New integrity body set to oversee NSW greyhound racing

Greyhound racing in NSW is set to be overseen by a new integrity body.A powerful new integrity body is set to be created to oversee greyhound racing in NSW following the recommendation of a panel established to advise the government on how to reform the industry.

The panel was announced last year by then premier Mike Baird as part of his sensational backdown on a push to ban greyhound racing in NSW.

The report of the panel, chaired by former premier Morris Iemma, is due to be released on Thursday.

Creation of a new Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission that separates the sport’s regulatory and commercial arms is understood to be one of its key recommendations.

At present, Greyhound Racing NSW undertakes the sport’s commercial and regulatory functions.

The panel was required to develop a new regime for the sport including “an independent regulator with strong new powers to ensure transparency and accountability”.

The government said the regime should also include mandatory life bans as well as increased jail terms for live baiting, registration of greyhounds for their entire lives, and more resources for enforcement, prosecution and animal welfare.

Fairfax Media revealed just days after Mr Baird’s announcement that a dispute had erupted over the reform plan in relation to an industry offer to cap breeding of greyhounds for racing at 2000 a year.

The chief executive of the NSW Greyhound Industry Racing Alliance, Brenton Scott, told the panel at its first meeting that he had reached agreement with the government that the 2000 figure be scrapped.

However, the government insisted there was no agreement reached and that the cap would remain in place under any reform plan.

Mr Baird announced the plan to close the greyhound racing industry after a special commission of inquiry report found 68,000 greyhounds had been euthanised in the past 12 years because they could not race, or were too slow.

He backed down in the face of immense pressure from the opposition, media outlets and the industry.

Wilson chasing fairytale WNBL championship finale

Spot the real Carly Wilson ahead of her final game in Canberra for the Capitals. They’re turning the game pink for her favourite colour. Photo: Karleen MinneyCarly Wilson is hoping her 15-year-old lucky charm can keep Canberra’s season alive on Thursday night as the WNBL veteran prepares for her final home-and-away game in the capital.

Win, lose or draw there will be tears from Wilson as a final appearance at Tuggeranong Stadium looms, with the guard sure to don her trademark pink socks against Adelaide Lightning.

After a poor performance while playing for Dandenong in 2002, a superstitious Wilson has worn the eye-catching socks in every WNBL game since.

Canberra are still in the race to host a semi-final, but only if they win their final two games of the season and Dandenong fall to Perth on Saturday.

“In the back of my head I know this could my last home game but either way I think I’m going to be a blubbering mess,” Wilson said.

A fairytale championship ending is still alive for the 361-game veteran after a superb win against Bendigo on Sunday.

“We’ve had a few lean years at the Caps so it’s really exciting to still be fighting in my final season with a really good chance to host a home final, which we haven’t done since 2010,” she said.

“The fans deserve it because the crowds this year have been phenomenal. I’ve played a lot of seasons in the WNBL and the Tuggeranong crowd this season has been really special. We feed off them.

“I’m hanging out for another championship, we won in such convincing fashion last Saturday and played so well, it brought back the belief that we can win the whole thing.”

The first 300 fans through the door at Tuggeranong Stadium on Thursday night will receive a Wilson face mask, with the club intent on sending the champion out in style.

“I’m a bit nervous to have 300 of my faces looking back at me but it’ll be a laugh and lots of fun,” Wilson said.

“In some ways I think, God it’s just basketball, and I’ve been running around all these years because I love it, but to see everyone put in so much effort is such an honour and really humbling.

“Being a Cap means everything to me, I’ve been here for so long, ridden the highs winning a championship and been bottom of the ladder, so I’ve been through everything here and it’s just made me a stronger person. I’m just so proud to wear the uniform, it’s just a privilege to be a part of.”

Wilson, 34, said it was simply the right time to leave the game and is looking forward to enjoying a basketball-free summer for the first time in 20 years.

“I must admit when we were up by 30 points on Saturday and the crowd was cheering, I was having the time of my life and thought ‘you know what, I could do this for the next 20 years, this feels great’,” she said.

“But that ended pretty quickly after the game and at no point have I had any second thoughts.

“I’ll miss the relationships, that’s why you play, the bonds, all the really important people in my life I’ve met as a result of basketball. I could give back to the sport for the rest of my life but I’ll never be able to repay it.”

Wilson believes she is leaving the WNBL in a strong strong position as the women’s sport juggernaut continues to grow across Australia, but added the job isn’t finished yet.

“You look at how popular the AFLW has been and as a female athlete I couldn’t be prouder, but in reflection you look at it and think ‘we’ve been doing that for a number of years’,” Wilson said.

“We were the leader for women’s sport for so many years and now it’s probably time to ramp it up again and that starts with getting basketball back on TV.

“There’s still a ways to go in women’s sport, that’s just the way it is at the moment and it’s silly to say we’re equal with men because we’re not. We’ve just got to keep pushing and getting it out there.

“But we’ve done it for so many years without much money and without much coverage because that’s not why we do it, we do it because we love the sport, so we’ll keep going regardless.”


Thursday: Canberra Capitals v Adelaide Lightning, Tuggeranong Stadium, 7pm. Tickets at the door.

Saturday: Canberra Capitals v Townsville Fire at Townsville Stadium, 8pm.

Battling demons of hoarding disorder

RAY OF HOPE: Newcastle psychologists Barb Noonan and Michael Bazaley run programs that help sufferers lift the weight of hoarding disorder.How would you feel if you were unable to have friends over for coffee, because you felt ashamed of the state of your home.

Perhaps it had become so cluttered with acquisitions and project materials for future hobbies that you reached a point where your friends, and those of your family were kept away with excuse after excuse, theisolation leading to genuine fear that come the next real estate inspection, you might be evicted.

Welcome to hoarding disorder,added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013 and recognised asan official mental illness.

It is estimated thatupwards of 5 per centof the population are affected.

According to the manual, sufferers experience “persistent difficulty discarding or parting with processions, regardless of value”, “distress associated with discarding items”, “the accumulation of possessions that contest and cluttered living areas” or and that “hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social or occupational areas of functioning”.

It’s prevalence increases with age and its origins are often rooted in adolescence.

Research suggests HD has a genetic and environmental component andthe total number of traumatic life events often correlates with the severity of HD.

Brain scans indicate people with HD making decisions about their own possessions have over-activity in areas related to judging importance and relevance.

Emotional attachment and unhelpful beliefs about possessions, and problems processing information related to such things asmemory, decision-making andsustaining attention are believed to be factors that maintain hoarding disorder.

Late last year Newcastle psychologists Michael Bazaley andBarb Donnandelivered the first hoarding disorder therapeutic treatment program in Newcastle with funding from Hunter Primary Care.

Bazaley saysindividuals who exhibit symptoms of hoarding disorder may find that they also have a tendency to continually acquire items which eventually clutter the home.

“This constant acquiring may in turn lead to conflict with family and partners adding to the severity of their problem,” Bazaley said. “Many hoarders may resist attempts by others to intervene in their lives or collections which in turn may lead to isolation and possibly other mental health concerns such as depression.”

Indeed, sinceits recognition as a mental illness, hoarding has featured on talkback shows, reality TV and therapeutic interventionist TV.

“Many of these programs actually traumatise and place fear into the minds of present day hoarders, making them believe that any type of intervention or treatment will involve dramatic forced eviction of their most prized processions and collections,” Bazaley explains.

“Our programfocuses on the individual management of the many complex aspects of hoarding. The 13-week course based on a US program called Buried in Treasures, developed by US expert Randy O Frostoffers a judgment-free environment for people ready to make a change in their life.

“By the end of our program, many of our group members achieved their specific goals.”

Bazaley and Donnan are facilitating the Buried In Treasures program again in late February.

For information email [email protected]南京夜网 or phone 4910 4005.

Keren Parnell pleads guilty to manslaughter over mum’s stabbing death

The Redhead house where Gail Parnell, 73, was stabbed to death. Picture: Sam RigneyKEREN Parnell was angry that her parents were pandering to her brother and jealous that they loved him more than her when she stabbed her elderly mother, Gail Parnell, in the chest and stomach in a mobile home at Redhead in October, 2015, court documents state.

But despite pleas from her father, John Parnell, to call an ambulance to treat the badly injured 73-year-old, Keren Parnell locked the doors, hid the cordless and mobile phones and provided only a band aid and a bandage for her mother’s wounds, according to a statement of police facts, which defence barrister Peter Krisenthal said on Wednesday had not been agreed upon.

Gail Parnell, an advocate and volunteer for mental health services in the Hunter, was stabbed about 2am on October 10, 2015.

At about 6.26pm the same day, she appeared to have stopped breathing and Mr Parnell finally convinced his daughter to let him contact the emergency services.

By 6.57pm, Gail Parnell was pronounced dead.

Parnell, 37, of North Lambton, appeared in Newcastle Local Court on Wednesday from Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre where she pleaded guilty to manslaughter over her mother’s death and a charge of detaining a person with intent to obtain an advantage and cause assault occasioning actual bodily harm in relation to her father.

A charge of murder, laid by detectives in October, 2015, was withdrawn by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions on Wednesday.

According to court documents, Parnell caused the death of her mother “in circumstances amounting to manslaughter, by wounding her mother and depriving her of medical assistance”.

The stabbing occurred after Keren Parnell’s brother arrived at his parents mobile home at ‘The Sanctuary’ on Kalaroo Road to borrow money about 2am on October 10, 2015.

Keren Parnell was angry he was there and became enraged when her father gave him $50, court documents state.

Parnell was committed for sentence on Wednesday and the matter was adjourned to Newcastle District Court on February 23.

National Disability Insurance Scheme becomes latest victim of partisan politics

Inaugural chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency Bruce Bonyhady. Photo: Andrew MearesA unity ticket which had placed the National Disability Insurance Scheme beyond politics has been shredded, with the Turnbull government accused of “holding the disabled to ransom” and Labor refusing to admit the $22 billion scheme lacks $4 billion in funding.

The landmark social scheme became a political football this week after Treasurer Scott Morrison linked its funding to a range of controversial welfare cuts. A brawl then broke out on Wednesday over Coalition claims that Labor left a multi-billion dollar black hole in the NDIS budget.

The inaugural chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency, Bruce Bonyhady, told Fairfax Media the dispute was “deeply cruel”.

“I think this is very cruel treatment of people with disabilities and their family and carers – for the spectre of how the NDIS will be funded to be raised at this time,” he said.

“We are talking about the central support for one of the most disadvantaged groups in the community and I think for this sort of political game to occur now is deeply cruel. It is unfair.”

Mr Bonyhady said the government had raised questions about NDIS funding at a time when it was talking-up expensive defence projects, and company tax cuts worth $50 billion.

“All governments and all political parties have known since 2013 what the full costs of the NDIS are,” he said.

“They have known that the increase in the Medicare surcharge that they all agreed to would not meet the full costs and they all committed to it, and with that came a commitment to ensure that it would be funded sustainably. What I think the government needs to do is simply confirm that it will meet its obligations to fund the NDIS in full and not engage in the kind of scaremongering which is deeply worrying for people with disabilities at this time.”

Melbourne mother Tanya Humphrey, whose five-year-old son Lachlan was diagnosed with autism last year, said she felt politicians were point-scoring off people’s lives.

“It feels like they are holding the NDIS to ransom – that unless you are willing to take a budget cut, we won’t help fund therapy,” she said.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter has insisted the NDIS will be “completely funded” and the government was committed to it.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday said the scheme was “vitally important”.

“Your commitment to the NDIS is not measured in words, it is measured in deeds, and what we are doing is taking the steps, making the decisions to ensure we’ve got the money to pay for it,” he said.

Jo Briskey, the executive director of lobby group The Parenthood, said she had not been concerned about the scheme’s future prior to this week.

“Now obviously it has come into question,” she said.

“I hope that the Turnbull government sees that they have made a mistake here, they have made a misjudgment, that the NDIS should be above party politics, should be above the petty politics that is happening at the moment and every politician in Canberra should be getting behind the future of the NDIS.”

The chair of Deaf Services Queensland, former LNP MP David Gibson, said fighting “put at risk” public support for the scheme.

“As a former conservative MP I understand the mantra of the need to balance the budget and I fully agree that for too long governments of all political persuasions have spent up big with very little to show for it, but the NDIS is different.”

Ms Humphrey, whose son’s future depends on the therapy he receives in the next few years, said both parties should put people above politics.

“I look at it as the future,” she said. “I know the NDIS covers the elderly as well, but for me, they need to stop playing with the futures of children and help them, not hinder them.”

Department of Immigration wants to spend $250 million on unprecedented office upgrade

This empty building at Canberra Airport will likely soon house the new headquarters of the Department of Immigration. Photo: Andrew Meares A proposed floorplan layout for the new building.

Immigration bosses want to spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars revamping their Canberra headquarters in what is thought to be the most expensive office fit-out in Australian government history.

While the supercharged Department of Immigration and Border Protection – the result of a 2015 merger between immigration and customs – insists much of the $255 million cost of its “Headquarters Project” will be rolled into the lease costs, the politicians asked to approve the plan have raised major concerns.

Under the proposal, the number of buildings the department inhabits in the national capital would shrink from 12 to five, with the main office located inside a new state-of-the-art structure next to Canberra Airport.

The fit-out would include “a unified watch floor, situation rooms, briefing rooms, incident rooms, operation planning rooms, associated intelligence support rooms, and surge rooms”. The new building would include an armoury, conference and training facilities, evidence rooms and map rooms. The department envisions an “innovative” and “modern” new office with “large efficient floor plates to support future flexibility” and an open environment that will “promote collaboration and positive cultural renewal”.

But it won’t come cheap. The price tag for the 85,700 square metre multi-building fit-out suggests the renovations will cost nearly $3000 per square metre – well above the $1200 to $1800 government average.

The government has budgeted $22.6m for the fit-out, and another $20.5m will come from the department’s operating budget. The remaining $212m will come from landlord “incentives”, effectively meaning that cost will be incorporated into the lease arrangement with the government.

But Labor senator Alex Gallacher believes taxpayers will end up paying much more through hidden costs in the lease deal.

“Only half of the $212 million is actually a lease incentive,” Senator Gallacher revealed in the Senate on Wednesday.

“The other half is a loan – capital advanced up front by the landlord and amortised over the period of the lease.”

A member of the Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works – which has to approve the proposal before it can proceed – Senator Gallacher said the department has failed to answer simple questions about the proposal and points to its “unenviable record” of poor contract management and cost blowouts.

Taking the rare step of circumventing the committee to raise his concerns, Senator Gallacher said he wanted “full transparency” from the department.

“It is the biggest single fitout the public works committee has looked at in six years. We’re probably going to find out it’s the biggest single fitout of all time,” he told the chamber. “And we’re asked as a committee to just tick off $250-odd million of expenditure because there’s a lease incentive from a landlord?

“Well I don’t think we’re going to do that.”

Senator Gallacher was left furious last year when the Department of Finance told the committee a lease on its new state-of-the-art offices would cost $194 million but the true cost was later revealed to be of $376 million.

Turnbull government MP David Coleman also raised concerns about the lease incentives at a committee hearing last week.

“It is a lot of money. It suggests that the rent must be a very large number,” he said to departmental officials. “It is only really truly a lease incentive if you are paying a low rate for the lease in the first place.”

Officials were unable to tell Mr Coleman what percentage of the department’s rent they would get back in the form of lease incentives, saying only “the rent rates per square metre are very competitive”.

The department refused to reveal other details, citing commercial-in-confidence concerns.

The fit-out is due to begin in August this year and be completed by February 2021. The upgraded buildings would accommodate 6000 staff.

There will also be $12 million worth of new security upgrades.

At the hearing last Friday, departmental officials said the cost per square metre of the fit-out would be approximately $2250 – still well above average – but did not explain how they arrived at that figure.

The department had originally wanted to bring all its Canberra-based public servants under one roof but a successful lobbying effort from commercial interests at the department’s present location in north Canberra forced a backdown.

with Noel Towell

Agus Yudhoyono protests explosive allegations against his father on eve of election

Jakarta gubernatorial candidate Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, left, with his running mate Sylviana Murni at the rally on February 11. Photo: Jefri Tarigan Supporters of Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono at a rally in Jakarta on February 11. Photo: Jefri Tarigan

A Jakartan checks for his name at a polling station in the capital. Over 7 million voters are eligible. Photo: Jefri Tarigan

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, left, casts his ballot with his son Nicholas and wife Veronica Tan, all in his campaign’s trademark plaid shirt. Photo: Jefri Tarigan

A Jakarta voter shows inkstained fingers to prove she has cast her ballot. Photo: Jefri Tarigan

A Jakartan man on his way out of the polling booth. Photo: Jefri Tarigan

A voter’s finger is marked with ink. Photo: Jefri Tarigan

Supporters of Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono at a rally in Jakarta last weekend. Photo: Jefri Tarigan

Fadli, 18, after casting his vote for Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono at Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta. Photo: Jewel Topsfield

Monganiah, a witness for Anies Baswedan’s ticket at the Tanah Abang polling booth. Photo: Jewel Topsfield

Jakarta: Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, a contender for the governorship of Jakarta, has lashed out at “extraordinarily cruel” claims that his father, former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, framed someone for murder.

The explosive allegations topped off one of the most incendiary election campaign periods in Indonesia’s history, which many consider was a proxy war for the 2019 presidential election.

Antasari Azhar, a former anti-corruption commissioner who was jailed in 2010 for murder but recently granted a presidential pardon, alleged on Tuesday that SBY – as the former president is known – had been the “initiator” of his murder case after he refused his request not to detain Agus’ father-in-law.

After casting his vote in South Jakarta, Agus said the claims had intentionally been made one day before the vote.

SBY, who has already vowed to take legal action against Antasari, said it was difficult to believe the “slander” was not related to the Jakarta gubernatorial election.

“I think it’s extraordinarily cruel, but we stay strong, we are not too affected,” Agus said as he cast his vote. “God willing, Jakartans are smarter, with hearts that can differentiate between lies and facts.”

Agus, a handsome former military officer who was plucked from relative obscurity to stand for governor, has seen his electability dive in polls after uninspired performances in debates.

Australian National University lecturer Ross Tapsell said although Agus led on polls for the best-looking candidate, “that’s never going to win you the election, even in the era of Instagram and Twitter and so on”.

“Agus was was always going to have to perform at the debates and the general consensus was that he hasn’t,” he added.

His father has also proven something of a liability during the campaign period, with hyperbolic Twitter outbursts that have been ridiculed on social media.

SBY has emotionally railed against rumours that he was behind a November 4 mass rally that called for incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, widely known as Ahok, to be jailed for allegedly insulting Islam.

When students protested against sectarianism outside his house, SBY tweeted: “I ask the president, the police chief, do I not have the right to live in my own country, with the human rights that I am entitled to?”

This resulted in an avalanche of satirical tweets such as “I’m asking Mr President and Police Chief: why am I still single?”  ​and “I’m asking Mr President and Police Chief, why I am always sleepy during work hours?”.

However Fadli, an 18-year-old who was casting his vote for the first time at a polling booth in Tanah Abang in Central Jakarta, told Fairfax Media that Agus had won his vote.

“He looks firm, he keeps his words,” Fadli said, showing us the purple ink stain on his finger Indonesians use to denote someone has voted. “An army officer usually says A when he means A. I hope he can make Jakarta better.”

Agus’ promise to develop Jakarta without the controversial evictions to relieve flooding, create new parks and eliminate vice that have characterised Ahok’s tenure was the policy that most appealed to Fadli.

However he had also been tempted by the third candidate, Anies Baswedan, who said he wanted to build a sports stadium for football.

More than 41.2 million Indonesians across seven provinces in Indonesia will vote for their leader for the next five years in Wednesday’s election.

However all eyes have been on the capital, where 7.1 million Jakartans are eligible to vote in an election seen by many as a test of Indonesia’s much vaunted pluralism and religious tolerance.

Ahok, who is Christian and ethnically Chinese, has been fighting an election campaign whilst simultaneously fighting to stay out of jail at his trial for blasphemy.

Religion is writ large in the election. Posters hung on the polling booths with profiles of the candidates list religion alongside their date and place of birth, education and assets in both rupiah and US dollars.

Of the six gubernatorial and vice-gubernatorial candidates in Jakarta, Ahok is the only non-Muslim.

Monganiah, a witness for Anies Baswedan’s ticket at the Tanah Abang polling booth we visit, said Agus and Anies were the favourites in the area because Islamic sentiment was strong.

“Ahok’s good, but because of the religious blasphemy case his electability decreases,” she said.

Voting is voluntary in Indonesia. In the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election there was a 63.7 per cent voter turnout in the first round, with commentators expecting participation to increase this year.

Even businesses are doing what they can to encourage participation in the process.

Voters who go to Bakerzin, an Indonesian bakery, are given free packets of macaroons if they can show their “pinky blue finger”.

Tari Lestari, supervisor at a central Jakarta branch, told Fairfax Media the promotion was to celebrate democracy in their country.

“It is a memorable moment for Indonesia,” she said. “We are definitely doing this to encourage people to vote.”

with Karuni Rompies and Jessie Chiang

‘Really significant step’: Consensus report emboldens push for free vote on same-sex marriage

Some Liberal MPs are agitating for a free vote on same-sex marriage. Photo: Chiang Ying-YingA fresh parliamentary push on same-sex marriage has become more likely after a cross-party Senate committee reached a broad consensus on refining the government’s same-sex marriage legislation.

The “unprecedented show of collaboration” paves the way for a marriage equality bill as soon as next month, to be co-sponsored by Labor, the Greens, gay Liberal senator Dean Smith, the NXT and possibly Derryn Hinch.

In the report published Wednesday, senators took aim at aspects of the Marriage Act changes proposed by Attorney-General George Brandis ahead of the failed same-sex marriage plebiscite.

The exposure draft – the first time an Australian government had outlined its vision for marriage equality – proposed sweeping exemptions to discrimination law for ministers of religion, civil celebrants and religious businesses who did not want to participate in same-sex unions.

But the committee expressed concern the government’s draft bill “would explicitly discriminate against same-sex couples” for no good reason, because the Marriage Act already “provides the broadest and strongest protection of religious freedom for ministers of religion”.

With regard to civil celebrants, the committee proposed to establish a new subdivision of marriage celebrant titled Religious Marriage Celebrants, to capture civil celebrants of a religious inclination, who would be given the same protections afforded to ministers of religion.

And the committee was against extending protections to celebrants who did not want to officiate gay unions on the basis of “conscientious belief”, declaring there was no need to “disturb decades of anti-discrimination law and practice in Australia”.

While the report outlined many complex legal areas requiring further clarification, Fairfax Media understands senators from across the political spectrum went to extra lengths to ensure the committee reached consensus on the major points.

Marriage equality advocates welcomed the multi-partisan effort as a watershed moment in the path to legalising same-sex marriage.

“This is a really significant step forward,” said Tiernan Brady, director of Australians 4 Equality. “The Senate committee has risen above party politics. They have shown that political parties can work together to deliver the will of the Australian people.”

Greens senator Janet Rice described it as an “unprecedented show of collaboration, negotiation and consensus [that] has given us a way forward to achieve marriage equality in this Parliament”.

Committee chairman David Fawcett noted a plebiscite remained the government’s position. However, moderate Liberal MPs who have been agitating for the Coalition to abandon its plebiscite policy have pointed to the report as a key marker in their case for a free vote.

Fairfax Media understands the report will inform a cross-party Senate bill to be co-sponsored by Labor, the Greens, gay Liberal senator Dean Smith (who abstained on the plebiscite vote), the NXT and possibly Senator Hinch.

The numbers in such a Senate vote remain tight, particularly if it takes place after replacements for Bob Day and Rodney Culleton are found, which is likely. It would require conservative Labor senators to abstain and Senator Smith, at the very least, to cross the floor.

If successful, Liberals supportive of same-sex marriage would pressure the party for a free vote in the House of Representatives. Those understood to be pushing for a free vote include Tim Wilson, Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans and Warren Entsch. They were believed to be carefully considering the Senate report on Wednesday afternoon.

But conservatives in the Coalition have returned fire, with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce ordering MPs to stop discussing the “Oxford Street” issue. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also reiterated the party’s position remains the plebiscite.

Even if the subject were debated in the Liberal partyroom, MPs would risk war with the Nationals, whose coalition agreement with the Liberals stipulates that a plebiscite be held.

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Just 129 public servants interested in sea change

Deputy Leader of the Nationals Senator Fiona Nash. Photo: Andrew MearesOnly 129  public servants have applied to be part of the Tax Office’s controversial excursion to the NSW central coast.

The underwhelming response, from the 19,000-strong revenue agency to requests for expressions of interest in transfers to Gosford, raises the prospect of forced relocations for more than 400 Tax Officials to the regional town.

The revelation comes as the Coalition defended its policies intended to push hundreds of Canberra-based public servants to rural and regional Australia.

The policy of moving federal public servants to Gosford has been controversial since it was first announced as the Coalition tried to win the seat from Labor before the 2013 election.

The Tax office took some time to determine what it would actually do with the $72 million new building it was told to occupy but Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan said in early 2016 that it was never the intention to move large numbers of public servants to Gosford from Canberra or anywhere else.

Rather, it was hoped the occupants of the building could be recruited “from the local area”.

But there could be a large shortfall on the numbers needed, after ATO staff were advised this week that only 129 of their colleagues had put up their hands for a Gosford Transfer.

“The Expression of Interest for transfer at level to the Gosford site has now closed, with a total of 129 applications received,” a staff newsletter reported this week.

“The assessment of applications has commenced and candidates will be notified of decisions by mid-March.

“The Gosford site is on track for the scheduled opening in November 2017.”

The central coast project is separate to the program of forced public service relocations from Canberra that the Nationals are driving in the Agriculture portfolio they control.

Under the Nationals’ policy the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation is moving to to Wagga Wagga and the Grains Research and Development Corporation is going Toowoomba, Dubbo, Northam and Adelaide.

The Fisheries Research and Development Centre will open an office in Adelaide and most controversially, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Agency is being forced to move to Armidale.

Nationals Deputy Leader Fiona Nash told the Senate on Wednesday that the policy was here to stay.

“We are a Government that wants to invest in those communities and to invest in their futures,” Ms nash said.

“We want those communities to have good jobs, high paying jobs and have better access to services. Part of our commitment to growing jobs outside of our major capital cities is to look at opportunities to decentralise Government agencies to rural and regional areas.

“We never apologise for taking decisions that are going to provide a sustain future for regional communities, to provide more jobs – and part of that is looking to decentralise to get those public sectors jobs out into the regions where they deserve that investment because it is regional Australia that drive this country.”

Uber driver Muhammad Naveed found guilty of raping a passenger

Mohammad Naveed, an Uber driver, was found guilty of sexual intercourse without consent at his trial at Downing Centre District Court. Photo: Kate GeraghtyA Sydney Uber driver cried and said a woman who accused him of raping her in the back seat of his car had “trapped” him.

But within hours on Wednesday, a jury rejected Muhammad Naveed’s dramatic story, and found him guilty of sexual intercourse without consent.

The 41-year-old stood in the dock, but did not react when the jury delivered its verdict in the Downing Centre District Court.

The Crown’s case was that the woman was heavily intoxicated when she was picked up by Naveed near The World Bar in Kings Cross in the early hours of October 18, 2015.

Prosecutor James Trevallion said Naveed stopped to buy condoms and a bottle of water at a petrol station before encouraging the woman to get into the back seat and raping her.

The trial heard that the woman, who had an estimated blood alcohol concentration of .231 at the time, had only a partial memory of the night and woke up to find Naveed having sex with her.

She allegedly struggled to push him away and tried to tell him to get off her.

The Crown told the jury that the pair did have intercourse, but the woman never gave her consent, and, that she was too drunk to give consent.

When the woman was dropped at the place she was staying, the court heard, she immediately told a friend what had happened and police were called.

Naveed told the court that he was eating Doritos while on a break from Uber driving when the woman approached him and pleaded for him to give her a ride home.

He told the woman she needed to make a booking through the Uber app, but she asked him to show her “some sympathy” because her phone was out of battery and offered to pay the next day.

The woman, he said, did not appear intoxicated and was chatty in the car before she started trying to kiss him.

“I said: ‘Sorry I can’t do that I’ve got a family. Do you have a boyfriend’?”

Naveed told the court they then started kissing but he told her he did not have a condom.

“She said: ‘Don’t worry about protection’,” Naveed said.

“I said: ‘I don’t know you, you don’t know me, how I can trust you’? Then she said: ‘We can get condoms’.”

The court heard that Naveed stopped and bought the condoms and water before pulling over in a quiet street in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

Naveed said they both climbed into the back seat of his car, but he could not get an erection.

At one point during his evidence he sobbed repeatedly “she trapped me”.

Naveed will be sentenced at a later date.