TEN Eyewitness News: Call to ditch school skirts and dresses

Published in TEN Eyewitness News on June 16, 2017



Winter can be a dreaded time for Aussie school girls. The boys get to don their slacks against the cold, while girls are forced to tough it out in skirts and dresses, with nothing but some thin stockings for protection.

But the winds of change are in the cool air.. with a new survey revealing a majority of school parents want a shakeup to uniform protocol.

The findings by key parent group South Australian Association of State School Organisations found that over 90 per cent of school parents surveyed think girls shouldn’t have to adhere to ‘traditional’ style uniforms.

The group’s Director David Knuckney said it wasn’t just parents who were against the uniforms.

“With negative gender stereotypes known to have disastrous impacts on female students, is it time to rethink making them dress like ‘girls’?” he told the Adelaide Advertiser.

“While schools have long held that uniforms improve discipline, experts, parents and students are now calling school uniforms sexist – a discriminatory disadvantage.”

A quarter of principals surveyed even supported chucking out uniforms all together.

But some educators say too much choice can be dangerous for students.

Mitcham Girls High principal Antoinette Jones said that students were generally less well behaved on casual clothes days.

“They are more rowdy, they are louder, they maybe don’t engage in their learning as much, and we don’t know why.”

Ms Jones said that uniforms also act as a ‘leveller’ between different socio-economic backgrounds.

Most schools are moving towards ‘flexible’ options for girls and a chosen dress code rather than a specified school uniform.

These include gender neutral options for both boys and girls rather than strict rules on what either can wear.

Ms Jones said that her school has a “wide range” of options so students could wear “whatever makes them comfortable”.


The Sydney Morning Herald: Ten ways to make the most of the last free Opal weekend

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on September 1, 2016

Online: smh.com.au/…/ten-ways-to-make-the-most-of-the-last-free-opal-card-weekend-20160704-gpy9gs


This weekend is the last chance for Opal card users to take advantage of free trips.

For 19-year-old student Emma Lucas, it means from next week she might not be so quick to tap on and tap off.

From Monday, cardholders who have reached the eight paid trips in one week will have to pay half-fare for Friday and the weekend instead of it being free.

Ms Lucas said that she’ll be less likely to use public transport once free Opal trips stop.

“If I want to do something on the weekend like go to Manly, I normally wouldn’t because of the ferry costs, but if I’ve got free trips I’m encouraged to do those things,” she said.

“I’m pretty aware of my carbon footprint, so the last thing I want to do is use my car, but cancelling free Opal trips means that I will use my car more or not go out as much. It takes away the encouragement to use public transport.”

A uni student with a part-time job two days a week, Miss Lucas reaches the eight trips quota just getting to class.

She said that once free trips stop, she’ll be too worried about how much she’s spending to take extra trips.

“I’ve got auto top up as well, so it takes the money straight out of my account. I won’t want to use my Opal as much because I want to save money on it,” she said.

“It’s going to be a much bigger thing to worry about on the minds of people who don’t have a car or a full time job.”

This weekend is the opportune time for Opal travellers to get out of town and explore outer-Sydney for free.

Boundaries of Opal travel extend as far South as Bomaderry, as far west as Bathurst, and as far north as Dungog, so cardholders could in theory travel through most of NSW without paying a cent.

These are our top 10 destinations for cardholders to visit for free this weekend, according to the locals.

1. The Blue Mountains (two hours from Central Station)

The Blue Mountains is one of Opal card’s top four most-frequented destinations for weekend travel. Ramon Rathore, owner of UpBeet Juice and Espresso, attributed this to the uniqueness and beauty of the place.

“We have some of the most pristine wilderness within region view of pretty much everywhere in the mountains,” he said. “It’s unique on every front – spiritually, visually, geographically, everything.”

The train journey is especially stunning when there’s snow on the mountains. Visitors can follow one of the many walking tracks to see breathtaking views of the Three Sisters, or stroll through the town of Katoomba – a man-made oddity in the centre of bush. Mr Rathore is afraid that Opal travellers who frequent his cafe will stop coming once they no longer have free trips.

“Anything that is going to effect the efficiency of tourism up here does have a direct effect on our business,” he said.

2. Manly Beach and North Head (approx 45 min from Central)  


Catch the ferry over to Manly from Circular Quay. The seabreeze is always pleasant and passengers get a great view of North Head’s sandstone headlands. Once visitors arrive at Manly Beach, they can amble up to the headlands on a number of walking tracks. The paved Fairfax walk is ideal for taking along the kids. It starts at the end of North Head Scenic Drive and loops around the top of North Head, passing Q Station – a quarantine station active in 1833 – and other historical sites. All the sites are marked by information boards that give insight into North Head’s past.

Deb Randell, a tour guide at Q Station which is free for the public to enter, said that North Head’s history, scenery and close proximity to Sydney set it a part from other places.

“Q Station’s third graveyard is up at North Head. It’s the only graveyard out of our three that still has all its headstones, so it’s very much intact,” she said.

“The whole place just comes alive once you start to hear all the fascinating stories that have gone on here and some of the characters that have passed through over time.”

3. Terrigal, The Central Coast (approx. 2 hr from Central)

Take a trip on the Central Coast train line and view the Hawkesbury River, bobbing boats, oyster farms, ocean and bush. Hop on a bus from Gosford Station to Terrigal, where you can walk from the end of Terrigal Lagoon, along the beachfront, and up to the Skillion lookout across from Terrigal Haven.

Mardi Love, a patrolling member of Terrigal Surf Club for 14 years, said that Terrigal is always a great destination for visitors, regardless of the weather.

“Of course the beach is the best thing about Terrigal, but there’s also a number of coastal walks that are gaining in popularity,” said Ms Love.

“You can always find a nice little place to dunk in the water or play on the beach. One of the other great attractions is the food and cafe culture.”

4. Kiama and The Blowhole (approx. 2 hr and 15 min from Central)


Kiama may seem like a bit of a trek to most Sydneysiders, but Ray Thorburn, 81, has lived in the area since 1975 and said it’s well worth the trip.

“I would suggest that it is better than Sydney,” said Mr Thorburn.

“Aesthetically, it’s so far away from Sydney that it isn’t funny, but it’s close enough to the smoke to really go up there whenever you need to. It’s the best of all worlds, I suppose you could say.”

Visitors can get off the train at Kiama Station and walk the 10 to 15 minutes up to the famed Blowhole, which is the largest in the world, and the Kiama lighthouse, which was established in 1887. Take along some hand reels and fish off the harbour.

5. Thirroul (approx. 1 hr and 15 min from Central)

If passengers are lucky, they’ll not only have the ocean to their left on the train ride to Thirroul, but mist rolling down the hills on their right. The seaside suburb of Wollongong features a one kilometre long beach that faces east and picks up swell from most directions, so it’s a good surf spot. Before heading to Thirroul Station, visitors can get off at nearby Scarborough and wander across to the Scarborough Hotel, then head upstairs to take in the stunning views of the ocean below.

Ellen Austin manages the Scarborough Hotel.

“We’ve got such a beautiful view here. There’s nothing else like it,” she said.

“It’s a really relaxed area and everyone’s really nice. I don’t think anywhere else comes close to here.”

Ms Austin recommends people walk the 10 minutes to Sea Cliff Bridge, the 665 metre highlight of Grand Pacific Drive. Other coastal towns, Austinmer and Coledale, are dotted along the road and are within a couple of minutes train or bus trip.

6. Windsor (approx 1 hr from Central)

Windsor is a town in Sydney’s west known for its heritage and historical value. Founded in 1810, Windsor still has its traditional country charm that attracts people away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Vicki Burns is a supervisor at Australia’s oldest pub, the Macquarie Arms Hotel, which was built in Windsor in 1815.

“There’s a lot of old buildings that are still standing. We’ve got a couple of old churches, and really old graveyards dating back hundreds of years,” she said.

“People like it because it’s a little country town. We have markets through the mall with all local produce on Sundays.”

Visitors can get off at Windsor Station, which is on the main street of the town – George Street – and amble past sites that seem frozen in time, including St Matthew’s Anglican Church (built in 1817) and Windsor Court House (built in 1822).

7. Richmond (approx. 1 hr and 15 min from Central)


Passengers enjoy the bucolic scenes from the train window as Richmond nears; farm animals are a welcome site outside the norm of urban life. Get off at Richmond Station and wander across to the old-style oval over the road. Buy a quarter chicken and fresh salad from a store opposite the oval and grab a coffee from the same strip on the way back.

Graham Smith, 78, was born and bred in Richmond and has lived there his whole life. Mr Smith said he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“I wouldn’t like to live anywhere else. I’m very happy living in the area,” he said.

“If you lived in the city, I think Richmond is a lovely place to visit.”

Mr Smith named historic buildings, cafes, antique stores and the Royal Australian Air Force Base – where you can watch the planes take off and land – as main attractions.

8. The Hawkesbury River, Brooklyn (approx 1 hr from Central)

The Hawkesbury River offers some of the most pristine views in Sydney, and with the station right in the centre of town, the one hour train trip is definitely the best way to get there.

Catherine Pigneguy owns the local Riverboat Postman, which does day trips during the week and weekend cruises, and also runs the Teahouse at Brooklyn.

“It’s such a tiny little village surrounded by national park, so it feels like a town on its own but it’s still a part of Sydney,” said Ms Pigneguy.

“The cafes here are brilliant and the fish and chips are pretty much straight out of the river. It makes the perfect day trip that’s absolutely totally different from what you’ll see anywhere else.”

Like Mr Rathore from the Blue Mountains, Ms Pigneguy is concerned about what the cancellation of free Opal trips will mean for the town and business.

“The train relieves parking issues in small towns like ours, so if they reduce the incentive to use the train, people will just drive and make parking availability worse.”

9. Newcastle and Merewether (approx 3 hr from Central)


If you go from one end of Newcastle to the other, you’ll come across a whole range of scenes; from the urban jungle of the city, to the oddly industrial waterfront, to the nostalgic fronts of picket-fenced cottages, to the long stretches of beach. Visitors can get off the train at Hamilton, hop on a bus into town and peak into the trendy pigeon hole cafes, or head down to Merewether Beach.

Rebeccah Warwood, sales and events manager at Merewether Surfhouse, said that visitors love the place because it offers city, surf and suburbia.

“It’s a different, relaxed vibe out here compared to the CBD of Newcastle. It’s a good middle ground between all the buzzing areas,” she said.

“We see dolphins and whales frequently, on most mornings, which is beautiful.”

Ms Warwood said that Newcastle is an ideal spot for Sydneysiders to take a break and relax over the weekend.

10. Moss Vale (approx 1 hr and 45 min from Central)

Sandra Menteith, 65, helps run the local Farmers Market in Moss Vale. She said that her favourite thing about living in a rural town is the country way of life, but new, ‘younger’ business is making the area a lot more interesting.

“In Moss Vale, you can see a lot more traditional things and the way of life living in a regional area, that are perhaps lost when a place gets too developed,” said Ms Menteith.

“There’s a lot of new business and activities emerging in the area – especially ones around food. It’s appropriate, because Moss Vale was traditionally the agricultural centre of the Southern Highlands.”

Ms Menteith said that if people from Sydney tasted Moss Vale’s local produce, they wouldn’t settle for anything less again.

The Sydney Morning Herald: Former politician Pat Farmer to run City2Surf for cancer

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on August 11, 2016

Online: smh.com.au/…/former-politician-pat-farmer-to-run-city2surf-for-cancer-20160707-gq0lq0

Pat Farmer was 18 when he knew he wanted to run.

Now a holder of several world records, he ended up running around Australia, through the Middle East, and in 2011, more than 20,000 kilometres from the North Pole to South Pole.

“It was, without a doubt, the most incredible feat of endurance I think anybody’s ever done,” he said about the trek, which took more than 10 months.

“I reflect on it now and I don’t even know how I did it myself. You’re in the moment, you plan these things for years, then you just get out there and give it your best shot.”

As a kid, he was inspired by Cliff Young, a potato farmer from Victoria.

Young, at 61, won what Farmer called the “toughest race on earth” – the Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon – in the 80s.

“The wonderful thing about that was it showed me that ordinary people could aspire to doing extraordinary things, not just the elite,” he said.

“Cliff will always be the factor behind all my fundraising and everything I’ve done.”

Farmer dedicated his running career to charity from the word go, and has since raised millions for several organisations and causes.

“For me, it’s not even so much about the running, but what I can use the running to do,” he said.

“It’s taking the emphasis on me setting records, running and racing, and putting it on the needy.”

Farmer said that no matter what field he is in, whether it be sport, business or politics, he is always driven by a love of helping others.

Farmer was elected the Liberal MP for Macarthur in 2001, and served in Parliament as the secretary for education, science and training. He says he is disappointed by Australia’s current political climate.

“I think in my days [they] were certainly more focused on public outcomes than their own personal interests,” he said.

“Today’s politicians need to focus on the community that they represent rather than themselves. At the end of the day, you can talk as much as you like, but you really need to hit the ground running and show people what you’re made of.”

Farmer said that if he wasn’t kicked out of the Macarthur seat by his party in 2009 for living out of the electorate, he would still be in politics.

This year, Farmer is training and running alongside the Cancer Council Gold Team – 25 runners doing The Sun-Herald City2Surf, presented by Westpac.

The team hopes to raise more than $165,000 for the charity, and Farmer said they were well on their way.

“As you can imagine, for me, the distance is much shorter than what I would normally compete in,” he said. “But it’s an opportunity to support other runners to realise their best.”

“You’ll see in the City2Surf, ordinary people from all age groups, and even people with a disability, will complete the distance. To me, that’s a gold medal performance and they are the inspiration for ordinary Australians.”

The Sun-Herald City2Surf will be held in Sydney on August 14.

Register online at: www.city2surf.com.au

The Sydney Morning Herald: NSW Youth Parliament pushes for change

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on July 11, 2016

Online: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/federal-election-2016/nsw-youth-parliament-pushes-for-change-20160708-gq1hsu.html

Abby Butler, who is this year's NSW Youth Premier.

Youth are taking over NSW Parliament this week, and they have a lot to say about what our government needs to change.

Abby Butler, 17 from Newcastle, is this year’s NSW Youth Premier for the 15th annual NSW Youth Parliament, which runs until July 15.

“Young people, and the issues we really care about, have been neglected in this federal election,” she said.

“It’s the young people that are really the drivers of our society and we need our voices to be heard in order for those big changes to be made.”

The group of 150 young people, aged from 15 to 18, will debate issues including drug testing at music festivals and other events, drug decriminalisation, mental health and the removal of religious practice from schools and parliament.

“Obviously it’s a very ingrained ideal that Australia is a Christian nation, but we’re becoming more diverse,” she said.

“State organisations and authorities shouldn’t be based upon the teaching of one particular ideal. Religious teaching should be an extracurricular activity or stay outside of schools.”

At the end of the week, the forum will present several bills to NSW MPs, to be considered for state law.

Over the years, half a dozen bills from the NSW Youth Parliament, which is organised by the YMCA NSW, have been ratified into state law, including the recent Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, which lets people find out if their partners have a history of violent criminal offences.

The forum will push for the removal of homophobia and sexism in NSW, suggesting measures such as unisex bathrooms in schools and more representation of women in parliament.

“As much as we like to think, with our rose-coloured glasses on, that women and men are equal, they’re not,” said Ms Butler.

“In the field of politics, women are discouraged to voice their opinions and are seen as bossy, loud and overpowering when they make strong decisions. When men do the same, they’re seen as strong and being good leaders. There’s a real double standard.”

Ms Butler said that we need a more diverse parliament to reflect our diverse nation, with increased representation for women, people of colour and people with disability.

She said that this can be achieved without imposing “diversity quotas” in parliament.

Rather, society should elect representatives based on their merit rather than their race, gender, sex, background or religion.

“A lot of people in Youth Parliament aren’t of the age to vote,” said Ms Butler, “but through our advocacy and through us using our voices in our communities for the issues we really care about, we can actually make tangible changes.”


Reportage Online: Protesters march for marriage equality to Malcolm Turnbull’s office

Published in Reportage Online, sponsored by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, on April 25, 2016; co-authored by Jemma Pepper

Online: http://www.reportageonline.com/2016/04/protesters-march-for-marriage-equality-to-malcolm-turnbulls-office/

Protesters gather on the steps of the PM’s Office

Supporters of marriage equality crowded the steps of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Sydney office, in protest against the Coalition’s proposed $160 million nationwide plebiscite.

The protest commenced at Darlinghurst at noon on Saturday April 9. Protesters marched from Taylor Square to Mr Turnbull’s Edgecliff office, chanting, “Gay, straight, black or white, marriage is a civil right!”

With around 72 per cent of Australians agreeing that same-sex marriage should be legalised, protesters believe a plebiscite will further delay the process of amending the Marriage Act in Parliament.

Mia Sanders, a member of the Socialist Alliance, said, “I’m concerned that the plebiscite isn’t actually binding: there are ministers who’ve said they’re not actually going to abide by a plebiscite anyway.”

Members of the LGBTIQ community say they are tired of waiting for an end to the ‘political football’ that marriage equality has become; as Mia said, people have “died waiting to marry those they love”.

However, other parties, such as the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), believe that a decision of such profound social and cultural significance should be considered at length prior to reform.

Mark Makowiecki, NSW Director of the ACL, said: “A plebiscite is the most democratic means we have to decide the issue freely and fairly.”

He said that if same-sex marriage is legalised, “basic freedoms and values” will be compromised, such as the biological right of children to know their mother and father; the ability for people to express their views that marriage should be a male and female relationship; the right for parents to have their children educated according to their own beliefs; and the freedom to speak freely and act in accordance with one’s conscience.

Some community members, such as Sally Rugg, GetUp! campaign director, feel personally victimised at the hands of the government. “Malcolm Turnbull has sold us out. For me and the LGBTI community, it’s personal,” she said.

A report released in March this year by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) says individuals within this community are often highly susceptible to institutional and interpersonal discrimination. The report notes that psychiatrists believe that the “delaying tactics” of the proposed plebiscite will only serve to further threaten, isolate and mitigate the already vulnerable LGBTIQ community.

According to statistics released by RANZCP, 20 per cent of transgender and 17.5 per cent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people surveyed have experienced suicidal thoughts.

Jenny Leong, the Greens Member for Newtown who is described as an “ally” of the LGBTIQ community, said at the rally she hoped the prolonging of the same-sex marriage discussion will soon be ended with its legalisation.

“We change the way society works by coming out here on the streets, by saying we do not deserve to be treated with inequality and with discrimination.”

City Hub: New party to tackle housing crisis

Published in City Hub on July 23, 2015; co-authored by Christopher Harris

Online: http://www.altmedia.net.au/affordable-housing-party/107834

Bob Eggleton is the spokesperson for the Affordable Housing Party

A new political party is aiming for a senate seat in the next federal election after months of media discussion of housing affordability in Sydney.

The Affordable Housing Party of Australia was conceived in 2013, but the party is  “stepping up their game”, with the pursuit of giving buyers a chance in the simmering NSW property market.

The Sydney-based party is attempting to recruit 700 members in order to guarantee registration with the Australian Electoral Commission.

The party will seek to increase the affordability of housing by increasing supply and decreasing demand through a series of fiscal measures.

Party member Bob Eggleton said there needs to be a rethink on negative gearing, capital gains discounts, high stamp duty, a lack of public housing, first home buyer grants and superannuation tax concession, all of which he sees as contributing to ‘skyrocketing’ house prices.

“We have seen a lot of people who have kids supporting our cause, people in their 50s, and they are wondering, ‘how are my kids going to afford a property?’” Mr Eggleton said.

The new party is focusing on negative gearing in NSW, which the party says is one of the largest catalysts of rising property costs.

“Neither [major federal] party wanted to do anything because there are over a million people who have negatively geared property, and they don’t want to upset this large group” Mr Eggleton said.

Mr Eggleton said the party’s platform would advocate for the implementation of reduced stamp duty costs and increased public housing, as well as a review of first home buyer grants and superannuation tax concessions.

Lindsay David, economist and author of Australia: Boom to Bust, said this could have mixed long term economic outcomes.

“There would be winners, being, the next generation of Australians under these policies. But, you would have some losers… if house prices fall hard, so does the Australian economy.”

Eggleton also said foreign investment needs in property needs to be scrutinised.

“On the demand side, foreign investors should not be able to invest in Australia. It was Kevin Rudd who loosened the rules in 2010. On a longer time scale, we’d like to look at the levels of immigration into Australia.”

Harley Dale, chief economist from the Housing Industry Association, disagrees with Mr Eggleton that foreign investors are to blame for increased house prices in NSW.

“If you’re going to make grand neo statements about foreign investment and limiting immigration, you need to have answers as to what your alternative is” Mr Dale said.

Mr David said that limiting foreign property investment will not make NSW housing more affordable.

“Personally, I don’t think foreign buyers are making that much of an impact,” he said. “They wouldn’t be driving the overwhelming price of housing,” he said.

Emile Chakty is one person who posted messages critical of federal government policy on the party’s Facebook page.

“Our children will have to rent for life… Mr Abbott, not every homeowner wants house prices to rise. Time to treat housing as a basic need,” Ms Chakty wrote.

However, according to political experts, single issue parties in Australia very rarely gain traction and are more likely to have their policies incorporated into a major party if they capture a certain feeling around an issue.

Professor of Australian politics at the University of Sydney Rodney David said that the single-issue party’s chances of being elected are ‘slim’.

“People lose the initial enthusiasm they had for the idea of the party and they [the party] pass into history” said Professor David.