia’s southern and northern ports in Darwin and Adelaide, was eventually built without the laws pressing ahead.

But the cabinet-in-confidence documents from 1998, publicly released on Wednesday, show that then-prime minister John Howard had offered a green light to “introduce legislation to provide access to Aboriginal land along the route of the railway if there is a genuine and immediate need”.



Photo:

Documents show Mr Howard was in favour of introducing the controversial legislation. (Andrew Sheargold: Reuters)

The documents also show both the then-federal and CLP Northern Territory governments were prepared for a fight with Aboriginal groups over the matter.

“It is likely the legislation may attract criticism from Aboriginal interests to the extent that it is perceived to diminish the rights of Aboriginal land owners,” the papers read.

“There may also be a risk of attempted constitutional challenge to the legislation.”

The papers showed that Mr Howard considered the rail link a “project of national significance” and confirmed the Commonwealth’s commitment of $165 million to the line, 20 per cent of which ran across Aboriginal land.

“The NT Government has indicated it is experiencing difficulties with obtaining access to Aboriginal-owned and claimed land along the proposed route of the railway and this could significantly delay or prevent construction of the railway,” the papers read.

Proposed laws slammed by ATSIC

The proposed laws to take land were slammed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) as “unnecessarily extreme”, “very unfair” and “ill-advised”, the documents show.



Photo:

The contingency plan to acquire Aboriginal land was never enacted. (Tim Wimborne: Reuters)

“ATSIC does not support the recommendation to draft Commonwealth legislation to enable the NT to acquire all interests in land along the proposed route of the railway,” it reads.

“It is very unfair to Aboriginal traditional owners, who have not been consulted about this proposal, and will potentially be denied the ability to negotiate a fair agreement with the NT.

“[It] is an unnecessarily extreme response to the situation … [it] will provoke a strong negative reaction from Indigenous interests across Australia, and will renew public controversy over land rights only weeks after the Wik legislation has finally been settled.”



Photo:

The 2004 journey was the first time in Australian history a passenger train crossed the continent from south to north. (Anna Sleath: ABC)

NT historian Alex Nelson said there “was no love lost between the land councils and the Northern Territory government of that time”.

“It was a major feature of Territory politics, was this divide between black and white essentially, and for much of that period … of self-government up to the end of the century, it worked in favour of the CLP,” he said.

The rail line eventually proceeded after an agreement was reached between the NT government and Aboriginal traditional owners, with the link between Alice Springs and Darwin completed in 2003.

In February 2004, the Ghan arrived in Darwin for the first time to great fanfare.

Statehood plans well-advanced by 1998

The documents also revealed how advanced planning was to create Australia’s seventh state.

Prime Minister Howard had voiced his “in-principle” position “that statehood should be granted to the Northern Territory subject to terms and conditions to be determined by the Federal Parliament”.

Why isn’t the Northern Territory a state?
We rifled through the NT’s weird and wacky history to see if we could get to the bottom of the ever-present question: Why isn’t the NT a state?

Among the conditions being debated, the papers show, were the ownership of uranium resources, how many senators should be allocated to the region, and whether the Ashmore and Cartier Islands should be incorporated into the federation’s newest state.

The future financial situation of the fledgling state was also taken into account.

“The granting of statehood should avoid imposing any additional financial burden on the Commonwealth,” the documents read.

A new state constitution for the Northern Territory had also been drafted and was contained in the newly-released cabinet papers, which ruled that Aboriginal customary law would be recognised as “a written law of the state”.

One year after Howard’s commitment, a statehood referendum held in the NT failed to garner the support of Territorians, with more than 51 per cent of the population voting against the proposal.

There has never been a second referendum held on the matter.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news




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