Injecting room in pre-election focus

THE NSW government is set to expedite a decision on the future of the controversial medically supervised injecting centre at Kings Cross before next year’s election, with an independent evaluation due to be handed to the Deputy Premier and Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, next month.The licence for the centre, which has operated on a trial basis since its establishment nine years ago following the NSW Drug Summit under former premier Bob Carr, is not due for renewal until October 31, 2011 – seven months after the state election in March.However, the NSW health department has spent $240,000 ordering an independent report from consultant KPMG on whether the centre is achieving its objectives.The report, according to the contract summary, is to ”consider the efficiency and effectiveness of the MSIC since the trial was extended in June 2007 … against the government’s stated objectives for the trial”.A statutory review of the centre by NSW Health, which legislation dictates must be completed by May 2011, is under way.The government has supported the ongoing trial and most recently renewed its licence in 2007 under the former health minister Reba Meagher.To the end of February 2010, more than 3500 drug overdoses had been successfully managed at the centre without a fatality, according to its medical director, Dr Marianne Jauncey.The Coalition has said if it is elected there would be a conscience vote on the issue.Unlike two previous reviews, the job of evaluating the centre was put out to tender. The public health experts who conducted the previous reviews declined to participate.Professor John Kaldor, from the University of NSW’s National Centre in HIV Epidemiology & Clinical Research, was involved in the previous reviews. He said yesterday the group felt it was no longer necessary to question the centre’s right to exist.”It seemed to us that to continue looking at it as a trial was not ideal from a public health point of view, to keep looking for an answer to the question of ‘Is this working?”’ he said. ”The case seemed to have been made in general terms.”The Reverend Harry Herbert, executive director of Uniting Care, the licensed operator of the centre, called for an end to the trial status.The licensing should be in ”the hands of the director-general of the department of health and the NSW police commissioner,” he told the Herald. ”It’s not as if the centre will be unaccountable … but we wouldn’t require a change to the Act every time the licence period is extended”.The centre’s founding medical director, Ingrid van Beek, was on Monday made a Member of the Order of Australia partly in recognition of her work in establishing the centre.A spokesman for Ms Tebbutt said the statutory review had ”recently commenced”. He declined to comment on whether Ms Tebbutt would make a decision about the centre’s future before the election.He said the NSW Health report must be tabled according to legislation but Ms Tebbutt was yet to decide whether to make the KPMG report public.TIMES OF TRIAL1999 NSW Drug Summit recommends the government ”should not veto” proposals for a trial of injecting centres to address street drug use2001 Medically supervised injecting centre opens in Kings Cross2007 Licence renewed for a further four years, but trial status maintained2009 State government commissions KPMG

From routine takeoff to disaster in 15 minutes

Andrew Wilson Photo: Channel 7With his plane veering ever closer to the roofs of Sydney suburbia, Andrew Wilson spent his last minutes seeking a place to land. He failed. David Humphries and Malcolm Brown write.

ANDREW WILSON knew he was in serious trouble as he tried to guide the six-seater charter aircraft to a safe landing in the middle of Sydney suburbia. ”We’re gonna have to put it down on the road,” he said, a challenge that would put the frighteners up battle-hardened aviators.

It was not so much what he said, however, as how he said it. For the last 2½/ minutes of his life yesterday, the 28-year-old pilot discussed options with the control tower at Bankstown Airport, maintaining a calmness that belied the life-and-death urgency of his situation.

”We’re not maintaining height here,” he told Bankstown, matter-of-factly. ”You got any sight? Are there any good roads around?” He could not see the M7 or Warwick Farm racetrack. The clearest view was of Canley Vale Road but traffic was building as children began arriving at Canley Vale public school.

By then, options had run out for Mr Wilson and his nurse passenger. The Piper PA-31P Mojave was losing altitude. Their fates were sealed but the events that followed – horrible though they were – would spare residents and school children alike.

”Miraculously, no houses were damaged or the nearby school,” said Superintendent Ray King, the Cabramatta police commander.

Just what happened to Papa Golf Whisky (PGW) will take much engineering detective work, not least because the fireball that resulted from the crash destroyed so much evidence.

The charter left Bankstown at 7.50am for Brisbane, to collect a medical patient to transport to Albury, but trouble struck 15 minutes into the flight. With his plane over Richmond air base, Mr Wilson, a Victorian who settled in Sydney a few years ago, reported engine failure.

He ignored Richmond and attempted a return to Bankstown. Greg Madden, an investigator with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said fog may have been behind that decision.

Kathy Sheppard, a 48-year-old mother with four daughters, was on board as the inflight nurse. Ms Sheppard, from King Creek, west of Port Macquarie, worked as a midwife before joining the patient transport company Wingaway.

She had a long association with the Port Macquarie Base Hospital, were she worked as a midwife for years.

Dieter Siewert, a part-owner of Skymaster Air Services, said Papa Golf Whisky was not on a medical emergency. The mission was a routine flight that Mr Wilson carried out three or four times a week.

A mechanic, Sam Elawar, saw the plane coming in low from 500 metres away. One engine was operating but with not enough power to lift the plane. ”I thought it was going to hit the workshop,” he said.

The plane roared past, hit a power pole, careered past the school and sent out a stream of sparks from the power lines before it hit another pole with such force the pole snapped. The plane crashed on to the road and exploded minutes later. Fuel leaked into the drains and caught fire, roaring up through a grill on the opposite side of the road and setting fire to a car.

Kevin Huynh, 33, was alone in his house next to the school. With flames several metres high, he bolted over the fence into the school grounds. ”People in the school were yelling out and everyone was helping neighbours get over fences,” he said.

A car with a man and three children was hit by debris. He got the children into Adams Park, where 80 people quickly gathered. The school was evacuated. Its principal, Cheryl McBride, said: ”We can’t believe just how fortunate we have been.”

Calvin Figureoa said he would have been dropping his son Calvin, 8, near where the plane crashed but had been delayed.

Power was cut to 13,500 residences but was mostly restored within hours.

It is the third incident involving Airtex Aviation – which oversees a number of smaller aviation companies including Wingaway – in nine years. Two years ago one of the company’s light planes crashed into water off Sydney, killing the pilot. In 2001, an Airtex pilot managed to land his plane, with nine passengers on-board, at Cootamundra airport after an engine fire had destroyed its landing gear.

In the past four years, at least 10 people have died in light aircraft crashes in NSW.

with Georgina Robinson, Nick Ralston and Paul Bibby

Sotiropoulos wrestles with his ambition in lightweight title tilt

AUSTRALIA’S George Sotiropoulos believes he is within three fights of conquering the UFC’s talent-stacked lightweight division.Riding an incredible six-fight winning streak, and on the back of his domination against household name Joe Stevenson in Sydney last February, Sotiropoulos has emerged as a serious contender.Sotiropoulos believes two more victories would put him in line to face the lightweight titleholder – currently Frankie Edgar, who has a rematch with rival BJ Penn at UFC 118 in August.As he approaches a showdown with Kurt Pellegrino at UFC 116 in Las Vegas on July 3, Sotiropoulos is feeling more confident by the day.Asked how many fights he believed it would take him to land a title shot, Sotiropoulos told the Herald: “I would say maybe two fights.”But I don’t look past my opponents.”I would say a win [against Pellegrino] would put me in the upper echelon of the lightweight division (70kg).”As always, if I keep winning it is going to put me against the best.”You can make plans beyond a fight but until that fight happens those plans won’t amount to anything.”Now residing in the Washington city of Vancouver, Sotiropoulos will have one more week of serious training before easing back prior to the fight.He sees an advantage in fighting Pellegrino after Stevenson, who he defeated by unanimous decision over all three rounds at the Acer Arena in the UFC’s debut Australian show.”In many ways he is similar to my last opponent, they both have wrestling backgrounds,” said Sotiropoulos, unbeaten in his five fights since entering the UFC and with a 12-2 professional record with featuring stoppages.”I think Stevenson is stronger, Pellegrino (15-4 with 12 stoppages) is more agile and faster. I think their ground games are on par.”I think they are equal calibre as fighters, I think Stevenson’s boxing is a little better.”Their business is in wrestling, they go back to that in times of need, they look for the top position. It’s all about wrestling for them.”My regime hasn’t changed, you can’t change the way you prepare because it makes you fight differently to the way you normally fight.”I study my opponents very closely. I have got all their UFC fights, I am well informed of their previous fights.”The key for me is to work on everything, I don’t ignore anything in my training, I pay equal attention to everything: jiu-jitsu, boxing, MMA, wrestling.”I have to make my strengths part of my game plan, and impose my strengths against him.”I have prepared for all avenues. if I end up on the ground, I can do well from there. Any scenario, I am prepared for. I address it all.”In his two previous fights in Las Vegas, Sotiropoulos has scored submissions wins via rear naked choke (against Billy Miles) and armbar (against Jason Dent).”I am where I want to be, my weight is coming down, my conditioning is good, sparring has been going well.”I know Australia will be watching me, and I am grateful for the support, but it doesn’t make a difference to the way I fight – for years I have been travelling around the world alone.”I have had to manage myself, ultimately I will have to rise to the occasion and show up on the night.”

Chaos in camp will not stop NSW squaring the series in Queensland

Members of the NSW team that famously overcame massive off-field drama to win the 2004 State of Origin series are adamant the racial slur controversy won’t ruin the Blues’ chances in Origin II tomorrow night.NSW’s 2004 campaign was rocked when an alcohol-fuelled bonding session before game one spiralled out of control and two players – Mark Gasnier and Anthony Minichiello – were sacked from the team following a NSWRL investigation. Gasnier was found to have left an obscene message on a woman’s mobile phone in the middle of the night, using Minichiello’s mobile. Minichiello broke a team rule banning mobiles from the bonding session.Five other players were fined a total of $20,000 for lesser indiscretions but, with Phil Gould at the helm, NSW managed to focus on the game and win it 9-8. The Blues went on to win the series 2-1.Luke Lewis and Andrew Ryan, veterans of the 2004 series, praised Gould’s skill in getting players to ignore potential distractions and concentrate on their jobs. They believe Craig Bellamy can similarly direct the players through the minefield, and that the challenge of trying to keep the series alive will be paramount in the players’ minds.”These are the sort of moments guys play the game for – when a series is on the line,” said Lewis, who is serving a one-match suspension that ruled him out of Origin II.”Origin is the greatest challenge there is in this game, and when the odds are against you, like they are with NSW since we’re a game down, players rise to the occasion. Their mental toughness comes out.”[Gould] was a pretty special coach. The memory of playing in my first Origin game is a bit of a blur to me, because it was a such a big occasion, but I remember him calling a meeting of the players after all the drama had happened. He said what’s happened has happened, but now we’re going to move on. He said none of it was going to change what we were going to do to get ready for the game. We didn’t talk about it again after that, and we were ready to play when the game came around.”The thing about players who make it to Origin level is that they don’t allow whatever drama that might be going on to … put them off playing the game, and they don’t get ready to use it as an excuse if they don’t win.”Ryan said that, against a backdrop of drama, it was the responsibility of the players to concentrate on controlling factors they knew they could control.”Gus told us that none of what had happened was under our control, and that as individuals we had to prepare to do our jobs,” he said. ”He said that if our minds weren’t on the job then the whole thing would go pear-shaped. If we’d spent time thinking about the drama, it would have been a waste of energy.”It’s all about being strong in the mind, and worrying about yourself and what you have to do, as part of a team. It was an advantage having an experienced coach like Gus in a situation like that, because he knows how to steer you in the right direction.”Ryan has not played for NSW since 2007 – the year before Bellamy took over – but he has had experience playing under Bellamy for Country, and is certain the coach is equipped to ensure the Blues play to their ability in Origin II.”I’m sure he’ll have the team ready to play, and that the result will come down to which is the better team,” he said.Bellamy may not have coached a series-winning Origin team yet, but Lewis said he saw plenty of similarities between ”Bellyache” and Gould.”They both tell great stories that really pump you up in camp,” he said. ”Stories about football, but also stories about things that have happened in other walks of life, and courageous people they’ve met. Craig will have them ready to rock and roll on Wednesday night.”

Director wins festival with a me-myself-and-crew film

THE French-Canadian film Heartbeats, a witty look at unrequited love, has won the Sydney Film Festival competition.A jury headed by the Australian producer Jan Chapman awarded the $60,000 prize for ”audacious, courageous and cutting-edge” cinema to the comic drama made by Xavier Dolan, a rising star of international film.The 21-year-old, who is on to his second feature as director, also wrote, produced, edited and stared in Heartbeats. He plays one of two hip twentysomethings – a male and a female – who both fall for the same man.”With a witty and insightful script and strikingly playful use of cinematic language, the jury found Heartbeats to be a boldly truthful and compassionate observation of one of the great crippling foibles of human nature – the hopeless crush,” Chapman said.An honourable mention went to the lively Australian drama Wasted on the Young, directed by first-timer Ben C. Lucas and focusing on conflict at an elite private school.Chapman said the jury was impressed with Lucas’s storytelling and visual style, tapping into a world where teenagers communicate using text messaging and social networking sites. ”It was really daring, we felt, and accomplished,” she said.Another honourable mention went to the Russian drama How I Ended This Summer, about two men working at a remote Arctic weather station who turn on each other.Chapman said the jury was impressed by the boldness of the 12 films in competition.”We found it incredibly inspiring to see that all over the world people are still making films that are really true to their own visions,” she said.The 13-day festival, which closed last night, looks to have turned around last year’s loss.Its chief executive, Leigh Small, expects a ”small profit” after a 15 per cent increase in box office takings, helped by higher prices for some tickets.Total takings are still being toted up but the festival found that patrons who bought books of tickets, FlexiPasses, used a much higher percentage than last year.Ms Small said strategies to program films with a younger appeal and screen documentaries at the Event Cinema in George Street had been successful. ”A lot of the films that sold out, for instance, Four Lions or Wasted on the Young, were a very young audience who hadn’t been to the State Theatre [and] hadn’t been to the Sydney Film Festival.”