Saturday, December 20, 2008

Brothers awarded $2.1m after 14 years fight against violent Victorian cops

The appalling Victoria police yet again

It began with the curious incident of the scream in the night - a scream that never happened, as it turns out. It went on to include the breaking of a man's ribs, as well as the dislocation of a frail old woman's shoulder and the smashing of her walking cane - all by police.

Two brothers who have pursued their claims through the Supreme Court for 14 long years had a victory yesterday when Justice Tim Smith awarded them $2.1 million damages following an assault by two officers in a Surrey Hills apartment in 1993. Donald Walker claimed he was assaulted when trying to go to the aid of his mother. She had a muscle-wasting condition that made her wobbly on her feet, and tripped when a police officer shone a torch in her face. When Mr Walker tried to help her, he was put in a headlock and beaten with a baton to force him to the ground. He was left with two broken ribs and extensive bruising.

The judge said Donald and his brother Marcus had shown extraordinary determination in pursuing their claims. "It is plain that the events of that night, and their pursuit of what they see as a just outcome, has dominated their lives for years . They were on a mission." The judge found that police officers Graeme Carter and Mark Sesin lied about the incident. "Both created false accounts of significant parts of their evidence," he said. He accepted the evidence of Carter that this was the most violent incident he had been involved in as a policeman. "But he was either lying or failed to perceive and understand that the violence came overwhelmingly from him and, to a lesser extent, from Sesin."

Donald Walker received $1.2 million for physical and psychological injuries and lost earnings. Marcus Walker, who did not witness the assault but attended shortly afterwards and found his mother and brother injured, received $843,000. The brothers, now 57 and 55, also received $100,000 on behalf of their late mother, Marcia. The payouts may rise even further because Justice Smith said they could put further submissions to him about aggravated and exemplary damages. Victoria Police yesterday said it would consider an appeal. Graeme Carter is a detective senior constable. Sesin left the force a year after the assault.

The incident began just after midnight when police were called to a "domestic". A woman had phoned to say she was concerned about her friend, Ruth Hamm, at Donald Walker's unit. Walker, then an insurance agent, had hosted a party earlier, but it was just the two of them when Constables Carter and Sesin knocked on the door. The police later claimed that a man refused to let them in. They also said they heard screams of distress from a woman.

Constable Carter kicked the door in and pushed Walker against a wall, causing a picture to fall and its glass frame to shatter. Sesin took Ms Hamm into the kitchen and spoke to her. He later claimed she told him that Walker had threatened her with a knife.

Walker's mother Marcia, who lived in an adjoining unit, hobbled in on a walking stick. She was 67 at the time. The police asked her to go outside, but she would not, so Carter approached her and shone a torch in her eyes. Donald Walker told him: "Get that torch out of my mother's eyes". Walker moved towards Carter. Sesin, standing between Walker and Carter, put Walker in a headlock. Walker struggled, striking Sesin in the face.

Sesin hit Walker with his baton and Carter joined in, one of his blows probably fracturing one of Walker's ribs. Walker fell to the ground, where the blows continued. Another of his ribs was fractured, possibly by Carter's knee slamming into his back as he hit the floor. The judge found there had been no scream as the police came to the door, that Ms Hamm did not report a threat with a knife, and that it was Carter who initiated any physical action. He, not Walker, was "extremely violent".


Fatties to use elevators in fire evacuation

THE rising number of fat Australians has forced engineers to revise the policy of not using lifts during building evacuations because of fire. Fire Protection Association spokesman Peter Johnson said the rising number of obese Australians was slowing down fire drill times. There is a danger of larger people falling in stairwells and slowing the progress of other evacuees.

"For more than 30 years we have been told that we should not use lifts when a fire alarm sounds," Johnson said. "Now we have to change people's attitudes so they think of both lifts and stairs as being suitable for evacuation." Lifts are traditionally not used in evacuations due to the risk of breakdowns and exposure to heat and smoke.

Johnson said tests had shown using both stairs and lifts had reduced evacuation times by up to 40 per cent. Well-designed lift wells could also provide good access for firefighters. A study found workers on higher levels were more likely to consider using lifts during emergencies.

Johnson said fire escape standards should also include wider stairwells. More than half of Australians are either overweight or obese according to the latest Bureau of Statistics figures.


Not another railway boondoggle!

John Howard's Alice to Darwin railway was wasteful enough!

An ambitious $59 billion project to link Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney by very fast train is at the top of a Federal Government wish list for road and rail projects. The proposal heads a priority list of 94 projects, worth $190 billion, selected by the Government's Infrastructure Australia (IA), which was charged with sifting through 1000 submissions. Releasing the list today, Transport Minister Anthony Albanese would not commit to any projects but said the preliminary report, compiled by IA chairman Sir Rod Eddington, would allow "further prioritisation".

Sir Rod was frank, saying the global financial crisis would affect short-term plans. But it would not hurt the long-term ambitions of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, he said. "What we've been asked to do by the Government is to provide a pipeline of projects for their consideration for one, two, three decades," Sir Rod said. "And I think it's very important that we don't confuse the need to get the right pipeline in place with the realities of short-term capital availability."

The short list highlights projects in every state and territory, including rural and urban rail and roads, ports, energy, water, communications and indigenous affairs. Most audacious is the very fast train plan linking east coast capitals, a massive project that has been a pipe dream of successive governments for about two decades now. If the plan does garner Government support it has the potential to turn Canberra into a dormitory suburb of Sydney with the two capitals just 90 minutes from each other.

Other major projects include a long promised freight-only train line through northern Sydney at a cost of $4 billion and a desalination plant for Adelaide which would cost $2.4 billion. At the bottom of the list is a $7.2 million bridge replacement in Adelaide.

The Australian Greens damned the short list, saying it locked the nation into a "high-polluting" future. The top 94 projects will be the focus of Sir Eddington's final report, due to be submitted to the federal government in March.


Huge gob of taxpayer money wasted on anti-Australia movie

Andrew Bolt

BAZ Luhrmann's Australia may be drowning at the box office, but here's one record it has set. Never have Australian taxpayers wasted so much on a single work of art. Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, was actually made by a Hollywood studio, 20th Century Fox (under the same parent company as this newspaper). It portrays Australia as viciously racist, has been panned by many critics and has so far returned just a third of its bloated $180 million budget after almost four weeks in the critical US market. But somehow the Rudd Government and its funding agencies have blown some $80 million of taxpayers' money on this duckling in tax write-offs, promotions and piggyback campaigns.

Need a comparison? That's almost equal to the $105m annual budget the Rudd Government gave Screen Australia, its new super funding body for Australia's entire film industry. Count it up. First, taxpayers will pay close to 25 per cent of the film's net production budget of $150 million, under a deal struck between director Baz Luhrmann and the Government. Luhrmann started the film when he was entitled to a rebate of just 12.5 per cent, but waited until the rest of his costs could qualify for the Government's new 40 per cent Producer Offset for movies shot here. The final figure we must cough up has not been determined, but let's assume it's around $30 million at least. Add to that $10 million that Tourism Australia says it tipped into the "Twentieth Century Fox project" to "directly promote and leverage the movie Australia" through "public relations activities, promotions, evens and other market activity directly linked to the movie". Add also $40 million that Tourism Australia spent on tourism ads shot by Luhrmann, using the same Kimberleys scenes and child star in his movie. That, concedes Tourism Australia, is "similar to what we would normally spend in any given year on advertising activities around the world".

Yet the difference is that Lurhmann's two ads promote Australia the film more than Australia the tourist destination, featuring bits of dusty Australia few tourists would ever visit. There's no reef or Opera House. What's more, to work even on that shrunken scale, those ads needed Luhrmann's Australia to be the box-office success it clearly isn't.

How on earth did the Government come to bet so much cash on a movie that from the very start had failure written over it? A movie with a script so disjointed that one quick reading would have detected the whiff of doom? Who knows? Perhaps Jackman and Kidman could tell us, having dined at Kirribilli House in January with their new best friend, the Prime Minister. Or perhaps Kevin Rudd explained this largesse when he took Jackman to the Sydney Test against India, or when he had the star round to his 2020 summit of our "best and brightest". Some explanation is surely needed. It's the most entertainment we're likely to get from this $80 million, after all.


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