Rescuing 40 bathers all in a day’s work

Nasser Abu Mutair is anything but the bronzed wedge of muscle that has to come exemplify surf lifesavers the world over.At 40 years of age, and carrying a sizeable paunch, Abu Mutair prefers to watch over the Gaza Strip’s Sheikh Aijleen beach with a cigarette in one hand and a cordless microphone in the other.When he is not drawing a puff or barking orders at the swimmers crowding between red flags, Abu Mutair is flat out dragging flailing bodies from the Mediterranean Sea.In spite of his unorthodox appearance, Abu Mutair may well rank as one of the world’s busiest lifesavers.How many swimmers a day does he rescue? ”Yesterday I saved 35 people,” Abu Mutair said this week. ”The day before that, around more than 40.”Throughout the summer, Abu Mutair sits in his dilapidated watchtower – sponsored by the local Pepsi Cola bottler – from 8am to 8pm. ”Most of the trouble happens after dark,” he said. ”This is when many more modest people feel more comfortable.”On Tuesday two boys aged 17 went swimming about 9pm and were caught in a rip. ”Cousins,” said Abu Mutair. ”They drowned. Very unfortunate.”With swimming lessons not high on the list of extracurricular activities in the tiny enclave that is home to 1.5 million Palestinians, Abu Mutair says most people in Gaza have no idea how to take care of themselves in the water.In theory, Abu Mutair is employed by the Gaza City municipality. In reality, he has not been paid for three or four months. ”I do it anyway,” he said. ”I’ve been doing this job for 15 years. I love it.” Keeping him company in the patrol tower is a uniformed police officer.”When people don’t obey my orders, I send him down to give them a talking to,” Abu Mutair said.With strict dress codes enforced by Hamas, bathing is an especially treacherous pursuit for women, who must swim virtually fully clothed in an abaya – a coat that covers the body from head to toe.”Women get into all sorts of trouble because suddenly their clothes are so heavy when they get wet. Because most don’t know how to swim, things get very difficult very quickly.”Abu Mutair denied that four years of Hamas rule has influenced the dress code. ”I think women dress the way they always have,” he said. ”They understand what is appropriate and what is not. Nothing has changed here because of Hamas.”So if a woman wanted to strip down to just a pair of shorts? ”In that case I would physically stop her from getting onto the beach,” he said, shaking his head vigorously. He blanches at the thought of a bikini.With an estimated 90 million litres of raw sewage pumped into the sea each day, Sheikh Aijleen is not the first choice for everyone seeking relief from the heat.For Gaza’s privileged aristocracy, a class mostly aligned with the Fatah party of the Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, the new sensation is the Crazy Water Park resort, located several hundred metres inland from the beach. For $450 for 12 months membership, or $10 for a single entry, patrons have a choice of leisure activities.Not to be outdone by the Crazy Water Park and its Fatah clientele, Hamas is funding the construction of a bigger and better water slide resort for its own supporters.Heba Abu Sido, 18, whose father is the Palestinian Authority’s deputy ambassador to Morocco, tells of looking through family albums and finding pictures of her grandmother in a two-piece swimsuit.”Then you see my mother dressed more conservatively than my grandmother when she went swimming. Now my mother warns me if I leave the house with short sleeves. I don’t even think of going to the beach.”
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Council renews GM’s contract

THE contract of Bathurst City Council’s general manager Phillip Perram has been renewed for a further three years.
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With a staff of more than 300 and a budget of $70 million, Mr Perram took over from Chris Pitkin in 1998 after being offered an initial five- year contract.

Council decided to renew his contract, albeit for a shorter period, after a formal appraisal process late last year involving a panel of mayor Ian Macintosh, deputy Kath Knowles and councillors Kaye Stapleton and Paul Haysom.

Their recommendation went to the full council meeting in December for ratification with only Cr Les Wardman asking his vote be recorded against the appointment.

Happy with the new deal, Mr Perram said there are plenty of challenges ahead.

“Three years is sufficient time to achieve a number of goals I believe will further enhance Bathurst as one of the best regional destinations in Australia,” he said.

“The development of Mount Panorama, the building of our new Visitors’ Centre, new saleyards, aquatic centre, Hall of Fame for the National Motor Racing Museum, more recreational facilities for Ben Chifley Dam, developing an information technology centre for the city and improvements to the waste management centre are all on the agenda.”

As for his performance over the past five years, Mr Perram said the raising of Ben Chifley Dam wall and completion of the Memorial Entertain-ment Centre ranked as highlights.

“The dam project involved the largest grant [$15 million] ever for Bathurst City Council,” he said.

“We can say now it was the best decision we could have made and has been fully justified as showing foresight and vision.

“Securing a $10 million grant from the State Government for Mount Panorama was the second largest grant in council’s history and a huge break through for the city.”

Mr Perram said he was privileged to lead a clever and articulate staff, and work with a team of dedicated councillors.

“It’s nice to know that having a clean and ample water supply for 30,000 ratepayers and having your garbage collected every week are things we can take for granted thanks to council’s hard work,” he said.

Full story in the Western Advocate.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Silver tongues and sharp minds keep champions on their feet

ALEXANDRA DOWNIE gave up public speaking after it left her scarred at a contest four years ago. Fortunately for NSW, she has given it another go in her last year of high school – and won the state finals in what is commonly rated as the second most frightening experience in life.From an attention-grabbing opening – ”Even the smallest crime deserves death!” – to a punchy and cogent argument on indigenous struggles in the impromptu section, the 17-year-old spoke with spark and conviction. The judges in the 33-year-old contest, sponsored by the Herald, were won over.”I had a horrible moment where I sat down and realised I could have talked about something completely different,” the Sydney Girls High School prefect said of the impromptu section. ”But it was OK.”It certainly was – her standout performance in the contest’s most challenging part, themed ”special treatment”, was assisted by the prowess that has made her captain of the NSW debating team. It flies to Brisbane this weekend for the national championships.”I think debating helps impromptus because you get more practice thinking on your feet,” she said.The six finalists in the Plain English Speaking Award, chosen from more than 400 school entrants statewide, addressed themes from the reach of McDonald’s to social inequality, vaccination programs and the ”ranga revolution” led by the Prime Minister’s hair.Micaela Bassford’s buoyant delivery on her chosen topic of ”super-sized and guilt free” and an impromptu speech on the treatment of refugees helped the year 12 student from Kirrawee High School to second place.Ms Downie, who plans to study arts-law, received $1200 among her prizes and will go to the contest’s national finals in Perth on August 23.She says the American comedian Tina Fey is a role model, she enjoys Barack Obama’s oratory and lists Mozart and the indie band Vampire Weekend among other likes, alongside chocolate.Ms Downie impressed with her intelligence and strong connection to her speaking topics and to the audience in what was a tight contest, said Peter Kerr, the Herald’s executive editor and one of the three judges.”In both her prepared and her impromptu [speeches], she managed to deliver an excellent presentation and argument.”
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On your bikes: it’s cycle wars at three paces

THEY have Alan Jones on their side, a shrill but formidable ally. People opposed to inner Sydney’s new cycleways have generated headlines for two months with a threat of a class action lawsuit against the City of Sydney council. But is it any more than a publicity stunt?The answer is … maybe.John Mahony, a lawyer who is acting for the yet-unnamed businesses adversely affected by the Bourke Road cycleway, admits that a large part of the process is to generate publicity for the cause. ”We want this to be effectively a public hearing,” Mr Mahony said. However, ”it’s fair dinkum, it’s all happening”, he said. ”We have senior and junior counsel’s advice.”On Friday afternoon, Mr Mahony faxed a ”pre-litigation letter of demand” to the council, requiring it to rip out the cycleway on Bourke Road within seven days. He does not expect the council to do so, and the letter gives notice that he may start proceedings within the next month.The letter cites ”102 companies and businesses” affected but Mr Mahony would not release any names to the Herald. ”The bottom line is council was required to consider the environmental effects and on the evidence we have, they didn’t consider that at all,” he said. ”Businesses are being sent broke. The stupid part is virtually no cyclists use the cycleway.”That would be news to the 1230 members of the ”I Heart Sydney Bike Lanes & Cycleways” Facebook group, recently formed to counteract the shockjock’s assault.Also to Josh Capelin, the producer of the Sydney Bicycle Film Festival and creator of the ”On Ya Bike Alan Jones” T-shirts, which sold like hot cakes at last weekend’s bicycle swap-meet at Deus in Camperdown. A follow-up, ”Where Would Jesus Ride?”, is planned. ”We’re trying to get Clover [Moore] in one of these shirts,” Mr Capelin said.But is it being used? The council’s most recent figures for the cycleway usage, independently recorded in April, showed a 36 per cent increase in cyclists at Bourke and Bowden streets, and a 26 per cent increase at Bourke Road and Doody Street during peak times. It’s true that it is coming from a very low base.It’s also true that parking has been lost – 285 car spaces, with 7000 still available on the street and in car parks along the Bourke Road route, the council said.A spokeswoman for the City of Sydney said: ”More than half of all car trips in inner Sydney are less than five kilometres, and our proposal for one-in-10 trips to be by bike means 300,000 fewer car trips in inner Sydney every day and less people competing for parking. We have to act now to address congestion … so people who have to drive – like emergency services, people with disabilities, tradespeople and couriers – can access our city.”Professor David Hensher, the director of the institute of transport and logistics studies at the University of Sydney, said the ”controversial infrastructure” should be viewed as a pilot project designed to establish what the benefits and costs will be to ”users of all [transport] modes”.
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Support for ETS dwarfs backing for assembly

A SOLID majority of voters supports an emissions trading scheme but only a minority backs the citizens’ assembly that the government plans to establish to help build a community consensus for the scheme.The latest Herald/Nielsen poll finds 60 per cent of voters want an ETS, while 41 per cent want a citizens’ assembly.The poll of 1356 voters, conducted from Tuesday evening to Thursday night, also finds voter attitudes towards immigration are more balanced than the policies of the two main parties would suggest.It shows an almost even split between those who think current levels of immigration are about right (45 per cent) and those who believe they are too high (47 per cent).Only 5 per cent say immigration levels are too low.Last Friday, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, as part of Labor’s fallback policy on climate change, announced that if re-elected, the government would establish a citizens’ assembly of about 150 members of the community.It would be charged with helping develop a community consensus to put a price on carbon with an ETS.The government maintains Australia needs an ETS but has shelved doing anything about it until the end of 2012.Ms Gillard says that unless there is overwhelming community support, the political support will fracture as it did last time, when the Liberals reneged on a deal, axed Malcolm Turnbull as the opposition leader and, along with the Greens, opposed the ETS.The poll finds 60 per cent support the ETS, and only 27 per cent oppose it.Only 41 per cent of voters support a citizens’ assembly while 53 per cent oppose it.The citizens’ assembly has been widely ridiculed. Environmental groups labelled it an excuse for further delay while the Opposition called it a giant focus group that typified the government’s inability to make a decision.The announcement backfired, and was regarded as a turning point in the campaign, when support for the government began to slide.The poll shows that despite all the toing and froing over an ETS since the election, there has always been majority support for such a scheme.Support levels hovered at close to 70 per cent until the Copenhagen climate change conference in December ended in failure to achieve a global consensus to act. Levels of support have been close to 60 per cent ever since. The lowest level was 56 per cent last February.Also last weekend, the opposition promised that, if elected, it would ”slash” net overseas migration from 300,000 a year to 180,000 a year. That backfired when it transpired that reductions already put in place by the government had net overseas migration numbers due to drop to 170,000 anyway.Both sides have been arguing about population, playing to concerns in crowded regions such as western Sydney that population is growing at an unsustainable rate.
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