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29 July
Comments Off on Don’t give up hope – the players haven’t

Don’t give up hope – the players haven’t

Effort is a noun meaning ”vigorous or determined attempt”. It’s something that coaches at AFL level shouldn’t have to coach in their players – it should be a given.

Instead of being able to continue teaching an inexperienced playing group how to play a style of footy that will allow us to compete in finals, Neeldy and his coaching staff have to spend this week reminding us about something that we lacked for half the game on Sunday night – EFFORT.

The most disappointing thing is that we can’t afford to be wasting time coaching one of the fundamentals of any professional endeavour. We need to get better quickly, and a week of remembering how to compete is frustrating because it takes away from time learning how to play finals football.

I get that our supporters are disheartened – I really do. We as players got ourselves to this point, and we’re the only ones who can drag the club back out of it. Aside from a few individuals, there was not much that was determined or vigorous about our performance against the Gold Coast. I completely understand if supporters have given up hope. But know this: the players haven’t.

If our effort was measured purely in terms of running, our GPS numbers are at the high end across the league – that’s not our issue. Our issue is that intangible effort, the last 5 per cent of mental effort that becomes the difference between sticking a tackle and allowing the opponent to get a handball away.

That sort of effort shouldn’t need to be coached, and the fact that this week it does need to be coached is an indictment of the playing group. Over the past month we’ve seen highly competitive, sustained efforts that have only been let down by lacking a bit of polish offensively. Sunday night felt like a step backwards. Disappointing? Yes. The end of the club as we know it? Definitely not.

There’s been a fair bit of noise by various people in the media that something needs to be done at Melbourne. All of these ”suggestions” aren’t helpful – they’re speculations that don’t appear to have much thought behind them. These ”suggestions” are all changes for the sake of change that aren’t going to achieve anything in the long run.

If things are going to improve and we’re going to achieve some sustained success, it will be gradual. There will be no silver bullets.

The right changes have already begun. Mark Neeld and his coaching team are the group that will lead us forward. The majority of the players who took the field on Sunday night are the players who will lead us to our next finals campaign. There won’t be some quick fix that will suddenly make us a top side. The only silver bullet will be effort.

If we remember to be vigorous and determined this week, then we can get back to improving.

29 July
Comments Off on Perceptions punish Demons, but Dogs are none too rosy

Perceptions punish Demons, but Dogs are none too rosy

The Western Bulldogs leave the field after losing to Geelong in round 5. Photo: Pat ScalaFirst impressions are often accurate, and lasting. The first impression of Melbourne this season was not pretty nor was it inaccurate – a 79-point loss against Port Adelaide. And it has been lasting.

As first impressions go it was like walking in on your grandmother in the shower – some images you can’t get out of your head.

Some first impressions also flatter to deceive. Like the Western Bulldogs. The Dogs accosted a Brisbane Lions side that come round one retained a bloated and misguided pre-season optimism.

Melbourne has won one game; the Western Bulldogs have won one game. Melbourne has lost five games by 10 goals or more, the Bulldogs three games by 50 points or more. Admittedly, two of those Melbourne losses were by more than 15 goals. But for all of the excitement of the Western Bulldogs’ first-round victory, the stark reality is this: the Dogs have won one of their last 18 matches.

In this season, Melbourne might have quickly and cringingly re-established itself as a poor side, but the Western Bulldogs’ slide has continued without anything like as much scrutiny. The difference between the teams and the disparity in the criticism they have deservedly drawn is because the biggest discrepancy between the sides has not been win-loss but effort and competitiveness.

The Bulldogs have escaped serious criticism because, first, there is always a more compellingly pathetic option to focus on (Melbourne) and because the players have appeared largely to be trying. They have been competitive in each of their games – bar the West Coast loss – even when the margin has blown out late in matches, such as occurred again at the weekend against North. They have also played better sides than Melbourne has and pushed them harder (Geelong recently).

Against that, Melbourne deserves its lumps because from the opening minute of its game against Gold Coast at the weekend it plainly was not there to play. Or it was there to play, it’s just that the game the Demons wanted to play was not football.

Over 100 missed tackles says enough about their limp effort. But it also in part is a reflection of the fact the Demons were missing six of their best 22 players. This week Colin Sylvia’s knuckle-headedness means it will be seven (Trengove, Grimes, Watts, Clark, McDonald and Jamar). Few good teams can afford to lose that number of their best players and still be competitive. When poor sides lose that number the result is grim.

The Western Bulldogs mind, have had the bulk of their best side out there each week. Bob Murphy and Matthew Boyd have both missed three games, Daniel Giansiracusa and Ryan Griffen two each and Shaun Higgins has gone for the year. But Adam Cooney, Daniel Cross, Dale Morris and Luke Dahlhaus have played every game.

The Bulldogs’ problem is not that the players have lacked effort but they have constructed a side around a game plan which is skewed towards big contested ball-winning midfielders but seemingly at a cost to players with polish in disposal and foot speed to cover the ground. Coach Brendan McCartney has acknowledged this ground cover problem recently.

The Bulldogs’ further problem is that those senior players – save for the experienced Will Minson – do not occupy key positions. This has magnified a problem of covering the ground for when there are not the big players to mark the ball, the smaller players have to work that much harder.

Melbourne’s problem over the Bulldogs is that its issues are not restricted to the misery on the field. The chief executive has been pushed out the door, the board has proven itself well-meaning but flawed and now the dark touch of Dank has drawn the Demons into the ugly AFL investigation.

All of these matters further pollute the idea of the club beyond what is occurring on the field. Unlike at Essendon where what is happening on the field is salving the wounds off it and galvanising the club, at the Demons it is only painting a starker picture of chaos and incompetence.

29 July
Comments Off on Majak of hindsight

Majak of hindsight


It was the lament of those who know disappointment like they know their own skin. It came at the end of another day that promised a little, teased a lot, and ended with a familiar slap in the face.

A day on which their beloved team was undone by a player whose first experience of ball in hands and boot on ball had come in their own backyard just a handful of years earlier. A young man who had offered hope – as a beacon for the migrant groups who continue to swell in the club’s prime catchment area, as a source of excitement the likes of which only a ground-breaker can bring. Given time and tutelage, he might even be a star.

So when Majak Daw kicked six goals in just his fourth AFL game last Saturday, the text messager spoke for Western Bulldogs everywhere. ”He should’ve been ours!”

Fickle game

Football recruiting is a notoriously fickle game; it is better to be one of the 13 talent spotters who let James Hird ghost through to No. 79 in the national draft than the poor sods responsible for helping fuel a cyberspace full of ”greatest recruiting blunders of all time” lists. Which won’t stop disgruntled Dogs bemoaning that Daw isn’t wearing red, white and blue.

Success stories always seem compelling when viewed through the goggles of hindsight, but as one recruiter noted on Tuesday, no club – the Bulldogs and North included – was confident enough that Daw would become the first Sudanese to play AFL to take him in the national draft. ”Let’s be honest,” one recruiter said, ”all rookie selections are speculative, otherwise they’d already have been picked up.”

It would be tough justice to hang Simon Dalrymple for not using one of the Bulldogs’ four picks in the 2009 draft – his first as the club’s recruiting boss – on an 18-year-old refugee with enormous athletic attributes and potential, but still arguably more going against him than for him. Even then, the power of Daw’s story had attracted headlines, but in a football sense what he showed in kicking six goals last weekend had been seen in only fleeting glimpses.

”He hardly touched the ball in the TAC Cup,” one footy watcher recalls of Daw’s time with the Western Jets on the traditional examination ground of AFL wannabes.

He still excited interest from a handful of clubs. The Bulldogs – effectively the local team of a product of Werribee’s MacKillop College, Wyndhamvale footy club and the Jets – and North Melbourne, which was about to open a ”Learning and Life Centre” with a strong focus on the multicultural community, were keenest. Both represented good fits.

In this, their interest was similarly driven more from ”upstairs” – the shirt-and-tie part of a football club where wins and losses are measured as much in supporters and bottom lines as scoreboards – than the spit-and-sawdust of the football department.

Hard yards

Campbell Rose, then CEO at Whitten Oval, and Eugene Arocca, his Arden St equivalent, both pushed hard. North had first pick in the rookie draft – at No.9 – and tossed up between Daw and Matthew Scott. It opted for the former and got the latter with its second pick anyway. The Bulldogs would have taken him at 19, but didn’t get the chance.

Arocca was not shy in pointing out that North’s sparkling renovated home was predicated on community engagement, and the significance of the Scanlon Foundation’s support of the club. Along Dynon Road, Rose and his football folk were having the same conversations about tapping a new well.

For Arocca, Daw represented a chance to showcase a different sort of progress – to break a perception that, while the Collingwoods of the world could put the time and resources into developing players from different backgrounds, it was beyond poor old North Melbourne.

”What can’t be underestimated in Majak’s story is the development work that’s been put into him by people here like Jason Lappin and John Lamont, and obviously the confidence that’s been instilled in him by Brad [Scott] as well,” recruiter Bryce Lewis says.

”I’ve got no doubt that’s why he’s progressing the way he is.”

Sparking interest

Even before Saturday evening’s performance, the broader benefits of that progress had become tangible. Joey Halloran, a close mate of Daw’s from MacKillop and the Jets, has seen it around Werribee, and at Kangaroos games.

”Down at Wyndhamvale training you see a lot of kids wearing North Melbourne jumpers, and I went to his first and second games and there were just so many kids – African and Caucasian – with No. 38 on their backs,” says Halloran, who acknowledges that some people noted the former Bulldogs who coached them at the Jets, and thought Whitten Oval was an obvious career progression. For what it’s worth, he says Majak didn’t care where he went.

Off-field, Daw is an ambassador for ”The Huddle” – the Arden St classroom funded by the Scanlon Foundation that spills over with school programs teaching everything from healthy living to local history.

He drops in on after-school basketball or soccer matches; the schoolkids eat their packed lunches while watching him train.

Half of the most-watched videos on the club’s website this year have been Majak-related, likewise the best-read articles. Al Jazeera wanted to do a story on his debut; the BBC has been on the phone too.

This is attention the Dogs would love, but in the speculative game of rookie draftees, they haven’t done too badly. The year after missing out on Daw, they plucked Luke Dahlhaus at pick 22 in the second-chance draft, and Jason Johannisen with pick 39. ”You’d reckon they’d be pretty happy with them,” one footy insider says.

North finds sizzle

Not so long ago, the height of football exotica was opening your Footy Record to the middle pages and finding Athas Hrysoulakis on one team and Peter Czerkaski on the other. On Friday night, Majak Daw will play against Nic Naitanui, and Australian football will spread its wings a little further.

Arocca will be relishing it. Now heading up the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport, last weekend’s game was the first of Daw’s short career he’d watched live. He saw African faces in the crowd, heard the buzz of anticipation when their hero went near the ball, and smiled to recall a time not so long ago when the club he is still a member of was derided for having no ”sizzle”.

”I couldn’t be happier as a person who’s passionate about community engagement, and if I played a small part in that I’m particularly proud,” Arocca says.

”It’s a wonderful story that’s continuing to evolve, it’s just good for football, good for North, and it’s great for Maj.”

29 July
Comments Off on Call to share phone tap information

Call to share phone tap information

It is understood AFL players have been caught on phone taps talking with underworld figures, although players haven’t necessarily been the target of police. Photo: Virginia StarThe AFL has joined Victoria Police in expressing disappointment they are unable to share information on criminal activity provided by confidential police phone taps.

Ahead of a Victoria Police forum on corruption in sport on Tuesday, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton reiterated that international match-fixing syndicates presented a bigger threat to Australian sport than illicit supplements and drugs.

Ashton said he was ”frustrated” that police still can’t share information from phone taps with sport officials to stamp out undesirables.

Fairfax Media revealed earlier this year that international match-fixing gangs were targeting Australian sports, and that police, the AFL and horse-racing authorities had asked for changes to legislation to the phone intercept act to enable police to pass on information gleaned from phone taps.

AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said the league was supportive of information sharing.

”The growing threat of corruption in sport makes a strong case for police to be allowed to work more closely with approved sporting bodies to protect the integrity of their sport,” he said.

”The AFL supports the need for legislative change so that relevant information can be shared by police under specific conditions.”

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou had written to the government expressing the need for the information to help protect the integrity of the code.

The AFL’s integrity unit has been led by Abraham Haddad, a former United Nations officer and Victoria Police officer, and Brett Clothier.

It is understood AFL players have been caught on phone taps talking with underworld figures, although players haven’t necessarily been the target of police. Some conversations have been about narcotics. Australian Federal Police agents have passed on information to Victoria Police.

The federal government vowed to take on corruption in February when the Australian Crime Commission released an explosive report linking organised crime with doping in sport.

”The drugs in sport aspect is really only a small element in the current integrity risks to sport,” Ashton said on Tuesday.

”What our assessment has told us is that the bigger risk is in relation to match fixing. That’s a big risk that we face that we have got to protect ourselves against.”

Ashton said racing, cricket, soccer and tennis were the main sports match-fixing syndicates were targeting. But he said ”any sport that is heavily bet on in south-east Asia and broader Asia are the sports that are higher risks as far as we are concerned”.

More than $23 billion was wagered on racing and sports in Australia in 2010-11.

Ashton said Victoria Police’s sports integrity intelligence unit has already gathered evidence through phone taps that could result in several owners, trainers and jockeys being banned from the racing industry, if police could pass on that information to racing officials.

29 July
Comments Off on VCAT rejects trainer appeal

VCAT rejects trainer appeal

Upward spiral: Stradbroke Handicap aspirant Al Aneed wins with jockey Glen Boss aboard. Photo: Pat ScalaSydney trainer Con Karakatsanis failed in his appeal to have a nine-month disqualification overturned at VCAT on Tuesday and now faces a nervous wait as his legal team considers whether further appeal is worthwhile.

Karakatsanis received the nine-month penalty and his father Tony a two-year ban during a Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board hearing early this year as the result of charges laid against both men regarding their attempt to treat sprinter Howmuchdoyouloveme prior to the Yellowglen Stakes on Victoria Derby Day last year.

Karakatsanis was shaken by the VCAT dismissal on Tuesday and was unsure as to whether he and his father would take further action as they contemplate the ramifications of a lengthy stint away from racing.

The RAD Board will hear charges laid against trainers Peter Gelagotis and Darren Weir next week as both trainers face charges over prohibited substances.

Gelagotis was charged after ibuprofen was found in urine samples taken from Hvasstan following the horse’s win in the group 2 Alister Clark Stakes at Moonee Valley on March 15. He will front the RAD Board on Tuesday.

Weir was charged when the diuretic Frusemide was found in urine samples taken from maiden winner Doing Our Best at Ballarat on February 16. He will face the RAD Board next Thursday.

Meanwhile, RV integrity chief Dayle Brown said an announcement regarding the alleged use of peptides by Mornington trainer Dean Binaisse was expected early next week.

Brown said samples had been taken from all horses at Binaisse’s Mornington property and that the premises had been inspected with the trainer’s full co-operation.

■ A wet spell in Brisbane hasn’t provided much respite from a cold snap in Melbourne, but trainer Mick Price is confident that the change of scenery has helped Stradbroke Handicap aspirant Al Aneed to mend his wayward ways.

Al Aneed is on the path to Queensland’s major group 1 sprint via the group 3 Fred Best Classic at Doomben on Saturday, with Price looking forward to further improvement on the horse’s sound Brisbane debut when runner-up in the Gold Coast Guineas a fortnight ago.

”I think the trip up [to Queensland] has cooled his colty brain down a bit. He’s just one of those colts that are too lazy one minute and too hard at the bridle the next,” Price said.

With a handicap rating in the low 80s, Al Aneed must perform well in Saturday’s contest to improve his chances of making the Stradbroke field next month.

29 June
Comments Off on RV calls for help on cheats

RV calls for help on cheats

Racing’s rulers have denied suggestions they are losing control following a series of damaging claims about drug use, race fixing and criminal involvement in the industry.

But they accept that racing’s image is taking a hit – unfairly, they insist – as a series of revelations that strike to the core of the sector’s integrity continue to issue from media, insiders and police.

Racing authorities said on Tuesday they wanted to take tougher, swifter action to weed out cheats and any criminal element infiltrating the industry, but their hands were tied unless information uncovered by police in a criminal investigation can be given to racing authorities.

Police are not permitted to pass on such findings – sometimes discovered through phone taps – because a body such as Racing Victoria is a regulatory organisation and not a law enforcement agency, a situation RV chief executive Bernard Saundry described as ”very frustrating”.

Dayle Brown, the head of RV’s integrity operations, said: ”We need the co-operation of the enforcement bodies so we can act, but we have been stymied from getting access to this information.”

Brown said that fostered a public image that racing regulators were ”in a state of paralysis, that we can’t go forward” when authorities had been seeking information sharing for several years.

He explained that for the situation to change there needed to be amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception) Act of 1979 – a policy decision governments needed to take.

”We have not lost control of the image,” Saundry said, but acknowledged it had been tarnished by a series of high-profile headlines. The sport’s $15 million investment on integrity and its improved surveillance procedures were evidence that it was working to stamp out cheats.

RV’s new chairman, Robert Roulston, backed the CEO. ”My view of racing is that 99.9 per cent of this industry is trying to do the right thing and race for prizemoney,” he said. ”I really don’t accept wide-ranging opinions in the media that racing is full of crooks. Our view of racing is that it’s a clean sport, and probably less corrupt than other sports.”

But Saundry said that racing’s integrity services were well ahead of most other sports. There were 14,000 drug tests for the 9000 horses competing in Victoria – an average of 1.5 per competitor and well in excess of other activities.

”I would challenge any other code to have that sort of testing regime,” he said.

‘We continue to invest in people and systems. We can only act on what we have got. But when people break the rules they will be caught.”

Saundry said changing the Telecommunications Act ”has got to be the priority”, adding that Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna had made that a priority in his recommendations.

29 June
Comments Off on Persistence pays off for Saints

Persistence pays off for Saints

St Kilda’s coach Scott Watters says the reward for persisting and winning will be significant for his young group. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoHaving twice played well and fallen short, St Kilda coach Scott Watters says the reward for persisting and winning will be significant for his young group.

”I think you take a lot out of that as a group – that you went through the fire and still got the result, so the boys are pretty happy, and so they should be,” he said after Monday’s win against Carlton at Etihad Stadium.

”It’s reward for the players. Our last two weeks their efforts were very, very good. You go back to Sydney a fortnight ago and last week against Collingwood, so to give the effort and get the reward is a real catalyst for this group.

”For a lot of senior players who have been leading really strongly for us, and younger players, that sort of experience is invaluable.

”I am really proud of them. They were great.”

Watters said youngster Nathan Wright would have scans after a heavy blow to the head which may have broken his jaw, when he clashed with Blues forward Eddie Betts after disposing of the ball.

Watters said it was ”a credit” to Carlton to come back so strongly after being six goals down given it had lost two players to injury before quarter-time.

It was the third successive victory for Watters against the Blues. ”We are having a reasonable run against a side that I really rate and obviously I rate the coach, so to get a result was important for us,” he said.

Watters praised Jack Steven, who had 39 touches, Sam Fisher’s last-quarter composure, Ben McEvoy’s dominant display in the ruck and Nick Dal Santo’s selfless game for the team.

”We challenged [Steven] during the week. In a lot of games this year he has [had] 19-20 possessions in a half and tapered off.

”So that was a focus for him this week to really get the job done. That is the difference between being a B-grade midfielder and elite.”

Nick Riewoldt, with three goals and 13 marks, was the dominant player on the ground.

29 June
Comments Off on Blue sorry for the Waite

Blue sorry for the Waite

St Kilda’s Jack Steven battles Carlton’s Jaryd Cachia at Etihad Stradium on Monday. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoJarrad Waite will return to the Blues’ team this weekend having vowed to remedy his poor disciplinary record, after missing Carlton’s surprise loss to St Kilda due to suspension. But the revolving door continues to turn with small forward Eddie Betts offered a three-match ban for a bump on St Kilda’s Nathan Wright on Monday night.

Blues vice-captain Kade Simpson said Waite could have helped his team’s scoring against the Saints, with only four goals being kicked across the first three quarters before a late comeback reduced the final deficit to nine points.

”He’s an integral part of our team. I think our ball delivery to our forwards (against St Kilda) wasn’t great, but having Jarrad (might have been significant because) everyone knows he’s a great player. He’s obviously going to help every time he’s out there,” Simpson said on Tuesday, as the club held a recovery-based training session at its Visy Park headquarters.

Simpson confirmed he and his fellow leadership group members had approached Waite, who missed the first five matches of the season due to injury, and was then banned for one match after a round six clash with Melbourne’s Tom McDonald.

”We had a chat with Jarrad. He knows he did the wrong thing. When he comes back in this week he’s got a chance to make up for it. I know he’s really wanting to do that,” Simpson said.

”He knows he let the team down. He addressed the group, apologised and said it won’t happen again. We’ve got to take Jarrad at his word. Hopefully this week … he can bounce back and repay the boys.”

Simpson predicted Carlton’s review of Monday’s match at Etihad Stadium would compare its encouraging second half to the first half ”where we went wrong”.

”In the third quarter, we didn’t take our chances and in the last quarter we played some really good footy, but probably left it too late. If you give a team like St Kilda a six-goal break, you’re rarely going to pull them in,” he said.

”Being two guys down pretty early and then to run the game out the way we did was something we’ll take into next week, hopefully continue on that last-quarter form.”

The Blues suffered a double injury blow early in the match, with David Ellard and Chris Yarran sidelined with hamstring injuries. Simpson said the flow-on effect was significant.

”You probably play about another 10 per cent game time, which doesn’t sound like much, but it does take its toll, especially with rotations … being a big part of the game these days.”

With the Blues having to contend with a six-day break before facing Port Adelaide at home on Sunday, Simpson said they were due to have a ”pretty light week anyway”, but agreed other sore players such as Marc Murphy and defender Michael Jamison could be treated more cautiously.

Waite will bolster the Blues’ forward marking capabilities, which were hampered on Monday despite the presence of tall players Shaun Hampson and Matthew Kreuzer. For small forwards, however, they may struggle, with Yarran in doubt and Betts suspended.

Simpson was still optimistic Carlton would boast an effective forward line against Port.

”The reserves didn’t have a game this week, but I know Dylan Buckley has already come in this year and he’s obviously a chance. Jeffy (Garlett) is playing great footy. (Andrew) Carrazzo, Bryce Gibbs, there’s quite a few boys who can come back in, (along with) Jeremy Laidler who’s been playing up forward,” he said.

29 June
Comments Off on Police leaks linked to Fox

Police leaks linked to Fox

ABOVE BOARD: Assistant Commissioner Carlene York, right, leaves the inquiry. Picture: Darren PatemanARCHIVE of Herald reports


SENIOR police were concerned that confidential details about the investigation into alleged cover-ups of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church were being leaked and Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox was the suspected source of the leaks, the region’s former commander said yesterday.

Assistant Commissioner Carlene York said there was no evidence that Newcastle police did not want to investigate the claims and the investigation that was done was ‘‘thorough’’ and ‘‘extensive’’.

She also said she had never heard the term ‘‘Catholic mafia’’ during her time as Northern Region commander and her decision to assign the investigation to the Newcastle City detectives office was based on a number of factors including the locality of the alleged offences and the resources of that office.

The Special Commission of Inquiry being held in Newcastle is examining claims by Mr Fox that he was ordered to stop investigating claims of concealment of sexual abuse within the Church.

The inquiry was also examining allegations that Church officials hindered such investigations.

The inquiry heard that the electronic files of the strike force charged with investigating the claims were marked ‘‘highly protected’’, which restricted access to those files.

Assistant Commissioner York said there were concerns that confidential information was being leaked to the Newcastle Herald and she was later told by another officer the suspected source of the leaks was Mr Fox.

She said such leaks could hinder an investigation because it could tip off suspects.

Assistant Commissioner York said it was her decision to assign the investigation to Newcastle City detectives after she received a report from Mr Fox in 2010 containing a number of allegations.

She said she never considered Mr Fox to be on the strike force because he was crime manager at Port Stephens, one of the smallest commands in the region, and there were insufficient resources to cover him.

She said every command in the region was under-resourced, but Port Stephens in particular was too small for such an inquiry.

When referred to a comment by another officer that an element of the investigation was being ‘‘abysmally managed’’ she said she didn’t agree.

She admitted that the strike force encountered difficulties when a number of investigators went on sick leave, but an ‘‘excellent’’ brief of evidence was prepared and sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The hearing before Commissioner Margaret Cunneen continues.

29 June
Comments Off on Legal Aid to stop environmental challenges

Legal Aid to stop environmental challenges

LEGAL Aid NSW will stop paying for public legal challenges on environmental matters as part of its efforts to cut costs from July.

Hunter environmental and community groups say without legal aid some of the most significant legal challenges mounted in the region would not have been possible.

These included challenges against Centennial Coal’s Anvil Hill (now Mangoola) mine, near Wybong, the Hunter Environment Lobby against the expansion of the Ulan mine, the Sweetwater Action Group against Huntlee, the Ironstone Community Act Group against what is now Yancoal in the Gloucester area and Barrington-Gloucester Stroud Preservation Alliance against AGL’s Gloucester gas project.

Legal aid, which is means-tested and subject to a merit test, has been available for public interest matters that raise ‘‘substantial’’ public concern about the environment.

In addition to financial support, litigants who have obtained legal aid have been covered by an indemnity against costs that protected them from claims from the corporations they challenged.

A spokesman for Lock the Gate Hunter, Steve Phillips, said the loss of the indemnity was probably more significant than the financial support.

‘‘Only cases that are 100per cent sure of a win will go ahead and that is rare,’’ Mr Phillips said.

Hunter Communities Network spokeswoman Bev Smiles said community challenges were on important issues, such as the health impacts of projects, and against multinational corporations for whom money was no object.

Barrington-Gloucester Stroud Preservation Alliance spokesman Graeme Healy said the cuts would stop all legal challenges from community groups.

Environmental Defender’s Office executive director Jeff Smith said it was unlikely challenges similar to those made in the Hunter in recent years could proceed once the cuts were made.

Legal Aid NSW and Attorney-General Greg Smith’s office did not respond to the Newcastle Herald’s request for comment yesterday.