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Owner cleared of shop arson

Written By miftah nugraha on Sabtu, 16 Maret 2013 | 19.55

A HOBART businessman yesterday walked free from court after being found not guilty of arson.

Ian Robert Cooksey, 42, of Lauderdale, was acquitted by a Supreme Court jury after it deliberated for almost eight hours.

The case centred on a fire at Mr Cooksey's Aqua Scuba Dive shop in Elizabeth St on April 2, 2011.

Firefighters took more than an hour to control the blaze and the building was extensively damaged.

The Crown alleged Mr Cooksey's business was not doing well, the fire was deliberately lit and he was in the building just before it started.

Defence lawyer David Barclay said the jury needed to look carefully at the evidence for a possible alternative explanation.

He said the keys to the case lay in the timing of the fire, the evidence of where the fire started and the true state of Mr Cooksey's finances.

The jury retired to consider its verdict on Thursday afternoon but by 7pm had not reached a decision.

Yesterday morning it sought clarification on three issues and asked to review video footage from part of the trial.

It returned a not-guilty verdict shortly after lunch.


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Alzheimer's study leap

Researcher Dr Kaylene Young, left, with Bubbles Haynes, of Kettering, whose husband suffers from Alzheimer's. Picture: KIM EISZELE

A TASMANIAN scientist has found that crucial insulating cells in the nervous system can be made throughout life, providing a new lead for Alzheimer's research.

Menzies Research Institute Tasmania researcher Kaylene Young was the study's chief investigator and worked with Japan and United Kingdom scientists.

She said there was now evidence these cells may not just be "passive by-standers".

The research showed new insulating cells were made from an immature cell type found in the brain and new insulation was added to brain circuits every day.

"This process is likely to be very important for learning, memory, vision and co-ordination," Dr Young said.

"This finding may have important implications for sufferers of Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders."

In Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, many nerve cells die, causing patients to progressively lose their ability to think clearly and remember things, and they can have problems with movement and co-ordination.

Dr Young's team was now investigating ways to hijack the natural ability of the immature cells to make new insulating cells, and repair the insulation damage.

"We expect that increasing brain insulation, to re-wrap the nerve cells, will prevent more nerve cells from dying."

Bubbles Haynes's husband John was diagnosed eight years ago and has recently moved to a Snug secure dementia unit, which Mrs Haynes has praised for his care.

"It's researchers like Dr Kaylene Young who give us the chance to hope, which is absolutely beautiful," Mrs Haynes said.

The work was published in Neuron and supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council Australia, Alzheimer's Society UK, BUPA Foundation, and Multiple Sclerosis Research Australia.


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Trawler lawyers warned

LAWYERS fighting a two-year ban on a super trawler operating in Australian waters have been warned by a Federal Court judge to cast their nets with care when making allegations against federal Environment Minister Tony Burke.

Seafish Tasmania wants the court to overturn a ban imposed by Mr Burke on the trawler Abel Tasman. An expert panel is considering the ship's possible impact on the environment.

In documents previously lodged with the court, Seafish said the minister was advised that the impacts were known and any risks could be managed.

Seafish alleges Mr Burke was keen to ban the vessel and was searching for some power to justify his actions.

The trawler has since been sold and left Australia on Thursday.

In his opening statement yesterday, Justice John Logan warned the company's lawyers their statement of claim risked breaking the Parliamentary Privilege Act, which emanates from the centuries-old Bill Of Rights. Under the Act, questions cannot be asked of ministers in court about their behaviour in Parliament.

"Your statement of claim is scandalous, is it not, in asking this court to do what has been forbidden since 1689?" Justice Logan said.

He suggested he might strike out sections of the claim.

"Such is the constitutional importance of the separation of powers between the state and the law," he said.

Roger Derrington, SC, told the court he had no intention of questioning what the minister said in Parliament and did not call into question his motivation.

The case has been set down for trial on June 25.


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Great hopes for new Pope

Written By miftah nugraha on Jumat, 15 Maret 2013 | 19.55

TASMANIAN Catholics have weoclomed the quick election of a Pope and found his choice of the name Francis inspiring.

They hope Pope Francis can draw strength from the example of St Francis of Assisi, who lived a life of Christ-like poverty and simplicity.

After daily Mass at St Joseph's Church in Hobart yesterday, Catholics spoke of their joy and surprise at the election of not a Vatican insider but a man from the margins, who lived far from Rome and who, as a cardinal, has championed the poor and forgotten in Latin America.

Archbishop Adrian Doyle said the Pope's election was generating a lot of excitement.

"It came somewhat unexpectedly, a little earlier than we anticipated," he said.

Archbishop Doyle had never met the Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio -- the 76-year-old who yesterday became Pope Francis I -- but said he could relate to him in a number of ways.

To learn more about the new pontiff, click here

"He's a month younger than I am and he's starting a new life when I'm on the verge of retirement," he said.

The Archbishop, an Italian speaker, also noted the new Pope's Italian background and the fact that Buenos Aires and Hobart were about as far away from Rome as possible.

"Coming from the world of South America, which has a huge presence in the Church, I think is most significant," he said. "Being a member of the Jesuit order is a first. The Jesuit order has been a wonderful contributor to the church over many centuries.

"I think the most important and significant thing is the name he has taken.

"There could be two meanings to that. One is St Francis of Assisi, the great saint who lived a life of poverty and simplicity.

"The other Francis is St Francis Xavier, who was a Spaniard companion of the founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius, who spread the Gospel in Asia in the 16th century.

"I think what the last few days have shown is that the church, with all its faults and weaknesses, is still a most significant presence in the world and the role of Pope is still a most significant role.

"The Pope exercises enormous influence in the world scene.

"The Pope is our leader, our principal shepherd, our teacher and our guide and all the directions he gives will be transmitted down the line.

"Each Pope brings their own special gifts and talents. Pope Benedict was a teacher.

"This new Pope may be able to address some of the issues around the structure of the church and the way the church operates and bring a greater simplicity to that.

"The message that is coming across about his own lifestyle, living a very simple lifestyle, I think that will be a very powerful message if he is able to show that in the new circumstances."

Archbishop Doyle said Pope Francis faced a huge challenge in heading such a large organisation.


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TMAG ready for big reveal

Tasmania Museum andArt Gallery director Bill Bleatham says the new TMAG is ready to wow. Picture: SAM ROSEWARNE

SEVEN years and $30 million since it was first announced, the public will be able to judge if it was money well spent when the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery redevelopment is officially opened this morning.

Thousands are expected to visit the new-look museum this weekend and they're in for a visual treat, with 12 fresh exhibitions spread over more than 2000sqm of new space.

TMAG collection gallery

Members of the media were given a sneak peek yesterday, after 300 guests from across Australia attended an invite-only opening party on Wednesday night.

Highlights of the redevelopment include a new entrance via the historic Watergate on Dunn Place, the raised ceiling in the new Central Gallery (formerly the Zoology Gallery), the opening up of all four levels of the Bond Store, and new cafe and toilet facilities.

"The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery was already a much-loved attraction, but this redevelopment has transformed it into a truly world-class facility," Premier Lara Giddings said.

TMAG director Bill Bleathman said the redevelopment had made the best bits of the museum more accessible to the public, helping exhibition curators share Tasmania's unique stories with visitors.

"The redevelopment has enabled us to showcase the objects and buildings that have fashioned the very essence of what it is to be Tasmanian," Mr Bleathman said.

"Our collection is the broadest of any single cultural institution in the nation and is now more accessible."

It is hoped the redeveloped TMAG will draw 50 per cent more visitors than before 450,000 a year, up from 300,000 with more than 1200 activities and events planned over the next 12 months.

And the redevelopment opening today is only stage one of a multi-million dollar mega-makeover planned for the future.

The TMAG will be open to the public from 10am-5pm daily from today. Admission is free. For more information about what's on, click here. To find out about Ten Days on the Island events at TMAG, click here.


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MKR dishes up Tassie disaster

TASMANIA has suffered a double disaster this week with best friends Ali and Samuel eliminated from My Kitchen Rules last night.

The pair's shock exit comes after Tassie father and son duo Mick and Matt Newell were eliminated from the Channel 7 cooking show on Monday night.

Ali and Samuel, of Hobart, ran into big problems with their entree of polenta with flathead and red capsicum salsa.

Their main of masterstock lamb with brussel sprouts and steam buns fared no better.

The pair scored a dismal 26 out of 60 in the sudden-death cook-off. They were beaten by Victorian housewives Angela and Melina whose Italian-themed menu scored 34 out of 60.

"I'm absolutely gutted," Samuel said.

"We had a great game plan, we were confident with our menu, but it all came down to a simple mistake.

"I mucked up the polenta. Something that would usually take 10 minutes took 40 minutes.

"The lamb was so chewy you could roll it up and kick it like a footy."

Hosts Manu Feildel and Pete Evans and guest judges including Liz Egan and Guy Grossi, heaped scorn on the Tassie team's entree and main.

"That's not braised meat, that's ruined meat," Egan said.

Ali's dessert of pistachio and almond tart with orange ice-cream was the shining star.

"The ice-cream is sensational," Grossi said.

"It has that lovely richness in its base with lovely cardamon and orange flavours through it."

Samuel, a public servant, is hoping his appearance on My Kitchen Rules will lead to media work.

The 34-year-old is also hoping there will be love on the horizon.

"A lot of close friends are engaged, married, have children, so the next girl I am with, I will be looking for those things," he said.

Ali had just separated from her partner of 14 years.


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Alliance calls for class action

Written By miftah nugraha on Kamis, 14 Maret 2013 | 19.55

CLASS sizes are creeping up and a lack of school psychologists is hurting children, says Tasmania's Public Education Alliance.

A report on the alliance's vision for public education was handed to Premier Lara Giddings outside Parliament House today.

The groups said implementing the national Gonski recommendations -- of which Tasmania would be a major beneficiary -- was vital.

State School Parents and Friends spokeswoman Jenny Eddington said class sizes were rising significantly and a cap on numbers was needed.

"With recent cutbacks … are class sizes are creeping up. For example, a teacher was telling us that her class has gone up from 24 to the low 30s. That's a significant amount of children to be added to a class," she said.

The alliance named six priorities:

  • Implement the Gonski recommendations, a national model that would fund each school according to the needs of its students;
  • Improve outcomes for vulnerable students;
  • Reintroduce funding to cap primary school class sizes;
  • Fund more school psychologists;
  • Build school and community partnerships; and
  • Reintroduce indexation to school budgets.

Education Minister Nick McKim said while everyone wanted classes to be as small as possible, class size was not the primary driver of educational outcomes.

He said every student had access to a school psychologist.

The alliance is made up of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service, the Tasmanian State School Parents and Friends, the Association for Children with Disability Tasmania, and the Australian Psychological Society.

Other member organisations include the Local Government Association of Tasmania, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation for Education, and the Australian Education Union.


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Cup winner back on home turf

BROADMARSH-trained stayer Norsqui has arrived home in great shape after comfortably winning Monday's $400,000 Adelaide Cup.

The Walter McShane trained gelding handled the trip across the Bass Strait with aplomb and Tasmania's best two miler will now be set for the $500,000 Group One Sydney Cup (3200m) at Randwick on April 29.

"How he has travelled back is crucial to what happens in the near future as far as the Sydney Cup is concerned," McShane said today.

"I'm happy with the way he got off the truck and he looks as though he has travelled really well.

"In fact it surprises me at how well he does travel because he's such a light eater at the best of times and these long trips can take it out of them, especially lightly framed horses like him."

Shortly after Norsqui had arrived back on familiar soil at Broadmarsh he was in his paddock having a pick on his favourite grass.

Moments later his father (Matsqui) came strolling over to see what all the fuss was about.

Within seconds both horses were communicating as only horses can.

The long-term plan for Norsqui will be the 2013 Melbourne Cup -- providing all is well with the son of Matsqui.


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Jobless figures steady

TASMANIA'S unemployment rate stabilised at 7.1 per cent in February with the loss of 300 jobs for males offset by a gain of 200 jobs for females.

The number of people employed was stable at 232,800 in trend terms, although the number of unemployed dropped by 100 to 17,800, the Australian Bureau of Statics said.

But in the more volatile seasonally adjusted measure unemployment fell from 7.7 per cent to 6.6 per cent in Tasmania.

Nationally, unemployment was stable at 5.4 per cent.

The numbers come after fall in the ANZ job ad series but some improvement in retail trade figures in January.

Finance Minister Scott Bacon said the figures showed a more encouraging outlook for jobs in Tasmania.

"We need to continue to work with the private sector to grow jobs -- that is why we announced the Tasmanian Jobs Package which will bring forward $375m of new investment and support more than 3000 new jobs," Mr Bacon said.

He said many measures of the package had only just taken effect and their impact would not be reflected in the current figures.

Liberal Treasury spokesman Peter Gutwein said the state had lost 3000 fulltime jobs in the past 12 months.

"It's little wonder that Tasmania continues to have the highest unemployment rate in the nation," he said.

Victoria posted a big drop in its unemployment rate, to 5.5 per cent from 6.1 per cent, while in South Australia the rate declined to 5.8 per cent from 6.1 per cent.

In the Northern Territory it eased to 3.9 per cent from 4.0 per cent.

Unemployment rose in NSW to 5.2 per cent from 5.1 per cent, in Western Australia to 4.5 per cent from 4.1 per cent, and in Queensland to 5.8 per cent from 5.5 per cent.

In the ACT the rate rose to 4.6 per cent from 4.5 per cent.

nicholas.clark@news.com.au


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Risdon fire flares up

Written By miftah nugraha on Rabu, 13 Maret 2013 | 19.55

RISDON VALE residents were told to remain vigilant today as spot fires caused concern in windy conditions.

The Tasmania Fire Service warned earlier this afternoon that the out-of-control blaze on Hobart's Eastern Shore, which began in Downhams Rd last week, could affect communities around Cambridge.

It highlighted the danger of embers, smoke and ash falling on Cambridge, Mount Rumney and Acton Park because of the gusty conditions.

The "watch and act" rating on the fire was later downgraded to "advice".

For the latest information on the fire, visit the TFS website.


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Best man found not guilty

A CLIFTON Beach man has walked free after being found not guilty of the manslaughter of his best friend at a buck's party.

Nathan James Carins, 30, was this afternoon acquitted by a jury in the Supreme Court in Hobart.

Mr Carins was driving a ute which flipped in a paddock at his home, killing Mr Cripps, who was travelling in the tray, on February 25 last year.

The jury's verdict was greeted with joy by a packed public gallery

Outside the court, Mr Carins thanked the two dozen friends and members of his own and Mr Cripps' family who had attended each day of his five-day trial.

They were wearing blue as a show of support and in memory of Luke.

Mr Carins was visibly relieved when the jury foreman announced the majority verdict after deliberating for just more than two hours.

Flanked by his supporters, he said he was pleased with the outcome.

"I certainly am. I'm happy to be able to spend more time with these people," he told reporters.

"I can't find words to thank them enough.

"If you can find words to explain how great these people are, then you're doing better than me."

"It's not about me, it's about Luke, and I don't really want to talk too much more about it."

Mr Cripps' mother Dawn said Luke's family had stood by his best mate because they knew he did not intend to hurt Luke.

"We knew this was a tragic, tragic accident. Nathan will have his own regrets for the rest of his life," she said.

"We love him dearly. He was Luke's best friend. We're so grateful for the outcome."

The Supreme Court heard Mr Carins had organised his best mate's buck's party, which started with a day visiting country pubs and a game of golf at Orford.

After the group returned for a barbecue at Mr Carins' home, the host went looking for a guest in his ute. Mr Cripps and another man were riding in the back tray.

As he drove into a paddock at the front of the property, the ute hit a rabbit hole and rolled.

Mr Cripps was trapped under the ute and died. He was due to be married the following week.


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Richard Davey dies at 74

Richard Davey on the set of The Ship That Never Was in 2009. Picture: CHRIS KIDD

ENTERTAINER extraordinaire Richard Davey -- hailed as an icon of Tasmanian tourism and the arts -- has died.

Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chairman Simon Currant said the actor and playwright, who was 74, died today after a battle with illness.

He said the value of Davey's contribution to tourism, particularly in Strahan on the state's West Coast, was nothing short of extraordinary.

"The Ship that Never Was is Australia's longest continually running theatre production and Richard was in Strahan in December to see it performed for the 5000th time," Mr Currant said in a statement this afternoon.

"Richard wrote and directed the play, and personally performed more than half the productions over the past two decades."

"In the early 90s he also reinvented the Sarah Island tour, bringing the remarkable history of the Macquarie Harbor penal settlement to life through an entertaining mix of history and drama.

"In rain, hail, sleet and shine, Richard conducted his tours and performed his plays, entertaining hundreds of thousands of visitors to Tasmania over the years."

Late last year, Davey was awarded the Tourism Champion Award at a state awards ceremony for his remarkable contribution to local tourism.

Mr Currant offered the industry's condolences to Davey's family and many friends.


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Hot weather hanging around

Written By miftah nugraha on Selasa, 12 Maret 2013 | 19.55

LAUNCESTON has smashed weather records after sweltering through eight consecutive autumn days above 30C.

The previous record was four days above 30C, set from January 28-31 in 2009.

The Bureau of Meterology in Tasmania said the record heat wave – set between March 5 and today – was dramatic because it doubled the previous mark and March was usually significantly cooler than January.

Temperature readings have been taken at the Launceston site since 1980.

The mercury reached well into the 30s today in much of Tasmania.

Hobart hit 36.6C just after 3.30pm. The March average maximum is just 20C.

The Hobart high was just shy of the March record of 37.3C on March 13, 1940. The all-time high for March in Tasmania was 38C in Campania on March 14, 2008.

Bushy Park reached 38C, Grove 37C and Campania and Ouse shared 36C.

Launceston hit 36C and King Island Airport recorded 37C.

The unseasonably warm weather follows Hobart's hottest ever summer, measured from December to February.


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Second Glover win for Duff

A MOODY painting of a Launceston streetscape has won the 2013 Glover Prize People's Choice Award.

Launceston artist Leoni Duff today won the popular vote with her oil-on-canvas work Down on Cameron Street. She won the inaugural award in 2004.

Duff pocketed $3000 for the award, which was decided by patrons at the Glover exhibition in Evandale.

Ms Duff said the win was an encouraging sign that people had understood her work.

She said the stillness of the painting sought to convey the economic uncertainty in the city since the global financial crisis.

"While the meltdown occurred in 2008, there is a continual hovering menace that has not been dissolved," Ms Duff said.

"I have taken the familiar everyday icons of Cameron Street, in Launceston, the traditional financial end of town, and depicted them under moonlight.

"The solid things become uncertain as if all could be suddenly changed.

"The charm of our architecture and the ordinary nature of the street is infused with unsettling stillness; and the monstrous moonlit sky towers over us imposing a sense of how small and helpless we all are in reality."

Launceston Airport general manager Pam Graham said the organisation was proud to sponsor the award.

"Every year the standard of painting, depicting and interpreting Tasmania's rich and varied landscape, improves and offers those attending the exhibition unrivalled access to landscape painting in its many forms," she said.

About 700 children voted in the Children's Choice Award, opting for New Kid on the Block by former Glover Prize winner Michael McWilliams.

The Glover Prize, worth $40,000 and now in its tenth year, was won by Sydney artist Janet Laurence.

To check out all the finalists in this year's award, click here.


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Thieves hit former Hobart bank

BURGLARS have broken into the Murray St building at the centre of Hobart's red awning debate.

Police today appealed for information into the overnight break-in, with the offenders making off with an undisclosed amount of cash.

Detective Inspector David Plumpton said the building's tenants called police this morning after discovering the theft and associated damage.

"Entry was gained to the building overnight through an unlocked door. Upon gaining entry, offenders searched through a number of rooms, located varying amounts of cash and caused some damage while doing so," he said.

Forensics officers collected evidence earlier today, with police remaining at the former Savings Bank building for several hours.

Anyone with information on the break-in is urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.


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Teaching needs 'best, brightest'

Written By miftah nugraha on Senin, 11 Maret 2013 | 19.55

A NATIONAL plan to recruit top-class candidates to study teaching has been cautiously welcomed by Tasmania's teachers' union.

The plan, released today by Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett, would require a university interview, a literacy and numeracy test to be passed before graduation, and a review of all teaching courses in Australia. 

Australian Education Union state president Terry Polgase said requiring all students to be in the top 30 per cent for literacy and numeracy would mean some of the best potential teachers could be lost.

"Teaching is a calling, not a job," he said.

"Teachers need stickability, emotional intelligence, commitment and integrity.

"If Nicole Kidman wanted to teach drama at a school, or James Hird physical education, I doubt very much whether anyone would care whether either was in the top 30 per cent of spellers leaving year 12. If so, what a loss."

Mr Polglase welcomed parts of the federal plan, especially the interview requirement to evaluate emotional intelligence.

But he said only scholarships -- which had worked so well in past decades -- would keep good teachers in the field.

Scholarship teachers would commit to being sent to a specified school for two years. If teaching was not for them, they would pay the money back.

"We want the best and the brightest," he said.

Mr Polglase said pay was also a big factor.

"Teachers are paid too little. Almost all have degrees, many have masters qualifications, and each is highly trained, with most having many years of invaluable experience," Mr Polglase said.

He said there was also a risk of putting all the blame for standards at the feet of teachers.

"As always [governments are] trying to find a silver bullet."


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Former Liberal senator dies

FORMER Tasmanian Liberal senator Brian Archer has died at the age of 84.

Mr Archer was born in Calder, near Wynyard in North-West Tasmania, and worked as a real estate consultant and farmer before entering parliament. He served as a senator from 1975 until 1994.

He died on Sunday.

The Tasmanian Liberal Senate Team and the Federal Coalition today expressed their condolences to Mr Archer's wife Dorothy, children and grandchildren.

Mr Archer was appointed Shadow Special Minister of State and science spokesman when John Howard became Opposition Leader in September 1985. He held those positions until August 1987.


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Tassie horse wins Adelaide Cup

TASMANIAN galloper Norsqui has produced another giant-killing performance to win the $400,000 Adelaide Cup.

Trained at Broadmarsh by veteran horseman Walter McShane, Norsqui started at the attractive odds of $26 but proved too strong for the locals and a strong contingent of Victorian runners.

Bred and owned in Tasmania, Norsqui was unplaced in both the Launceston and Hobart Cups before heading interstate.

But the six-year-old gelding has a strong record of success on the road, including wins in last year's Mornington Cup and a support race at Flemington on Melbourne Cup day in 2011.

He finished third in last year's Adelaide Cup.


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Taste of perfection

Written By miftah nugraha on Minggu, 10 Maret 2013 | 19.55

TASTY: Rosemary Bennett toasts to a bigger and brighter Taste of the Huon with a freshly squeezed Huon Valley Juice. Picture: LEIGH WINBURN

TASTE of the Huon organisers are confident the wet weather forecast for today will steer clear of the Ranelagh Showground where the sun "always shines".

"Come south to the Valley, it'll be fine," said co-organiser Roger Oates.

The weather bureau's prediction of showers easing to overcast conditions tomorrow morning had not put a dampener on community spirits, he said.

"There's plenty of shelter with nine marquees, and the stalls set-up is very impressive."

Orchards are brimming with apples and pears along the roadside and new improved parking should allow for a smoother entry and exit onto the Ranelagh Showground site.

The best produce of the Huon, the D'Entrecastreax Channel and Bruny Island will be showcased at an iconic event that has grown in size and stature over the last three years, with up to 20,000 visitors expected this weekend.

A dual lane entry and exit, more paddocks for parking and a gun crew of 30 trained-up parking volunteers should ensure stress free parking, said co-organiser Rosemary Bennett.

Mrs Bennett recommended taking a beach umbrella, a picnic rug and a big appetite to sample the goods from 94 stalls.

The entertainment line-up has hit new heights with renowned Australian singer songwriter Deborah Conway and TV cooking sensation father and son act Mick and Matt Newell entertaining guests on both days.

But the real star of the Huon Show is the produce.

A brand new apple juice squeezed on the heritage orchards of Cradoc apple growing couple Mark and Christine Duggan will be launched at The Taste called The Huon Valley Juice Company.

Plus there's Festival Mushrooms, Willie Smith Cider, Bruny Island Wines, Fat Pig Farm and Silver Hill Bratwurst to name just a few.


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Health insurers aim at hospitals

STANDARDS in some private hospitals around the nation are so bad that health insurers don't want to cover procedures done in them.

Private Healthcare Australia, representing the nation's health insurers, commissioned a leading academic to assess four years of data on as many as 600 private hospitals and apply gradings from "A-triple-plus" to "C-triple-minus".

Some Tasmanian facilities have been included in the report and 166 of the hospitals are in Victoria.

Insurers want to cut off "C-triple-minus" facilities, where operations are most likely to: INFECT patients with bacteria such as golden staph; LEAVE hospital patients in intensive care; or REQUIRE procedures to be redone.

The insurers want to release the research, arguing the community has a right to know.

However, they have decided to not publish it for fear of being sued by staff at the sub-standard hospitals.

The insurers also believe that if the research made public it would help them to make the case for refusing to pay shoddy facilities, or to pay less.

This, they say, would lead to lower premiums.

An operation that goes bad could end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"If we don't have to cover that, we don't have to ask as high a premium increase next year," said Dr Michael Armitage, CEO of the body which commissioned the research, Private Healthcare Australia (PHA), the official representative of the nation's health insurers.

Premiums have been rising at twice the rate of inflation for more than a decade.

Australian Medical Association Tasmanian president John Davis said with the report not being released, it was impossible to comment on its contents but said there was no reason for Tasmanians to be concerned.

"There is no reason to believe that private hospitals in Tasmania provide anything other than quality care," Dr Davis said.

"I expect all private hospitals here are accredited by their independent group, the ACHS (Australian Council on Healthcare Standards)."

The rapidly increasing cost of cover prompted News Limited to join forces with consumer network One Big Switch in the Big Health Insurance Switch campaign.

In just two weeks more than 60,000 people have joined the campaign by registering an interest in receiving a no-obligation discount health insurance offer.

Registration is free.

The PHA does not support the campaign.

Rather, Dr Armitage said, the "real gain" was in "fixing rats**t outcomes" that drive up costs.

"There are a whole lot [of hospitals] that are C-triple-minus," Dr Armitage said.

"And we just keep backing up the truck full of gold bars" to pay them.

Private hospitals perform about two-thirds of all elective surgery.

The unpublished hospital research was based on figures from 2004 to 2007 using the 25 million "data points" insurers gather each year.

The work was completed in 2009.

Since then the PHA has been fighting to get the findings into the public domain.

It lobbied politicians from both sides and even sought advice from the Privacy Commissioner.

Dr Armitage said the advice was that the PHA would be sued.

The battle to make the research public has taken the PHA so long that Dr Armitage said that even if it could now be released it would need to be done again to bring it up to date.

He would not release details of the research to News Limited.

Dr Armitage, who was South Australia's health minister until 2002, said private health insurers "are not utilised appropriately in helping the health system get over its problems".

"The real gain for the health system is in fixing rats**t outcomes. But governments of all persuasions won't let us off the leash."

Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO Michael Roff said he was not aware of the insurers' research.

"If they have that data they've never shared it with the APHA or with any individual hospitals," Mr Roff said, adding that he was willing to see it.

Mr Roff also said there was "nothing to stop a private health insurer from not entering into a contract with one or more hospitals".

He wasn't aware of that having happened.

A spokesman for federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said her office would like to see the research.

Without seeing it, the minister was unable to comment.

Dr Armitage said the Productivity Commission had found private hospitals, on average, offered higher quality treatment than public.


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800 whales saved

TENSE: Heated clashes during the Japanese whaling season. Picture: Eliza Muirhead/Sea Shepherd Australia

MORE than 800 whales escaped the harpoon this season because of anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd, its director Bob Brown said yesterday.

"This is the lowest whale kill in the 10 years that the Sea Shepherd has been operating and that's something to celebrate," Mr Brown said.

Sea Shepherd has claimed victory in the Southern Ocean as Japan's whaling fleet heads home with an estimated 75 whale carcasses on board, Sea Shepherd said.

Worsening weather conditions, disappearing plankton stocks and the whales heading north have combined for the worst season the Japanese fleet has had in the decade Sea Shepherd ships have patrolled the Southern Ocean, Mr Brown said.

The 2013 whaling season was marred by growing aggression on both sides, with claims and counter-claims of violence and harassment.

Mr Brown said Sea Shepherd was not optimistic the hearing on whaling at the International Court of Justice in The Hague would begin soon.

Australia's argument that Japan's whaling breached international obligations had been lodged with the ICJ since 2010, he said.

"We can't rely on that court case getting finalised by next season."

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated that his Government will continue whaling for two more seasons, Mr Brown said.

"The Sea Shepherd will be even more effective if the Japanese return in future seasons.

"We've got more ships and we're more effective than ever before."

He said the assertion by Japan's fisheries minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, that eating whales was the same as Australians eating kangaroos was the first time the Japanese had not used science as an excuse for whaling.

"The Sea Shepherd does not condone killing whales in our homeland. Japan needs to restrict its actions to its own territorial waters."

Mr Brown said Sea Shepherd crews and former captain Paul Watson were placed under phenomenal pressure this season.

"Paul Watson is totally committed to protecting those whales and so are his crews."

The Sea Shepherd fleet Steve Irwin, Bob Barker, Sam Simon and Brigitte Bardot and their crews are expected to dock in Williamstown, Melbourne, on March 20.

jennifer.crawley@news.com.au


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