Monthly Archives: May 2019

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Car industry needs govt help on emissions

Australia’s peak car industry body is calling on all levels of government to step up their efforts to tackle vehicle emissions.

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Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Tony Weber says new passenger cars, SUVs and commercial vehicles contribute less than one per cent of Australia’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions.

“There’s been quite a remarkable reduction in CO2 emissions from the Australian fleet over the last decade – 2.4 per cent per annum,” he said.

“I doubt that there’s any other sector that’s contributed more in the last decade than what new cars have done in terms of CO2 reduction.”

In order to escalate the process, Mr Weber called on federal, state and local governments to implement a more holistic approach to the issue rather than just focusing on making vehicles more fuel efficient.

He wants to see a debate about the use of alternative fuels and energy platforms.

Instructing driver behaviour, infrastructure improvements to reduce congestion and price signals are also critical, he said.

“We need to actually educate people about what they can do to change the way they drive to improve their own (fuel) efficiency,” he said.

“Other countries give advantages to people who purchase more environmentally friendly vehicles – we don’t have those kind of initiatives here.”

Toyota’s executive director sales and marketing Tony Cramb said the issue was more complex than simply supporting a financial leg up from government for electric cars.

“It’s a lot broader than that, it’s not just electric vehicles, it’s hydrogen vehicles, it’s hybrid vehicles,” he said.

“But Toyota does support some government systems to encourage the general population to move towards these more environmentally friendly options.”

The comments follow the US Justice Department’s decision to sue Volkswagen over last September’s emissions-cheating scandal which wiped billions of euros off the German carmaker’s market value and forced out its long-standing chief executive.

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Life-size dinosaurs roam digital zoo in Brisbane

A team of video game developers have collaborated with palaeontologist Dr Scott Hocknull to create a large-scale dinosaur zoo at Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) digital learning space, The Cube.

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The installation lets people observe and interact with 10 iconic life-size dinosaurs, including the T-Rex and the Australian Australovenator.

“Dino Zoo really is as close to a Jurassic World experience as you can possibly get – and it’s based on hard evidence and scientific understanding,” Cube Studio manager Sean Druitt said in a press statement. “Our animals live just on the other side of the glass, and none of them have broken out yet.”

The landscape displayed at The Cube has been created entirely from scratch, with the animated dinosaurs and pterosaurs programmed with an artificial intelligence. The dinosaurs move, hunt and graze in the digital environment entirely without external control.

“This is a zoo in the true sense of the word – we’ve set the animals loose behind the glass and we can’t control what they do or when they do it,” said Druitt.

The team prides itself on scientific accuracy. “We used direct evidence from the fossil record to rebuild these extinct animals and their environment,” Druitt explained. “We also observed their closest living relatives – birds and crocodiles – and this gave us the perfect palette to bring the Dino Zoo world to life.”

“We’ve set the animals loose behind the glass and we can’t control what they do or when they do it.”

The Cube at QUT is one of the world’s largest interactive digital learning environments. The large room is two storeys high and contains 48 multi-touch screens, 55 custom-made speakers, and 14 HD projectors.

Touch-screen activities include a digital pit where kids can learn the craft of a palaeontologist by digging up bones. There’s also an Earth extinction simulator, which lets you pick different life wipe-out scenarios – from volcano to comet.

The facility is located at QUT’s Science and Engineering Centre. Environments generated at The Cube let anyone visualise science and even participate in research projects. Previous exhibitions include an interactive large-scale sci-fi game and virtual chemistry experiments deemed too large or dangerous for the school classroom.

Watch some Vines of the dinosaurs in action:

Dino Zoo will be running at The Cube from 6-26 January.

 

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SA shrine for dead father, sons to remain

The makeshift shrine marking the spot where Port Lincoln man Damien Little drove off the edge of a wharf, killing himself and his two young sons, will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

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As the Eyre Peninsula community continues to grieve, Flinders Ports, which operates the wharf, says it has moved the hundreds of flowers, teddy bears and other items back from the edge of the water at the request of relatives but has no immediate plans to remove the shrine altogether.

Early on Monday, Mr Little drove his car off the wharf and into 30 metres of water along with 10-month-old Hunter and four-year-old Koda.

His family has since revealed the 34-year-old had suffered from mental health issues over the past three years.

“We had noticed a change,” his mother Sue told the Adelaide Advertiser.

“We tried to help him, we all did. But you can’t help somebody who can’t help himself.”

The revelations of Mr Little’s troubled life came as community members said he was respected and well liked.

“It’s just a shocking thing to have happen out of the blue and for no reason that we knew of,” Wheatsheaf Hotel owner Peter Watherston said.

“He and his brother used to pop out for a beer.”

South Australian commissioner for victims’ rights Michael O’Connell urged people not to rush to blame Mr Little, even those who found murder by a parent to be among the “cruellest of tragedies”.

“We do not know the reasons Damien did what he appears to have done and speculating helps neither the family nor the people of Port Lincoln,” he said.

Mr Little’s parents and other relatives visited the wharf on Tuesday as police released two family photos that appeared to show a happy couple and their children.

In one, Mr Little and his wife Melissa are sitting on a beach with their two smiling young boys resting in their laps.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78

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Menzel relishing pre-season Cats slog

Long lost Cat Daniel Menzel expects four seasons in the AFL wilderness to have made him a better player.

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Menzel’s return to action last year after four knee reconstructions in as many years was the feel-good story of the season.

The 24-year-old is now in the middle of a notoriously taxing AFL pre-season and has every reason to believe he’ll prosper.

And this pre-season, he’s enjoying the company.

“I’m used to running around the outside of the oval on my own,” he said on Wednesday.

“To actually train every day … it is really difficult but to be with the full group, it doesn’t matter how difficult it is, it’s all worth it.”

The temptation might be to see his time on the sidelines as wasted but the forward doesn’t think so.

Instead, Menzel believes the lonely hours with the boundary line and barbells for friends have improved his AFL-readiness.

“There’s no reason why you can’t come back stronger and a more complete player,” he said.

“In my case (after) four years in the gym, you should be stronger.

“You should be more powerful, should be more athletic.

“The agility and the game sense will take time but there’s so many positives you can take out of it.”

Menzel certainly didn’t need much adjustment in his comeback game.

The No.10 was Geelong’s best in a loss to Collingwood that ended their finals hopes, kicking four goals and taking 20 touches.

He expects to play a couple of pre-season matches before embarking on a first full campaign since 2011.

Menzel said he still faces a “massive mental battle” along with his physical challenges.

“You can’t have four ACL reconstructions and come back completely perfect,” he said.

“Agility, tackling, I’m not where where I want to be … there’s absolutely a lot of areas to work on.”

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First Day: The pioneering surgeon who came to Australia on a leaky boat

It’s hard to say exactly what was the first day Dr Munjed Al Muderis spent in Australia.

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Was it the day he arrived at Christmas Island, an Australian territory, after a hellish 36 hours at sea crammed together with more than 100 other people on a leaky boat?

Was it the day he was brought to the Australian mainland, taken to an immigration detention centre and issued with a number that would be used as his name for the next 10 months?

Or was it the day he was released with little more than the few possessions he arrived with including $US3000 from his mother that he had taped to his stomach to avoid detection from people smugglers?

Fifteen years later, that first taste of freedom still burns in his brain.

“That was pretty much one of the happiest days of my life,” he says. “Just to see the gates open and be on the other side of those barbed wires, it was an unimaginable feeling.”

At his medical practice in Sydney, where he lives today, the waiting room is almost full. Patients flick through magazines or stare at their phones as Dr Al Muderis comes in and out, beckoning one after the other over small, rectangular reading glasses. When the waiting room clears and we finally sit down to talk, it’s almost 6pm. He has been there since 6.30 that morning. His wife is due to give birth the next day, he tells us. A little girl who will be called Jasmine.

A horrific moment

Munjed Al Muderis was working as a surgical resident at a hospital in Baghdad when he arrived to work one day in late October 1999.

The 27-year-old had been living comfortably in his home city up until that time, largely unaffected by the dictatorship that had been in place since Saddam Hussein came into power in 1979.

But Dr Al Muderis’ working day was interrupted when military police entered the hospital with three busloads of army deserters and ordered the doctors to cancel their elective surgeries and cut off parts of the men’s ears.

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“My boss refused to cut their ears off and he was dragged out and a bullet was put in his head,” he says. “They did that in the carpark in front of everybody and that was a horrifying moment.”

Dr Al Muderis managed to run to a women’s toilet where he stayed for five hours until the guards had left. “By escaping and refusing to perform these atrocities, I became a traitor to the government, and as a result of that the punishment would be execution,” he says. “Basically, my life was on the line. If I got found, I would be shot.”

He took a taxi to the outskirts of Baghdad and hid there for a few days before travelling to Jordan and on to Malaysia.

In the capital, Kuala Lumpur, he arranged a meeting with a people smuggler. “[He] pretty much looked like Steve Irwin,” Dr Al Muderis recalls. The man demanded he hand over his passport and a large sum of money, and the next day gave him a visa and a ticket to Indonesia.

“In Jakarta there were hundreds of people waiting to seek asylum somewhere,” Dr Al Muderis says. “They didn’t know whether they were going to Australia or America or Europe, and a lot of them were desperate…it was a dire situation.”

“There were 165 people on a leaky boat that was not seaworthy,” he says. “The sea was very rough; it was raining all the time.

“By the end of the journey there were less than 10 who were conscious. Everybody else was pretty much comatose and drowning in their own body fluid.”

The group arrived at Christmas Island and was met by Australian Federal Police, who he says treated them well. The island was mainly used for phosphate mining back then and had no immigration detention centre.

As one of the few asylum seekers who could speak English, Dr Al Muderis was an asset to police, who asked him to act as an interpreter when they went out to intercept another incoming boat days later.

Despite the strangeness of this scenario, Dr Al Muderis smiles as he describes going out to sea with one of the officials.

“He pulled a satellite phone from his pocket and handed it over me and he said to me, ‘Don’t let anyone see you, don’t tell anyone because I’m putting my job on the line here. Dial the number, call your family and tell them that you’re safe.’

“I’m forever thankful to this guy.”

“The first thing that was said to us was, ‘You are not welcome in Australia. Australian people do not want you here, and if you decide to return to the country you came from, we will facilitate your return. If you decide to stay, you will stay here indefinitely and we don’t know when you will be processed.'”

The asylum seekers were all issued with numbers – Dr Al Muderis was 982 – which were used from there onward. “It was total humiliation,” he says.

One of the women detained at Curtin, who had also been on the boat, he would later marry.

Dr Al Muderis was kept in isolation for much of his 10-month stretch inside the detention centre – targeted, he says, for being outspoken against the staff’s treatment of detainees. “We were left in the middle of the desert, called by numbers, surrounded by barbed wire and treated with extreme hostility.”

On August 26, 2000, he was released from the centre and out the front door. It was almost a year since he had left Iraq and now he was standing in the Australian desert with a small bundle of possessions and instructions for how to get a bus to Broome.

“My first impression of Australia was that people were happy,” he says. “On the bus I met a few people and I started playing poker with them and pretty much I started making friends on the first day.”

He travelled to Perth and on to Adelaide and eventually Melbourne to stay with a relative. All the while he was focused on one thing – work.

“As soon as I was released, I printed my CV and pretty much sent it to every hospital in Australia and within two weeks I had two job interviews,” he says.

The soldier, Lieutenant Alistair Spearing, was fitted with new prosthetic legs as part of ground-breaking treatment pioneered by Dr Al Muderis. The procedure meant Lieutenant Spearing could now walk short distances.

Since he arrived in Australia, Dr Al Muderis has become a leading orthopedic surgeon and a pioneer in osseointegration technology, which involves the fusing of bone and prosthetic. He has performed more robotic-leg surgeries than anyone in the world.

“Living in a war-torn country like Iraq, I’d seen a lot of people who lost their limbs and I always wanted to do something about that,” he says.

In 2014, Dr Al Muderis was invited by the Queen to attend a ceremony honouring British rifleman Michael Swain, who had both his legs blown off in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2009. The visit from Prince Harry, himself a former soldier, came in May 2015.

This April, Dr Al Muderis and his team will travel to the United Kingdom to perform surgeries on 20 more British soldiers injured fighting in the Middle East.

He met his current wife, Irina, when they were both working in a hospital in a country town in northeastern New South Wales. She is a doctor too, and a migrant from Russia. They have two daughters, Sophia, 6, and Amelia Jasmine, born the day after our interview on December 3, 2015.

At his medical practice in Bella Vista, Dr Al Muderis picks up a small model of a knee joint from his desk and begins to explain how it works. He is proud of what he has built in Australia and happy to call the country home. “Without Australia and without being here I would never be able to achieve what I’ve achieved,” he says.

But he says he has been dismayed by the the government’s attitude to asylum seekers.

“I am a very strong supporter of stopping the boats, don’t get me wrong,” he says. “But the solution in my opinion is not by using our honourable navy and air force to turn these boats back.

“The solution would be finding reasonable processing facilities in the path countries; spending the $12 billion we spend on border protection establishing processing centers in places like Malaysia and Indonesia, instead of wasting taxpayers money on other countries that are not related to refugees such as Cambodia.”

He says if he had his time again he would still have boarded the boat but that was because he had no other choice. “There was no place to go to. There were no camps that I could hide in.”

And he hopes to see more refugees resettled in Australia as conflict rages in Syria and other parts of the Middle East.

“The world is going through a major crisis,” he says. “There are 59.5 million displaced people. Five million are in urgent need of placement. The vast majority of them are not as lucky as I was.”

Dr Al Muderis has strong memories of his own time in detention, and views on the policy.

“The first time I was processed was on 17 May, 2000 despite having arrived on Australian soil on the 8th of November, 1999. To me this was not just inhumane, it was ineffective and a costly experience for the taxpayers.”

But it didn’t taint his positivity about his new home when he was eventually released.

“I always tell people that negative energy is never going to make us better. I turned my back on the detention centre and I decided to move forward.

“People are people. There is the good, the bad, the ugly, but the good thing about Australia is that most people are good.”

This story was produced as part of the SBS series, First Day, airing on SBS World News throughout January.

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