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Nine of 2014’s most adorable animal pictures

View our top lists for everything in 2014Chloe, the wombat 

Chloe, the wombat.

Chloe, an orphan at Taronga Zoo, has been described by her keeper as “very affectionate and a bit naughty”. Her main interests include shoelaces and ambling. Khaleesi and Alkira, the wallaby joeys  

Khaleesi and Alkira.

Why do people assume that two oprhaned wallaby joeys living in the same zoo will have plenty to talk about? The pair at Taronga were a touch shy when they were first set up by keepers but eventually lost their inhibitions.  Ghost bat pup  

Ghost bat pup.

Diaphanous wings, an unusual facial structure, big ears – well, cuteness is in the eye of the beholder.

The Taronga zookeepers were initially reluctant to name the bat pup as it can be difficult to tell the sex of infants. But with parents named Celeste and Nocturne, we suggest Aurora and Dulcitone as leading candidates, no matter the gender.  Sydney Seal  

Sydney Seal.

Was Shakespeare a single man or a group operating under the one name?

The same kind of question could be directed at Sydney Seal, the ubiquitous sea mammal seen in all the right spots this year, from the Opera Bar to Bronte Beach. Sydney Seal enjoys sunshine and name-dropping.  Marty, the porcupette  

Marty, the porcupette.

There was no way this female baby porcupine at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle was going to get left behind by Hollywood A-listers like Pink, Rihanna and Kylie Jenner. Marty opted for discreet grey streaks to contrast with her electric blue eyes.  Mia, the quokka  

Mia, the quokka.

Nothing like a bit of grevillea to make a quokka’s day. Mia, the youngest of the quokkas at Taronga, is reportedly a keen climber whose confidence is steadily building.  Tree kangaroo  

Tree kangaroo.

“Need – star-shaped – piece – of – watermelon – now!” This tree kangaroo was at full, furry stretch to get its paws on a juicy Christmas present.  Pup 681, the sea otter  

Sea otter pup.

Oh hello. What have we here? Just “Pup 681”, a rescued five-week-old sea otter pup learning to swim at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Sumatran tiger cub  Sumatran tiger cub.

“You’re a tiger! You’re a tiger!” the photographer might have called, trying to coax more out of a subject firmly ensconced in its red bucket. The cub dangles its paw over the rim while giving a smoky stare into the mid-distance of its Kansas zoo.

OPINION: If Melbourne can cope, so can Newcastle

I HAVE been following the ongoing rail debate with wry amusement from my new home in Melbourne (I still identify as a Novocastrian, and will write accordingly).

I see the idea that cutting the line will magically stimulate urban renewal is still being bandied about. I remain unconvinced.

First, though, the matter of level crossings.

Melbourne has a population of a bit over 4million people and has 180 at-grade pedestrian and/or vehicular crossings. Newcastle, Maitland and the Lake have a combined population of a bit over half a million people, with 150,000 of those living in Newcastle city. But we have got fewer than 10 at-grade crossings between the city, Fassifern and Maitland, if I recall correctly.

The newly-elected Victorian government has pledged to separate rail lines and roads at 50 of Melbourne’s at-grade crossings, and fair enough; they do carry a certain risk. But even if Melbourne became home to “only” 130 crossings, that is still way more than Newcastle. If an altogether bigger and busier city than Newcastle can have so many crossings, without us reading daily about carnage on the tracks, why can’t we have a couple more?

Politicians have told us that level crossings are dangerous and so we can’t have them in Newcastle CBD. I reckon that is rubbish. First, they don’t apply that sort of rigorous public safety test to things such as coal dust pollution or fracking farmland and water supplies.

Second, why can’t we have a mature conversation that balances the risk of a few new crossings with the seemingly extremely urgent need to connect Newcastle to the waterfront? Could it be that building half a dozen at-grade pedestrian crossings might fatally wound the main argument for cutting the line, which is that it is supposedly a terrible and oppressive barrier?

Those who favour cutting the rail line often try to claim that the rail has mystically caused people to stop shopping in Newcastle CBD. But in doing so they are unfairly blaming the rail for what urban designers have dubbed “the rise of the suburban mega-mall”.

Back in the day, Newcastle CBD was the premier shopping destination in our region and places such as Kotara and Charlestown played second fiddle. The Glendale supercentre wasn’t even a thing 20 short years ago.

Suburban malls, built as they are on vastly cheaper land than exists in Newcastle CBD, have expanded, have upscaled their vast car parks-on-steroids, and have superseded the CBD. This problem is not unique to Newcastle, and cutting the rail won’t magically fix it any more than building another tower would.

It isn’t the end of the world – Newcastle can evolve vibrantly into its new reality; rather than more buildings on the rail corridor we should fill out and energise what is already there, and do it with style and flair and local quirk. Renew Newcastle is going great guns on this front.

Finally, the matter of the new city campus and law courts. I often wonder whether there is a single member of the NSW government who has visited the Callaghan university campus during semester and seen the morass of cars there. The university won’t stop with its new building, and could create an urban campus half the size of Callaghan.

It’s a good idea, I reckon. It’s another way the Newcastle inner city can evolve; and unlike cutting the rail, the city campus actually really will catalyse renewal.

Neither connectivity nor urban renewal are behind this latest rushed effort to cut the rail. This decision is about the same thing it has always has been about: wrapping up the rail corridor in shiny paper and putting it under the developer’s proverbial Christmas tree. The so-called ‘‘vocal minority’’ who want to keep our train line in fact speak for the majority.

The Premier has no mandate for this madness.

Zane Alcorn is a Save Our Rail supporter who lives in Melbourne

OPINION: Healthy lake attracts sharks


Screengrab from video taken by Clinton Bambach of a great white shark cruising in the water next to the jetty at Murray’s Beach, Lake Macquarie. Pic: Clinton Bambach

THE traditional country of the Awabakal people, Lake Macquarie, has had a chequered past under the stewardship of White Australia.

Through the establishment of heavy industry near its banks, it suffered from the dumping of heavy metals and toxins for more than a century.

Its bountiful fish stocks were exploited by overfishing, and nutrient and sediment run-off from agriculture and construction poisoned it and silted it up. In 2008, I investigated a resident’s complaint that untreated sewage from Dora Creek overflowed into wetlands and the lake every time it rained.

These problems had resulted in a huge area of the lake’s natural filtering systems and fish nursery dying off.

At 110square kilometres, the lake (actually a barrier lagoon) has only one way in and one way out, through the narrow Swansea Channel. This results in only a 1per cent tidal exchange each time, which leaves it vulnerable to pollution.

In 1983, the lake was declared almost eutrophic, meaning it was on the tipping point of being unable to sustain any life. Over the next two decades, millions of dollars was spent in a joint campaign between the state government and Wyong and Lake Macquarie councils to address the issue.

In 2002, overfishing was addressed with the cessation of commercial fishing and slowly, the lake began to heal. Recent sightings of great white sharks in the lake can be taken as a sign the lake has rehabilitated.

Recreational fishermen will tell you big jewfish and salmon are back in larger numbers than ever, providing them with great catches, and the largest marine predators are finding enough to eat in our lake.

Understandably, though, a lot of people are concerned about safety when swimming in the lake in the near presence of such predators. Despite being at the top of the food chain on the land, we humans can be seen to be closer to the middle in the water!

Growing up on the Georges River, Como, we regularly swam in the netted baths there and felt safe, apart, from the jellyfish.

So it came as a surprise to me to learn in 2011 that none of the swimming enclosures around Lake Macquarie had any protection. I was advised of this by some people in Belmont who felt very strongly about swimming in the lake after sighting sharks in Belmont Bay, and asked me to advocate to council for secure baths.

Unfortunately, staff (and other councillors) saw the cost of the installation and ongoing maintenance as prohibitive and argued that if we meshed Belmont, we’d have to do all the baths around the lake. Well, why not? Surely wecould secure state funding?

Now the issue is back. Whether you consider it unfounded or not, some people who want to avail themselves of our beautiful, clean lake hold that primal fear of being mistaken for a food source by a shark. Cost should not be an issue with this if it can prevent one tragedy.

INNOVATIVE: An Eco Shark Barrier is in use on Coogee Beach, WA. It is said to protect swimmers without harming sharks.

True, there hasn’t been a proven shark attack in the lake since White settlement, but think about the state the lake has been in over the past 150years. The increasing number of shark sightings and their very active hunting gives rise to real concerns that sooner or later an exploratory bite might occur.

I am opposed to environmentally damaging netting made from rope that entangles many species, including sharks. However, there is an alternative. There are innovative shark barriers that provide an ecologically safe solution, protecting marine life and humans.

It is an Australian innovation and has been trialled off Western Australian beaches with great success. Like the lake rehabilitation program, this could be a joint NSW government and council project, with ongoing funds secured from the state government for maintenance. It may not be cheap, but nothing worthwhile is.

This doesn’t have to be put into the ‘‘too hard basket’’ this time, nor left solely up to council.

The state government needs to get proactive.

Phillipa Parsons was a Greens councillor on Lake Macquarie council from 2008 to 2012 and will stand for the Greens in the state seat of Swansea in March

George Brandis backs down on review of ASIO assessments of refugees deemed security risks

Attorney-General George Brandis says Margaret Stone has performed a “valuable role”. Photo: Andrew MearesAttorney-General George Brandis has relented on his opposition to an independent review of more than 30 refugees held in indefinite detention after ASIO deemed them a threat to Australian security.

The government announced on Thursday a two-year extension to the role of former federal court judge Margaret Stone to independently examine the ASIO findings.

The Gillard-Labor government first appointed Ms Stone in 2012 following backbench pressure over the plight of the refugees in what has been likened “Guantanamo Bay”.

The group – which includes a mother of three with a baby born in detention – are not allowed to know the detail of reasons for the ASIO assessment or make any legal appeal.

But the Coalition went to the federal election stating: “ASIO rulings in relation to the security risk posed by a person in immigration detention will not be reviewable.”

That position has now been reversed after Senator Brandis said in a statement on Thursday that Ms Stone has performed a “valuable function” and would be an important safeguard to ASIO processes.

The decision comes afterone of the refugees with an adverse ASIO ruling spent 24 hours from Wednesday on the roof of a detention centre in Melbourne’s north, threatening self-harm.

The United Nations has criticised Australia over the indefinite detention of refugees with negative assessments, some for more than five years.

The group – mostly Tamils who fled Sri Lanka’s civil war – have each been judged to have a well-founded fear of persecution and cannot be returned home.

But they remain in detention because Australia refuses to grant them a visa and other countries have declined to resettle them.

The group have suffered considerable mental anguish, with Commonwealth Ombudsman reports revealing at least a quarter have threatened or attempted suicide.

Both the Ombudsman and Inspector General of Intelligence and Security have previously urged alternatives to detention should be considered.

Senator Brandis said the majority of Ms Stone’s reviews to date have confirmed the initial ASIO findings, “highlighting the integrity of the assessment and internal review process”.

Ms Stone also recommended a handful of ASIO findings be re-opened, leading to the refugees’ release.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison also praised the work of Ms Stone on Thursday and referred to her continuing role with to the so-called “legacy caseload” of 30,000 asylum seekers.

The prospect of more adverse assessments being issued by ASIO to some in this group has previously been raised.

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Sophie Mirabella’s remorse over lack of women in Abbott cabinet

Sophie Mirabella addresses the University of Melbourne event on Wednesday evening. Photo: Wayne Taylor Australia’s world ranking based on women in national parliaments, 2001 to 2013. Photo: University of Melbourne

Percentage of women in all Australian parliaments by major party, 1994 – 2013. Photo: University of Melbourne

Representation of women in all Australian parliaments, 1997 to 2013 Photo: University of Melbourne

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is the only woman in the Abbott cabinet. Photo: Andrew Meares

Former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella has confessed to feeling “responsible” for the lack of women in cabinet during a debate about how to fix a lack of female political representation in Australia.

Mrs Mirabella would have sat in Tony Abbott’s cabinet as Industry Minister had she not lost her seat of Indi to independent Cathy McGowan at the 2013 election.

Speaking in her new role as a public policy fellow at the University of Melbourne, Mrs Mirabella said she felt “propelled” to do something to boost female participation after watching recent Victorian state Liberal preselections.

“I felt somewhat responsible having lost my seat and deprived the government of a second woman in cabinet and thought perhaps there is something I can do to precipitate this discussion,” she told a bipartisan panel discussion in Melbourne on Wednesday night.

Less than one-third of Australia’s parliamentarians are women and less than one-fifth of Abbott government ministers are female..

Former Labor staffer Nick Reece, a fellow with the University of Melbourne, was also on the panel and showed a graph that named Rwanda as the country with the highest number of women in parliament. Australia’s world ranking in terms of the number of women elected to its national parliament has plummeted from number 21 in 2001 to 45 in 2013.

Another graph showed the Liberal Party has failed to significantly lift the percentage of women in Australian parliaments for a decade. Despite gains in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the number of women in Australian parliaments is now lower than at its peak in 2010.

But Mrs Mirabella warned against short-term measures like changing party rules or legislating quotas to address the problem.

“They come from long term change in the culture of the political parties and the communities in which we live,” she said.

Kelly O’Dwyer, a rising star in the Abbott government, said she wanted to see more than just one woman in the federal cabinet, claiming many of her female colleagues who deserve promotion were being overlooked.

Ms O’Dwyer, the MP for Higgins in Melbourne’s south-east, said she would not hide her disapproval with her own government’s lack of female representation in leadership roles.

“I would like to see more women in cabinet,” she said.

“There are lots of very good female colleagues of mine who are ripe for promotion. The question is how do we drive that change.”

The sole woman in cabinet, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, is widely considered one of the government’s best performers.

Liberal National MP Teresa Gambaro has called for an immediate reshuffle to boost the number of women in the executive, saying the current situation “cannot be allowed to continue”.

But a senior government source has told Fairfax Media the party did not have enough women ready to promote to cabinet at the time of its 2013 election victory.

However, several female members of the outer ministry have since performed strongly, including Marise Payne, Sussan Ley and Michaelia Cash and would likely be considered for promotion in any reshuffle.

Former speaker Anna Burke told Wednesday’s panel the corporate sector also had a role to play in fixing the gender imbalance.

She added women in politics will have “made it” when one of the major parties appoints it’s first female treasurer.

She said while women had become national leaders and foreign ministers, they are rarely given the task of managing national economies.

A petition, dubbed the Melbourne Declaration, was launched at Wednesday’s event. It calls for new targets for women to make up at least 40 per cent of party officials, parliamentarians, ministers and shadow ministers by 2020 or over the next two candidate-selection cycles. The targets would be across all political parties and all tiers of government.

with Nick Toscano 

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