The state’s transport agency has walked away from an agreement with the Inner West Council to help fund a feasibility study into running track-free electric trams along Sydney’s Parramatta Road.
Despite signing a memorandum of understanding in August, Transport for NSW said it had decided soon afterwards that committing to a detailed study of only one option for Parramatta Road would “pre-empt the outcome of our strategic planning process”.
That process culminated in the release of the government’s 40-year transport plan last month.
Under the deal in August, the lead agency and council had agreed to stump up $80,000 each for a study on how guided track-free trams could run along the Parramatta Road corridor linking Sydney’s central business district to Burwood.
But several days after it was signed, the senior transport official who inked it on behalf of Transport for NSW in August left the agency.
Inner West Council mayor Darcy Byrne described the decision to abandon the study as a joke and accused Transport Minister Andrew Constance of political interference.
“This is meant to be a government department, not some amateur operation,” he said.
“The department signed on to a memorandum of understanding to undertake this feasibility study and clearly Andrew Constance for base political purposes has interfered and rescinded that agreement.”
Mr Constance is on leave, and his office referred questions to Transport for NSW. The agency declined to comment further.
Cr Byrne said the 40-year strategic plan for Sydney’s transport released last month by the government provided no plans for Parramatta Road or an examination of track-free trams.
“Transport experts understand that track-free trams have the potential to transform Parramatta Road,” he said.
The council’s goal was for track-free trams to start operating in time for the completion of the $16.8 billion WestConnex tollroad, which is meant to help reduce traffic on Parramatta Road. The final stage of WestConnex – a link between the M4 and M5 motorways – is scheduled to be opened to motorists in 2023.
Ken Welsh, the council’s strategic transport planner, said the optically-guided trams that had been under consideration were only about 2.6 metres wide, which meant they could be operated along the centre of Parramatta Road.
In contrast, a light rail line or conventional buses could only be used in a lane next to the kerb.
Mr Welsh said the ability to run trams along the centre of Parramatta Road was critical because it would free up kerbside lanes for parking, which was key to revitalising businesses along the corridor.
A routine house call for two police officers on a drizzly Monday morning in October. A mother, Maria Claudia Lutz, has failed to drop off her two children, Martin and Elisa, at their primary school, St Lucy’s in Sydney’s Wahroonga, or turn up for her volunteer shift at the school canteen. A concerned friend and canteen co-worker, Nichole Brimble, had called 000 half an hour earlier, explaining that Maria wasn’t answering her mobile and hadn’t responded to a text message the afternoon before, which was totally out of character.
The officers aren’t at all apprehensive as they pull up in front of 68 Sir Thomas Mitchell Drive, a 1980s brick veneer bungalow on a corner block. Reports like this come in all the time: the neighbour who hasn’t been seen for days, the elderly loved one who hasn’t returned calls, the mother who has forgotten to notify the school that her kids are ill. The majority of “welfare checks” end happily, especially here in Davidson, a drowsy, middle-class suburb in Sydney’s north.
It’s 10.30am and as the two policemen walk up the long pathway towards the house, sitting behind a manicured hedge and shrubs, all is quiet. Perhaps too quiet. Certainly no telltale sounds of a domestic. Just the pattering of light rain on the tiled roof. They knock on the door. No answer. They knock again. Nothing. They yell out. Silence. One of the young officers phones Nichole Brimble, the worried caller, to reassure her that her friend’s house is locked up. No signs of a disturbance. Everything appears to be fine.
But Brimble is not satisfied. Isn’t the family dog, a bull mastiff called Tequila, in the yard, she enquires? And what of Lutz’s car and her husband Fernando Manrique’s car? She describes their colours, makes and models. Are they there? The officer confirms that both vehicles are parked in the street. That’s very strange, a worried Brimble tells the officer, who explains that he’s not authorised to break into the house unless there’s evidence of imminent danger.
Now somewhat alarmed, one of the officers unlatches a black Colorbond gate and peers directly through clear French doors on the side of the house. What he sees hits him like a thunderbolt: a middle-aged man, slumped in the TV room, apparently lifeless beneath a whirring ceiling fan. The officers frantically burst into a bedroom at the rear of the property, where they’re confronted with an even more shocking sight: Lutz, lying lifeless in her bed beside her 11-year-old daughter, Elisa. In the next bedroom, more heartbreak: her dead 10-year-old son, Martin, with Tequila limp on the floor.
But there is something else as well. Something in the air, odourless and colourless, circulating with every deadly turn of the ceiling fan in each room.
The policemen return to their car to secure backup – words barely able to sum up what they’ve just witnessed – and within a short time, the street is cordoned off with crime-scene tape and the house is swarming with the homicide squad, paramedics, and fire and rescue. Officers in white forensic suits wearing protective masks file in and out of the side and front doors. Others climb over the roof, exploring the source of the gas. A HAZMAT vehicle is parked out the front.
The residents of Davidson are used to the occasional drone of helicopters brought in to search for bushwalkers in the neighbouring Garigal National Park. But today, Monday October 17, 2016, the helicopters are from the major TV stations, converging on the site because of a major breaking news story. As neighbours emerge from their homes, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, the drizzle becomes a steady downpour.
On the next corner, two women hug, while a white-haired man in a red sweater holds a hand to his mouth. Only days before, neighbours had seen the children from number 68 jumping on the trampoline in their front yard. They’d also seen the dad walking the family dog around the football oval opposite.
The word among the small army of journalists now at the scene is that there has been a murder-suicide. A press conference is held in the street at 2.30pm. “It’s a horrific thing that has happened to this suburb,” says police superintendent Dave Darcy. “The mother in particular is held in very high regard in the community. Since coming to Australia they have made a significant contribution to how we live.” He says that the Colombian-born parents are not known to police, and confirms what reporters have already heard – that both Australian-born children had autism.
The mystery of the deaths is compounded by the fact there is no suicide note, and the hard drive of the family computer has been removed and burnt. Why would Fernando Manrique, a successful businessman who had built a comfortable life for his family, and his vivacious wife, Maria Lutz, take their own lives, and those of their children? Was she complicit in their deaths? Were the children’s needs a burden? Was this a pact between the parents?
Already, the tragedy seemed to take on a larger, symbolic significance. The parents of two kids with autism, perhaps overwhelmed by the day-to-day grind of bringing up children with complex special needs, taking the last awful step to deal with it all. But as the rumours circulate, and as the bodies are wheeled out of the house that night at 10pm, one small group of local women believe with certainty that they know who was really behind the deaths. They are Maria Lutz’s close friends, a small group of mothers at St Lucy’s in whom the 43-year-old confided and who knew what was happening inside the Manrique-Lutz household in the weeks leading up to the tragedy.
To think he was at home all that time and planning it while playing with the kids and bringing them balloons and making them dinner …It just makes me sick.
it’s three weeks since their best friend and her family were found dead, and a group of women at St Lucy’s Catholic School, nestled on a quiet residential street not far from the prestigious Knox Grammar, are leading me to a small magnolia tree. Students from Elisa’s and Martin’s years have planted the tree in a garden lining the school driveway in memory of their two schoolmates.
The balloons, flowers and cards that lined the front entrance of the school in the days after the tragedy are now gone, but this tree will be a living memorial to the family in the years to come. Lutz’s friends are keen to set the record straight – Maria was not struggling as the mother of two children with autism. She was a warrior who’d never hurt her children.
“When we first met and I found out she had two children with autism, I just remember going, ‘Gosh, Maria, how do you do this?’ ” recalls Peta Rostirola, sitting at a long timber table in a sunlit room at St Lucy’s with her friends. “And she would say, ‘My children aren’t dying, they are alive and well.’ She fought every day to make their lives better.”
Every morning Lutz would pile Martin and Elisa into her car for the half-hour drive to St Lucy’s. She was an integral part of the running of the school, helping with fundraising, swimming lessons, literacy programs and excursions. “Her kids weren’t the best sleepers and she would come in and everyone in this school must have told her 20 times to go home and have a sleep,” says Rostirola. “And the next thing she’d be saying, ‘Do you need help on that excursion? I’ll come.’ “
Valeria Buccheri recalls how keen she and Lutz were to get their children into St Lucy’s, a highly regarded special-needs school that has only 130 students and class sizes no bigger than 10, in which more than half the students are non-verbal. When they both applied for kindergarten places for their children in 2010, only 20 places were available for 80 applicants. When a letter from the school arrived, Lutz called Buccheri so they could share the news about their children’s futures. “I ran down the stairs and we opened the letters together,” Buccheri remembers with a warm smile. “We both were approved.”
Once her children settled into St Lucy’s, Lutz discovered her “Australian family”, say the women. The other mothers were drawn to her effervescent and warm nature, and having children with similar challenges proved to be an incredibly bonding experience, says Buccheri. Lutz treated all the St Lucy’s students as if they were her own. After the school bell rang at the end of the day, kids would emerge to find Lutz, with her dazzling smile and arms outstretched, waiting to greet them at the gates. She knew of each child by name, what medication they were on, what their conditions were and what they could and couldn’t eat. In the months before her death, says Buccheri, she had finished studying to become a teacher’s aide.
In the days afterward, police told Lutz’s friends they had a very good picture of what happened, and that there was little doubt this was the act of one person. Yet the hurtful speculation continued, eventually driving Rostirola to write to news organisations, calling them out for their focus on Martin’s and Elisa’s disabilities.
“Maria was so loved here and it was like a family for her,” says Rostirola. “She got so much back from all the kids. The more she gave, the more she got back.” Manrique, who worked full-time, rarely visited the school. A photo of him at a school awards function with an arm around Martin was several years old.
After my chat with the mothers, principal Warren Hopley takes me on a tour of the school. He explains how a bursary has been set up in Martin and Elisa’s name to help financially struggling parents send their kids to the school. As we walk through the original building at St Lucy’s, a former convent, Hopley points to Martin’s artwork hanging on the walls outside their classrooms. By this point, half a dozen people have told me about Martin’s gift for painting and Elisa’s high level of reading comprehension.
Deputy principal Susan Jones’s first day at St Lucy’s was also Elisa’s first day. Jones speaks fondly of the 11-year-old and her younger brother, recalling their individual conditions with compassionate detail. “They both had really strong personalities,” recalls Jones.
I meet the mothers for a second time in November over sandwiches in Kerrie Dietz’s dining room. Lutz’s friends have spent many hours going over the events of the past several months in painstaking detail. They’ve been looking for any sign they missed that could have alerted them to the imminent tragedy.
Maria Lutz and Fernando Manrique met as teenagers, both the offspring of educated, middle-class parents in Bogotá, Colombia. In a city besieged by drug gangs – Lutz would describe being sent home from school because bombs had exploded nearby – Manrique saw himself as her “protector”. For this, Manrique, the youngest of 10 children, was brought into the comforting fold of Lutz’s family (she was one of six).
In his late teens, after inheriting a significant sum of money, Manrique went though a wild oats phase of fast cars and hard partying before settling into his compulsory military service. The couple then completed university degrees; Fernando in engineering, Maria in law.
Lutz spent a few years as a criminal lawyer, visiting hardened crooks in Bogotá’s jails before travelling to Australia with Manrique to study English. After arriving in 2000, the couple fell in love with the country. They were granted skilled work visas, then citizenship
Five years after arriving in Sydney, as Lutz worked to have her law degree recognised in Australia, she fell pregnant with Elisa, who was born in May 2005. In the same year the couple purchased their first home on the corner of a cul-de-sac in the family-friendly suburb of Davidson. The single-level home was rundown but, with a family on the way, Manrique set about renovating the property, spending his weekends painting, tiling, erecting fences and gardening.
Martin was born in August 2006. Like Elisa, he also presented behaviour consistent with autism. For some, the first years of life for a child with a disability can be the hardest. Lutz took her children to the Shepherd Centre, an early intervention service for children with hearing and learning difficulties, where she met Valeria Buccheri. “It was really beautiful because we actually could go there as a group of young mums who didn’t have much experience with kids,” recalls Buccheri.
In 2013, Manrique, who held a managerial role at Fuji Zerox Australia, accepted a retrenchment package. Coincidentally, Lutz’s parents were in Australia at the time and encouraged their daughter and son-in-law to use the money to return to Colombia. The family would be well off back home, able to employ staff to help with Martin and Elisa. Manrique contacted friends from his university days, exploring work opportunities he could pursue if the family returned home.
But Lutz wasn’t interested. The altitude in Bogotá could have implications for Elisa’s asthma and, as a lawyer who had been forced to face the reality of the city’s underworld, she was worried about the safety of her kids. She strongly wanted to bring them up in Australia. “She actually fought her parents to say no,” Buccheri says.
“She could have gone back,” Rostirola adds, “and had a nanny and everything, but that is not the life Maria wanted.” Instead, Manrique became a partner in a fledgling data processing logistics firm called Drake Business Logistics. According to Rostirola and Brimble, he made an agreement with Lutz that he’d spend two years building up the business until it got to a point where their children would be supported for life. This would involve a lot of travelling but at that point, he assured her, he would hand over the reins.
“It was all thinking about the kids and the future,” Buccheri says. “And then, after a couple of years, she was starting to say, ‘Well, now is the time you said that you’d withdraw and not go overseas as much.’ She told Fernando they needed him at home.” Instead, his time away from home and his family only increased.
Maria Lutz hardly kept it a secret from her friends that her marriage was in serious trouble. Manrique would go away for up to three weeks at a time, often opting to go overseas when the children were home during school holidays. “She would never have time to organise respite because it would be a last-minute thing – he would just go,” says Rostirola.
In August last year, according to Rostirola, Lutz went to see a solicitor about how she could make a separation as smooth as possible for the children and her husband. She wanted to know how to untangle everything they had set up, including a trust the pair had established in case anything ever happened to them and Martin and Elisa were left alone without family in Australia.
Lutz’s friends say she wanted to make sure the children were going to be looked after and to learn what her rights were in Australia, and that she chose not to tell Manrique about her meeting with the solicitor. “She couldn’t afford the emotional upheaval of presenting that to him because she needed to deal day-to-day with what she had,” says Brimble.
Though Lutz complained about her husband’s absences, she never let on about any demons he may have been facing. One small comment about him being “not in a good place” was the closest she ever came to letting friends know how he was feeling.
In a memory that brings an affectionate chuckle from her friends, Lutz drew on her law skills and drew up a six-month contract for Manrique to adhere to as husband and father. He agreed to its terms, but Maria privately suspected he would fail to honour them.
Following a sports day at St Lucy’s on August 17 this year, the tension between Lutz and Manrique boiled over. Martin – or “Tin” – had just started a new medication that was lowering his blood pressure. At the same time, he was being weaned off other medicines that were affecting his appetite.
Lutz called Manrique at work three or four times, asking him to pick up Elisa so she could take Martin to an appointment with a specialist that afternoon. She made the final call after Martin fainted and was en route to hospital in an ambulance. Manrique refused to pick up Elisa. He was too busy in a meeting, he told her.
Brimble and Dietz followed Lutz to hospital while Rostirola collected Elisa and her own son from school. At the hospital, an exasperated Lutz declared that she was getting a divorce. “Maria was done, that was the last straw,” Rostirola says. “It wasn’t anything about Maria wanting him there for her; she wanted him there for the kids and he just couldn’t even do that.
“She kept saying, ‘I have to untangle everything and it is taking me ages because I have to finish my study, deal with the kids and Fernando is away all the time.’ ” When confronted about his lacklustre response to his son’s medical emergency, Manrique was reportedly uncomprehending. “He was completely shocked at the fact their marriage wasn’t working,” Dietz says.
The phone call came out of the blue. Manrique was in the Philippines, where he was setting up an office. He told Lutz, who in turn told Brimble and Rostirola, that he wanted to come home for the school holidays – a rarity – to help her get organised before he moved out.
He flew home on September 22, a day before the end of the school term. In an unnerving change in behaviour, Manrique turned into a model father in the following few weeks. He cooked dinner, took his children to appointments with specialists, played with them in the yard and was continuously present.
During the second week of the holidays, after putting all the children to sleep – a difficult task – Manrique engaged in a very loud phone call at 2am. “Maria said she lost it,” Brimble reports. “She got so angry with him and told him he had to get out right then and there.” Manrique stayed at a hotel for two days but returned, asking for three weeks back at home until he found somewhere to live. He was planning to move to the Philippines and would return to Australia to see the children regularly.
It was at this point that police believe he began the process of rigging up a system in the ceiling that would seep poisonous gas through the family home. Police sources say he set up an account with a gas company and obtained two large bottles of carbon monoxide, which he kept away from the family home as the school holidays continued.
Martin and Elisa returned to school on October 11, as did Lutz with her volunteering duties, leaving Manrique at home alone. When Rostirola knocked on Lutz’s car window as she picked up the kids from school on the first day back, her friend told her about her husband’s abnormal behaviour, sarcastically labelling him “father of the year.”
On the following Wednesday, during a walk to grab coffee with Brimble, Lutz said she was so tired from trying to get Martin to eat and his medication just right she didn’t have the heart or energy to ask her husband if he’d found somewhere else to live.
During that week, the children returned home to find Manrique holding party balloons for them. On Friday October 14, Lutz, Brimble, Rostirola and Dietz met for coffee as usual in Turramurra. Lutz was her normal upbeat self, endearingly undeterred that her loud and entertaining storytelling was drawing stares from the older, more conservative customers in the upmarket cafe.
She spoke enthusiastically of meeting with a local area co-ordinator from the National Disability Insurance Scheme. After spending months putting together a proposal for funding, she was in line to get a support worker for five hours a day, meaning she could return to work.
The friends parted ways after coffee, expecting to see each other at St Lucy’s the following week. On Saturday at 11.48am, Lutz sent Brimble a text message about cleaning a scuffed Converse sneaker. Brimble lightheartedly messaged back: “You better clean the other one or you will look funnier than normal.”
That was the last she heard from Lutz. Brimble sent another text message on Sunday afternoon, asking her friend if she needed any groceries in preparation for making tacos at the school canteen the following morning. She received no response.
The next morning, Brimble turned up to an empty canteen. This was unusual, as Lutz was always there first. Martin and Elisa weren’t at school, either. After ringing Lutz repeatedly, then trying a few friends and local hospitals, Brimble called the police. She knew that Lutz would at least have messaged her if, for some reason, she couldn’t come in. She would have touched base. That was the kind of friendship they had.
Back at St Lucy’s, principal Warren Hopley received a call from police and asked Nichole Brimble, by now highly anxious, into his office. “To tell Nichole … well, it was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” he recalls. “She just buckled over.”
It then fell to Brimble to tell her remaining friends, Lutz’s second family. “As soon as Nic rang and told me, I knew [Manrique] had done something,” Rostirola says. “I think all of us knew straight away: he’s killed them.”
As Dietz notes, the marriage had been in trouble for some time, but it was only in August that Lutz had asked her husband to leave. “The final act of ‘I don’t actually need you any more’, for a man who was very much in control of his world, his life, his business, must have led to his losing control.”
Observes Rostirola, “Maria had this amazing group of friends and connections here, and she had a good life and he didn’t.” The distress the women feel breaks through when they reflect on the orchestrated nature of the murders. “This was three weeks at least of planning,” Brimble says with a breaking voice. “To think he was home all that time and planning it while playing with the kids and bringing them balloons and making them dinner … It just makes me sick.”
Jairo Campos met Fernando Manrique while they were both working at Fuji Xerox in North Ryde about five years ago. Campos became one of Manrique’s closest friends, one of his only friends, the pair forging a close bond over their similar backgrounds in Colombia.
Many lunch breaks were spent shopping at Macquarie Shopping Centre, buying clothes and toys for Martin and Elisa. Campos remembers Manrique as a private but warm man who cared deeply for his children. “I think we built this kind of friendship and he was able to talk about his kids with me,” he says over coffee during his lunch break in North Sydney.
“Actually, there were a lot of people who worked with him who were not aware of him having kids or him having kids with their conditions. He was not open about that.”
After Manrique’s managerial position at Fuji Xerox was made redundant and he left to work at Drake Business Logistics in 2014, Campos kept in contact, the pair talking regularly on the phone, sharing their business goals and ambitions. Eventually, Manrique opened up about his marriage. “He called me one afternoon, told me he’d been travelling a lot, he’d been busy and things were not working with Maria and they’d decided to separate.”
But on the last occasion Campos saw his friend – over lunch in the CBD for Manrique’s 44th birthday in late September, after Lutz had told him she wanted him to leave – he made no mention of divorce. “He was normal, nothing out of the ordinary,” Campos recalls. “He didn’t say anything different, it was the usual Fernando. He talked a lot about work and the company.” There was never any mention of depression or evidence of internal struggle, and Campos says the only medication Manrique told him he was on was for his cholesterol.
Campos can’t imagine his dear friend, a “very professional and happy person”, as someone capable of killing his family. “He always got what he wanted, he was a really ambitious person. You wouldn’t expect someone like him getting into something like this because he was always looking for more and enjoying things.” Despite his unfathomable actions, Manrique didn’t present as a monster, Lutz’s friends say. He wasn’t violent or aggressive, but rather a quiet, hard-working man whom Martin and Elisa were happy to see when he was home.
Police spent days at the Davidson home crawling through the roof cavity to deconstruct the system set up to cause the deaths. Hosing connected to gas bottles outside the home had been run through the ceiling and linked to fans throughout the house. The system was elaborate and had been carefully planned prior to installation. Exactly when Manrique made the decision to kill himself and his family is anyone’s guess.
A week after arriving in Australia from Bogotá, Manrique’s sister, Patricia, and Lutz’s parents, Alicia and Ernesto, and brother, Alejandro, farewelled their loved ones. Both families wanted a collective funeral, one in which four coffins were set side by side in the Holy Name Catholic Church at Wahroonga.
Songs in Spanish echoed throughout the church on a sunny late October day while St Lucy’s staff placed paintbrushes and toy figurines on top of Martin’s and Elisa’s small, gloss-white caskets, which sat between their parents’ two large timber coffins.
Between the prayers and communion, a collective intake of breath rippled through the pews when Father David Ranson was brave enough to pose the question torturing everyone. “Where was God in the silence that filled Fernando and Maria’s house that Sunday?” he asked as four candles burned before him. “Where was God for Maria Claudia and Fernando and for Eli and Martin?”
Editor’s note: The investigation into the case is ongoing, with an inquest possible in 2017. Lifeline: 13 11 14
To donate to the St Lucy’s scholarship fund in memory of Eli, Martin and Maria Lutz, visit stlucys.nsw.edu.au.
NSW celebrate their 2016 National Paralympic 7-a-side Championship title.
Sunday, 30 October 2016 –
The New South Wales Paralympic Football State Team have clinched their 12th National Title with a 3-0 win over Western Australia at the 2016 National Paralympic 7-a-side Championships held at Valentine Sport Park.
It was an end to end match much like their earlier group stage match-up that ended in a 2-2 draw.
In front of a full crowd at Valentine Sports Park, host team New South Wales were far too strong for their opponents.
The game was locked at nil-all in the early exchanges until the Blues hit first blood just before half-time.
Golden Boot and Man of the Match star Jack Williams scored a fantastic goal past Western Australian goalkeeper Chris Barty that sent the home fans into raptures.
Just after half time and Williams bagged his brace while Ben Atkins finished off the match with the third that capped off a memorable few days for the victorious NSW squad.
Queensland Coach Jay Larkins echoed the voices of many players, supporters and coaching staff regarding the tournament which was well received by all.
“This is by far the best National Paralympic Football Championships tournament I have ever been involved in.
“A big thank you to Football NSW and FFA for putting on such a wonderful tournament.”
Victorious NSW Captain and Pararoos Vice skipper Chris Pyne was overwhelmed with excitement after the New South Wales team took out the silverware.
“These are the best bunch of lads I have ever had the privilege of playing with, for eight years we have won this trophy now and it comes down to the commitment, hard-work and friendship between a great group of players,” said Pyne.
“A huge thanks to Football NSW and FFA for putting on brilliant tournament, this is how it should be every year.”
Pararoos Head Coach Kai Lammert said after the match that he was really delighted with the standard of all games played over the last four days.
“Everyone has raised the bar this year and we had quite a few players who are pushing for selection into the Pararoos training camp next year,” said Lammert.
“The future of the Pararoos also looked bright with some very talented young footballers impressing the coaching staff.
“Thanks to Football NSW for hosting this tournament for the first time. It was a very well organised and the standard of refereeing was exceptional.
“Congratulations to all teams participating in the tournament and to NSW for taking out a record 8th title in a row and 12th title since 2004.”
There were a number of notable spectators in the crowd to witness the tournament’s finale, with the likes of FFA Head of National Performance Luke Casserly, Blacktown City Council Counsellor Julie Griffiths, Head Pararoos Coach Kai Lammert and Pararoos Ambassador Claire Falls all presenting trophies.
“We would also like to say thank you to Football Federation Australia for the awards and Four Four Two for their donation of 12 month subscriptions to the magazine,” added Lammert.
Gold Medal Match
New South Wales 3 (Jack Williams 2, Ben Atkins)
Western Australia 0
Bronze Medal match
Queensland 2 (Robbie Christie, Angus Magregor)
Combined State Team 1 (Chris Gudgeon)
2016 National Paralympic 7-a-side Championships Award Winners
2016 National Paralympic 7-A-Side Football Champions – New South Wales
Silver Medalist – Western Australia
Bronze Medalist – Queensland
George Tonna Medal – Best & Fairest – Gold Medal Match – Jack Williams (NSW)
Best & Fairest – Bronze Medal Match – Robbie Christie (QLD)
Golden Boot Award – Jack Williams (NSW) – 11 Goals
Best Goalkeeper – Chris Barty (WA)
Player of the Tournament (as voted by all coaches) – Christian Tsangas (VIC)
QLD Player of the Tournament – Robbie Christie
NSW Player of the Tournament – Ben Atkins
VIC Player of the Tournament – Christian Tsangas
WA Player of the Tournament – Nicholas Prescott
Combined States Player of the Tournament – Tom Goodman (SA)
The old Balmain Leagues Club is a notorious eyesore on one of the city’s busiest roads – and it could stay that way for years as wrangling continues over the fate of the derelict site.
Its owner and would-be developer, Rozelle Village, wanted to build 12- and eight-storey residential towers on the Victoria Road site, plus shops and space for a new leagues club.
But the development application was refused on Wednesday by the Land and Environment Court, which ruled it did not meet the objectives of the local environment plan for the precinct.
As well as potentially worsening traffic on a congested arterial road, the proposal raised “doubts about the area to be provided for use by the Balmain Leagues Club to promote its long term viability”, Commissioner Annelise Tuor said.
She also said the design “does not demonstrate that it will contribute to the vibrancy and prosperity of the Rozelle Commercial Centre”.
It is the latest chapter in the long-running dispute about the scale of development at the prime inner-city site, which has become a vandalised ruin in the years since it was vacated by the Tigers.
The club was forced out amid plans by the then Labor government to build a metro station and in 2009 sold its headquarters for $1 to Rozelle Village, which took on its $23.5 million debt.
The club is keen to return to its traditional home but since 2010 the NSW government has refused four proposals to redevelop the site. The application knocked back on Wednesday included plans for 135 apartments, a supermarket, public plaza and club premises.
Tigers chairman Leslie Glen said the court decision was disappointing “for our very long-suffering members and people who rely on our club for social and sporting amenity”.
Without a stable home base the club was battling to survive financially and to continue its support for the community and local sporting organisations, Dr Glen said.
“It’s just been frustration after frustration,” he said. “The best thing for our club would be for the development to be approved and have us return to the site.”
The old club building had “fallen into a terrible state”, he added. “It’s a blight on the community, but it seems that there isn’t a will to get something that will satisfy everybody’s wishes.”
The member for Balmain, Jamie Parker, said it was disappointing that the court’s decision meant a further delay to the return of the Balmain Leagues Club, but it “marks a significant win for the community”.
“This decision should send a strong message to the developer that Rozelle doesn’t need skyscrapers but needs sensible development,” he said.
The former mayor of Leichhardt, Darcy Byrne, said Leichhardt Council had in 2015 unanimously approved a redevelopment of six and eight storey buildings on the site, including rent-free space for the club.
“The only way for the development to proceed on the site is for Rozelle Village to give up on their grandiose plans and make use of the existing council approval,” Mr Byrne said. “Having repeatedly failed to build on this site and deliver the new leagues club which members were promised, I call on Rozelle Village to accept reality or sell the site so progress can be made.”
Rozelle Village’s Ian Wright said the Leichhardt local environment plan for the site “was gazetted back in 2008 [and] is not relevant to today’s conditions”. He said it needed a review, especially given Sydney’s growing demand for residential space and with the WestConnex motorway set to change traffic flows.
“I think building something that’s six to eight storeys would be a big missed opportunity for this site,” he said. “It’s unique in the inner west. It’s on a ridge, it’s on a main transport thoroughfare, so it does lend itself to higher density.”
Mr Wright said he would assess what the new Inner West Council – formed through the merger of Leichhardt, Ashfield and Marrickville councils – planned for the site. But he said that by the time another development was applied for, approved and constructed, it could be five or six years before the leagues club returned to its Victoria Road home.
Interim General Manager of the Inner West Council, Rik Hart, said the club still owed $11 million to the site’s owner and that council had tendered court documents raising concerns about the Tigers’ ability to lease premises at the redeveloped site given its financial position.
“Council fought for the Tigers to be offered a home at an affordable rent, however the developer insisted on holding them to a commercial lease with a lower floor space than was permitted by the planning controls,” he said. “The developer has constantly attempted to make council responsible for the future of the leagues club. However, when it came down to it, they did not provide the required security for the club.”
A 29-year-old man will remain behind bars after he was charged with murder following the discovery of a body in western Sydney.
Michael Hadler did not appear in Parramatta Local Court on Saturday and did not apply for bail after being charged with the murder of Brian Hamilton, whose body was found in a shared rental home in Bass Hill on Friday morning.
It is believed the men were known to each other.
Emergency services were called to the home on Buist Street at about 11:20 am on Friday morning and located the body with “obvious signs of injury”, Chief Inspector Glen Fitzgerald from NSW Police said.
Police said there were no reports of fighting or screaming in the area in the time Mr Hamilton ois thought to have died.
Investigators combed through the nearby area, checking in gutters and down stormwater drains.
Mr Hamilton was last seen alive in the house on Thursday night by another person who lives in the share house.
Mr Hadler handed himself in to Bass HIll Police Station and was taken to Bankstown Police Station where he was charged with murder.
He will appear on Burwood Local Court on September 28.
The state government says it will rewrite the law governing the way NSW buildings are certified after a damning review found practices for ensuring apartment fire safety were “totally ineffectual” and had caused unsafe buildings to be approved.
The government will announce on Wednesday plans to rewrite the Building Professionals Act in response to a review by former treasury secretary Michael Lambert.
The nearly 400-page document, handed to the government last October and released previously in draft, is highly critical of the way in which commercial and apartment buildings in NSW are certified and deemed to be fire safe.
The government says it will pursue more than 70 suggested changes, including more frequent audits and checks against building owners from choosing and paying their own certifiers when such arrangements create a conflict of interest.
The report comes against the backdrop of a record boom in apartment construction and recent high-profile incidents, such as a fatal 2012 Bankstown fire in an apartment block found to have been bedevilled by certification problems.
Student Connie Zhang died in the Bankstown blaze. Her parents called for changes to building regulations after critical findings by the NSW coroner.
Mr Lambert’s report found that generalist building certifiers alone were given too much responsibility for assessing safety and needed to draw on professionals with specialist qualifications.
“This need is particularly acute in the area of fire safety systems where it is vital that designing, installing and commissioning the system and certifying it have the proper expertise and are accountable.
“There is clear evidence of non-compliant and hence unsafe fire safety systems,” the report finds. “The current system of compliance certificates … is totally ineffectual and needs to be replaced.”
A previous report by the Fire Protection Association found up to 40 per cent of buildings in NSWwere in breach of fire rules and blamed unqualified contractors for the breaches.
The state government is promising a package of fire safety reforms to be released for comment early next year, including better annual checks for existing apartment buildings and more frequent inspections of large apartment blocks during construction.
The state government says it will consider having the design of fire protection systems certified only by contractors licensed by professional bodies.
Changes last year allowed Fire and Rescue NSW to take action for faulty certificates.
“These reforms will ensure safety and confidence in the system,” said Victor Dominello, the Minister for Better Regulation. “NSW is experiencing a construction boom and it is imperative that we have first class certification laws that cater for current needs and future demands.”
The government will first change the way data about certifications is collected and released, introduced as an amendment to existing law in the next month.
A raft of other changes is promised as part of new legislation to be introduced to Parliament next year, including new guidelines for how certifications are conducted and complaints are acted upon.
Mr Lambert’s report states successive governments have put off the complex task of reforming certification laws.
The report found complaints about building certifiers were marked by “long delays” and often took between six months and one year to finalise.
About 1800 certifiers work in NSW but the review warned the system is under resourced and facing a looming potential future shortage and the absence of a professional culture and codes.
A 2012 survey by the University of NSW found 85 per cent of strata owners and committee members in buildings built after the year 2000 had identified two or more defects in their buildings. Three-quarters of respondents said these had yet to be fixed.
Most complaints related to leaks or cracking to structures, the review states, but it notes the research’s sampling could be affected by selection biases.
They said farewell to the world from the steps of the Opera House but now it’s hello again as a much loved band return to the scene of their iconic ‘final’ concert.
The Sydney Opera House forecourt, from where Crowded House said farewell to the world in 1996, will host a return of the much loved trans-Tasman band for two anniversary concerts in November.
Twenty years after the group broke up at the now legendary show under the stars, and 30 years since their first album, which spawned the contemporary classic Don’t Dream It’s Over, Neil Finn, Nick Seymour, Mark Hart and Matt Sherrod, will return on November 25 and 26.
While the band officially reformed in 2007, two years after the death of original drummer Paul Hester, and have toured intermittently and recorded two albums since then, they have always studiously avoided a return to the spot that in many ways was a high water mark in a career that took them to number two spot in the United States. However, a month when they will also be inducted into the ARIA hall of fame and re-release repackaged versions of all the Crowded House albums, has won over the perennial hold out, New Zealand’s premier songwriter, Finn.
What’s not lost on bassplayer and the band’s in-house art director, Melbourne-born Seymour is “the irony that our most successful moment was our breakup show”.
“I think the analogies drawn between Rob Reiner’s [rock mockumentary] Spinal Tap and real life are a very fine line,” he said, with a laugh.
Finn, whose decision it was to end the band first time around, has said over the years that he didn’t enjoy the Opera House show anywhere near as much as everyone else seemed to. Anxiety ruled and its legacy coloured his view of any return while his long and successful solo career has continued.
For Seymour, returning to the Opera House forecourt from his home in Ireland is a genuine Charles Dickens moment because that Farewell To The World show really was the best of times and the worst of times.
“As I recall the Sydney Opera House gig, ironically it was the first gig that I felt really carefree, and it was the last gig we were doing,” he said. “Possibly because it was the last gig we were ever doing. Against my wishes.
“But I surrendered myself to it and thought, ‘well, I might as well enjoy this’.”
Jovial about it now, and happy to return to the scene, Seymour was not so sanguine in 1996 and confesses now that in fact he had felt under pressure pretty much from when they changed their name from The Mullanes to Crowded House while recording the self-titled debut in Los Angeles.
“I was always willing it forward [but] every gig that we did I was always careful to assess how things transpired and what could go wrong,” he said. “That [Opera House] gig was the first time that Neil was feeling the responsibility of (a) his decision to leave the band and (b) how it was weighing on his shoulders emotionally. He was the reason [it was happening]. So I can understand him not enjoying the gig fully.
“For me on the other hand it was kind of a liberation, without me realising. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Tickets for Crowded House Encore go on sale September 26.
Almost 70 per cent of Australians with private health insurance have considered ditching or downgrading their cover in the last year in the face of relentless price rises and diminishing value for money, polling has found.
Close to 80 per cent of people believe health insurance companies put profits before patients and more than 90 per cent are concerned they’re trying to “Americanise” the health system to boost their bottom line.
The new ReachTEL polling shows just how displeased and distrustful Australians have become of their health insurance providers.
The average cost of premiums has gone up by about 35 per cent since 2010, well outpacing inflation. This is believed to be a key reason why people are starting to abandon private cover.
The percentage of people with private health insurance dropped for the first time in 15 years in the June quarter of this year – from 47.4 per cent to 47 per cent, according to official government figures.
If the trend continues it will put increasing pressure on the public health system and the federal budget bottom line.
Commissioned by the Medical Technology Association of Australia, the polling of more than 1100 people found 69.2 per cent have considered dropping or reducing their coverage. The numbers are largely in line with a recent government survey of 40,000 people.
Asked who they thought was responsible for the increase in the cost of premiums, half of respondents said the insurance companies, while a little over a quarter blamed the federal government.
Asked for their opinion on the statement “private health insurers put profits before patients”, 53.5 strongly agreed and 24.4 per cent agreed. Fewer than 10 per cent of people disagreed with the statement.
A whopping 73 per cent said they were “very concerned” about the creeping Americanisation of the Australian health care system and a further 18.6 per cent said they were “somewhat concerned”.
The MTAA is the peak national body that represents more than 70 medical technology industry members.
It is fighting the health funds, which are lobbying the government for major changes to the Prosthesis List – which determines what insurers pay for prosthetics – that could save them up to $800 million a year.
That’s equal to about 45 per cent of the benefits they pay out on medical devices such as pacemakers and hip and knee replacements.
The funds say they would then be able to cut premiums by between $150 and $300 per policy.
However, asked if they trust insurers to pass on the savings to consumers through premium cuts, 54 per cent of poll respondents said no.
Only 20 per cent said yes, with the rest undecided.
MTAA chief executive Susi Tegen says while premiums have gone up 35 per cent the growth in average benefit paid for medical devices has been zero per cent. The health funds are calling for an arbitrary blunt cut, she said.
“Our industry accounts for 14 cents in every dollar paid in reimbursements by private health insurers under their hospital cover policies,” she said.
“If we’re going to be serious about helping deliver a sustainable and transparent healthcare system we need to look at the other 86 cents that’s driving up premiums, and more importantly the risk model the industry utilises.”
The Turnbull government has pledged better value for money, recently announcing a committee to oversee reform.
It’s been Australia’s growth powerhouse since the end of the mining boom but there are signs the NSW economy is losing momentum.
While the state economy is still performing above its long-term trend, the ANZ’s monthly “Stateometer” shows NSW has fallen back from the thirteen-year highs reached late last year.
The Stateomenter index, which measures the performance of state and territory economies, said there has been a “broad slowdown in the underlying indicators” in NSW and that growth may soon return to its long-term trend rate.
“For quite a while NSW has been the stand-out in terms of economic performance,” said ANZ economist, Kieran Davies. “It was growing well above trend rate for some time but we have seen a change. Growth has slowed quite sharply this year.”
ANZ’s Stateometer draws on 37 economic indicators covering business activity, household activity, the jobs market, the housing market and trade.
Mr Kieran said there has been a noticeable slowdown in three NSW indicators – the jobs market, the housing market and business activity. Indicators on the household sector and trade remained where they were in December 2015 when the NSW Stateomenter result reached its highest point since 2002.
“You can’t maintain that very strong rate of growth indefinitely,” Mr Davies said.
“It’s not surprising for growth to come back to trend at some point.”
An extended period of low interest rates and a drop in the value of the dollar following the mining boom have underpinned a sustained period of strength for the NSW economy. A separate gauge of regional economic performance, CommSec’s “State of the States” report, shows NSW has been Australia’s best performing state economy since 2014.
State Treasurer, Gladys Berejiklian, said the ANZ Stateometer was “another positive assessment of the NSW economy” that showed economic growth in NSW has “remained above trend.”
Official growth figures released last week showed NSW State Final Demand – a broad measure of spending – grew by 3.7 per cent in 2015-16. That was the strongest of the states and about three times the national growth rate. The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Survey of Consumer Sentiment, released on Wednesday showed consumer sentiment registered a solid rise in NSW this month to be well above the national average.
But there have been some weaker signals, including National Australia Bank’s monthly business survey, released on Tuesday, which showed a decline in NSW business conditions in August.
The ANZ Stateometer showed Victoria’s economic growth was above trend and accelerating, with the main driver a buoyant jobs market. But the minerals-rich states of Queensland and Western Australia continue to lag in the wake of the mining downturn. The report said the WA economy remains “very weak” and that Queensland’s growth rate is “well below trend.”
The Northern Territory economy is also below-trend rate but momentum has improved over the few past months. Tasmania and South Australia are both growing at rates close to their long term trends. Growth in the Australian Capital Territory has accelerated and it is now well above trend.
The Coalition and Labor have agreed to cut back a $1.4 billion baby-bonus payment as part of the deal to pass the $6 billion omnibus savings bill.
The payment, which formed a key element of the power-sharing agreement struck by Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce in September 2015, will be wound back as part of a deal to save the $5 a week clean energy payment for welfare recipients.
The trade-off has helped secure Labor support for the omnibus savings bill and, subject to the approval of the parties’ caucus and party room meetings, will clinch the deal.
The baby-bonus style payment would have given eligible families with a youngest child under one year an extra $1000 a year through an increase to their FTB-B payment.
The Parliamentary Budget Office has estimated the cost would have been $1.4 billion over the next 10 years. The cut could anger sections of the Nationals party room, with at least one MP expressing surprise at the proposed trade when contacted by Fairfax Media on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said he was “quietly confident” the omnibus bill would pass and Labor frontbencher Brendan O’Connor said there had been “very significant negotiations” between Senator Cormann and shadow treasurer Chris Bowen.
“I think it’s important that, when we look to rectify what are clearly problems with our budget over the forward estimates and beyond, that we do so with an eye to make sure that people that are most vulnerable in our society are not being punished unduly,” Mr O’Connor told Sky News.
The cut to the clean energy supplement – worth between $4.40 and $7.05 for recipients of Newstart, pensions and family payments – was factored into Labor’s pre-election costings but the Left faction and welfare groups have lobbied vigorously for its survival.
The measure, worth $1.3 billion, has been a flashpoint as the Coalition and Labor have inched towards a deal for days, with equivalent savings set to be found through the compromise proposal.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, while taking a swipe at Labor for backing away from support for certain savings measures, said the government had been “pragmatic” and Labor had been “a little constructive”.
“They didn’t agree with everything that they said three months ago but at least they have agreed to some things,” he told Sky News.
The Australian Financial Review reports that the $1 billion funding cut to renewable energy body ARENA has also been watered down as part of discussions.
Current government policies on same-sex marriage, emissions reduction targets and the carbon tax were also features of the Coalition agreement when Mr Turnbull took over from former prime minister Tony Abbott.