Campaigner fears cuts to school support staff

Public education advocate Jane Caro (left) and Russell Vale Public School administration officer Margaret Fallo discuss the possible effects of budget reforms on school support staff. Picture: MELANIE RUSSELLSchool support staff jobs could be at risk under NSW government education reforms, public education campaigner Jane Caro said yesterday.
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In Wollongong to speak to 500 administration and support staff from Illawarra schools, Ms Caro said reforms to give principals more power over their staffing budgets could result in fewer support workers being employed.

“I think one of the problems with [the reforms] may be that it very much depends on whether [the government is] going to give public schools the budgets they need,” she told a conference at the Novotel Northbeach.

MERCURY SAYS: Parents have reason to be angry

“Or are principals going to have to make decisions between employing an office and support administrator or another teacher?”

The social commentator, who is known for her appearances on ABC TV’s Gruen Transfer and Q&A programs, said office staff, teachers’ aides and maintenance staff were the unsung heroes of public schools working behind the scenes to do photocopying, collect money, run finance systems, and maintain rooms and playgrounds.

“They are incredibly important because without them, teachers would have to do all that work and that would take them away from teaching,” Ms Caro said.

She said many support and administration workers deserved to be paid more because their jobs had changed so much over the years.

“They are often the first people parents have contact with and they often have to turn their hands and do whatever is required,” she said.

“They are the sane centre of the school, quite often, and they are able to concentrate on the whole school, where teachers have to focus on one class or one subject area.”

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Vandals trash Minnamurra mansion

The 2000 square metre mansion was about 70 per cent complete when work was brought to a halt due to financial difficulties. Vandalism inside the mansion at Dunmore. The property was to have included a pool, games room, gymnasium and an eight-car garage, along with opulent tiled walkways. Pictures courtesy JOHN KOSSERIS
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This website image shows young skaters taking advantage of the now empty Kosseris mansion.

It was to be a home worthy of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

But what promised to be the Illawarra’s most opulent property has instead become a post-apocalyptic hangout for teenagers – and a popular illegal skate park to boot.

The palatial residence, part of the Kosseris family’s planned Dunmore Equestrian Centre, now has an internet profile as the “Abandoned Minnamurra Mansion”.

Clips on websites show skaters taking advantage of what would have been opulent tiled walkways, passing by graffiti-covered walls. Facebook sites are sharing directions.

The 2000 square metre mansion, controversially approved by Shellharbour City Council, was about 70 per cent complete when work ground to halt.

Overlooking the Minnamurra River, with views across the Jamberoo Valley, the dream property was to include a pool, games room, gymnasium and an eight-car garage.

Three years ago John Kosseris’s Belmorgan companies were placed in receivership owing tens of millions of dollars, but the Dunmore Equestrian Centre Pty Ltd had other issues.

In 2007 Shellharbour City Council began proceedings in the Land and Environment Court over unauthorised works on the site, including construction of a road through environmentally sensitive wetlands.

Plans to remediate the site were left unresolved when Dunmore Equestrian Centre Pty Ltd, later known as Riverview Developments (Aust) Pty Ltd, was wound up.

Despite the involvement of receivers, Mr Kosseris told the Mercury this week “we still hold possession of the property”.

Mr Kosseris said the family was still hopeful of completing the development.

However, negotiations are continuing with Shellharbour City Council over the environmental court orders.

Mr Kosseris said the family was “very hurt” by the teenagers’ treatment of the property, but said despite the theft of wires and the extensive vandalism, the mansion remained structurally sound.

He warned that visitors to the property were trespassing and would be prosecuted and that police were visiting on a regular basis.

“If parents could tell their kids to stop going there it would be appreciated by us and the neighbours.”

A Shellharbour City Council spokeswoman said the council had been made aware of trespassing on the property in July and had provided this information to relevant authorities.

“The occupation of the site by young adults is a trespassing issue and therefore a matter for the police,” she said.

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Hospital appoints 20 new specialists

Three of Wollongong Hospital’s new specialists (from left) Dr Shivakumar Hampasagar, Dr Rebecca Jack and Dr Fred Nouh are among 20 new visiting medical officers working in the Illawarra. Picture: ANDY ZAKELITalking to a conscious patient during brain surgery has been a career highlight for new Wollongong Hospital visiting medical officer Dr Shivakumar Hampasagar.
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Dr Hampasagar is one of 20 new VMOs at the hospital representing the fresh face of medical specialists in the Illawarra.

He was delighted to get a position in the hospital’s anaesthetics department.

“The highlight has been assisting in an awake craniotomy earlier this year, which was the first time it had been done at Wollongong Hospital,” he said.

“We couldn’t put the patient [under full general anaesthetic] because of the location of the brain tumour so we used regional anaesthesia and sedation which enabled her to speak to us throughout the four-and-a-half-hour operation.”

Another of the hospital’s new VMOs, vascular surgeon Dr Rebecca Jack, hopes to put her training in robotic surgery to use at Wollongong in the future.

Dr Jack is one of a small number of female vascular surgeons in NSW and is proud to work in the traditionally male-dominated area.

“I am fortunate that there are now two female surgeons in the vascular unit, including Dr Laurencia Villalba,” she said.

“I spent a year at Wollongong Hospital as part of my training in 2009 and am thrilled to be back working with the head of the unit, Dr David Huber, who has created a progressive unit incorporating state-of-the-art technology.

“I’ve recently done a course in robotic surgery in Prague and am excited about the possibilities.”

Meantime, new orthopaedic surgeon Dr Fred Nouh believes his training in the latest techniques in hip and knee replacements will be of great value to the region’s elderly residents.

Dr Nouh also enjoys the variety of work within his specialisation.

“There’s a mix of patients – from elderly patients who need a hip replacement after falls or due to arthritis, to younger people who’ve suffered sports injuries or been involved in motor vehicle accidents.”

The hospital’s director of clinical services, Dr Raghu Murthy, said getting the right combination of specialist staff was vital, with Wollongong to be a central hub for the region’s health services.

“We’ve clearly undertaken a major capital works program with a focus on surgical services, and it’s important to continue to build our workforce,” he said.

“In any organisation it’s appropriate to have younger, and more experienced staff – getting that balance of people with experience and people with new ideas is vital.

“We go through the process of appointing VMOs every five years and the majority of people are reappointed, but a small number retire and that provides us with the opportunity to review services and make changes and bring in younger people.”

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Damaging winds to hit tonight

Winds of up to 100km/h could hit northern parts of the Illawarra tonight, the Bureau of Meteorology has warned.
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In a severe weather warning issued a short time ago, the bureau said the winds are likely to average about 65km/h and continue into Saturday morning.

Gusts of 89km/h were recorded at Albion Park earlier today, while winds peaked at 72km/h at Bellambi.

This afternoon’s warning came a week after similar conditions fanned a fire that tore through more than 1600ha of scrub and bushland at Bulli Tops.

The State Emergency Service has warned residents to secure loose items and move cars and other valuable objects to shelter.

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Cessnock Customer Service Awards a huge success

More than 230 people attended Cessnock Chamber of Commerce Cessnock Customer Service Awards.
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The awards were held at Cessnock Supporters Club where the auditorium was presented in magnificent fashion for the annual event.

Cessnock Chamber of Commerce President, Geoff Walker, said the event was all about celebrating success with the focus on top customer service.

About 600 nominations were received for the nine catergories and judges had an enjoyable, but difficult deciding on the winners.

The Business of the Year winner was Vincent Street business The Body Ark while the overall Customer Service was Cessnock businessman Lenny Nicholson who has been in business 30 years.

The Professional Category winner was Anthony Burke and runners up, Paul Smyth and Kathryn Dodd.

Not for Profit Category winner was Lesley Radnidge.

Trade Category winner was Stefan Nemeth and runner up- Tracey Smyth.

In the Apprentice/ Trainee Category the winner was Jodie McDonald.

Hospitality also featured and the winner in this category was Amanda Clarke with runner-up Debbie Swift and Jessie Wyborn.

The Retail Category Winner was Lenny Nicholson and runner up Denise Daley.

The New Media Category award went to Melissa Gibson.

TOP BUSINESS: Joblink Plus Cessnock manager, Rebekah Smith with Roz Williams of The Body Ark and chamber president, Geoff Walker.

SUCCESS: Supporters Club CEO Paul Cousins, Miss Cessnock City, Hayley Doherty, Lenny Nicholson and chamber president, Geoff Walker.

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Mobile phone use drives police to distraction

NSW Police have called for the state government to toughen the penalty for drivers caught repeatedly using their mobile phones, amid disagreement over whether phone use in cars is actually a significant contributor to motor accidents.
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Appearing before the Staysafe parliamentary inquiry in to driver and road user distraction, the NSW Police Assistant Commissioner, John Hartley, said the government needed both education and stronger enforcement to reduce the number of people becoming dangerously distracted by hand-held devices.

“From my point of view, a second mobile phone use offence should be a much higher penalty,” he said. “If you’re caught twice, maybe you lose your licence for a period of time.”

Various witnesses appearing before this morning’s committee hearing likened the risk posed by mobile devices to low-range drink driving.

A senior government transport bureaucrat said the government needed to raise awareness of distraction by mobile devices in a similar way as had been done with speeding and other risks in previous decades.

“Our desire is to get this issue of driver distraction, within the community, the same as we had drink driving, speeding and seat-belts into the community’s mind in the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s,” said Tim Reardon, deputy director general, policy and regulation at Transport for NSW.

But during this morning’s hearings, one MP on the committee questioned whether mobile phones and other devices actually posed a serious threat to road safety.

Labor MLC Walt Seccord cited the government’s own statistics that showed mobile phones accounted for only 1 per cent of all crashes blamed on driver distraction. Between July 2010, and December 2011, only 60 out of 4913 “distraction” crashes resulting in injuries or death involved mobile phones. The vast majority, 77 per cent, were distracted or had their vision obscured by something outside the vehicle.

“Isn’t this just revenue raising?” he queried.

The standard penalty for using a hand-held phone while driving is $265 and three demerit points. Almost 46,000 people were charged with this offence in 2011.

But several experts who appeared before the committee said the data about the involvement of mobile phones in crashes was unreliable, because police still usually relied on motorists confessing to being on their phone when they crashed.

“No one admits to using a mobile phone while they’re driving,” Mr Hartley said.

Mobile phone usage was identified as contributing to nine fatal crashes in NSW since 2005, he said.

The inquiry continues.

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Uni forges Wollongong rebirth: Pittsburgh mayor

Former Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy helped transform the US city from dying to vibrant. Picture: WOLTER PEETERS The former mayor of Pittsburgh has praised University of Wollongong initiatives to bring the Illawarra’s economy into the 21st century.
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Credited with transforming the rusting steel capital of the United States, Tom Murphy stressed that university research was key to the new economy.

‘‘We’ve been there, done that,’’ Mr Murphy said on a recent visit to Sydney.

‘‘It’s the first time I’ve heard of an Australian university that is commercially successful.

‘‘Most people in Sydney have told me that that isn’t the case.’’

His comments come as half a dozen of the region’s entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to a panel of investors at the university’s Innovation Campus this week.

The initiative is part of a series of measures to create a so-called ‘‘ecosystem’’ to encourage technology start-ups based in the Illawarra.

These include:

❏the StartPad, an incubator office space in central Wollongong;

❏a monthly networking club for entrepreneurs with guest speakers;

❏the Pitching Plate;

❏a venture capital fund specifically for the Illawarra; and

❏a planned $20 million office block for start-ups at the Innovation Campus.

Although based on the extraordinary success of Waterloo, a regional town in Canada, the measures are similar to those enacted in Pittsburgh.

‘‘You have a generation who will not make the transition easily,’’ Mr Murphy warned.

‘‘You are going to have people who are going to beat up your politicians to save the mill.

‘‘The harder part is the cultural stuff.’’

If Australia’s other steel city, Newcastle, is anything to go by, saving the mill would be a mistake.

John Tate watched the industry slowly die through the 1980s and then pack up altogether a month after he became Lord Mayor.

‘‘At the time. I thought it was terrible,’’ he said.

‘‘We were losing steel and all the downstream industry. Then very quickly, I realised we were the lucky ones. I realised we had the opportunity of the cleaner air and the better amenity.’’

His Wollongong counterpart, Gordon Bradbery, disputes the contention that steel will cease to be a part of the region’s economy, but he concedes the city is at a historic juncture.

‘‘It’s an incredible honour to be in this role at this time,’’ he said.

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Puberty Blues: message to girls still the same

A still from the Puberty Blues remake.When I read Puberty Blues by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette at 14, I was shocked by what girls got up to in the big city.
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The sex, drugs and disobedience seemed as foreign to me as riding a horse for an hour to visit your friend would have been to them.

The decadence of life in Cronulla astounded my country-town mentality back in 1979 and I actually couldn’t believe my mother was letting me read a book so risque and rude.

Sex, back then, was something that only the “bad” girls at school did – and then it wasn’t until they were at least 16 or 17, which seemed like a lifetime away even when I was 14.

Reading about Debbie and Sue’s slide into the darker side of life was frightening and although their story was just that – a depiction of life in the city suburbs in the 70s – it also made me realise how easy it was to make a bad decision and the implications it could have on the rest of your life.

The social mores of the times were like a slap in the face as well. The chauvinism, the lack of respect for women, the abuse of power, weren’t something I had experienced as a young teenager in Wagga. Sure, boys were boys and girls wore dresses, but growing up in a rural community where everyone was required to dig in meant the chicks could ride a motorbike just as well as the blokes, and just because you had boobs didn’t mean you got out of pulling your weight.

And although the book focuses on the challenges Debbie and Sue faced growing up in the Shire, the underlying dramas of their parents was also an eye-opener.

But I wonder if things have changed that much in the teenage landscape of the new millennium.

Panel vans may have gone and, although feminism barged its way into the world so young women could have the opportunities that their grandmothers did not, I’m still uncertain whether the psyche of teenage girls has moved on from pleasing their man at any cost.

The most-recent depiction of the story in The Shire on TV is a prime example, though not the only one.

Everywhere there are messages to young girls that being the object of male fantasy is the only way to achieve success and acceptance.

Wearing – or not wearing in most cases – clothes that show off as much booty and booby as possible are de rigueur, even when the mercury slips into single figures.

The prevalence of “fitness” programs that promise a better bikini body in 12 weeks – and forget the basic messages of nutrition, or realistic sustainability of such drastic regimes – is increasing.

While there’s plenty of evidence to show young women now have greater expectations of what they can do with their lives, the statistics for teenage pregnancy are still one in four.

More young women are moving into higher education and taking on positions of power and responsibility, but they’re not the ones that are being celebrated in the media.

Rather, it’s the Jessica Simpsons or the “dramality” starlets that get the fleeting fame that young people – not just girls – think is going to get them the good life.

So, although the fashions may have changed and there are perhaps more girls out competing for a wave than in the 70s, when Puberty Blues shocked middle-class Australia, the underlying themes have not moved too far forward.

Even though the baby oil has been replaced with an SPF 30 sunblock, those skimpy crocheted bikinis still grace the sands along the coast, and instead of Chiko rolls, the girlfriends are standing by with a bottle of Evian water and a protein bar.

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Dragons in fight to bitter end

St George Illawarra will leave their finals fate in the hands of the NRL gods tonight when the Wests Tigers and Brisbane Broncos go about cementing their place in the top eight.
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The Tigers and the Broncos can essentially rule the Dragons out of the play-offs if they secure wins over Canterbury and the Storm in their respective games.

Both sides are currently four points ahead of the Dragons on 26, and boast a convincing advantage three rounds out from the finals.

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The Dragons are also faced with the unenviable task of thwarting the finals aspirations of Newcastle, Canberra and the Gold Coast in order to qualify for the top bracket.

“There’s obviously only a slim chance for us to make the finals now and the boys have full respect for the Dragons fans, so all we can do is put our heads up,” Dragons winger Daniel Vidot said.

“We can’t go down after what happened [against the Tigers last weekend]; we’ve just got to keep pushing for those wins.

“It’s not Dragons’ footy to surrender; all the boys have been training hard this week and hopefully we can come out with the win.”

Arguably the biggest challenge awaiting the Dragons before the end of the regular season is North Queensland on Monday night.

The Dragons have won five of their past six games at WIN Stadium, but Vidot said that would stand for little unless they could get a quick jump on the Cowboys.

It was North Queensland who came out firing when the two teams last met in round nine, grabbing four tries in the opening 33 minutes.

It’s an element of the Dragons’ game Vidot admitted needed some refining.

“Against any side, the best thing is to start fast and that’s one thing we have to focus on,” he said.

“That’s something that we’ve been struggling with, to be honest, but we’ve been working hard on that and we showed that against the Storm.

“Hopefully we can do the same thing back to the Cowboys and give them a taste of their own medicine.

“The boys are looking forward to it and I’m sure we’ll all be ready to go come Monday night.”

The Dragons are also hoping to remedy their disturbing habit of dropping tries just before half-time.

The Storm, Roosters and Tigers have all managed to cross for four-pointers in the last two minutes of their opening halves against the Dragons recently.

“It’s something that we have to get out of our game,” Vidot said.

“We’re starting fast but we seem to let in a little sneaky try just before half-time, it’s what kills us.

“It gives us a bit of a kick in the guts.”

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Origin: Daley wants job, Stuart expected to help

Laurie DaleyThree-time series-winning captain Laurie Daley says whoever gets the vacant NSW State of Origin coaching job can expect help from Ricky Stuart to settle into the high-pressure job.
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Stuart, who lost the past two interstate series in deciders – this year’s by one point – has stepped down as Blues coach to take over the reins of NRL strugglers Parramatta in 2013.

“Ricky has been fantastic and I know how passionate he is about NSW,” said Daley after confirming yesterday he had officially applied for the Origin job.

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“I think regardless of who is in charge, Ricky will still have a heavy influence in how the NSW team prepares.

“You would like to think if Ricky had the time, he would help in some way, shape or form because he’s done a massive job in closing the gap between the two states over the last two years.”

Daley’s rivals include Jim Dymock, Brad Fittler, Trent Barrett – who was Stuart’s assistant this year – and possibly NSW’s most successful Origin mentor, Phil Gould.

The Blues will be desperate to secure the right man to carry on Stuart’s work, with Queensland eyeing off an eighth straight series win next year.

“I’ve put my hand up and I’m certainly interested in the position,” Daley revealed at an All Stars ticket promotion in Brisbane.

“The NSW board are going through a process at the moment where they’re identifying candidates to find the best possible person to lead the state.”

Daley didn’t want to publicly talk up his claims to replace Stuart – his former Canberra, NSW and Australian teammate.

But he had no doubt he was ready to take the next step in his coaching career.

“I’ve been coaching representative sides now for five years and I think I could do a good job,” said the former Raiders great.

“The other people who’ve put their hands up are also very good candidates.

“We’ve come close the past few years under Ricky’s guidance and it’s one of those challenges where you feel you can make a difference.”

Daley has coached Country Origin since 2008 for two wins, a draw and two losses and the feedback from his players has been very positive.

He said he would not change too much of what Stuart had introduced to the Blues’ Origin preparations, but he would certainly introduce some of his own ideas and interpretations to the team. AAP

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