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.”

Policeman in the firing line

It was, Simon Overland said, a showstopper. That’s how he described Operation Briars to a hand-picked group of police at the beginning of 2007. The aim of the top-secret investigation was to charge a serving police officer with helping a gunman kill a male prostitute. ”It is not an issue I thought I would ever have to deal with,” Overland would say later.Three years on, and Overland is now Victoria’s Chief Commissioner, but finds himself dealing with another issue he probably never imagined. He is at the centre of the show and at war with Australia’s national broadsheet, which accuses him not only of breaking the law but single-handedly destroying Operation Briars, a crucially important investigation involving potentially corrupt police.Overland’s reputation is under attack from two powerful forces. One is former police union boss Paul Mullett, whose career was destroyed by Operation Briars and the related police corruption probe Operation Diana. Since the case against him failed last year, Mullett has waged a document-based guerilla war against Overland, whom he hates. The former assistant commissioner Noel Ashby, who equally loathes Overland and was his rival for the top job, is helping from the wings.The other force is The Australian. It says its explosive series of articles about Overland and Victoria’s police corruption watchdog, the Office of Police Integrity (OPI), depicted as bungling, secretive and unaccountable, were born of a genuine journalistic desire to assess Operation Briars and the OPI’s work after the spectacular collapse of its cases against Mullett and Ashby.Overland argues the newspaper is using facts selectively and ignoring the context of what was happening in Victoria at the time.At play also is a toxic feud between the newspaper and Overland, who accused it of endangering his officers by exposing terrorism raids last August. Similarly, the OPI says The Australian has it in its crosshairs because it criticised the paper’s conduct.Overland and the OPI director, Michael Strong, believe this ”disgraceful” and ”concerted” campaign is a nasty exercise in payback, and last Friday there was some evidence of that. Fairfax newspapers revealed over the weekend two incidents in which senior executives of News Ltd, publishers of The Australian, appeared to threaten law enforcement agencies in Victoria and NSW.Amid the murk of these agendas is an allegation: did Victoria’s chief policeman break the law? Was he let off too lightly by the police corruption watchdog? Does he have a case to answer?Overland and the OPI insist he does not, but on the evidence available, it appears his actions did have an inadvertent impact on the investigation. As The Sunday Age first reported last September, senior legal experts believed his use of information from a phone tap was a breach of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act. The OPI says it has assessed the incident and believes he did not breach the law, but it refuses to release its legal advice and barely mentioned the incident in its final report on the events of 2007.This one conversation, as Overland himself admits, set off a chain of events. The chain ended, as the evidence shows, in the key suspects of Operation Briars being warned their phones were ”off”. In hindsight, this was a blow to the investigation. But did it derail Briars? Probably not, because the investigation was already severely compromised.Operation Briars officially began on March 26, 2007. Months earlier, a known criminal had come forward to admit he was the gunman who shot dead male prostitute Shane Chartres-Abbott in June 2003. He was willing, also, to point the finger at one serving policeman, Peter Lalor, a close mate of Mullett’s, and one former policeman, David ”Docket” Waters. He claimed Waters was present at a meeting when plans were discussed and that Lalor provided prior assistance in his murder of Chartres-Abbott by handing over his address. Both Lalor and Waters denied the allegations.Police had consistently said throughout the horrific gangland wars that there was no link between gangland killings and corrupt cops, despite suspicions. Overland, who had led the police’s successful taskforce into the gangland war, would later admit in an affidavit that the case was ”the smoking gun the media had been looking for”, the link between the underworld and police that would reawaken calls for a royal commission.A board of management, including Overland and the OPI’s Graham Ashton, was set up to oversee the Briars taskforce, and on April 13 police began monitoring six phone taps. It has always been something of a mystery why Operation Diana was set up on May 30 to investigate Noel Ashby, but according to a report by the special investigations monitor – the OPI’s oversight body – the board began to suspect senior officers of Victoria Police were leaking confidential taskforce information.The two covert operations made a spectacular public debut in a series of high-drama OPI hearings in November 2007. The results have been less spectacular. Mullett left the force but his case failed for lack of evidence. Ashby resigned but his case was thrown out because the OPI failed to delegate its powers properly to the retired judge overseeing the hearings. Former police media director Stephen Linnell, caught leaking to his mate Ashby, pleaded guilty to charges arising from the same flawed hearings and is now appealing. Lalor has denied any involvement and was never charged. Somehow the OPI has pitched this as a success.There’s no doubt that in August 2007 Overland was working in a poisonous environment. As Michael Strong pointed out on Friday, Overland was dealing with treachery: he was ”not only being undermined from without, but betrayed from within”. Mullett, using the power of the police association, and Ashby, using his power and access as a senior policeman, colluded against Overland and police commissioner Christine Nixon. Overland and Nixon were determined to rid the Victoria Police of its links to the underworld, but Mullett and the police association appeared to resist. The union funded police accused of being corrupt and campaigned against the establishment of the OPI. (The police union secretary, Greg Davies, denies that union officials ”have or ever will support corruption or criminal conduct”.)On August 14, Overland received a phone call from the manager of the Briars taskforce, Rod Wilson. Mullett and Lalor, he told Overland, had been heard on a phone tap talking about a $120,000 executive management course that had been offered to the then deputy commissioner in Fontainebleau, France. The two men were talking about leaking it to radio station 3AW’s Rumour File. Overland went to Linnell and said: ”Look, you just need to be aware I’ve got a call from Rod.” Linnell was on the high-level advisory group for Briars and knew Wilson was heading the taskforce.”I understand Mullett and Lalor are talking about this. I understand they’re going to run it through 3AW … You need to watch it.”The law covering phone taps is necessarily strict on how officers use material. It must be a ”permitted use” that is ”a purpose connected with an investigation of, or an inquiry into, alleged misbehaviour or alleged improper conduct of an officer of that state”. Experts in this law told The Sunday Age last year that managing the media was clearly not a permitted use.Overland says it was a permitted use because he was trying to protect the investigation from what he calls ”collateral attack” – the campaign being waged by Mullett to undermine him and the investigation. Strong, in a statement on Friday, agreed with him.But in many ways Overland’s explanation does not make sense. Even if the Fontainebleau rumour did undermine him, which is debatable, how could this have an impact on a top-secret investigation no one knows about?At this point in the investigation, Mullett, who talked regularly with his ”comrade” Lalor, was not supposed to know about the taskforce.Possibly breaking the law is one thing. But The Australian last week went much further. This ”critical error of judgment”, the paper said, ”led to a series of indiscretions by others – and the collapse of the covert police probe Operations Briars”.Overland himself admitted to 3AW’s Neil Mitchell last week that his actions did spark a chain of events.During the OPI’s public hearings, media reports focused on a key event – Linnell showing Ashby the Briars terms of reference on his desk computer. But the transcripts, affidavits, OPI case logs and reports show that this event happened because of what had happened the day before: the Overland admission to Linnell about the Fontainebleau trip.In his report, retired judge Murray Wilcox, QC, who presided over the private and public hearings, said: ”It is clear that Mr Linnell knew the Mullett-Lalor call of 14 August had been intercepted; Mr Overland told him so. It is clear that he made Mr Ashby aware of his concern that Mr Mullett’s phone might be ‘off’.”In less than 48 hours of Overland’s direction to Linnell, the two main suspects of Briars had been warned about their phones being ”off”. Overland was not scrutinised for sparking this chain of events in the OPI’s final report on operations Diana and Briars, tabled in Parliament. The chronology at the beginning of the report has five entries on August 14. Not one of them mentions Overland’s conversation with Linnell.The question is, did this kill Operation Briars? According to the evidence, the investigation was probably already fatally wounded. Several months earlier, on June 16, police became aware that Age investigative journalist Nick McKenzie knew about Briars, the criminal witness and that police were involved.But even more seriously, a week later on June 26, Rod Wilson became aware that Waters and another Briars person of interest, Peter Alexander, knew about the taskforce. In a sworn statement, Wilson said the pair knew about the identity of the star witness and the circumstances of his alibi.What is crucial is whether Lalor knew his phone was tapped before August 16. Given what Waters knew in June, it is likely that he told Lalor and he would have at least suspected his phone was tapped. In an interview with the OPI in October 2007, Luke Cornelius, the then head of ethical standards, complained about the early breaches of security. ”The thing that sticks in my craw is that it looks like the breach – if that can be established – the breach of confidentiality occurred very early on in the piece.”OPI investigator Sharon Kerrison, who gave evidence that she had listened to more than 5000 of Ashby’s phone calls, more than 2000 of Mullett’s, and ”numerous” conversations of Lalor’s, replied: ”Yeah, it did.”On one reading of events, Overland, with a bit of ego and in the midst of a brutal campaign waged against him personally and against his and others’ efforts to clean up the force, tried to manage yet another attempt to undermine him and his investigation. This is a far cry from Mullett’s and Ashby’s behaviour, which the Ombudsman, George Brouwer, said displayed ”betrayal, collusion, deceit and abuse of authority”. On another reading, Overland acted out of self-interest and, trying to protect his reputation, The Australian argues, broke the law and breached the security of one of the police’s most important murder investigations.If Ashby’s case had gone to trial, his legal team was intending to pursue these issues with ”some degree of force”. But Ashby walked free without a trial and, without an independent anti-corruption commission, the issue continues to fester. This is probably why, almost three years after Overland had that conversation with Stephen Linnell, it is still being talked about.After November’s state election, regardless of which party wins, Victoria will get an anti-corruption commission. Mullett, no doubt, will bide his time until then. The problem for him, however, is that if the OPI is transferred into the new structure with no change of personnel, the police watchdog is likely to remain reluctant to reopen the wounds of 2007.

Pigs in space: pregnant sows’ days of confinement numbered

CONDITIONS are set to improve for Australian pigs on the farm and get tougher for intensive pig farmers.In a surprise move, the Tasmanian government late last week banned the use of sow stalls on pig farms by 2017.By 2014 sows must spend no more than six weeks confined in the stalls.The metal stalls are used in intensive pig farming during the sows’ first stage of gestation, about 16 weeks.Producers say they stop pigs attacking each other, and the stalls also allow for pregnancy scans and medication, but animal welfare groups have long claimed the use of stalls is a cruel practice and any aggression comes from overcrowding.Andrew Spencer, who is chief executive of Australian Pork Limited (APL), the producer-owned marketing and regulating body, condemned the Tasmanian decision as being taken in “total isolation with no consultation with the industry”.”This government has completely deserted Tasmania’s pork farmers with no thought to the impact and ramifications on their livelihoods.”Responsible government does not make decisions like this without first mapping out with industry how it will assist producers [to] make these costly changes.”The pork organisation was already revising its industry code of practice. The new code will be discussed at a two-day conference, the Pan Pacific Pork Expo, which begins on the Gold Coast tomorrow.The revised code aims to decrease the length of time for which pregnant sows can be confined in stalls from 16 to six weeks and increase the size of the stalls, enabling the animals to stand, move and lie down comfortably. The new measures would be implemented by 2017.It is rumoured that the APL board had also planned to put forward a proposal at the conference that the sow stalls be banned altogether. Any change would need the approval of the members, 95 per cent of whom are intensive pig farmers.The total value of pork produced in Australia in 2007-08 was estimated by Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics to be $880 million, down about 10 per cent from previous years because of the impact of drought and increased feed costs.Removing sow stalls will put more pressure on intensive pig farmers who are already having difficulty in regional areas finding enough workers.

Cancer odyssey for son costs country mother a fortune

JO PORTER, of Guyra in the New England Tablelands, was told more than three years ago that her son Will had been diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare but aggressive form of soft-tissue cancer.It was the beginning of an odyssey for the mother of two. Obliged to take leave without pay from her job at Liverpool Plains Council for five months, she struggled to pay the bills.The state government’s isolated patients transport and assistance scheme (ITAAS) reimbursed part of up to 10 $1000 return flights to Sydney but the mother was out-of-pocket by $250 each time.She and Will got accommodation in a hostel and at Ronald McDonald House. But when there were space problems, the two had to get accommodation in a private hotel at a cost of about $100 a night, of which the state aid scheme paid $45.When they no longer qualified for airfares, Ms Porter had to drive, at a reimbursement fee of 15 cents a kilometre, even though her petrol was costing $1.30 or $1.35 a litre.In the recent state budget, country politicians were only given a modest rise in their Sydney allowance – from $240 to $246 a night.But isolated patients got not a cent more: $33 a night allowance for a single person staying in Sydney and petrol reimbursement at 15 cents a litre.Anita Tang, the manager of policy and advocacy of the Cancer Council of NSW, said: “In Sydney, that is around the cost of a camp site or kennelling for your pet . . . Those who drive can expect a measly 15 cents for a litre of fuel – an amount more fitting of the 1970s.”Ms Porter, whose son has been cancer-free for three years, has been set her back thousands of dollars. Others in the same predicament have had to go to even more desperate measures to make ends meet.She said there was considerable paperwork to be completed and it took up to four months before she received reimbursement for each claim. “I would have got $750 back for a plane trip in three or four months,” she said.”But I might have made three more trips in that time.”Alison Peters, the director of the NSW Council of Social Service, said that now that treatment for chronic illnesses was more and more centralised, requiring more travel, some people in need of such treatment did not bother making the trip.

Pensioners pay more after pleas ignored

THE Keneally government will take more than a quarter of the $30 increase given to single aged pensioners who live in public housing, despite a federal rebuke and pleas from seniors groups.From September, public housing tenants in NSW will be forced to dip into the welfare boost granted by the federal government last year to help pensioners cope with the increased cost of food, medicines and electricity.The clawback was revealed indirectly in last week’s state budget which failed to protect the full pension increase.The Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmanian governments have agreed that the $30 increase will never be included in public housing rent calculations, which are usually pegged at 25 per cent of the pension base rate.But NSW has refused to follow suit and permanently quarantine the pension increase. This means single aged pensioners will pay an extra $7.50 a week in rent after a one-year moratorium on rent rises ends in 3½⁄ months. Couple aged pensioners will not be affected because their extra $10.14 is paid as a supplement, rather than an increase to the base rate.Last year the federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, warned the states against eroding the pensioners’ hard-won increase by increasing levies and charges.”There is simply no way the Commonwealth will tolerate a clawback of that one-off pension increase by the states for pensioners in public housing,” he said.Yesterday the federal government confirmed its position had not changed. ”Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have all committed not to increase their public housing rents and we would expect other states, including NSW, to do the same,” a spokeswoman for the Minister for Families, Housing and Community Services, Jenny Macklin, said.But the NSW government says it needs the increased rent to pay for the maintenance and refurbishment of public housing properties and council costs.A spokesman for the NSW Housing Minister, Frank Terenzini, said the government ”has a great amount of sympathy for those people struggling to make ends meet … however the costs to maintain, refurbish and build more public housing are always increasing”.The Council on the Aging (NSW) urged the state government to permanently quarantine the increase. It said single aged pensioners were especially vulnerable to increased costs.”That $7 a week pays for milk and bread,” the council’s policy and communications manager, Anne-Marie Elias, said. ”We know older people will pay their electricity bills and their phone bills before they eat.”If not a quarantine, Ms Elias said Housing NSW should adopt a two-step formula to calculate the rent of single pensioners to preserve a greater percentage of the recent increases.Lyn, 71, who has lived in public housing in Glebe for 28 years, said she only has $125 a week from her $350 pension after she has paid for rent ($75.70), groceries ($80), electricity ($17), contents insurance ($6), telephone ($20) and medicines ($25).”It’s hard enough to survive on your own as it is, and now they want to take one-quarter of what little we get,” she said.Lyn, who did not want her surname published, said the state’s most disadvantaged people should not be slugged to pay for basic government services.The Westpac-Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia Retirement Standard indicates the requirements for a modest lifestyle is $373 per week for a single person and $521 a week for a couple.

Israeli held in Poland over Dubai killing

BERLIN: An alleged Israeli agent wanted over the killing of a Hamas agent in Dubai has been arrested in Poland.The man, using the name Uri Brodsky, is suspected of working for Mossad in Germany and helping to issue a fake German passport to a member of the Mossad team that killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January, a spokesman for the German federal prosecutor’s office said.Mr Brodsky was arrested 10 days ago upon arriving in Poland because of a European arrest warrant issued by Germany, which now seeks his extradition, the spokesman said on Saturday.Australia expelled an Israeli diplomat last month because forged Australian passports were used in killing Mr Mabhouh.In Warsaw, Monika Lewandowska, a spokeswoman for Polish prosecutors, confirmed that the suspect, identified only as Uri B, was arrested at the city’s international airport. She said the arrest warrant was made ”in connection with the murder of a Hamas member in Dubai” and that he had appeared before a Polish court last Sunday week, but she had no information on his possible extradition.In Israel, the Foreign Ministry said without elaborating that it was aware of the man’s fate. ”At the moment, we’re looking into that like any other Israeli who has been arrested, and he’s getting consular treatment.”The elaborate hit squad linked to the murder of Mabhouh is believed to have had about 25 members, most of them carrying fake European or Australian passports and posing as tourists. They were caught on security camera.The German news weekly Der Spiegel reports that the arrest in Poland has led to diplomatic friction, with the Israeli embassy in Warsaw urging Polish authorities not to extradite Mr Brodsky.Associated Press

Atlantic a sea of rubbish

PARIS: The North Atlantic looks like a rubbish tip, with plastic and polystyrene flotsam spreading far and wide, four French explorers just back from eight months at sea report.Once out of the Breton port of Trinite-sur-Mer in October, they typically spotted at least four to five pieces of rubbish a day – only to sail into a veritable floating dump in April in the Sargasso Sea around Bermuda.”In 15 minutes we saw more garbage than at any time during our journey,” the naval engineer, Yann Geffriaud, 27, said on Saturday a few hours after their return.”It was truly a shock, when in the middle of nowhere we came across 10 to 20 pieces of garbage every five minutes.”The Sargasso Sea, where currents between Florida and Bermuda converge, is named for a brown seaweed – sargassum – that proliferates on its surface, trapping any floating rubbish.”Ninety-five per cent of the stuff is plastics, from toothpaste tubes to aerosol containers and water bottles,” said Mr Geffriaud, the founder of Watch the Waste, a group that asks mariners to monitor rubbish.”Frankly speaking, we did not see a compact area of plastic, but a scattering.”The findings echoed those of the US seafarer and researcher Charles Moore who, two years ago, sailed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – an estimated 100 million tonnes of rubbish sprawled between Hawaii and Japan.Last February, the US-based Sea Education Association revealed the existence of another virtual island of plastic in the North Atlantic, spread over an area as big as France.Outside the Sargasso Sea, Mr Geffriaud said, the French expedition regularly saw garbage, much of which had been swept from dry land into the ocean by streams and rainfall.”But we saw five times more on the way back, between Bermuda and the Azores, than on the way out along a more southerly track from Cape Verde to Tobago.”Given that we can never clean up the sea, the most simple thing to do is to raise public awareness,” Mr Geffriaud and his team said.Agence France-Presse