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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Deadly centres loom in Test

Will Genia (left) discusses tactics with coach Robbie Deans. Picture: ANTHONY JOHNSON Adam Ashley-Cooper is more than happy to be on the wing against the All Blacks this weekend, predicting centres Rob Horne and Anthony Faingaa will have their hands full with the Sonny Bill Williams-Ma’a Nonu combination.
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Williams and Nonu, who both weigh in at more than 100 kilograms, will line up at inside and outside-centre respectively for New Zealand in tomorrow’s Rugby Championship game at ANZ Stadium.

It will be only the third time they have started a Test as a centre pairing and just the second occasion after last year’s World Cup clash with Tonga that they will line up in the same configuration as Saturday.

Utility back Ashley-Cooper started 13 successive Tests in the centres in 2010 and 2011 but has been restored to the back three for the past four games.

Asked if tomorrow was a good game to be playing on the wing, Ashley-Cooper chuckled and replied “Yeah, well I’d certainly prefer to be out there than in the midfield to contain those two.

“I think across the board, it’s still going to be a very tough job for us.

“They have got a really deadly attacking back three in the likes of Israel Dagg, Hosea Gear and Cory Jane.

“They played some really good football throughout the Super 15 and throughout the Ireland series.

“We just have to work as a unit because, if we don’t, they are going to expose us.”

Ashley-Cooper doubted the All Blacks’ centre pairing would lead to any significant change of approach from what he rated the world’s best backline.

“Every Test team has their generic attacking shape,” Ashley-Cooper said.

“I think with Sonny and Ma’a, they are some of the best midfielders in the game. Obviously, the combination of those two is fairly new.

“But that certainly won’t deter from the fact they are a great midfield pair and great inside backs.

“For us, Anthony Faingaa and Rob Horne, they have got a real job on their hands Saturday night.”

He was convinced Australia had the offensive spark to threaten New Zealand, despite the omission of five-eighth Quade Cooper.

Ashley-Cooper said the Wallabies would look to get the ball in the hands of halfback Will Genia, inside-centre Faingaa and fullback Kurtley Beale as much as possible.

He revealed Australia had worked hard on their tactical kicking and kick-chase game after being exposed by New Zealand in those areas in last year’s World Cup semi-final.

“Our kicks have got to be a lot more contestable and our kick-chase has got to be better,” Ashley-Cooper said.

“We’ve done a lot of work on that over the last couple of weeks and hoping that we apply a lot of pressure in that area on Saturday night.” AAP

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Tight tussle for top spot

The battle for the Group Seven club championship has become a two-horse race between Gerringong and Albion Park-Oak Flats.
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Gerringong (492 points) hold a slender lead over the Eagles (489) heading into this weekend’s final round.

Kiama (465) and Warilla (406) are the only other clubs to crack the 400 mark.

Albion Park-Oak Flats will be aiming for maximum points in their home games against Batemans Bay and rely on the Lions slipping up against Jamberoo at Kevin Walsh Oval.

Gerringong also have the try-scoring and point-scoring titles sewn up. Rixon Russell is the leading try-scorer with 25, while Joel Roberts is comfortably the top point-scorer.

The Lions are unbeaten in first grade – securing the minor premiership three weeks ago – and will be eager to keep their perfect record intact heading into the finals.

Meanwhile, Nowra-Bomaderry and Warilla are playing for fifth spot this weekend.

Both teams are on 18 points, though the Gorillas are ahead of the Jets on for-and-against differential.

The Jets know their season is over if they don’t beat Kiama tomorrow, while reigning premiers Warilla face wooden spooners Milton-Ulladulla at Mollymook Oval on Sunday.

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Matt Cooper hoping for change of luck

Matt CooperDragons centre Matt Cooper hopes that a recent run of injuries will hold a silver lining when he trots out for his 14th and final NRL season next year.
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Cooper will return from a hamstring problem on Monday night to take on the Cowboys at WIN Stadium – in what will be only his 13th game this season because of a mixture of injuries.

In an ironic twist, the 33-year-old veteran said his recent run of ankle and hamstring problems had given his body more time to recover than usual.

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“That’s a positive way to look at it,” Cooper said. “Obviously, I’m getting older now [and] I need a couple more days off than most of the boys.

“This year I’ve had that opportunity and it’s given me a bit of rest, so hopefully I can come back next year a bit fresher.”

Cooper’s injury woes began back in the first week of the competition, during the Dragons’ opening-round win over Newcastle.

It was a frustrating blow for the former Test and Origin veteran, after recording “one of my best pre-seasons so far” in 2011.

“The year didn’t start well, getting injured in round one,” Cooper said.

“That put me out for a couple of weeks and then I came back too early and I was out for another couple of weeks.

“The injuries I’ve had, I wouldn’t call them old-age injuries.

“The body’s feeling pretty good other than the ankle and the hamstring. I’m keen to go around again and hopefully have a better year than what I’ve had this year.”

Cooper is hoping to put the year’s setbacks behind him when the Dragons host North Queensland.

He will have little opportunity to ease himself into the contest, with the guarantee of opposing playmaker Johnathan Thurston attacking the Dragons’ left side.

“They’ve got a great group of players there: Johnathan Thurston is going really well, they’ve got young guys going good, and they’ve got some old guys going good,” Cooper said.

“Their right side’s pretty lethal and they’re probably up there as one of the best sides in scoring tries this year. We’re going to have our hands full on Monday night, but we’re up for the challenge.”

Cooper will take part in the Dragons’ ball work session at WIN Stadium today ahead of the clash, after being sidelined for much of the week’s training.

“I’ve been running every second day, not with the team but rehab running,” he said. “I ran yesterday and hit top speed so that’s positive.

“We’ve got three more games to go here and hopefully I can put in a good performance in those three games.”

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Rohan’s got talent: living the dream after chemo

Singer Rohan Herring, pictured with fiancee Rebecca Petrovska, won four medals at a global talent quest. Picture: DAVE TEASEWhile all eyes have been on our sports stars, an Albion Park singer has flexed his vocal cords to win a swag of medals at the “Olympics of the Performing Arts”.
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Rohan Herring has just returned from Hollywood, where he claimed a gold and three silver medals at The World Championships of Performing Arts where competitors go head-to-head in a range of competitions.

The 24-year-old auditioned for the international talent quest following a debilitating course of chemotherapy after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May last year.

“I was doing weights at home when the bar hit my chest. I thought I’d cracked a rib so I got an X-ray and a 15-centimetre tumour was discovered on my chest,” he said.

“They couldn’t operate as it had wrapped around my left lung and heart so I underwent stage four chemotherapy, which fortunately was successful in getting rid of the cancer.

“After the treatment, my whole outlook on life changed. I thought, ‘Life’s too short, I’m going to do what I’ve always wanted to do, I’m not going to be afraid to just go for it’.”

Go for it he did, sending off his audition tape to the Australian talent scout who chose him out of thousands of hopefuls to be part of the 54-strong national squad to compete in the United States.

His rendition of Walking in Memphis won him gold in the male 18-24 vocal pop section, and he came second in his contemporary, R&B/soul/jazz and broadway sections.

“I’ve done a lot of competitions in the Illawarra and Sydney, plus I was a featured artist in Southern Stars in 2004 and 2005,” he said.

“I’ve also done shows at IPAC, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and The Pirates of Penzance and I’ve worked alongside my mentor Scott Radburn on many occasions.

“But I’ve never done anything on such an international scale before. I had to sing against 3652 competitors from 40 countries during 10 days of competition, and it was pretty surreal to win those medals.”

This is the 16th year of the global talent quest founded by Griff O’Neil, a former executive of the Miss Universe pageant.

In 2012 he recruited more than 75 scouts to scour the globe for outstanding talent, with more than 75,000 applicants auditioning for a spot in the July event.

“This is the only Olympic-style talent competition ever created and a rare opportunity for the privileged few selected to participate at this elite world event,” O’Neil said.

Herring is back home, polishing his medals and planning to record an album. Plus he has another reason to celebrate – while in the US he got engaged to his girlfriend Rebecca Petrovska.

“She’s been my rock,” he said. “Finally some good things are happening in my life.”

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Homeless given van-load of life’s essentials

Edna Wilson, Sharen Muller and Bob Kotic with food, clothing and bedding donated to St Vincent de Paul by Illawarra Credit Union staff and members.Picture: MELANIE RUSSELLIt is Illawarra Credit Union’s 40th birthday but members and staff have decided to celebrate by giving to others.
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This week the credit union handed over a van-load of food, clothing and bedding to St Vincent de Paul to distribute to the homeless.

A steering committee of ICU staff has organised three charity drives for the 40th anniversary and members have quickly come on board with dozens of people busy knitting and donating items.

Initially ICU had planned to make one large donation at the end of the month but so many employees and members were concerned about the recent cold snap, everyone was keen to fast-track the delivery.

When St Vincent de Paul was contacted this week it wasted no time organising a van to pick up everything from beanies to socks and toiletries which had started to fill ICU’s head office foyer.

St Vinnie’s regional president Denis Walsh said it was an amazing collection in such a short time.

He said they would distribute the items to dozens of people in need over the coming days.

“Here in Wollongong there are probably 100 or so people who physically live on the streets on a permanent basis,” Mr Walsh said.

“But there are many others who live hand-to-mouth from cars to temporary accommodation who come under the definition of homeless as well.”

ICU charity committee chairwoman Sharen Muller said the response had been fantastic.

“One of the members of the Dapto branch knitted beanies and scarves and had her husband bring them in so we could not identify who she was,” she said.

Mrs Muller said the credit union had a history of involving its staff in community activities.

They have done everything from send books to Samoa to provide musical instruments for children at Para Meadows.

“Not only do our staff members feel like one big family but we encourage our members to feel exactly the same,” she said.

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