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NSW Premier’s control of ICAC a ‘threat’, Auditor-General report finds

The NSW Premier’s influence over funding for the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is a “threat” to the independence of the body, a report has found.

The state’s Auditor-General handed down her review of the funding model for the ICAC and three other agencies on Tuesday morning, a little over a week after Gladys Berejiklian took the witness stand before the corruption watchdog.

The audit, which was commissioned by the Premier a year ago, found issues with the NSW Treasury and the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) having control over funding the ICAC, the Electoral Commission, the Ombudsman and the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.

“Consistent with the Audit Office of NSW’s role in auditing NSW Government departments and agencies, the recommendations are directed to NSW Treasury and the Department of Premier and Cabinet,” Auditor-General Margaret Crawford wrote in the audit.

“However, the report recognises that the current role of these entities in the funding arrangements for the integrity agencies poses a threat to their independence.”

The report notes the DPC and NSW Treasury have interpreted appropriation legislation to mean the Premier is able to restrict funding.

Additionally, it notes that if one of the four agencies requires additional money, it has to ask the DPC: “This creates a potential threat to their independence … In addition, it is possible that DPC could be the subject of an investigation conducted by an integrity agency.”

On the other hand, the report notes, the DPC secretary has previously told parliament “he did not scrutinise requests from ICAC in any detail because of concerns that this could be perceived as inappropriate”.

Among the audit’s recommendations is that the government overhauls the funding model so that the agencies are assured independence while maintaining their accountability.

The offices of the Premier and Treasurer have been contacted for comment.

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Coronavirus NSW: 5 new cases

There have been two new cases of locally acquired coronavirus diagnosed in NSW up to 8pm on Monday night and three new cases in hotel quarantine.

Both locally acquired cases on Tuesday have been linked to known cases or clusters, with one a household contact of a previously confirmed case linked to the Liverpool private clinic cluster, bringing the clinic’s cases to 12.

The other is linked to a person who attended the childcare centre at Oran Park.

On Monday, health authorities were forced to issue warnings for two suburbs after a mystery case went cafe hopping.

On Monday night, a NSW Health spokesman said while investigations into the source of the mystery case were ongoing, no specific venues of concern had been identified.

“It is believed this case visited the Kingsford and Ramsgate areas while potentially infectious in the first two weeks of October, including several cafes for short periods of time while ordering takeaway,” he said.

“Anyone who has visited these suburbs, especially cafes, should monitor for symptoms and immediately isolate and get tested should even the mildest of symptoms appear. After testing, you must remain in isolation until a negative result is received.”

Deputy chief health officer Dr Jeremy McAnulty said current testing levels were too low, which was putting the state at risk.

“New South Wales is at a critical point and the only way to find undiagnosed cases and prevent further transmission is to increase testing,” he said.

While the response at Oran Park testing clinics was “brilliant” after a plea from authorities, residents in surrounding suburbs have been less forthcoming to be tested.

“NSW Health continues to appeal to the community in southwestern Sydney to come forward for testing right away if anyone has even the mildest of symptoms like a runny nose or scratchy throat, cough, fever or other symptoms that could be COVID-19,” Dr McAnulty said.

“This is also particularly important in western Sydney and southeastern Sydney, where there have also been locally transmitted cases recently.”

In the 24-hour period up to 8pm on Monday night, only 7401 tests were performed.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has previously said 20,000 tests per day was the optimal amount to ensure cases were not likely to go undetected.

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Disgraced NSW magistrate’s bid to get indecent assault convictions quashed

Disgraced NSW magistrate Graeme Curran is poised to launch a High Court bid to clear his name over his remaining convictions for indecently assaulting a teenage boy in the 1980s.

Curran walked free from prison earlier this year after the Court of Appeal quashed two convictions and reduced his sentence.

He was originally sentenced in 2019 to two years and four months in prison, with a non-parole period of 16 months, after a District Court jury found him guilty of seven counts of assaulting the teen between 1981 and 1983.

However, on appeal his sentence was slashed to 16 months, with a non-parole period of nine months, which allowed him to walk free in June this year due to time already served.

Curran is being sued by his victim in the Supreme Court.

During a brief directions hearing into that matter on Monday, Curran’s lawyer Martin Slattery told the court Curran was seeking leave to appeal to the High Court to have his remaining five convictions quashed.

Lawyers for his victim – who was aged between 13 and 16 at the time he was assaulted by Curran and cannot be named – were pushing for the matter to go to mediation.

However Mr Slattery rejected the proposal partly because he was seeking to go to the High Court to have his remaining five convictions quashed.

Curran is still listed on the Local Court of NSW website as a magistrate and he has been allowed to retain his title until he has exhausted all of his appeal rights.

During the course of his District Court trial, the jury heard Curran’s victim described him as being like a “father figure” who groomed him with presents, including holidays to Europe.

In the Court of Appeal, Justices Robert Hulme, John Basten and Peter Hamill quashed two counts related to allegations Curran performed oral sex on the victim and kissed him to console him when he began to cry while on a sailing trip to Pittwater in 1982.

Because the victim had not raised the allegations until 2015, the Court of Appeal found the jury ought to have doubted his evidence.

The victim had said he had repressed the memory and placed it “into a little black box and put that box into a very dark room that also had a little trapdoor” before it was retrieved during a “relaxation therapy” session with a doctor.

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NSW to protect pets as part of domestic violence reforms

People who abuse pets in the context of a relationship could be charged with domestic violence under a proposed new NSW law.

The protection of dogs, cats and other furry friends will be enshrined if a bill to be introduced to parliament next week is successful.

Attorney-General Mark Speakman made the announcement about the government’s proposed changes to the Crimes Act on Sunday, which would change the definition of “intimidation” to include harm or threats to animals.

Mr Speakman also unveiled a new grants program to fund animal shelters supporting domestic violence victims and their furry companions.

“This is an important step that will make it easier to respond to this vile form of abuse that seeks to terrorise victims and their much-loved animals,” he said.

Mr Speakman said animals were often used as a form of coercive control, and the changes would offer greater protection of domestic violence victims and survivors.

“Perpetrators use animals to intimidate, retaliate against, and manipulate victims during the relationship and after separation, as punishment for leaving,” he said.

“Animal abuse in domestic violence settings can also delay victims leaving violent situations for fear of having their companion animals left unprotected with perpetrators.”

Domestic Violence NSW interim chief executive Delia Donovan said domestic violence victims often revealed that perpetrators had threatened to harm or kill animals.

“Protecting animals from perpetrators will therefore continue to improve the safety of people experiencing domestic and family violence across NSW,” she said.

In NSW you can face up to six months jail and a $5,500 fine if found guilty of committing an act of cruelty to an animal.

Mr Speakman said the NSW Government was committing $500,000 to a grants program supporting refuges and animal shelters that house companion animals of domestic violence victims.

The Pets and Animal Welfare Support (PAWS) Grants Program – PAWS for short – got underway on Sunday.

RSPCA NSW chief executive Steve Coleman said he was “really pleased” with the initiative and that organisation’s shelters stood ready to support vulnerable members of the community.

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Coronavirus NSW: five new cases

Health authorities remain on high alert after NSW recorded another five new cases of COVID-19 up to 8pm Saturday, including one community infection.

Four of the cases diagnosed were returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

The one locally acquired case has been linked to the Great Beginnings Childcare Centre in Oran Park, which has been identified as the source of six infections so far.

The new case of community transmission is a close contact to another diagnosis announced on Saturday.

There are now 19 confirmed cases in the Oran Park community, with Oran Park High School closed for cleaning this weekend after an infected student was identified on Friday.

“All staff and children who attended Great Beginnings Childcare Centre between 2 and 13 October are considered close contacts and must get tested immediately and self-isolate for a full 14 days from when they last attended,” NSW Health said in a statement.

“They must stay isolated for their full isolation period regardless of their test result. Contact tracing and investigations are continuing.”

Great Beginnings will remain closed until October 28.

More to come.

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Victoria, Qld, NSW COVID-19 updates

Fourteen people who arrived in Australia from New Zealand today have been detained after trying to enter Melbourne.

October 16, 2020 9:22PM


Last updated October 16, 2020 9:33PM AEDT

Fourteen people who arrived from New Zealand today have been detained after trying to enter Melbourne.

According to the ABC, the passengers flew into Sydney and then got a connecting flight to Melbourne.

Victoria is not accepting overseas arrivals at the moment.

The travellers had been allowed to travel to Sydney without quarantining, as part of a trans-Tasman travel bubble.

Under the deal between the two nations, New Zealanders will be allowed to travel quarantine-free into NSW and the Northern Territory if they have not been in a COVID-19 hotspot in the previous 14 days.

It comes as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews prepares to reveal on Sunday which restrictions will be eased in Melbourne as it moves out of lockdown.

He told reporters on Friday he would be making some “significant announcements” in 48 hours’ time.

However, he confirmed the hard border separating metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria would stay in place.

Mr Andrews said Sunday’s announcement would be “broadly in alignment with our foreshadowed stage 3”, although the state would need to “wait and see” as it depended on numbers continuing to fall.

RELATED: Is Victoria becoming a police state? Have your say in our poll

Follow the latest coronavirus news in our live updates below.

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NSW Police officer charged with manslaughter after motorcyclist killed

A NSW Police officer has been charged with manslaughter after a motorcyclist was killed in a crash with a police vehicle earlier this year.

The 28-year-old male rider, identified by the Central Coast Express Advocate as Jack Roberts, died in the collision on Blue Haven Way in Blue Haven, on the Central Coast, on April 16.

The officer was taken to Wyong Hospital for mandatory testing and a critical incident investigation was launched by the force after the incident.

Police on Thursday said a 49-year-old male sergeant from the Northern Region had been charged with manslaughter, dangerous driving causing death and negligent driving causing death.

Manslaughter in New South Wales carries a maximum penalty of 25 years behind bars, if found guilty.

The Tuggerah Lakes Police District sergeant was granted strict conditional bail and is due to face Gosford Local Court on October 30.

“The officer’s duty status will be reviewed, as per standard Professional Standards practices,” NSW Police said.

Back in April, police said the officer had seen a motorbike being ridden along the Motorway Link “on the wrong side of the road and without lights” about 2.30am.

“The officer directed the rider to stop, however, he continued onto Blue Haven Way, followed by the officer, where there has been a collision involving the two vehicles,” police said.

Mr Roberts died at the scene after he reportedly came off his motorcycle and was run over by the police vehicle.

“My heart is so heavy and empty! You were not meant to go this way!” Jasmin O’Neill said in a post on Facebook.

“I’ll make sure our babies know exactly the man you were, the kind man I knew, the loving, funniest strong willed!

“You will be forever in our heart. And your beautiful girls and I will love you forever and always Jack.”

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Girl, 11, missing from Orange in western NSW

A young girl who vanished from a local playground in a quiet western NSW town has now been missing for three days.

Tahlia Hinchcliffe, 11, was last seen at the playground in Gosling Creek, Orange, about 5pm on Sunday, October 11.

Central West police were called after she could not be located that day.

After three days of searching police issued a public appeal to find Tahlia on Wednesday, saying there were serious concerns for her welfare given her age.

Tahlia is described as being of Caucasian appearance, between 150-160cm tall, of a medium build, and with long brown hair.

She was wearing a black singlet, black jogger pants, and pink Nike shoes at the park on Sunday.

Anyone who sees Tahlia, or has any information on her whereabouts, are urged to come forward.

Call Crime Stoppers, 1800 333 000.

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McDonald’s, Bunnings: Virus fears at major NSW stores

A person with COVID-19 visited popular locations in NSW, including a Woolworths, McDonalds, Bunnings, and Ikea.

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NSW Premier reveals relationship with Liberal MP

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has revealed she was in a close personal relationship with disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.

In bombshell evidence to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Ms Berejiklian insisted it was “never, ever” a conflict of interest.

Ms Berejiklian is the star witness today at hearings investigating Mr Maguire’s conduct after the inquiry heard evidence he sought payments to help broker deals with property developers.

Last week, ICAC heard evidence that Mr Maguire gave Ms Berejiklian’s email as contact to help a landowner lobby for rezoning changes.

It was claimed he suggested that the premier would be able to provide “a tickle form up top.”

The NSW Premier has told the inquiry that she “did not care” about Mr Maguire’s financial position and had “never relied on anybody else in my life”.

“If you’re suggesting that I cared about his financial position, I reject that completely. I did not care. That was his business, it had nothing to with me,’’ she said.

“I’ve never relied on anybody else in my life. And I wouldn’t start then.”

Ms Berejiklian was then asked, “You didn’t care about it?”

“No. I will not accept that I cared about his financial status. That was for him to worry

about, and I didn’t worry about it,’’ she said.

However, she conceded that Mr Maguire was “obsessed” with his financial position and that they discussed it in relation to his exit from politics.

“Absolutely, he was obsessed with it. Yeah,’’ she said.

Looking back, Ms Berejiklian said she did not believe Mr Maguire had been entirely truthful with her over his financial position.

“Looking back, I’m not sure whether he was truthful about that, if I can be frank. I don’t know if anything that.. said to me was truthful,’’ she said.

“He raised it with me… I can’t confirm that what he told me was truthful. But I did not care about his financial position. That was his business.”

More to come

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