►Editorial: Inquiry’s points on rail
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A PARLIAMENTARY inquiry into planning decisions in Newcastle is set to issue an interim report recommending that the Boxing Day truncation of the city’s rail line be put off because of a flawed case for the project, including the lack of a cost benefit analysis.

If the government does proceed, then it must release advice to substantiate its assurances it doesn’t need an Act of Parliament to remove the heavy rail, and it must ensure light rail is installed immediately and runs down the existing rail corridor, the inquiry, chaired by Christian Democrats MP Reverend Fred Nile, is understood to have concluded.

The report will be issued on Thursday morning after being tabled to State Parliament, setting out over more than 100 pages the parliamentary committee’s interim findings in relation to the government’s transport changes, in order to get in ahead of the looming December 26 start of works.

A complete report, including findings about controversial changes to the city’s planning controls, is due by March 5.

It is expected the two government MPs on the committee, which is otherwise dominated by members opposed to the rail’s truncation, will dissent from the findings amid criticisms the conduct of the inquiry was politically motivated.

Mr Nile wrote on Tuesday to Premier Mike Baird, seeking a copy of any legal advice to support the government’s claims that an Act of Parliament is not needed for the rail works to proceed.

The Newcastle Herald has been told the report acknowledges no direct evidence has been found between allegations and evidence aired at the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s Operation Spicer and the government’s decision to cut the rail.

Mr Nile said on Tuesday ‘‘no clear links’’ had been established between the two, but whether proper processes had been followed came under heavy scrutiny in the report and the final report would look at such issues in detail in relation to city planning controls.

As the Newcastle Herald has reported, the government says it does not believe it needs an Act of Parliament ‘‘at this stage’’ to remove the heavy rail infrastructure, depending on final plans for the soon-to-be vacant rail corridor land.

The committee had sought the advice from the Crown Solicitor, but was referred to the Premier’s office.

The Transport Administration Act states the government needs Parliament’s authority to close a rail line.

“A railway line is closed if the land concerned is sold or otherwise disposed of or the railway tracks and other works concerned are removed,” the act says.

Save Our Rail president Joan Dawson wrote to Transport minister Gladys Berejiklian last week raising the issue.

The group is seeking advice as to whether a legal challenge can be mounted given the government doesn’t have Parliament’s endorsement, although a meeting scheduled for Monday with a lawyer was cancelled due to office evacuations associated with the siege in Sydney.

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said seeking such advice was not a matter for the council, given the rail corridor was state infrastructure. ‘‘So they need to deal with that and the community expectations that they would follow the law,’’ Cr Nelmes said.

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Solicitor Manny Conditsis.GOSFORD solicitor Manny Conditsis must have been one of the last people in Australia to hear about the Sydney siege on Monday, but one of the first to think the gunman was Man Haron Monis.
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‘‘It occurred to me, I wonder if it’s him,’’ said Mr Conditsis after emerging from back-to-back meetings at 1pm and learning hostages were being held at the Lindt store in Martin Place.

By 5pm he knew the gunman was his former client.

‘‘Straight away I knew he wasn’t going to walk out of that store alive,’’ he said.

‘‘He would have known if he walked out of that he’d go to jail, and he wouldn’t put himself back in prison, so he knew he was going to die. It was just a matter of whether he’d do it, or someone else.’’

Monis was ‘‘charismatic, very intelligent, and he had a certain power about him’’.

‘‘I’ve been around awhile, but he just had this way of persuading you to do things.’’

Mr Conditsis represented Monis in 2013 until January this year.

He persuaded a very reluctant Monis to plead guilty to sending offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, after Monis lost a High Court appeal against the charges.

When Monis was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his former wife in November last year he was granted bail after Mr Conditsis challenged the prosecution case.

He ceased representing him in January, but assisted new lawyers after Monis was charged with sexual assault in April.

Mr Conditsis rejected descriptions of Monis as a ‘‘self-described sheik’’.

‘‘He was a cleric in Iran. I’ve seen the documents. He spoke out against the Iranian regime and he was going to be killed. It’s why he was able to come to Australia. He left behind a wife and two children.’’

Mr Conditsis believes it was Monis’s failed attempt last Friday at a second High Court appeal against the offensive letters charges that ‘‘might have been the straw that broke him’’.

‘‘Monis genuinely believed the Australian families would support him because their sons had died in Afghanistan, and he wanted the killing to stop in Afghanistan.

‘‘My gut feeling is in a really warped sort of way he was trying to do what he thought was good, but the way he went about it was wrong.

‘‘This guy was a loner. No country embraced him. Muslims didn’t. Iranians didn’t. He was a lone wolf gunman. Let’s not turn it into a jihad.

‘‘If this guy was Polish or Greek we’d just say he was a nut, without the talk of terrorism.’’

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Branch librarian Donna Lloyd at Raymond Terrace Library.THE fruits of more than 40 years of artistic endeavour will be on display in Raymond Terrace from Friday, as an exhibition of artworks owned by Port Stephens Council is formally exhibited for the first time.
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Opening on Friday, the exhibition is the result of a four month audit of the council’s art stocks completed by Helen Tucker, the wife of Port Stephens Deputy Mayor Steve Tucker.

The collection was amassed through acquiring the winning entries of the Port Stephens Council Art Prize, now defunct, and Ms Tucker said it was a ‘‘challenging endeavour’’ to bring the work together.

‘‘I suppose because you just don’t know where they are – some of them are on display but otherwise they could be in cupboards, in storage, hanging up in someone’s office, who knows,’’ she said.

A member of the Newcastle Art Gallery Society, she said she was ‘‘pleasantly surprised’’ by the quality of the work she’d turned up.

‘‘They are all prize winners and at its peak in the last 10 years or so it was quite a prestigious prize.’’

Donna Lloyd, a librarian at Raymond Terrace, said the exhibition was a ‘‘wonderful journey’’ through years of art created or celebrated in Port Stephens.

Among the works on display is the winner of the first Port Stephens Council Art Prize in 1968, entitled Chinese Garden by Charles Pettinger, as well as the second-year winner, entitled Carrington Basin Seascape by Dawn Burston.

She said the collection was a ‘‘fascinating mix of traditional landscapes and contemporary pieces’’ that represented the area’s ‘‘eclectic mix of cultures and media’’.

‘‘This is just a fantastic exhibition of some fantastic artworks, and what’s more it is a celebration of the talent we have in the visual arts right here in Port Stephens,’’ she said.

The Council Art Stash exhibition will be officially opened on Friday and will run until February 1.

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‘‘IT really is the time of year,’’ points out a reader, ‘‘for Michael Bublé.’’
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He’s bang on. December was once Bing Crosby’s turf but at some point – we reckon 2005 – everyone’s mum thought ‘‘oh, he looks nice’’ and bought a Bublé CD.

Now, we have a period each year (December 1 to 25) when society enters what one might dub the Bublé Bubble. It’ll probably keep happening for the next 20 years, minimum.

Don’t believe us? The Canadian crooner might be pushing middle age, but a festive song has the shelf life of plutonium. Maybe it’s because they’re played on a loop and then rested for a year.

Next time you’re engulfed by a shopping centre, listen, and think how many Yuletides it’s been since Mariah Carey had a hit. Or Wham! Or John and Yoko. You’ll hear them all this week and next, because Christmas songs don’t die.

So instead of fighting the Bubble, give in to Haven’t Met You Yet, Quando, Quando, Quando or Home, the Bublé ballad that someone remixed into a song of support for Schapelle Corby, whose sentence ended this year. After nine years. The rest of us should be so lucky.

Noticed something about the Christmas period? Tell us at [email protected]上海龙凤419m.au or tweet @TimConnell.

TREATMENT: Zenani the koala lives at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. She can be adopted.

NEED a Christmas present that your loved one can’t return? Bought too many vouchers? Then why not adopt them a koala, like Zenani here (pictured).

To be upfront with you, dear reader, the koala won’t be theirs to take home. They won’t get to push it around in a stroller. But for a koala like Zenani – Nani for short, who was rescued as a joey in last year’s Port Stephens bushfires – it’s a life-changing transaction.

Nani had severe burns to her claws and feet, which are still too tender for tree-climbing. Luckily, someone’s $35 donation lets her enjoy the food, care and shelter at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.

So go on. Your loved one will get an adoption certificate with their koala’s name, a photo and a short story about its life. Email [email protected]上海龙凤419.au or call 6584 1522.

WELL this is a bit jarring. We’ve ended up with one of those emails that come around this time of year.

‘‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from everyone at Shooting Australia.’’

Thanks, we guess.

SONGS OF JOY: Michael Bublé, above, and Mariah Carey, left, have an ear for Christmas.

WE’RE not sure if this is what Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp meant by his Christmas letter to constituents.

‘‘That’s why,’’ he says, a few paragraphs in, ‘‘Within 30 minutes of being sworn into Parliament, I asked the Liberal government why they are cutting the year 12 TAFE courses in the Hunter. (Please see what other issues I have advocated for on your behalf during my three weeks in Parliament overleaf)’’.

Except it’s a one-sided page. The other side is blank. We’re sure Mr Crakanthorp’s done more than that.

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Outcast: Man Haron Monis. Photo: Nick RalstonIt was eerily prescient, a mangled missive from a man who never felt he belonged to this world and didn’t believe he would be here long. “Sheik Haron is just a small soldier,” wrote Martin Place gunman Man Haron Monis, in 2007, on the Muslim website, Austrolabe. Assuming his bogus clerical title, “Sheik Haron”, and writing about himself in the third person, Monis said he “did not have permanent visa of this world, so he knows he is on tourist visa and soon or later he will leave. Permanent visa only for hereafter, so in that case why are we wasting our time?”
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Monis departed this world in the early hours of Tuesday morning, shot dead by police in the Lindt Cafe, leaving behind a broken life of lies, crime and conspiracies. Delusional and paranoid, the 50-year-old Monis was a confused and chimerical figure, a one-time poet and Shiite cleric who hid his message of hate in plain view, for all to see, and becoming, in time, a refugee of niche extremism.

“The guy was a total outcast,” said Australian Iranian man Yavar Tayebi. “No one in our community, none of the Iranian Shiites, wanted a bar of him.”

“You take one look and think, he is an idiot,” said Sheik Mousselmani, President of the Supreme Islamic Shia Council of Australia, who warned Federal Police about Monis in 2008. “Nothing about him added up.”

Monis was born in 1964 in Iran, where he practised as a cleric and published a book of poetry in Persian, called Daroon and Boroon (Inside and Outside). Monis claimed also to have worked for the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, where he witnessed torture and was privy to the government’s “terrorist operations”. But after advocating a more liberal Islam, he was forced to flee, leaving behind a wife and two daughters and coming to Australia, where he was granted political asylum in 1996.

“I have some secret information on the [Iranian] government,” he told the ABC’s Religion Report in 2001. “The Iranian regime wants to make me silent.”

In Sydney, Monis assumed the title Ayatollah Manteghi Boroujerdi, and staged a protest on Macquarie Street, where he chained himself to Parliament House to highlight the plight of his family. “That’s when I noticed him,” said Sheik Mousselmani. “He claimed to be a sheik, but the way he dressed, the way he talked, even the way he walked, it just wasn’t right.”

Sheik Mousselmani asked around the Iranian Shiite community, but could find no one who knew of this new, mysterious “Ayatollah”. “He seemed to come from nowhere.” Alarmed by his erratic behaviour, Sheik Mousselmani then told Federal Police about him, but didn’t hear back.

Monis was by now attempting to gather a following, but his efforts to preach were disastrous. “It was ridiculous,” Mr Tayebi said. “He got up in the pulpit at the Nabi Akram Islamic Centre, a Shia centre in Granville, but within two or three minutes they took him down and kicked him out.”

In August of 2003, Monis married Sydney woman Noleen Hayson Pal, who he meet at university, where she was studying forensic science. “She was very much in love, and he made [Noleen] happy, so we were OK with it,” said Pal’s cousin, Faziya Khalik, who lives in California.

In 2004, the couple had the first of their two sons. But the marriage soon soured: according to Khalik, Monis became violent. “She said he was hitting her; I just said you deserve so much better.”

Pal and her family suspected that Monis was seeing other women, which, in a sense, he was. By now, the ersatz sheik was running a spiritual consultancy in Station Street, Wentworthville, where he claimed to be an expert in astrology, numerology, meditation and black magic. There, under the guise of a “healing technique”, he is alleged to have sexually assaulted a 27-year-old, later insisting that she not tell anyone. (Monis was finally charged for this in 2014). In the mid 2000s, Monis and Pal had another child, soon after which they divorced.

By 2007, Monis had taken an intense interest in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I met with him in 2008,” said Jamal Daoud, from the Shia based Social Justice Network. “He said he was an activist, and that wanted to protest Australia’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. But he was very secretive with everything he did. He had a website where he posted all these videos, but wouldn’t tell us where he was getting his money or anything. When we pressed him, he said he’d sold his house in Iran and that’s what he was living off.”

In 2008, Monis took Daoud to a warehouse off Canterbury Road, in Campsie. “He called it Darul Ifta [The House of Mufti],” said Daoud. “He said he had registered it with Fair Trading as a prayer hall and religious organisation.”

But the bulk of Monis’ “activism” seems to have consisted of writing abusive letters to the parents of Australian servicemen who had been killed in Afghanistan; in one letter, he referred to a deceased soldier as the “son of a dirty pig” and “dirty animal”. (He also sent a similar letter to the family of the Austrade official Craig Senger, who was killed in the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2009. Monis claimed the letters were his own version of a “flower basket” or “condolence card”.)

After being duly arrested and charged for this, Monis turned his 2009 court appearance into a spectacle, chaining himself to a railing and waving tiny Australian flags, and even appealing to children’s band, The Wiggles to “make a special show for Iraqi, Afghani, and Australian kids that have lost their parents in war”.

Monis received 300 hours of community service and was placed on a two-year good behaviour bond. But he was becoming increasingly deranged, sending volleys of bizarre letters to journalists and magistrates; he faxed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, claiming that the Victorian bushfires were a punishment from Allah, a revenge on Australia for the government seeking the death penalty for the Bali bombers. He became convinced that the Australian government was hacking Google to give Muslims a bad name. In his videos, often accompanied by the sounds of bullets and bombs, he claimed the Holocaust was a “punishment”, that police were corrupt, and rape victims deserved what they got.

At other times, his accomplice, 34-year-old Amirah Droudis, preached poker faced about their peaceful intentions: “I assure you, that Sheik Haron does not need a gun,” said Droudis. “His weapon is a spiritual one.”

But their world was beginning to implode. In November 2013, Droudis was charged with the murder of Moni’s ex wife, Noleen Pal, who was stabbed multiple times and her body burnt. Haron was also charged by NSW Police with being an accessory to the murder, but given bail. (The judge claimed the the prosecution case was weak, and that both the accused had alibis.) Then, in October 2014, Monis was presented with another 40 indecent and sexual assault charges relating to his Wentworthville “spiritual clinic”.

He was out on bail when he set off from his home in North Bexley, for the Lindt cafe, in Martin Place, on Monday, where his “visa [for] this world” would be terminated.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story was edited to remove descriptions of Man Haron Monis as a “killer”.

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