Labor push to protect ICAC public hearings

ICAC chief Megan Latham opposes a move to a three-member commission. Photo: Daniel MunozA push to require the unanimous agreement of three commissioners of the NSW corruption watchdog before public hearings can be held is set to be opposed by Labor, amid fears it will lead to more inquiries conducted in secret.
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On Tuesday, Fairfax Media revealed a draft report by the oversight committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption recommended a single commissioner be replaced with a three-member commission.

The report says any decision to hold public hearings during a corruption inquiry should require unanimous agreement of the commissioners.

The committee, chaired by Liberal MP Damien Tudehope, is considering a report on the watchdog’s powers by Inspector of the ICAC, David Levine, handed to Premier Mike Baird in May.

The committee’s draft report rejects a call by Mr Levine to scrap public hearings at the ICAC “to prevent the undeserved trashing of reputations”.

But it says introducing a three-member commission and requiring unanimous agreement before public hearings are held would “balance” Mr Levine’s concerns.

However, it is understood Labor members of the oversight committee will press in a meeting on Wednesday to allow public hearings if only two commissioners agree.

The government controls the 11-member committee, but Labor MPs led by shadow attorney-general Paul Lynch are expected to argue for the change in order to achieve a consensus final report.

At a committee hearing last month, ICAC commissioner Megan Latham spoke against a move to a three-member commission, which was proposed in a submission by the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Ms Latham warned it would would increase costs and leave “a couple of people sitting around twiddling their thumbs”.

Former ICAC commissioner David Ipp described it as “an unnecessarily expensive and top-heavy absurdity”.

The draft report proposes a chief commissioner be appointed for five years and two other commissioners on a part-time basis.

It recommends that all commissioners be appointed by the NSW governor on the recommendation of the government and that the oversight committee retain the power of veto.

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East coast meat allergy phenomenon linked to tick bites

Janelle Williams has a mammalian meat allergy, which she developed after a tick bite. Photo: Nick MoirJanelle Williams knew nothing about allergies or anaphylaxis when she walked into her doctor’s practice five years ago, covered in hives, eyes swollen shut and struggling to breathe.
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She certainly didn’t connect her predicament to the meat she had eaten the night before or the ticks that had bitten her in the grass around her Freshwater home.

The surgery was in panic mode, her GP was yelling for somebody to call an ambulance, and she wondered briefly who was in trouble.

Then she realised it was her.

“I’d never had an allergic reaction before, no hay fever, nothing,” Ms Williams said.

“I was totally naive when I started having breathing problems how quickly it could escalate to your throat closing.”

An allergy test six weeks later would reveal an insidious culprit in mammalian meat, which extended not just to beef, lamb and pork, but products made with animal products such as dairy, wine and fruit juice, as well as gel tablets, toothpaste, bandaids and tampons.

“There’s just a whole range – you have no idea. I had to basically clean out my entire house.”

Two months ago, she went into anaphylaxis after breathing in the fumes of beef served in a plane.

Mammalian meat is one of many strange allergens that have surfaced in recent decades, but its even more bizarre trigger – tick bites – could hold the key to a cure.

Mammalian meat allergy has become more common since it was first reported in the Journal of Internal Medicine in 2007, and nowhere more so than the eastern seaboard of Australia.

In the tick endemic areas of the Sydney basin it is a more common food allergy than peanut allergy, with one in 550 people developing the condition in the northern metropolitan region.

Tick-induced Allergies Research and Awareness Centre immunologist Sheryl van Nunen made the connection between ticks and meat after noticing a trend of people admitted to hospital overnight with anaphylaxis, who developed reactions to the molecule alpha-gal in prick tests and had recently been bitten by the parasite.

She hopes that the cause-and-effect relationship between tick bites and a meat allergy could hold valuable clues to the causes of allergies generally.

“There’s no other allergy as far as food goes where we know why you became allergic to it,” Associate Professor van Nunen said.

“So we’ve got an unparalleled opportunity for both primary and secondary prevention of mammalian meat allergy.”

Alpha-gal is a combination sugar molecule found in all mammals apart from humans and old apes, but it is harmless when introduced orally because people have learnt to be tolerant to it.

But when it is injected into a human with the saliva of a tick that has picked it up from a mammal such as a deer, kangaroo or bandicoot, the body detects it as a foreign substance.

In some people, this process seems to reprogram their immune systems to detect the alpha-gal as an enemy the next time they meet it at the end of their fork.

Some research has shown that the number of bandicoot sightings has increased since fox baiting was permitted in 2003, which Associate Professor van Nunen points out was around the time that meat allergy started to be notified.

Some people lose the allergy after a few years if they have no further tick bites, but in others it appears to get worse.

The best prevention is to wear long clothes and insect repellent and avoid being bitten at all. If you are bitten, the tick should be removed with wart freeze rather than disturbed, which is when it releases its saliva.

It should not be squeezed or removed with tweezers, Associate Professor van Nunen said.

Shelley Peat’s daughter, Ella Bennett, was one of the first people in whom meat allergy was linked to tick bites.

Now 16, she developed the allergy when she was four, while attending a preschool on the northern beaches where ticks were plentiful.

“The last time she went to that preschool she would have had 100 ticks on her body,” Ms Peat said.

“I told the preschool they needed to do something about it and they said, ‘Oh, we’ve got lavender around the property’.”

Recently Ella’s allergy seemed to worsen – she has developed a reaction to barbecue fumes – but it has reduced in Ms Peat’s son, Kobi Bennett, 14, who thinks he is now clear.

“But he’s unwilling to have a bite of bacon.”

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‘Too wild for his own good’: Suspected gangland trigger man gunned down in Sydney

Police at the scene of Tuesday’s fatal shooting. Photo: TNV News A distraught friend or relative is comforted at the scene in Sturt Avenue. Photo: TNV News
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Crime figure Walid “Wally” Ahmad, who was killed outside Bankstown Central shopping centre in April. Photo: Supplied

Hamad Assaad, 29, was a key suspect in the shooting of Wally Ahmad at a Bankstown shopping centre. Photo: Supplied

The crime scene after Tuesday morning’s shooting. Photo: TNV News

Georges Hall shooting vicitm Hamad Assaad (right) Photo: Supplied

Wally Elriche the former bodyguard of Salim Mehajer at the scene of Tuesday’s shooting Photo: Supplied

Georges Hall shooting vicitm Hamad Assaad. Photo: Facebook

Six months after standover man Walid “Wally” Ahmad was gunned down in a brazen and very public execution, the man suspected of pulling the trigger has suffered a similar fate.

Hamad Assaad, 29, had been on the police radar after he was identified as a key suspect in the death of Mr Ahmad, who was shot as he sat in a cafe outside Bankstown Central shopping centre in April.

Investigators believe Mr Assaad was aligned to a rival family, which some of the Ahmads had been pitted against after another shooting outside Wally Ahmad’s smash repairs in Sydney’s south-west.

“He was on the other team,” one source put it.

It is not yet certain whether Mr Assaad’s death was in response to his widely rumoured role in the death of Mr Ahmad, who was at the helm of one of south-west Sydney’s infamous families.

Investigators suspect two gunmen and a driver were lying in wait in a black car near Mr Assaad’s Georges Hall home on Tuesday morning for him to emerge.

At about 9.20am, he walked out of his family’s Sturt Avenue home with a 12-year-old boy, whom he was about to drive somewhere.

After moving one car from the garage, Mr Assaad was getting into another when two gunmen opened fire.

A succession of bullets were fired from two handguns, in full view of the horrified 12-year-old, before the gunmen jumped into a black car and sped off.

“This is a targeted shooting,” Homicide Squad Detective Chief Inspector Grant Taylor said.

“These individuals obviously wanted to kill him, there is no doubt about that.”

Mr Assaad was shot “many” times, police say, and despite attempts to revive him he died on his driveway.

Neighbours said they heard a rapid succession of up to six gunshots, which sounded like they came from a semi-automatic weapon.

“I was about to go in mum’s car and I heard boom boom boom,” said the daughter of Sturt Avenue resident Sonya Aleksandrova.

“I was like, ‘Mummy, mummy shut everything please hide, shut the doors, shut the windows’.”

Mr Assaad’s mother emerged from their home, hysterical, after the shooting to find her bloodied son. Traumatic scenes followed.

Many relatives and friends flocked to the taped-off crime scene throughout the day, with one man caught jumping into the Assaad home back yard.

Wally Elriche, the one-time bodyguard for Salim Mehajer, was among a small group of men circled by police at the rear of the Assaad home.

He was not arrested but another man was loaded into the back of a police truck and taken away.

At another side of the crime scene, Mr Assaad’s distraught grandmother demanded officers let her past the police tape.

“They won’t let me see my son’s son,” she said.

“He hasn’t done anything at all. Go catch the drug dealers, gun dealers, they are killing people.”

The latest shooting has fuelled concerns about retaliation, with the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad part of the push to try to quell those concerns.

“We are always concerned about any potential retaliation from events like this,” Inspector Taylor said.

An obvious line of inquiry for police is whether Mr Assaad, a well-known figure in the south-west criminal community, was killed in retribution to Wally Ahmad’s demise.

However, police stressed they were keeping all avenues open.

Mr Assaad had previously escaped a conviction for the murder of Mohamad Alahmad, 37, who was shot six times as he sat in his BMW in the driveway of his South Granville home in 2007.

It was alleged at the time that Mr Alahmad’s ex-wife was in a relationship with crime boss Nasser Kalache but had started talking to Mr Alahmad about a possible reconciliation.

Mr Assaad was then under orders to kill Mr Alahmad with another man.

He beat the charge and was found not guilty in 2010.

In the wake of his death, a friend revealed Mr Assaad had run for Kalache for years.

“He was too wild for his own good,” he said.

“He was a really nice kid but you could direct him [to do something].”

The Homicide Squad now has three murder investigations in 2016 with possible links to the Ahmad family conflict.

It started with the shooting of Safwan Charbaji, 32, outside Wally Ahmad’s Condell Park smash repairs in April.

The conflict erupted between members of the Elmir and Ahmad family over a bizarre $100,000 kidnapping plan.

Mr Charbaji was killed and another man was shot in the jaw but survived.

Wally’s brother, Mahmoud “Brownie” Ahmad, is one of a handful of men police suspect used a gun that day. He travelled to Lebanon after the shooting.

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Usman Khawaja in plans despite comments, says Darren Lehmann as Test auditions begin

Shield action: Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja are all smiles after the coin toss at the Gabba. Photo: Chris HydeDarren Lehmann insists Usman Khawaja’s “scapegoat” comments won’t be held against him when the Test squad is named on Friday as the Australian coach declared there were genuine spots up for grabs ahead of the opener against South Africa.
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Lehmann was in Brisbane on Tuesday for the pink-ball Shield game at the Gabba between Queensland and a stacked NSW side, many of whom will be trading their blue caps for green against the Proteas in Perth.

After the early loss of openers David Warner (12) and Ed Cowan, who was bowled without offering a shot on 10, the Blues feasted in the afternoon sun to be 2-176 ahead of dinner, with Steve Smith and Kurtis Patterson notching half-centuries.

It was a long day in the field for Khawaja and opening aspirant Joe Burns, with both looking to reclaim their spots after being dropped for the final Test in the winless series against Sri Lanka.

The former NSW left-hander claimed selectors had been “fickle” when he was demoted in favour of Moises Henriques for the final Test in Colombo, while Burns made way for Shaun Marsh, who was returning from a hamstring injury suffered in Perth against South Australia.

Lehmann was happy to laugh off the comments, saying Khawaja was in their plans for the first Test and beyond and he was happy to add a new nickname to the stockpile.

“He’s not on the back foot. I love these nicknames … we have the GOAT [Nathan Lyon] and now we have the scapegoat. I love it. But I will chat to him privately, we would rather have these things played out between selectors and players,” Lehmann said.

“Being on the selection panel for that Test match, it was warranted. At the end of the day, there were different conditions and those two guys weren’t playing well enough, they averaged eight or seven in two Test matches.

“We had to change something but that doesn’t affect the summer at home. We have to work out what we think the best batting line-up is for the summer.”

Lehmann and duty selector Trevor Hohns weren’t able to get a look at a few of their main concerns ahead of the Test, with Queensland winning the toss and sending the Blues in to bat. That left Burns and Khawaja without the willow and returning quick Mitchell Starc cooling his heels in the dressing room.

But the coach said runs would mean plenty in Brisbane and Perth, as would the bowling performances of Peter Siddle and Jackson Bird in Melbourne, with that pair the leading contenders to be the third quick alongside Starc and Josh Hazlewood.

“It’s always important, you need to make runs against Starc and Hazlewood or vice versa, you grow in standing. It’s important not just here at the Gabba but all the games around the country, the start of the year when there are spots up for grabs, it’s important to start well,” Lehmann said.

“Like all our blokes, we want them to prove their fitness first and foremost and then they have to get some form. Hopefully Mitchell gets through and there are no problems.”

Lehmann had a dual-purpose in Brisbane, as did the Australian players in action as they sounded out the pink ball in Queensland conditions ahead of the day-night Test against Pakistan in December.

The new, improved pink ball is brighter than the one used in Adelaide last year and boasts a more-pronounced seam. But with the humidity in spring far lower than summer, it will at best be a guide on how the ball will behave closer to Christmas if the air is thick as pea soup.

“We won’t know until we get here in late summer, that’s the unknown. But we will get a better idea over the next three or four days,” Lehmann said.

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Doubts raised over Powerhouse move to Parramatta as director admits cost is unknown

Serious concerns about the NSW government’s controversial plan to move the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta have been raised in a parliamentary inquiry. Photo: Anna Kucera Robert Borsak, chairman of the NSW parliamentary inquiry into museums, questioned whether Powerhouse director Dolla Merrillees had sufficient skills and experience to deliver a new museum. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
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NSW Premier Mike Baird and Powerhouse Museum director Dolla Merrillees, pictured in April, opposite the proposed new site for the museum in Parramatta. Photo: Louise Kennerley

A crucial crossbench MP has raised doubts about the NSW government’s plan to move the Powerhouse Museum from Ultimo to Parramatta.

Robert Borsak, of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, also questioned whether the museum’s director Dolla Merrillees had the sufficient skills and experience to deliver a new museum as she told a parliamentary inquiry that the cost of the controversial project was unknown.

Mr Borsak, the chairman of the inquiry, said that secrecy surrounding the proposal to relocate the museum raised serious concerns.

“You may understand the vision,” he told Ms Merrillees. “We do not see it. We do not know anything about it. The land is subject to Parramatta River flooding.”

Mr Borsak added: “How can we have any confidence at all that what is being proposed is going to meet the requirements?”

Mr Borsak said the Powerhouse Museum (rebadged as the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) covered 8.3 acres at its current Ultimo site, but the proposed new site in Parramatta on the former David Jones car park was only 2.4 acres.

“From my review of having been out to the site I cannot see how it is the same, or at least only 3000 square metres less, unless you are talking about a high-rise building,” he told an inquiry hearing last week.

Mr Borsak later asked: “Ms Merrillees, as a long-standing professional museum director, do you ask this committee to believe that you can squeeze the enormous objects currently on display at Ultimo into the footprint at the new site at the Parramatta car park?”

Ms Merrillees said finding space for the museum’s large items was under examination.

The at-times fiery hearing was called to hear further evidence from Ms Merrillees and Professor Barney Glover, the chairman of the MAAS board.

Ms Merrillees admitted the cost of building a new museum and moving its collection from Ultimo to Parramatta, a distance of approximately 20 kilometres, was unknown.

The inquiry has previously been told the project could cost up to $1 billion.

“Do you still believe that your experience is sufficient to envision, direct and control such a large and complex project?” Mr Borsak asked Ms Merrillees.

Ms Merrillees said she believed she had the skills required, as did her staff and board of trustees.

She also told the inquiry some of the permanent exhibitions at its Ultimo site had not been changed for “probably about 30 to 35 years”.

The parliamentary inquiry, set up in June, has been dominated by the state government’s controversial proposal to move the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta and sell off its Ultimo site to developers.

But the inquiry is also examining government funding for NSW museums and galleries, the impact of the efficiency dividend on institutions’ budgets and the plight of museums in regional NSW.

Labor’s Arts spokesman Walt Secord said there was community concern about “a cloak of secrecy” over the Powerhouse relocation.

Mr Secord clashed with Professor Glover over secrecy surrounding the amount of taxpayer-funded overseas travel taken by museum staff.

He also raised the spectre of the NSW government not proceeding with the museum move following policy backflips over West Connex and banning greyhound racing.

Professor Glover said he believed the government remained committed to moving the Powerhouse to Parramatta, subject to the final business case and acquiring the new site.

But under questioning from Greens MP David Shoebridge, he said the MAAS board would only support the move if there was sufficient funding to build an improved museum and the new site was not compromised by other commercial developments.

“The board would express its serious concern to government if we felt those conditions were at risk, yes,” Professor Glover said.

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