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Millions missing in Chinese visa fraud racket

It was a glamorous musical showcase at the Sydney Opera House.

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In front of an audience that included Nauru’s President Baron Waqa, violinist Harmonnia Junus performed a selection of classical music and popular Taiwanese folk songs with an orchestra.

But several members of Sydney’s Chinese community claim the million-dollar violin in her hand and the appearance of Taiwan’s Evergreen Symphony Orchestra in July 2015 were largely funded by her father, Teddy Junus, using the proceeds of a multimillion-dollar immigration racket.

Mr Junus – a wealthy north shore businessman who boasted of networking with Tony Abbott, Andrew Robb and Kevin Rudd – is accused of rorting the system for subclass 457 and 163 visas, taking between $15,000 and $310,000 from dozens of hopeful migrants, most of whom were left with nothing.

The case, which is being investigated by NSW Police and the federal Department of Immigration, exposes the murky world of unlicensed migration agents and visa services exploiting the tens of thousands of Chinese people who are desperate to come to Australia.

“In the Chinese community, this sort of business is always based on reputation. If someone says he is very experienced, he is helpful, he can do a lot of things, then people trust him,” said one alleged fraud victim, Mr Sing, who said he was once a close friend of Mr Junus’ but is now owed $790,000.

All five victims that Fairfax Media interviewed asked to be identified by their surnames only, partly due to embarrassment and fear.

They said they were referred to Mr Junus, 43, by friends and business partners who knew of his initial success in obtaining visas. They were told to pay half the fee upfront and sign handwritten agreements since proven worthless.

Mr Junus’ now-abandoned Pitt Street office was once adorned with photos of him with Mr Rudd, Phillip Ruddock and the Buddhist religion master Hsing Yun.

He was pictured with Mr Abbott, former trade minister Mr Robb and Clive Palmer at government-run Chinese business networking events.

However, he has since gone to ground, moving out of his East Killara mansion and abandoning his office after a female victim threatened to die by suicide there due to missing money.

“I made the biggest mistake in my life in believing him. We used our cash and also borrowed from friends to lend to him and then he ‘disappeared’,” said another alleged victim, Mr Zhou, in China. “This has almost broken my life and our whole family.”

Mr Junus falsely advertised himself as a migration agent, telling hopeful Chinese migrants that he could obtain visas and then permanent residency.

In some instances, he obtained 457 visas by claiming people were employees of companies he set up. In other cases, he set up import/export businesses for people so they would qualify for a 163 or “sponsored business owner” visa.

One businessman paid $865,000 to get 457 and permanent residency visas for 10 friends and relatives, according to a statement of claim filed in the NSW District Court in one of five civil suits.

The businessman obtained a bankruptcy order in March but trustees have not been able to find Mr Junus or his money.

In the five civil claims, totalling $1.3 million, victims say they were often instructed to make payments into Chinese bank accounts.

One victim, Mrs Hu, was introduced to Mr Junus because she wanted to get permanent residency so her daughter could go to high school in Sydney.

“He said Mrs Hu can be employed in Teddy’s company. He only needed one [employee] but he’d say he needed 20 or 30 [employees]. He said the company can pay Mrs Hu her money back as a ‘salary’ and the government will see he pays a lot of tax so they will give PR quickly,” her daughter told Fairfax Media.

She paid $150,000 upfront but, more than two years on, has not seen a visa.

Mr Junus has proved elusive to his alleged victims and to the authorities.

ASIC prosecuted him in Sutherland Local Court this year when he disappeared without handing company information over to liquidators for one of his companies, Crown International Enterprises.

Between 20 and 30 victims have established a support group on China’s social network, Weibo, and say they are owed several million dollars.

A former employee confirmed that, in the midst of victims’ desperate pleas for money, Mr Junus paid $100,000 to Taiwan’s Chang Yung-Fa Foundation to fund the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra’s tour of Australia. In December, his wife sold their East Killara mansion for $2.45 million.

Mr Junus, who also goes by the name Hsiung Chung, declined to speak to Fairfax Media by phone, saying: “I’m in a meeting.”

His lawyer Chris Ford declined to comment, citing the ongoing police investigation.

Mr Ford said he was only retained to deal with the criminal investigation and could not comment on why Mr Junus has evaded creditors and ASIC, and ignored civil court orders.

A Department of Immigration and Border Protection spokeswoman said that “appropriate investigations were under way”.

“Visa and migration fraud is a serious matter with significant consequences,” she said.

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13/10/2019 苏州美甲学校

Jackson’s road gets overhaul

The NSW government will provide more than $500,000 in funding to curb further crashes on the Dipper, the infamous and dangerous spot on the Central Coast that took teenager Jackson Williams’ life a year ago.

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Jackson Williams, 17, was one of four passengers in a car driven by a new P-plater that crashed into a pole after travelling too fast over a culvert known as “The Dipper” on Willoughby Road, Wamberal.

His mother Michelle Williams said she hoped the traffic-calming devices set to be placed at each entrance to the “dip” would ensure safer travelling speeds over the culvert.

“Knowing that action to reduce the risk of a similar crash occurring has given us some solace,” she said.

The culvert, known as The Dipper, was renowned to generations of young and old drivers because the steepness of the dip gave a sensation of flying.

On Monday, the Federal Member for Robertson Lucy Wicks and NSW MP Adam Crouch will announce $505,000 funding from NSW Government’s Safer Roads program.

It will pay for a range of initiatives to slow traffic and stop drivers from getting a sensation in their stomachs due to the steepness of the dip. These include raised reflective pavement markers, rumble strips along the edge line, a new “stop” sign and traffic calming on the approach to dips, and the sealing of the local road.

The move follows a Change.org petition started by Lindy Hewett, a woman who lived near the crash that had been the site of other fatalities and near misses over the years, and lobbying by Ms Wicks at federal and state level.

In July, The Sun-Herald detailed the impact of the crash on the Williams’ family and others. The Sun-Herald’s editorial has called for new rules to reduce the number of new P platers dying in crashes, including tougher rules to stop groups of teenagers from riding in cars driven by new P platers at all times of day.

The driver – who had his Ps for just over two weeks – was convicted of dangerous driving occasioning death. He was sentenced to 200 hours of community service, and his licence was suspended for three years.

He can’t be identified because he was a minor at the time of the crash.

Mrs Wicks said Jackson’s death had “caused immense sadness across the Central Coast community” and led to a resolve that to fix this stretch of road,

The investment was an example of both state and federal governments working together to protect the future of our communities.

“This financial year the NSW Community Road Safety Fund is estimated to save the equivalent of 419 deaths and serious injuries over the life of the projects.”

In collaboration with Central Coast Council, all work except for traffic calming is set to be completed this financial year (2017/18). Traffic calming is expected to be completed by the end of next year, with the total investment $505,000.

Ms Williams said her family was thankful to Lindy Hewitt and Lucy Wicks.

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A place that makes refugees feel welcome

Austalian actor, Brian Brown spends time with childen Karmel, Stella, Miar and Sam at the activities tent during the opening of the House Of Welcome, a refugee support centre in Granville, Sydney on Saturday, 26 August 2017. Photo by Cole Bennetts Austalian actor, Brian Brown spends time with childen Karmel, Stella, Miar and Sam at the activities tent during the opening of the House Of Welcome, a refugee support centre in Granville, Sydney on Saturday, 26 August 2017. Photo by Cole Bennetts

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When Khatereh Rabiei??? arrived in Australia from her native Iran four years ago she had no job references and little English but big hopes for the future.

The qualified accountant lived in Adelaide for a year before resettling in Sydney where life was initially hard.

“I couldn’t speak English at first and I couldn’t find a home because I didn’t have any references,” she recalled. “It was a big problem for me.”

A family member advised her to visit the House of Welcome, a long-running refugee and asylum seeker service in Sydney’s west.

“They were very supportive and so helpful, I am so grateful for what they have done,” she said.

The mother of two teenage children from Sydney’s north west is now studying English at TAFE while volunteering at the House of Welcome as well as at a school library.

“It’s good experience because I can put it on my resume,” Mrs Rabiei, who volunteers for the House of Welcome’s catering social enterprise, said.

“In Australia if you don’t have a resume it’s hard to find a job in the future. It’s given me self-confidence and that has had a big effect on me.”

Mrs Rabiei is one of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have been assisted by the House of Welcome since it was established in 2001.

It was originally housed in a disused butcher’s shop in Carramar, a building it outgrew because of the increasing need for support for new arrivals.

Saturday marked the official opening of its new and expanded premises, a former convent in South Granville with enough space for on-site English classes, advocacy work, employment programs, the catering enterprise and community events.

Actor and refugee advocate Bryan Brown said the House of Welcome, its staff and 100 volunteers played a significant role in helping people who had fled their homelands find their feet in Australia.

“It must be deeply difficult and painful to have to flee your own country so I, and a lot of other Australians, want to help,” he said.

“Australians want to make sure the people they live with in this country get a fair go and are able to live as decent a life as possible. Helping out is part of our DNA.”

The Australian government announced it would settle an extra 12,000 refugees in 2015, in addition to the existing humanitarian intake of 13,750 in 2015-16 and 13,750 in 2016-17.

Lyn Harrison, chief executive of St Francis Social Services, which operates the House of Welcome, said the need for support was increasing.

“People need the basics: accommodation, furniture, financial assistance, food,” she said. “We never seem to have enough food to give people.”

But once their clients, who predominantly come from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Africa, receive assistance they thrive.

“These people have amazing determination and resilience but when a person first arrives in a new country, social isolation is one of the biggest problems,” she said.

“To have a place where they know they can come and feel welcome, that makes a huge difference to people.”

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Nicole Helps – Decide on an investment property

If a property remains empty or tenants don’t pay, your money would be better off in the bank. Photo: SuppliedHi Nicole, I’m looking to buy an investment property outright for under $250,000. It would be my first property purchase and as I do not currently work, I couldn’t obtain a mortgage to stretch the budget but am increasingly sick of low-yield term deposits. I am familiar with the property-buying process but know nothing of the rental process and what sort of contingency funds I should have set aside. In regards to type of property, I’m ruling almost nothing out but definitely will be buying near a train station and ideally with a parking space around the Melbourne suburbs. Would love your feedback on the decision itself and the process. – Anita, Melbourne

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Umm, that might prove tricky Anita. There’s not much around, even in the suburbs, for $250,000 any more. You’ll almost certainly be limiting yourself to an apartment, and remember there’s talk of an oversupply of apartments in Melbourne, which could affect both your investment value and potential rent.

You may have better luck in the regions – compare some median prices on Domain’s suburb profiler (owned by Fairfax Media).

In any case, the thing to remember is that property has the highest entry costs of any investment, so you want to be able to hold on to anything you buy for as long as possible (locking up your money).

In Victoria, stamp duty has just been abolished on first homes worth under $600,000. But not on first investments. (If you lived in it for a year, you could save more than $10,000.)

You’ll also accrue some legal/conveyancing and inspection fees from the transaction. A couple of thousand dollars or more, perhaps.

In terms of set-up and ongoing costs, there are rates, possibly water (although some tenants now pay this), potentially strata fees (check these before you buy), landlord’s insurance and maintenance and repair. If you decide to go with a rental management company rather than manage the property yourself, you’ll forego an average 6-8 per cent of the rent (and maybe a week or so rent extra if they need to replace a tenant).

You’ll need to keep aside a bit of money for this at the outset – principally for landlord’s insurance (which is building insurance plus specific cover for things like malicious damage by tenants) – and, vitally, maintain a cash stash for big repairs and bills (and hold back enough for the tax on your assessable income; get an accountant, tax deductible, to help claim all available depreciation).

Paying by cash, you do avoid the major risk factor for landlords: void periods without tenants – or money for the mortgage. Except of course, then your (depleted) funds will have been better off in the bank.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is a money educator and consumer advocate: themoneymentorway广州桑拿. You can write to her for help solving your money problem, or with a consumer question, at [email protected]广州桑拿广州桑拿论坛.

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Organise finance early this spring property season

Scott Johnston at home in his apartment in Richmond. 23rd August 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO Scott Johnston at home in his apartment in Richmond. 23rd August 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO

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Scott Johnston at home in his apartment in Richmond. 23rd August 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO

Scott Johnston at home in his apartment in Richmond. 23rd August 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO

Scott Johnston at home in his apartment in Richmond. 23rd August 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO

Scott Johnston at home in his apartment in Richmond. 23rd August 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO

AFR USE ONLY!!!!******ANY OTHER PUBLICATIONS A FEE WILL APPLY!!!******AVOCA . AFR . 020604 . PIC BY VIRGINIA STAR . Saved In Archive . 020609 . Generic Pic Of An Auction Hammer And A Real Estate Office With A Its Sold Sign In The Window . Mortgages . For Sale . Auctions . Home Loans .

With more properties soon to hit the market, lenders will be stretched and house hunters should organise finance well ahead of time, property experts say.

That’s not only because lenders receive more mortgage applications during the spring property season.

Lenders have been tightening their lending criteria, which could add further delays to getting approval.

And tighter lending criteria could also mean that just because you had an approval a year ago, you may not qualify now.

Approval times for home loan applications could blow out from four weeks to six weeks, says Vincent Turner, the chief executive of mortgage broker, uno Home Loans.

The number of property sales in September, October and November typically increases from the previous three winter months. Lenders manage this increased workload without putting on extra staff.

Someone who sees a property they want to buy risks missing out if they leave the approval process too late, Turner says.

Mortgage approvals usually last for three months, after which time they need to be renewed. Get it in writing

The first thing that a borrower wants to know is how much they can borrow, but a verbal assurance from a broker or a lender is not enough, says Donna Beazley, a mortgage broker with Oxygen Home Loans.

Borrowers should also get the pre-approval in writing from the lender. If using a mortgage broker, insist on being given the lender’s pre-approval letter, she says.

The letter or email should spell out how much can be borrowed, and how long the approval lasts, Beazley says.

The approval should list the suburbs and type of housing that the borrower intends to buy.

If the personal circumstances of the borrower don’t change, there should be reasonable confidence that the approval will be honoured, she says.

If the lender lifts the interest rate, usually the borrowing limit will not change, says Beazley, who is also the chair-elect of Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia (MFAA).

Any possible problems should be flagged early. For example, many people are paid with a component that is variable, like commissions.

Lenders will assess that pay in different ways, she says.

Not all pre-approvals are the same in terms of the level of confidence that the borrower has the approval will be honoured. Conditional approval best

Brokers use automated software provided by the lender to calculate how much can be borrowed, says Turner, whose platform allows borrowers to search, compare and settle on a mortgage.

He says with pre-approval, the lender providing the mortgage may not have even looked at the borrower’s documents supporting the application.

Turner says the next level up in certainty for the borrower is a “conditional approval”.

It means the lender has checked the borrower’s documents, like pay slips, bank statements, monthly expenses and proof of genuine savings.

If the borrower has a poor credit rating, that would want to be flagged straight away with the lender or broker, Turner says.

Conditional approval is essential before bidding at auction, he says.

“You don’t want to successfully bid on your dream home and risk losing the house, or worse, risk the deposit because you didn’t get conditional approval before the auction,” he says. Peace of mind

Scott Johnston, 38, wanted the peace of mind of having the finance sorted well before he started looking seriously for an apartment to live in.

The business development manager bought an apartment by private sale in Melbourne’s Richmond in March and sought approval for a mortgage well ahead of time.

Johnston has an investment property that he has owned for five years and went to a mortgage broker to see how much he could borrow using the equity he had in the investment property.

“I wanted to get into my own place rather than rent,” he says.

“I gave the broker all of the facts and figures and they re-financed from there. They were very specific in the number, the ceiling, whereby I would have no trouble in getting approved, but they made it clear that if I went above that there would be no guarantee.

“They emailed a spreadsheet with the options [of lenders]. The benefit of it is that it told me what I was targeting and stopped me from going over and above what I should be doing.” What are the conditions?

Sam White, the chairman of mortgage broker Loan Market, says not all conditional approvals are the same.

The best conditional approval is where everything about the borrower has been checked out.

If the borrower’s circumstances don’t change, that should leave only the valuation of the property as a condition, he says.

That”s important because if the lender’s valuation comes in at less than the purchase price, that may put the lender’s loan-to-valuation ratio above what the lender will allow.

Sam Lally, a buyer’s agent at Buyer’s Advocate Australia in Melbourne’s Hawthorn, says there can be wide differences in valuations from different lenders.

“Some are conservative and visit the property while others do a ‘desk’ valuation by comparing the sales of like properties,” he says.

“Buyers should do their own research on prices or get a trusted adviser to help, so as not to overpay,” he says.

Most lenders have lifted the mortgage interest rates they charge investors, often including existing investors who have variable rate mortgages.That’s as well as tightening lending criteria, says Kirsty Lamont, a director of comparator website Mozo.

The higher mortgage interest rates are part of their response to increasing their capital adequacy at the behest of regulators, she says. Higher rates

“Our research shows almost nine out of 10 borrowers with variable rate loans have been hit with an interest rate rise in the past two years despite the Reserve Bank not lifting the official cash rate over that time,” she says.

“Many lenders have toughened their loan criteria off-the-back of pressure from regulators by lifting their interest rate buffer used to assess whether borrowers can afford to take out a mortgage.

“Some lenders have even introduced strict postcode restrictions by requiring borrowers to have a larger deposit for specific areas,” she says.

Lamont says those with variable rate mortgages should expect they will be paying higher interest rates.

“We expect banks to continue to increase interest rates independently of the Reserve Bank cycle with investors and interest-only borrowers likely to be the most affected.

“It’s more important than ever for homebuyers to future-proof themselves against mortgage stress by factoring-in at least a two percentage point increase in their mortgage rate,” Lamont says.

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Captive to extremes: weather obsession shapes human history

Australians Google the weather more than sex.

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But it wasn’t always this way. Just a few years ago, sex was a much more popular search term than whether it’s going to rain, hail or shine.

So what’s changed? That’s the question author and academic Lawrie Zion hoped to crack while writing his new book The Weather Obsession.

It’s hard to imagine a better person for the job. The former journalist – who helped start Triple J’s Hottest 100 countdown – was just a child when he first visited the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne.

That day he left clutching a book of Australia’s climatic averages under his arm, one of his most prized childhood possessions. He has been a self-described weather nerd ever since: poring over newspaper weather charts and, later, watching as newsrooms adapted to the digital age and fed the appetite for weather information with videos and slick graphics.

The weather captivates unlike anything else, according to Zion, because it is ordinary but extraordinary at the same time.

“Weather retains an unpredictability,” he said. “In the last 50 years we’ve been able to insulate ourselves from its extremes, but it’s still relevant to the way we conduct our daily lives.”

The Weather Obsession serves as a neat history of the bureau from its origins in 1908 to its current use of a $77 million supercomputer.

The book alsoexplores a common thread that ties all weather stories together – unmet demand. Take for example the Bureau of Meteorology’s 700,000 Facebook followers, and the 3.15 billion annual page views of its live radar service.

Zion says the logical conclusion is that humans are hardwired to find the weather interesting (and not just a conversation filler).

“The studies in the US point to that,” he said. “If you live in an area where the weather is more predictable, you’re much less likely to care about weather information in comparison to a place like Melbourne which has famously unpredictable weather. It’s a powerful connection that’s shaped human history.”

The Weather Obsession is out now via Melbourne University Press.

Lawrie Zion will be speaking at the 2017 Melbourne Writers Festival, which runs until September 3. The Age is a festival sponsor.

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28/09/2019 苏州美甲学校

Departing doctors on Manus Island don’t know who will replace them in two months

The international medical company contracted to look after refugees on Manus Island has no idea who will replace it in just two months when Australia withdraws entirely from the island.

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International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), which runs a round-the-clock clinic at Australia’s regional processing centre (RPC) and a smaller service in Lorengau, will depart Papua New Guinea on October 31 when its contract ends.

The RPC is due to close completely by that date, but about 700 refugees are still awaiting promised resettlement in the US, and the future for 250 asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected also remains uncertain.

Fairfax Media understands senior staff at IHMS are concerned that they have not been told who will take over the provision of medical services for the refugees and asylum seekers, and no handover process has commenced.

Asked about the issue at a press conference last week, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said: “There’ll be contracted arrangements entered into with providers and that information will be provided as it normally would be.”

He said further questions should be directed to IHMS. But IHMS referred inquiries to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, which in turn said it was a matter for the PNG government.

Fairfax Media spoke with Gao Thau, chief medical officer at PNG’s health department, who described the situation as “worrying” and said he was awaiting direction from the Australian government.

“We have to get the information from Australia whether they will give this facility to Papua New Guinea,” he said.

“It’s at a high level, so we can’t make any definite statements, we have to get the statement from the government of Australia.

“If the government of Australia decides to hand over to PNG then we will take over. We are still waiting for that.”

PNG’s new cabinet was sworn in earlier this month and Dr Thau said his department had been “unable to brief” the new health minister because of the lack of clarity from Australia.

“I think we just have to wait patiently,” he said.

The development came as PNG’s new attorney-general, Davis Steven, reportedly told Australian officials PNG was “not going to allow” Australia to leave Manus Island without a plan for the men left behind.

“The PNG government is not going to allow a situation where Australia has withdrawn and leaves behind all these international fugitives who they expect us to carry on our steam,” he told the ABC.

Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim said it was a clear sign PNG would not be complicit in Australia’s decision to “abandon” the men on Manus Island.

“This is no surprise,” he said on Saturday. “The Australian government has treated the PNG government with absolute contempt all the way through this sorry saga.”

Mr Dutton has long insisted the centre will close on October 31, following a PNG Supreme Court ruling last year declaring the refugees’ ongoing detention unconstitutional. Parts of the facility have already been shuttered.

About 60 sick refugees and asylum seekers have been transferred to Port Moresby in recent weeks for appointments with doctors in the capital, according to other refugees on the island.

Authorities are also pressuring refugees and asylum seekers to move to a transit centre in Lorengau. In May, the immigration department confirmed capacity at the transit centre was being expanded to 440.

Department statistics showed 791 men remained at the Manus Island RPC on July 31. The numbers at Lorengau are said to fluctuate daily, while earlier in the year, Mr Dutton said about 36 refugees had chosen to resettle in PNG.

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Multi-million dollar blowout to road upgrade backlog

21 August 2011, news, Canberra Times photo by STUART WALMSLEY. People from all over Australia converge on Canberra for a Convoy of No Confidence in the Federal Government. Truck owner-driver Peter Whytcross leads a convoy of vehicles from Western Australia across the ACT/NSW border on the Barton Highway. Mr Whytcross has covered 5800km over six days between Port Hedland and Canberra. SPECIAL 1NSW regional councils face a multi-million dollar backlog to upgrading critical road infrastructure, according to the NRMA.

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In its latest Funding Local Roads report, the motoring organisation revealed the infrastructure backlog across the state has increased from $1.73 billion in 2014-15 to $1.96 billion, an increase of 13 per cent.

While the infrastructure backlog for all regional councils in NSW combined fell from $32.1 million to $11.2 million, several councils in the Snowy Mountain region recorded an increase.

The Snowy River Council registered a 141 per cent increase during the 12-month period, rising from $9.29 million to $22.41 million.

Bombala Council’s backlog for 2015-16 was $5.28 million, up from $5.08 million.

The data recorded by the NRMA took place before many councils in the region were amalgamated.

The former Queanbeyan Council’s backlog bill more than quadrupled from $660,000 to just more than $3.5 million, while the previous Palerang Council jumped from $6.8 million to $7.2 million.

Cooma-Monaro as well as Goulburn Council were the only councils surrounding the ACT that registered a drop in infrastructure backlog, coming in with a 0.5 per cent and 5.9 per cent drop respectively.

According to the report, 80 per cent of Australian roads are maintained by local councils, with the council backlog potentially leading to more crashes.

“The deterioration in the condition of local council roads assets has resulted in the reduced condition of the road network, impacting the day-to-day movements of motorists, especially in regional areas,” the report said.

“Roads will become less safe to drive on, with the unintended consequence of more crashes on the local road network.”

A similar infrastructure backlog is also taking place in the ACT, with the NRMA highlighting a report released earlier this year by the auditor-general stating the cost to upgrade Canberra roads was expected to increase to $71 million by 2019-20.

The backlog in the territory has grown by more than 400 per cent since 2010-11.

NRMA local director Kate Lundy said the increase in backlog was often due to only one road being able to be upgraded at a time due to funding constraints.

“Invariably it is a cycle, and as one priority is fixed, another emerges,” she said.

“One example is the Barton Highway duplication, which will cost a lot of money and when it’s done, there are other things that won’t be funded due to that being one large expense.”

Ms Lundy said the federal government should invest a greater proportion from money raised from the fuel excise levy to local roads as a way to clear the backlog.

“That change will start to address the shortfall, and it’s a huge shortfall,” she said.

“Without a change in approach, we’re really just cycling through band-aid solutions with regards to road safety.”

Other recommendations from the NRMA include fast tracking funding for the federal government’s Roads to Recovery program and establish Road Stewardship Maintenance contracts to improve the delivery of road infrastructure.

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Safety bureau revises mid-air drone incident forecast

QANTAS VIRGIN AFR PHOTOGRAPH BY GLENN HUNT 4th March 2014.GENERIC – Brisbane Airport, qantas, virgin australia, airlines.The number of mid-air incidents involving drones in Australia is expected to remain stable this year, despite earlier predictions they would double from 2016 figures.

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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has revised its forecast of near misses between drones and planes in its most recent analysis, allaying fears of a dramatic increase in 2017.

Between January and June this year, an average of 8.5 mid-air incidents per month were reported to the bureau.

The figure represents a drop from the national average of 11.9 incidents per month between July and December 2016.

The analysis was submitted by the bureau as part of its submission to a senate committee into regulations surrounding drones. A public hearing will be held in Canberra on August 29.

The ATSB will appear before the committee as well as the Australian Airports Association, Airservices Australia and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

Figures submitted by the bureau show there have been 242 mid-air drone incidents since 2012, and more than half of these occurred between July 2016 and June 2017.

The bureau’s submission also details how a Virgin flight almost collided with a drone during its approach to Brisbane Airport in late July, forcing other flights to be diverted.

“The crew of a Virgin Embraer 190 reported that at 4100 feet on approach to Brisbane Airport they passed a [drone] at cockpit height between the fuselage and the wingtip,” the submission said.

“Following this, a Qantas Boeing 737 elected to track five nautical miles off-track to avoid the area.”

An investigation was not launched by the ATSB as the drone operator was unable to be identified.

Australian aviation groups have expressed concern in their submissions to the committee of the potential for mid-air collisions between planes and drones.

Australian Airports Association chief executive Caroline Wilkie said in the body’s submission that with more people using drones, many weren’t aware of restrictions around spaces like airports.

“There is a significant growing risk that aviation safety could be significantly compromised if there is not suitable regulatory oversight of [drones],” she said.

“It is unlikely that hobbyists will have the required depth of knowledge to understand the potential safety hazards posed by inappropriate use of drones.”

The association has recommended that all users of drones heavier than 250 grams should be registered with CASA.

Other recommendations include safety-parameter software to monitor height and distance be installed on all drones heavier than 2 kilograms.

Public awareness campaigns of drone regulations undertaken by CASA have also been proposed.

Current regulations set out by CASA restrict drone users to fly above 120 metres, and must not fly at night or within 30 metres of other people or above populous areas.

With the number of drone users increasing, so too have the number of complaints about them in residential areas, with CASA receiving at least one complaint per week from Canberra residents.

CASA stated in its submission more regulations were needed in the growing industry to support “previously unforeseen applications of drone technology” such as aerial home delivery.

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Plebiscite sees spike in calls to counsellors

Marriage equality advocate Russell Nankervis poses for photographers with the rainbow flag during a ‘Sea of Hearts’ event in support of marriage equality on the front lawn of Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 8 August 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex EllinghausenCounselling services have reported a spike in the number of calls received from the LGBT community surrounding the upcoming same-sex marriage postal vote.

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In the two weeks since the government announced the $122 million non-compulsory postal survey, counsellors and hotlines have recorded a surge in phone calls from LGBT people concerned for their well-being as a result of debate surrounding the vote.

One counsellor told The Canberra Times he’s received 20 times the number of phone calls from the LGBT community in the past seven days compared to an average week.

???LGBT phone-counselling service QLife has recorded a more than 20 per cent increase in the amount of calls since the plebiscite was introduced.

Rebecca Reynolds – executive director of the National LGBTI Health Alliance, which operates QLife – said the service was expecting to receive even more calls as the debate surrounding same-sex marriage continued.

“We’re keeping an eye on the numbers very closely, and it does point to us receiving more calls,” she said.

“What we always see when there’s public discussions surrounding equality is that it puts pressure on families and also the community.”

The alliance’s director said there had been increased demand for QLife and other support services since the plebiscite was first introduced to parliament in 2016.

On average, the service receives 400 calls per week.

“What this means is that people are feeling like they are the subject of conversation topics that aren’t positive and feeling the negative impacts,” she said.

“People call us when they are feeling isolated and when they don’t feel like they have someone in their immediate family or at school they can talk to, and while that isolation exists, inequality exists.”

National mental-health service beyondblue has registered a 40 per cent increase in call volume following the announcement of the postal vote.

However, a spokeswoman for the organisation said there was no specific information about the direct cause behind the recent surge.

A spokesman for Lifeline said there hadn’t been a measurable spike during the past fortnight because it was difficult to measure specific community issues among the 2500 calls it received per day.

Delia Quigley, president of Canberra-based LGBT support service Diversity ACT, said she had seen a noticeable increase in people seeking help on the organisation’s Facebook page.

“I’ve seen people who have been quite upset during the debate on Facebook, but also people being upset about the things posted online [about same-sex marriage],” she said.

The organisation told The Canberra Times in September 2016 they feared a surge in people using support services if a plebiscite went ahead.

“People have also been upset by the Prime Minister’s response to [anti-marriage equality] put up, saying they were part of democracy,” Ms Quigley said.

Posters calling for people to “stop the fags” and calling homosexuality a “curse of death” have been seen in Melbourne and Sydney.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said this week the vast majority of Australians were bringing “respectful views” to the discussion.

Clinical director at the Black Dog Institute, Associate Professor Josephine Anderson, said members of the LGBT community regularly faced discrimination in society, and the debate surrounding the plebiscite was likely to exacerbate mental health concerns.

“Younger LGBT people have higher rates of mental health issues and a higher rate of suicide compared to their heterosexual peers, and the reason for that is the discrimination and prejudice against them,” she said.

“When there’s additional publicity and debate, young people will become even more aware of their differences.”

Dr Anderson said people’s mental health was impacted with more people voicing opinions on same-sex marriage in a public setting.

“People who may not necessarily have had these conversations or expressed their views now feel emboldened to do that, with there being an increase in discussion of the topic at things like barbecues,” she said.

“There’s also a largely unregulated expression of people’s feelings towards same-sex marriage on social media, and it can often be anonymous.”

Victorian-based counsellor Matt Glover said he usually received “one or two” calls a week from the LGBT community.

Last week, however, he reported as many as 20 phone calls from people concerned about the effects of their mental health due to the plebiscite.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook. I’ve not seen anything like this since I’ve become a counsellor,” he said.

“People’s fears about the plebiscite have been realised. There has been genuine concern and distress since the plebiscite was announced.”

The counsellor said in the past two years, he had seen four spikes in the number of calls received from the LGBT community.

In a viral Facebook post, Mr Glover said the first spike came last year after the plebiscite was first announced, the second after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, and the third following the election of Donald Trump.

The fourth and largest spike has been seen in the past two weeks after the plebiscite was re-introduced.

“All of a sudden there’s been all this hostile language in the media and on social media,” he said,

“The main issue is anxiety, and what this means for me and my relationship and what it means for my place in the wider community.”

For people feeling anxious or concerned about the plebiscite, Mr Glover suggests taking time away from the internet.

“I’m encouraging everyone to give themselves a break from the plebiscite,” he said.

“Hang out with friends and people who love you and engage in your interests.”

Lifeline 13 11 14, beyondblue 1300 224 636, QLife 1800 184 527

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