Qantas in crosshairs over chemical spill

Queensland’s environment department has issued Qantas with an investigation notice over a toxic chemical spill from one of the airline’s hangars at Brisbane Airport.

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About 22,000 litres of firefighting foam containing the chemical PFOA was leaked from the hangar, with about a quarter of the foam believed to have made it into local waterways.

The department’s executive director, Andrew Connor, said the notice put the onus on Qantas to monitor and report the effects of the spill.

“That will ultimately hold Qantas accountable, as the polluter, with undertaking ongoing investigation and monitoring,” Mr Connor said on Friday.

“Part of the notice will require Qantas to be doing monitoring of marine animals, like fish and crustaceans and even smaller animals within that food chain, so that over time of exactly how that chemical is behaving.”

The environment department on Friday revealed the preliminary test results for the waterways around the spill site, in particular Boggy Creek, which shows levels of the chemical have dropped to safe levels for recreational purposes.

However, warnings remain in place to avoid eating marine animals caught in the area.

More testing is being done to give a clearer picture of chemical levels, with the department pushing to release the results as soon as this weekend.

Queensland’s Liberal National Party Opposition has criticised the government for not having more concrete results at this stage.

The LNP had previously taken aim after the leak was only made public on Good Friday, three days after Qantas had alerted the state environment department.

“The state government’s communication and management of this issue has been a stuff-up from start to finish,” LNP environment spokesman Dr Christian Rowan said.

“Had they done their job properly and acted immediately, water tests could be back by now.”

Environment Minister Steven Miles disagrees, saying they had to wait before launching their response.

“I spent a couple of days last week incredibly frustrated that the federal government refused to tell the public about the spill,” Mr Miles said.

“On Thursday night when I received advice from the chief health officer, that was the first occasion that the state had definitive advice that we could provide to people.”

Mr Miles has called on the federal government to join Queensland in banning the foam, and called on Qantas to replace it with an alternative.

The leak has dealt another blow to the local prawn industry, which is already struggling with an outbreak of white spot disease.

The fisheries department has granted exemptions to beam trawlers to work further out in Moreton Bay, while other types of fishers such as crabbers and net fishers can simply move to other areas.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce late on Friday issued a letter to commercial seafood operators saying the airline took its environmental responsibilities “very seriously” and was treating the incident as high priority.

He said Qantas had brought in a specialist company to assist with the clean-up and was working with authorities to determine the impact of the spill.

Call to improve Nauru, Manus health care

A parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island has been scathing of the health care offered to asylum seekers and refugees.

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A Labor and Greens-dominated Senate inquiry has been examining allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect, as well as conditions at the centres.

It released its report on Friday afternoon, which called for an urgent independent review of medical transfer procedures.

The committee was extremely concerned patients transferred for medical treatment to the mainland were being sent back too quickly.

It also urged the government to look at ways to improve medical treatment options and mental health services for asylum seekers and refugees on both islands.

It recommended an external audit into all incident reports during the life of the detention centre contract of Transfield (now known as Broadspectrum Australia).

The report said incidents downgraded in severity needed to be analysed.

Government senators on the committee dismissed the inquiry as “a politically motivated public-relations stunt” and disputed the merit of the recommendations.

“The report is highly speculative and relies consistently on anecdotal evidence, second- and third-hand reports, and on unsupported allegations that are presented as fact,” deputy chair Ian Macdonald and David Fawcett said in their dissenting report.

Labor immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said Manus Island and Nauru were set up as regional transit processing facilities but have become places of indefinite detention because of the inaction of the Turnbull government.

Greens senator Nick McKim hit back, saying the inquiry had heard shocking evidence of appalling and unacceptable conditions at the detention centres.

He said there had been a systemic failure of the Australian government to adequately respond to the allegations.

He called for a royal commission and the immediate closure of both centres.

‘No choice’: Government cuts off funding for Islamic School of Canberra

The Islamic School of Canberra has been stripped of its federal government funding after it failed to meet the education department’s demands that it improve its governance and financial management.

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The independent school was receiving around $1 million in public money every year.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s office released a statement saying the department had “no choice” but to cut off funding from July 1. 

The department put the school on notice in December 2015, warning that the school was failing to meet standards and community expectations. 

The school lost its funding in April last year, but had it reinstated in September after it promised to make improvements. 

“Schools receive significant taxpayer funding. Australians rightly expect that every taxpayer dollar committed to school education is genuinely expended on school education and for the benefit of students,” Mr Birmingham said in his media release. 

“My Department’s concerns centre on the Islamic School of Canberra’s independence, financial management and governance arrangements.”

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SBS News contacted the school for comment, but was advised both the principal, David Johns, and the chairwoman, Azra Khan, could not speak “at the moment” as they were busy preparing the school’s public response. 

Students are due to return from school holidays next week.

“Our attention now turns to working with the students and their families, the teachers and the whole school community about how we best support them through this difficult time,” Mr Birmingham said. 

The school is still registered by the ACT Government and can continue to teach, but it is unclear whether the school could be financially viable without Commonwealth support. 

The school has 30 days to seek a review of the decision, Mr Birmingham’s office said. 

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Turnbull shares grandfather’s war letter

Malcolm Turnbull has shared his grandfather’s story while paying tribute to a generation of Australians who enlisted in World War I, only for many to never return.

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The prime minister was visibly moved while reading from a letter his grandfather Fred, a 22-year-old schoolteacher from the Macleay River who served on the Western Front, sent to his parents during the conflict.

The letter, reprinted in Kempsey’s Macleay Chronicle in May 1917, carried solemn news of the deaths of several soldiers from the region.

It told of Fred Turnbull’s fortune in meeting various people he knew, an expectation of further battles, and his determination to continue fighting until peace was secured.

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Mr Turnbull reflected on the letter at a reception for Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience – a travelling exhibition on Australia’s involvement in the First World War – in Sydney on Friday.

“You can just imagine a whole class, a whole classroom, whole community, young men, all of the same age within a few years, all of their friends, there, in France, in the trenches,” he told those gathered, his voice wavering.

Days out from Anzac Day, the prime minister also spoke of the poignancy of exhibits in offering an insight into the loss, fear, hope and courage of war.

“An evolving tapestry of human triumph and tragedy,” he said.

Mr Turnbull said that among the most moving items was a pair of socks the sister of an Anzac soldier started knitting only to stop after hearing he died at Gallipoli, which she kept unfinished until her death at 92.

He was also touched by the Bell of Darwin, which rang through the night to signal the end of hostilities in 1918, and the shell case from the last shot fired at Gallipoli.

Out of context, each were mere objects but accompanied by stories and presented thoughtfully each were powerful symbols of the human face of war.

“They are stories of the lives of our servicemen and women. They are the stories of communities,” Mr Turnbull said.

The prime minister thanked those involved in the exhibition, which was visited by about 350,000 Australians over its 200,000km journey across the country since September 2015, for bringing the stories of Anzacs to life.

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Razed Melbourne RSL to rise from the ashes

A Melbourne RSL says it will rise from the ashes after its historic clubhouse was gutted by a fire sparked by an electrical fault just days before Anzac Day services.

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An early morning yoga class had a lucky escape as fire engulfed the Ivanhoe RSL on Friday morning, with much of the 1913 building and its historic features lost.

MFB firefighters took 52 minutes to get the fire under control, wearing breathing gear to conduct “an aggressive attack” on the flames.

Fire investigators have determined the blaze was started by an electrical fault in a ceiling fan in the club’s change rooms.

The club’s president, Fred Cullen, who turns 96 in June, was on the streets of the CBD selling Anzac Day badges when he heard the devastating news.

“I was invited to go (and see the damage) this morning, but I thought no, I’d be more of a nuisance,” Mr Cullen said in Melbourne on Friday.

“I thought I’d be better help by raising the funds that I raised; I got about $1500 this morning.”

Mr Cullen said the news was devastating, but the RSL and its members will continue to “rally around”.

“The RSL sub-branch still exists and we will continue doing our work and doing it well.”

Veterans Affairs Minister John Eren said the state was proud of Mr Cullen, who was wounded in Papua New Guinea in WWII, and the work he did at the RSL for 43 years.

“The least we can do as a government is make sure that we can get that RSL up and running as soon as possible,” Mr Eren said.

Secretary Jacqueline Maud, who has a small cottage on the property, said she was alerted to the fire by members of the yoga club.

“There was flames coming out of the roof,” Ms Maud said on Friday.

“It’s been virtually destroyed, but there’s certain parts they can’t go in yet because of the structure damage.”

It was feared that decades of Anzac memorabilia might have been lost, but Ms Maud said firefighters were able to save “a lot” of it.

Her husband was taken to the Austin Hospital with smoke inhalation but “he’s OK”.

The yoga teacher said they heard a sound, then 10 minutes later smelled smoke.

“(We feel) very lucky and very sad. It has been home to our studio for at least the last six or seven years. And the community here will be gutted,’ she told the Nine Network.

The MFB reminds people all electrical appliances should be regularly maintained, switched off when not in use, and replaced when faulty.