Wollongong Court House death trap

Wollongong Court House death trap

Wollongong Court House in Market St. Two reports say that urgent attention in a range of areas is needed to make the building safe. Picture: KIRK GILMOURWollongong Court House would be a potential death trap if a serious fire broke out, according to findings in two reports on worker and public safety.They cite a litany of fire code breaches including no smoke detectors, no sprinklers, emergency exit doors that do not open and exit signs that point people in the wrong direction.Also of concern, the gun room appears not to be bulletproof, posing a serious risk to staff and the public in the event of accidental discharge."It is certainly one of the worst buildings I've seen for health and safety and that's partly because of its age, size and layout," said NSW Public Service Association occupational health and safety officer Shay Deguera, who compiled the second report."I was surprised by what I found because it is a public building used by hundreds of people daily including public, office staff and judiciary."His report followed one released by independent consultant Vic Lilli who was commissioned by the NSW Attorney General's Department to report on the building's compliance with existing standards.The initial report was in response to staff concerns over safety standards, particularly fire-related.Both reports agreed that urgent attention in a range of areas was needed to make the building safe and in line with the Building Code of Australia, emphasising in particular fire risks.A staff member who asked not to be named, said before anything major was done, fire experts and Wollongong City Council's fire officer needed to inspect the building. But he said the department was dragging its heels.Lack of money in the budget is believed to be the reason for the delay.But the staff member said doing nothing was a recipe for disaster."If fire breaks out you'd have a whole lot of people already confused by smoke and fire and they are hardly helped by exit doors that don't open or signs that could send them back into the fire," he said."On top of that there are files dating back decades stored on the premises which would fan the fire."He said accidental or intentional fires set by aggrieved defendants were not the only safety concern in the building, referring to the gun room's inadequacies mentioned in Mr Deguera's report."Mr Deguera said he believed the walls to be of hollow gyprock with no bulletproofing."The risk posed is that people using the gun room could accidentally discharge their weapon potentially injuring people nearby," the report says.A department spokesperson said there was an ongoing program to ensure courts complied with fire safety regulations and it was undertaking a number of fire safety projects at Wollongong Court House."Recently, the department upgraded the court's exit sign system and updated fire evacuation procedures and manuals," he said."More than $50,000 will be spent on replacing and improving fire exit doors with the project to be completed in coming months."There were also plans to further improve the building's fire safety later this year with more work expected in 2012 and 2013.
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Arkwright’s determined to bring Throsby ‘competitive democracy’

Arkwright’s determined to bring Throsby ‘competitive democracy’

Her odds of poll victory are hopelessly slim, but Liberal Throsby candidate Juliet Arkwright has resolved to restore democracy to Labor's Illawarra heartland.As a lonely Liberal figure in a Labor-dominated landscape, the Wingecarribee councillor faces a daunting task to take on ALP candidate Stephen Jones in a seat which, held by a margin of 17 per cent, shows little sign of budging."I am the underdog, but the aim is still to achieve victory here," Ms Arkwright said."There seems to be a sad acceptance, particularly among business people and young people, that the area is dominated by the Labor Party, and I hope I can bring a competitive democracy back."Conceding the Coalition's campaign war chest would likely be directed towards marginal seats, Ms Arkwright insisted she was not just a paper candidate."I've been active in the party for more than 20 years and I'm not just here to be a name on the ballot paper," she said.Meantime, Cunningham Labor incumbent Sharon Bird has deflected claims by Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells that Labor takes its safe seats for granted.Ms Fierravanti-Wells made the oft-repeated assertion yesterday at the announcement of Liberal Cunningham candidate Philip Clifford."I don't think anyone could look at the record of me and Jennie George and the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investment we got into the area, and say the region didn't get a good run," Ms Bird said."If anyone has taken the area for granted it's them (by) announcing a candidate 72 hours after an election was announced."Mr Jones, who is vying to replace retiring MP Jennie George, also disputed the claim that marginal seats were the sole object of Labor's affections."It doesn't stand up to empirical scrutiny," he said, citing economic stimulus measures, school building projects and investment in the University of Wollongong.He rejected claims by Ms Arkwright that Liberal-leaning Throsby voters did not have his ear."I spend two days a week in what is called the Liberal heartland of the electorate," he said. "They may or may not vote for me but … if successful, I want to represent their interests."
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Firm queries financial planning advice

Firm queries financial planning advice

People who stand to lose their life savings in the collapse of fund manager Trio Capital were given "questionable" advice and placed into an inappropriate, high-risk investment, a financial planning firm claims.Wollongong company Symes Warne and Associates has taken the unusual step of publicly distancing itself from the scandal which has engulfed two rival financial planning companies - Tarrants and Dominion.Ross Tarrant breaks his silence.Clients of the two companies reported lost individual nest eggs of up to $500,000 when their money disappeared after being invested in Trio Capital's $123 million Astarra Strategic Fund.Symes Warne financial planner Alison Henderson said the firm had never recommended Trio Capital products, and had actively encouraged new clients with existing Trio Capital investments to move their funds out.She said the Astarra Strategic Fund, money from which was invested in a complex web of foreign hedge funds, posed unacceptably high risk and lacked transparency and liquidity.Ms Henderson described the decision to recommend such products as "questionable".She said Symes Warne had parted ways with financial planner Colin Warne in 1994 and the business would soon undergo a name change.Many of Mr Warne's clients, now with Dominion, have been burnt by the Trio Capital fiasco.Ms Henderson warned against financial planners relying too heavily on reports from research houses when making investment decisions, and said such ratings only gave an indication of past performance and market volatility.The Trio Capital controversy had tarnished the reputation of the financial planning industry, she said."Our profession is getting dragged through the mud again because of this latest debacle … it makes it difficult for consumers to go to seek financial advice because they're scared (of losing money)," Ms Henderson said.She expressed her support for financial planning reforms due to come into effect in 2012, which would ban commissions and also legally bind planners to act in the best interests of their clients.
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We are still failing our elders

We are still failing our elders

While fewer than 10 per cent of older Australians will ever require support from an aged care service, their care is becoming a prominent issue due to the ageing population and media reports highlighting nursing home breaches - and so it should. We would all agree that supporting frail elders to the highest standards of dignity and respect is a societal responsibility. Quality of care of the frail is the best measure of a humane society.But it requires more than just rhetoric and words. It requires visionary policy that empowers yet protects our seniors, and consumer-directed funding that is responsive and flexible to the needs of each person. Older people are not a homogenous group; their individuality does not cease the day they require care. And our existing system is failing our frail elders. You see, when a residential facility is not reaching aged care standards, politicians are quick to jump in "to protect our frail and elderly citizens" without sharing their responsibility as funders. There is a truth behind "the story" that is never revealed because it's complicated and politically unpalatable: and yet it is the very reason why many providers struggle to give the care our parents and grandparents need and deserve, let alone the innovative solutions to assist them to age actively, independently and with dignity.Fact 1: The Federal Government is the dominant funder of care for aged people, either within their homes or in a facility, and yet the funding provided doesn't match the cost of care, let alone keep pace with rising expenditure. This year aged care funding was increased by 1.7 per cent with great fanfare, however the cost of living increased by 2.8 per cent.This disparity has been consistently the case for more than a decade. The real dollars available to care for frail seniors continue to be eroded.Fact 2: In order to receive care, older people must negotiate a complex matrix of assessments and prove they need assistance.It's a system that can delay appropriate care for months. If that isn't bad enough, they must then jump through the hoops again every time their ageing body tells them they need more help. If they don't do this they don't get funded to receive care.Fact 3: Aged care facilities must meet safety and health standards when caring for ageing people.While providers, residents and their families would not dispute the need for high quality, the checks and balances should be streamlined and focused on empowering residents to make choices, not take their independence away. The present system talks of individual choice, but in practice inhibits standard liberties, such as the choice to eat soft boiled eggs, rockmelon and strawberries because they cannot be sterilised to meet stringent food standards.These are just some of the issues we will be addressing with the commissioner and assistant commissioner leading the Productivity Commission's inquiry into the Care of Older Australians when they visit IRT next week.We'll be highlighting solutions that focus on empowering older people, that support independence rather than dependence and fund a collaborative approach to supporting seniors.We want a system that guides our grey gurus to navigate and celebrate the journey of ageing, to be the boss of their lives, because we believe they deserve it. We hope that the next chapter in the aged care story is one that you'll enjoy reading. Nieves Murray is the chief executive of IRT.
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Brood’s recipe for success

Brood’s recipe for success

It's taken us four years, but we've finally done it. Well not exactly us - more like my mother and Cybergirl. After four years in the winners' wilderness, the family has at last reclaimed the crown of the damper champions.This time every year the primary school holds a damper competition and since Cybergirl was in kindy we have religiously entered.But it's not just a simple damper that has to be made.Each entry is judged not just on taste, but also on originality and design, and for the past few years the family team of damper makers has fallen short on one of these elements.And after watching MasterChef this season, I now know how important it is to have all those elements working together.As the worst cook in the family, those first few years I left the hard yakker of mixing and baking to my husband. Cybergirl always had an intricate design in mind, from the echidna of the first year, to a cockatoo on her last attempt.Despite my scepticism, the dad-and-daughter team actually won their first two attempts. But when work commitments took over, the mantle of chief damper maker had to be passed over to grandma.Now it wasn't just one damper she had to make each year, but two as GameBoy started school.The next few years - with entries of the Australian flag, a boobook owl, Aboriginal flag, emu, a koala and a kangaroo and witchetty grubs all shaped with loving care and decorated with every combination of icing colours - the family team went from a highly commended to never being mentioned again.With every failure we lamented what could have gone wrong. Was it the recipe? Could we have overworked the dough? Cooked it too long so the crust was just a bit too crusty?There were concerns that our level of skill in sculpting was not as high as we first thought or that the equipment we had for the decorations was not up to the job.Trying to mix the myriad colours required from the four-pack of food colouring was proving more difficult as the years went by and the palette required was no longer red, yellow, blue or green but hues of purple, black, grey and baby pink.This year, after refining the recipe, the method and the shaping, grandma was confident she'd once again have the title in the bag.Although Cybergirl had long since left primary school, and PlayStation had taken her place in the damper dynasty, she still insisted on being part of the annual family tradition.Sick of looking at the finished product and trying to decipher what it was meant to be, PlayStation opted for a simple "giant scone with jam and cream", believing that the superior taste alone would get him over the line.GameBoy decided for his last hurrah he would go for the jugular, and asked for his damper to be mastercrafted into the native poison dart frog.Grandma rose to the challenge.The giant scone would have done the CWA proud, and my own contribution of a sweetened whipped cream and strawberry jam topped off the sterling effort.The poisonous dart frog may not have exactly resembled its real-life counterpart - it looked more like a bloated cane toad - but the artwork by Cybergirl left no-one in doubt of what it was meant to be.With judging on Monday it was a long wait until Thursday for the results.Although we only won the primary division with the poisonous dart frog, PlayStation is confident that now grandma has her groove back, the title will be his next year.
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