A still from the film Gayby Baby Photo: Gayby Baby Students at Burwood Girls High School are among those who participate in the Proud Schools program. Photo: Janie Barrett
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Comment: Burwood Girls High School students find hypocrisy in debate

The NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, has banned every public school in the state from screening a documentary about children with gay parents during school hours.

On Wednesday afternoon Mr Piccoli issued a memo to the state’s principals ordering them not to show the film Gayby Baby so as “to not impact on the delivery of planned lessons”.

Up to 50 schools across Australia, including 20 in NSW had organised a simultaneous broadcast of the film as part of a nationwide Wear it Purple day campaign of sexual inclusion in schools.

A spokeswoman for the minister said he did not object to the content of the largely crowd-funded film.

She said the decision was taken to avoid students missing out on class and that screening the film may be considered if it is an integral part of the planned curriculum for an age appropriate year group.

The state-wide ban comes after the Minister personally intervened to prevent Burwood Girls High in Sydney’s inner-west screening the film to 1200 students on Friday morning, in the wake of a front page Daily Telegraph story about the controversy on Wednesday.

Fairfax Media understands four emails from parents were sent to the school expressing concern about the screening.

The film’s director, former Burwood Girls High student Maya Newell, said that minister’s decision had sent the wrong message to children who may be feeling ostracised.

“This is a film about kids who are growing up, they just happen to have gay parents,” she said. “The minister could have told all these families that they are equal and respected. He chose not to do that.”

Mr Piccoli has previously been a vocal supporter of programs that target homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism.

Wear it Purple day founder Katherine Hudson said she could understand the film being banned if it showed “grotesque sex scenes or violence”.

“But this is a film about families. Even for conservatives, this stuff would be easy to swallow,” she said.

On Tuesday the film screened inside NSW Parliament as part of the opening for the LGBTI ( lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) friendship group at the state legislature, after sell-out sessions at the Sydney Film Festival, and in Canada and New Zealand.

The ban follows complaints from some parents and religious groups including the Presbyterian church, which criticised the school for planning to screen a film which “promotes a gay lifestyle”.

Sydney MP Alex Greenwich said the minister’s decision to prevent the film from being shown during school hours was “absurd and deeply disappointing”.

“From a personal perspective, if I had seen a film that showed that gay and lesbian people can have loving and stable families and are just as normal as everyone else, that would have a positive and profound impact on my confidence and self identity.

“It is not a controversial film. It just shows that rainbow families are just as normal as any other,” he said.

The NSW Department of Education guidelines on film screenings do not prohibit showing films with homosexual themes and advise that films with an M+ rating can be shown at the discretion of the principal. Gayby Baby has been rated PG.

The department’s policy on controversial issues maintains schools should avoid creating “arenas for opposing political views or ideology”.

On Wednesday the NSW Premier Mike Baird said he did not believe the film belonged in the classroom.

“I think tolerance is a good thing. But I think there should be some parameters around it,” he said. “This is something that can be provided but done outside class time.”

Picture: Peter BraigThe birthplace of Queensland coalmining has declared it won’t support new mine operations and expansions.
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Ipswich City Council has adopted a mining policy that calls on the state government to block new mines and expansions as well as coal seam gas operations.

Councillors say there’s no long-term future for mining in the area because of urban growth and environmental concerns.

Ipswich was built on mining and Queensland’s first mine began operations there in 1843.

The Redbank mine was also home to the state’s first strike, with disgruntled miners stopping work over a pay rise in 1861.

Now Ipswich, about 40km west of Brisbane, is a thriving urban centre with an estimated 190,000 residents.Councillor Paul Tully says the city’s growing population, which is expected to double in 20 years, is a major reason why the council can no longer support mining.

‘‘We just think that coalmining and coal seam gas mining are inconsistent with urban areas and adjacent to urban areas,’’ Mr Tully told AAP.

‘‘The only area with a lot of land (for residential development) is west of Brisbane and that’s through Ipswich, and out towards Gatton and Toowoomba.’’

The mining industry thrived in Ipswich for about 100 years before tapering off in the 1980s.

It was around this time that housing estates in Ipswich became attractive as real estate prices in Brisbane soared.

The Jeebropilly Mine, near Rosewood, is the only one currently operating in the city.Mr Tully said council had made its stance on coalmining clear, but it was the state that assessed mining applications.

‘‘At the end of the day we have very little control,’’ he said.

The council said it would work in partnership with the Queensland government and mining companies to ‘‘extinguish’’ coalmining tenures where possible.

It has also promised to facilitate the transition of those involved in mining and will support the rehabilitation of mined land.

‘‘In relation to any future for coal seam gas, the policy identifies the largely untested nature of coal seam gas extraction and impacts on the environment,’’ Mr Tully said.


Treasurer Joe Hockey at his opening address at the National Reform Summit in Sydney. Photo: Louie Douvis Mr Hockey, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and RBA Governor Glenn Stevens, and others, at the summit. Photo: Louie Douvis
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Bill Shorten has called on Australia’s top business and community leaders to recognise the role of climate change in Australia’s economic outlook, imploring them to drop entrenched political differences to jointly design an emissions trading scheme.

His call, which reinforced the opposition’s intention to take an ETS to the the next federal election, came as Treasurer Joe Hockey also observed that the nation’s economic debate needed updating to reflect the multiple disruptions now being felt across commerce through the digital revolution.

Both men were among the first speakers at the National Reform Summit being held in Sydney’s CBD on Wednesday – a joint Fairfax Media/News Corp/KPMG event.

Taking a shot at the Greens and the Nationals, the Labor leader said sensible policy was best achieved by politicians in the middle of the spectrum. And while the stated spirit of the summit is one of finding common ground, if not outright consensus, Mr Shorten did not hesitate to make comments likely to be seen as political.

“I believe in reform, but reform with purpose,” Mr Shorten said.

Calling for “straight talk”, he said the reality most Australians feel from the nation’s economic performance was that is “wallowing in mediocrity”.

“We cannot simply continue as usual without long-term consequences, and even the current consequences are acute – the deficit’s doubled, wages growth is at record lows, economic growth is nearly a full percentage point below trend, annual growth’s been below trend for 11 consecutive quarters, and all but three of the previous 27 quarters,” he said.

Mr Shorten said unemployment had “a six in front of it” as 800,000 Australians remained jobless, and “there’s another 1 million Australians who are under-employed”.

He said climate change was the big lever for economic transformation with opposition to renewable energy often bordered on “hysteria”.

“Cutting pollution and driving investment in renewable energy lifts productivity,” he said.

“As leaders of our business community and think-tank world, you can play a critical role in elevating this conversation.

“Forty percent of the world’s economy, more than one billion people, have already embraced the opportunity of an emissions trading scheme – Australia needs to settle on and lock in an appropriate design for ours.

“If we do not get serious about tackling climate change, if we don’t get serious about investing in renewables, then we cannot say we are serious about economic reform.”

Mr Hockey used his contribution to recommend new thinking, telling the influential audience, that consumers must be at the centre of this new approach to policy, or it would inevitably fail.

“The big mistake from today would be to shape future reform based on a wistful glance in the rear-view mirror,” he told them.

“In some areas – like technology, financial services and communications – reform will be rapid and we will struggle to get ahead of fast moving consumers.

“In workplace relations, industry policy, innovation and the environment, external drivers will be the great disruptors. For example, having a debate about deregulating shopping hours is almost redundant given the emergence of 24/7 internet shopping.

“The Abbott government’s reform agendas in competition policy, financial services, trade policy and taxation need to carefully weigh the expectations of the sovereign consumer.

“Our productivity agenda must carefully consider the dynamics of an ageing population, private investment in public infrastructure and the need for our education system to be better and more responsive to global trends.”

While all speakers stressed the need to lift productivity, early contributions to the summit tended to emphasise the standard arguments with unions and social welfare advocates raising inequality as a major concern while business and economists argued for deregulation and policies aimed at wealth creation.

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government has passed less legislation than any other in the past 50 years. But does that matter? Prime Minister Tony Abbott arrives for Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Government Senate leader Eric Abetz gave two reasons for the output of the Abbott government Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Even defenders of Julia Gillard’s government say that passed bills is an incomplete measure of a parliament. Photo: Andrew Meares

More political opinion

This week, Fairfax Media provided observers of Australian politics with some interesting data. It was the number of acts of parliament passed by the Abbott government in its first 700 days compared with the same measure for the last ten Australian prime ministers (not including Bill McMahon, John McEwen and Harold Holt who didn’t serve that long) going right back to Ben Chifley. Yes, the Abbott government is now more than 700 days old.

The data showed that you have to go back to John Gorton in 1968 to find a government that passed fewer bills through the parliament: Abbott 262 compared to Gorton 259. Interestingly, Robert Menzies and Ben Chifley passed even fewer bills: 105 and 178 bills respectively. Times were obviously different.

At first glance all five Labor governments have passed large numbers of bills in their first 700 days, including the record holder, Kevin Rudd, with 397 bills. However, before you jump to conclusions from this observation about Labor governments, in Malcolm Fraser’s first 700 days his government passed the second-largest number of bills, 375.

So what does it all mean? The gathering of the data was stimulated by a report that cabinet had met last week without any formal submissions to consider and by an observation that “MPs despaired at time-filling debates in parliament” these days.

Abbott introduced fewer bills too. The accompanying comment speculated that that this may mean that the Abbott government suffers from “policy paralysis” if these figures are really a measure of “success”.

But this description actually comes from a comment by Senator Nick Xenophon that “there seems to be a policy paralysis”.

But reading more closely you see that Xenophon was actually hedged his bets by also commenting that the previous Gillard government used to “pride itself” on passing many bills that were “pretty average”. So Xenophon is really having it both ways and damning both sides of politics. He also raises the useful question of the quality of bills as well as the quantity.

During the Gillard government, when it was under attack, its defenders used these same statistics to argue that minority government was actually working much better than its detractors were willing to admit.

Rather than being bogged down by leadership conflict and consultation with minor parties and independents it was actually getting things done. It passed 329 bills in its first 700 days. However even Gillard defenders admitted that this was an incomplete measure of a parliament. And that is the point. This raw data must be interpreted carefully.

We often grasp at figures like these because they offer the possibility of an objective measure of the work of a parliament and of the government that depends upon it. But really the objectivity is illusory. If we can’t be objective, however, then must observers of parliament always be subjective?

Statistics like these are worth gathering, and raise interesting questions but they do not lead to easy answers. We need a way to break down these figures into something useful. You can judge an academic researcher by the number of academic papers they produce in their first 700 days. But this should only be the beginning of trying to judge the quality of their work.

For the academic researcher you need a way of judging the quality of these papers. And universities do try to do this by ranking the journals in which these papers are published. Even that is just a rough measure but it is at least a start.

These parliamentary statistics do tell us something, but we don’t know exactly what. Xenophon gives us a clue. How do you weigh the merits of a lot of pretty average legislation against a smaller lot of more noteworthy bills? You can only do this if you were able to grade each piece of legislation. We don’t yet do this.

Parliament has sometimes been compared to a sausage factory with legislation being the sausages. But parliamentary sausages come in different shapes, sizes and quality; and this must be recognised. Just counting the number of sausages without regard to their qualities is an exercise of limited usefulness.

In the particular case of the apparently low productivity of the Abbott government the reactions to the information were all self-interested. The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, agreed that the government was paralysed and suggested that the cause was infighting.

Government Senate leader Eric Abetz offered two explanations. The first was that for its first 300 days, until July 2014, the Abbott government had been blocked by a hostile Labor-Green Senate. But, of course, other governments, including the Rudd government, also had to face a hostile Senate in their early days. That cannot be the full answer.

The second was that since then the legislation passed had included “significant reform legislation”. If we had a legislative grading system like the system for grading academic papers then Abetz may have argued that the A-grade quality of the legislation (abolition of the carbon and mining taxes, etc.) made up for the relatively small number of bills. That is a proposition that cannot be dismissed, and deserves testing. But we have no objective methodology by which to do this at the moment.

These statistics are not irrelevant but they are raw data which needs sophisticated processing. Governments and parliaments should be judged on the whole of their work and the quality of that work. A good research project is waiting. In the meantime parliament itself should attempt to grade its own legislative output so that the public can better come to grips with statistics like these.

John Warhurst is an emeritus professor of political science at the Australian National University.

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Confident: England’s 2003 World Cup winning head coach Clive Woodward. Photo: Kevin StentClick here for full coverage of the 2015 Rugby World CupThe lowdown: Rugby World Cup 2015
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With England coach Stuart Lancaster poised to name the host nation’s 31-man World Cup squad at 1:45pm GMT on Thursday (10:45pm AEST), the big question on everyone’s lips is whether or not Sam Burgess will be successful in his World Cup bid, or whether his dreams will be left in tatters on the cutting room floor.

With many tipping the choice is a coin toss between Burgess and his centre pairing from England’s first warm-up against France, Henry Slade, it looks as though it will go right down to the wire.

Plenty of former players, and even a World Cup winning coach have had their say, with an almost unanimous verdict going against the man the South Sydney Rabbitohs mourn every weekend.

Let’s take a look at what those in the know are saying ahead of the announcement.

Sunday Times columnist and former England five-eighth Stuart Barnes, who ahead of Burgess’ debut against France labelled the big man “one of the most undeserving players to make a debut in the red rose”, gave Burgess credit for his barnstorming performance earlier this month.

The outspoken pundit revised his opinion to state that the convert deserved a second chance at making the cut, even if “he didn’t bestride Twickenham like a colossus”. Ultimately however, he didn’t name Big Sam in his picks for the World Cup squad.

Ireland rugby great Brian O’Driscoll joined the pessimistic chorus, saying Burgess’s attacking game is below the standard required at international level and was more impressed by Henry Slade during England’s victory over France last week.

“Burgess has proper defensive X Factor, of that there’s no doubt,” O’Driscoll said on www.brianodriscoll上海夜网m.

“His tackle technique and strength in the hit were never in question and for me, he has just the right amount of thug in him.

“When his team has the ball though, I just don’t think he’s quite up to speed at international level just yet.”

Other prominent naysayers include Matt Dawson – the scrum-half who flicked the ball to Jonny Wilkinson to break Australian hearts in 2003 – as well as former teammates Will Greenwood and Mike Tindall.

Dawson told the BBC after the France game: “You can’t take him to the World Cup for me. He played 80 mins and credit for that. But the way the game went in the second half there was nothing for him to do.

“The great thing about Burgess is he doesn’t make mistakes with ball in hand. But unfortunately, if you’re going to be really picky, positionally he wasn’t great … There are things that instinctively he doesn’t know what to do.”

On a surprising note however, England’s 2003 World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward and inside centre Greenwood told Sky Sports they could see a happier ending for Burgess.

While Greenwood eliminated Burgess from his picks, he did add a postscript: “So – can you go with Burgess as the fourth-choice centre, someone who brings this personality, this winning mentality, this self-belief… and this massive smash!? If Burgess goes into the squad in front of Burrell, I can understand why.”

The last word however surely goes to Woodward, who turns out to be a huge Sam fan, stating that he thinks he will make the final 31: “I think Burgess is going to be a big star for England. I just think it’s 12 months early”, he declared.

“There’s no doubt he’s an amazing player … I think they will [pick him]. I think Burgess will go.”

BHP Billiton chief Andrew Mackenzie has vowed to maintain the company’s generous dividend despite weak commodity prices. Photo: Pat SullivanBHP Billiton’s dividend yield has reached “once in a lifetime” levels, after the company kept a promise to grow the return to shareholders despite posting its lowest profit in more than a decade, analysts say.

BHP paid out $US1.24 per share in total during the 2015 financial year, which was 2 per cent higher than the previous year despite an 86 per cent slump in statutory profits, and despite the fact the company’s revenues have shrunk on the back of the South32 demerger.

The company’s promise to continue growing dividends prompted its London listed shares to soar by 8 per cent in early trade on Tuesday night before closing 6 per cent higher.

When the dividend is compared to BHP’s share price, the miner is now boasting a better dividend yield than all of Australia’s major banks.

Dividend yields are calculated by dividing the dividends per share by the company’s share price, and the measure provides an insight into how much return an investor is getting on their investment.

The yield on BHP’s Australian shares was 7.36 per cent at the close of trading on Tuesday, while the yield on BHP’s London shares was beyond 8 per cent.

For comparison, Rio Tinto’s yield is hovering just below 6 per cent.

Shaw Stockbroking analyst Peter O’Connor​ left clients in no doubt about the significance of the yield.

“It is worth noting that BHP’s progressive dividend per share ($US1.24) puts BHP on a once in a lifetime/generation dividend yield of about 7 per cent,” he said in a note to clients.

Bernstein analyst Paul Gait said BHP’s yield was higher than had been seen in the mining sector for at least 20 years, if not longer.

“In recent history this is as high as I’ve ever seen it,” he told Fairfax Media.

“So the question is, what moves? Do they cut the dividend or does the share price go up?”

Speaking on Tuesday evening, BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie said the company would prefer to cut spending on growth projects rather than cut the progressive dividend policy, which guarantees the dividends will never fall.

“Over my dead body sounds a little strong but it’s almost right,” he said, in reference to the circumstances in which he would be willing to cut the dividend.

“You shouldn’t doubt our commitment to maintain the progressive dividend, quite independent of any divestment or any additional sources of cash. Our ability to defend it comes from our exemplary program for productivity and efficiency and the strength of our balance sheet.”

Mr Gait said the size of BHP’s yield left investors with a “fairly binary” decision to make.

“To the extent that people are somewhat sanguine about the macro environment, this tells them this is rock-bottom prices for BHP Billiton,” he said.

“BHP Billiton is pretty adamant that the dividend is secure, they claim there is plenty of flexibility in the balance sheet and in the capital structure to allow them to weather the storm and they are not going to cut it, ergo this is the time to fill your boots on BHP Billiton shares.

“If, however, you are concerned about the global macro conditions, you have to put BHP Billiton’s assurances to one side. If you are concerned that BHP is going to continue to push tonnes rather than prioritise value then there is further downside on the commodity deck, in which case BHP will eventually have to cut the dividend.

“For me, I think we are at the bottom of the cycle, I think the pain is behind us rather than in front of us and therefore this is the time to buy the mining stocks.”

Liberum analyst Richard Knights said he did not think BHP’s dividend was in danger of being cut in the near term, but he said the company may have to cut eventually if conditions continue to deteriorate.

“Further down the line I wouldn’t rule it out. If we had copper below $US2 per pound, iron ore below $40 per pound and oil where it is for a 12-month period they would be unlikely to be able to cover the dividend without further borrowing, and their credit rating would be already under significant pressure,” he said.

“At that point, they may not be willing to add leverage.”

Copper was fetching $US2.29 per pound on Tuesday evening, while the benchmark iron ore price was fetching $US53.45 per tonne.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott joins the Remote School Attendance Strategy bus to pick up school children for school in Bamaga, during his visit to Cape York on Wednesday. Photo: Alex EllinghausenAbbott pushed for US request to join Syria air strikes

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the government expects to make a decision next week on whether to join air strikes in Syria as he brushed aside questions on whether his office pushed for a request from Washington to expand Australia’s involvement.

Mr Abbott told reporters  on Wednesday that cabinet’s National Security Committee would most likely meet next week to determine whether air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq should be expanded into its more dangerous neighbour Syria.

The committee has to meet to make a decision and it is expected that meeting will occur on September 1.

Mr Abbott said the formal request for increased involvement by Australia had been made in a phone call to him from US President Barack Obama.

But he did not deny reports by Fairfax Media that the driving force for the request came from the government and, in particular, Mr Abbott’s office.

“Well, all I know is that I was on the other end of the phone line, the President was on Air Force One, the President had initiated this phone call to talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Bamaga in Cape York.

“After I initially expressed my condolences for the terrorist shootings in Chattanooga (in Tennessee) the President then raised with me the Syrian situation and said that he would be very glad if Australia would do more, including air strikes.

“I was happy to consider that request and our officials would talk and now this request has come from the Pentagon.”

Mr Abbott said while Australia’s initial commitment was for air strikes in Iraq, it was important Australia did what it could to assist allies in the Middle East and other countries to defeat Islamic State.

“I’ve long thought that while the legalities are different, the moralities of this issue are the same on either side of the border,” he said.

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Health records showed a deterioration in the child after five months of foster care. Photo: Gabriele CharotteTwo foster carers who have been the subject of repeated complaints to the Department of Family and Community Services dating back several years still have two teenage girls in their care, prompting calls for tighter screening and monitoring of carers.

Medical professionals, the NSW Ombudsman and members of the local community have raised serious concerns about the couple, who cannot be identified for legal reasons.

Health records of one child formerly in their care show a marked deterioration in the state of the child while she lived with the couple.

The records, obtained by Fairfax Media, report the child showed no signs of trauma or malnourishment before going into their care. A follow-up medical report written five months later describes the same child suffering from malnourishment and emitting a foul odour.

The child’s biological mother, who cannot be identified, said she was concerned by her daughter’s dishevelled appearance at contact visits.

“When I read the medical reports, my first thought was that she had been abused,” the mother said. “How else does a healthy child go downhill in such a short period of time?”

The child was removed from their care, but a later investigation by the NSW Ombudsman noted concerns about three other children living with the couple.

The report found the couple had misled health professionals about the children, had exposed them to adult products and videos and locked at least one of the children in his room overnight. A risk assessment featured in the report recommended the removal of the children and the cancellation of their carers’ authorisation.

Shadow minister for Family and Community Services Tania Mihailuk​ questioned why foster children were still in the couple’s care.

“The NSW Opposition expects a full investigation into how it appears that the Ombudsman’s concerns in this case have been ignored and further an inquiry into how this government is failing to properly oversee foster care placements,” she said.

“Questions need to be asked, such as: What are the levels of oversight here? How are potential carers being screened? How often are carers being screened? How many people are on the ground making these checks? What processes are in place to action information gathered during these risk assessments?”

Jacqui Reed, chief executive of the peak advocacy group for children in care, the Create Foundation, said screening and monitoring standards should be improved.

“Create’s research indicates that children want carers and workers who care for them, are consistent and reliable,” she said.

“Yet it isn’t what is happening in practice because there are instances where children are not safe and are slipping through the cracks. What is needed is direct attention being given to this issue and a renewed commitment to providing excellent care through robust processes.”

A spokeswoman for Family and Community Services minister, Brad Hazzard​ said the safety of children in care was “our highest priority”.

A spokesman for the FACS department said probity checks on carers were regularly reviewed and carers were subject to ongoing monitoring. “FACS takes any allegations of harm to children seriously, including those in foster care, so whenever any such allegations arise we investigate,” he said.

“The safety of children is paramount in all FACS decisions. The department has an overriding responsibility to ensure that children entrusted to its care are safe and protected.”

100-year-old seawalls along the Parramatta River are struggling to cope with wash from RiverCat ferries. Photo: Janie Barrett A RiverCat nears the railway and pipeline bridges at Rydalmere on the upper reaches of the Parramatta River. Photo: Mike Bowers

The wake of RiverCat ferry. Photo: Ben Rushton

A jetty which was once submerged in water is now planted in sand and sediment, which waterfront lessees say has been washed ashore by RiverCat ferries. Photo: Janie Barrett

“Older walls, predating the RiverCats, obviously weren’t designed for this level of wave energy.” Photo: Janie Barrett

RiverCat ferries are causing “sinkholes” along the Parramatta River from Gladesville to Drummoyne, leading to repair bills of up to $300,000 each time, waterfront lessees say.

The issue has caught the attention of George Citer, the chairman of the Waterfront Action Group, who in recent weeks has heard almost daily reports of erosion “sinkholes”.

“Our members have notified us of substantial damage to their seawalls and other structures on the waterfront and they are blaming the RiverCat ferries…specifically the wake caused by the RiverCats,” Mr Citer said.

Waterfront lessees of the land owned by Roads and Maritime Services have been given quotes ranging from $50,000 to $300,000 to repair the damage.

Dr William Glamore, a principal research fellow at the UNSW Water Research Laboratory, said it was possible that wash from the RiverCat ferries was causing erosion.

“There are many reasons you get erosion, but the energy from the RiverCats is completely outside the natural energy of that environment. You wouldn’t normally get waves of that size and shape, particularly of the wave period,” he said. “That is directly related to wave energy…which causes the erosion.”

Dr Glamore said the “sinkholes” to which residents were referring is a process known as “slumping”.

“While the RiverCats are likely to be a major source of wave energy, the slumping occurs because older walls, predating the RiverCats, obviously weren’t designed for this level of wave energy and the rate at which they are failing could be related to the increased wave energy.”

There has been a decades-long campaign against the wash caused by the RiverCat ferries, which dozens of waterfront leaseholders from suburbs such as Drummoyne, Abbotsford, Gladesville and Huntleys Point say are responsible for years of seawall erosion along the Parramatta River.

As the fill behind the seawall is being sucked out by pressure waves, it is causing the land behind the seawall to subside.

“I know of someone in Drummoyne who has spent around $160,000 after two ‘sinkholes’ appeared. They filled one and roughly a year later they had to fill the second with 35 tonnes of concrete,” Mr Citer said.

“We have also been told of a commercial marina that has about $200,000 of damage to its jetties.”

Tony Hopkins, who has been repairing seawalls for 38 years, said the majority of the jobs done by his company Australian Seawall Specialists were the same.

“It’s a maintenance issue a lot of people don’t think about doing. It is their responsibility for them to look after their walls. You can’t blame the ferries, but the ferries are causing it.”

The  impact of the RiverCat ferries on the Parramatta River was examined more than a decade ago. In 1998, The Sun-Herald reported an independent engineering probe had revealed “more than 70km of land fronting the Parramatta River was dangerously eroded…by the ferries’ wave motions”.

Abbotsford Point Boatshed owner Roger Kyle said he still experiences deterioration to his waterfront boatshed, where waves wash up through his floorboards daily.

“I’m not the kind of guy to whinge about it … but it gets to you, you know? You’re up against city hall.”

Since the 1998 investigation, ordered by the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, there have been two studies into the use of RiverCat ferries on the Parramatta River, in 2010 and 2013, commissioned by eight local governments.

Both reports found RiverCat wash to be “the primary source of erosion” in areas along the  river.

“A key management issue … is instigating modifications to or replacement of the RiverCat with another vessel that generates less wash to reduce further erosion by its wash,” the 2013 Parramatta River Estuary Coastal Zone Management Plan said.

Lawyer Warwick La Hood is representing waterfront owners in their domestic leasing arrangements with RMS, with whom he is working collaboratively on the issue of seawall damage.

“If RMS are aware and have been put on notice that the way they have managed the movement of RiverCats has caused the degradation to the sea wall, they will be exposed to liability in rectifying the damage.”

A spokesman for Transport for NSW said the NSW government’s $100 million boost for Parramatta River ferry services includes four new vessels, and the minimisation of vessel wash will be considered in future design options.

“It should be noted that ferry wash is only one cause of erosion. Other causes include natural events such as severe storms, flooding, high tides, wind fetch and public access to sensitive foreshore areas,” he said

“From around the late 1990s, the speed limit from Silverwater Bridge to Parramatta Weir was reduced to seven knots with vessels directed to move away from the shoreline where possible to minimise environmental impact.”

The RMS would arrange to meet with representatives of the Waterfront Action Group to discuss their concerns, he said.

Senator Arthur Sinodinos outside ICAC last year. He was called to give evidence about Australian Water Holdings. Photo: Rob HomerLiberal senator Arthur Sinodinos is free of a major legal headache after shareholders in a company embroiled in a corruption inquiry dropped a costly case against him.

Senator Sinodinos, a former chairman of infrastructure company Australian Water Holdings, was one of several former directors being pursued by the disgruntled shareholders to recover their investment.

The company and former chief executive Nick Di Girolamo, a prominent Liberal Party fundraiser, were the subject of a high-profile Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry last year into allegations the company improperly billed the state-owned Sydney Water for lavish expenses including limousines and airfares.

The inquiry crossed party lines and examined allegations that former NSW Labor ministers Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly misused their positions in an attempt to benefit the company.

Australian Water assiduously lobbied the state Coalition government after the March 2011 election that swept Labor from power, and the commission was also investigating whether it paid $183,000 to an alleged slush fund set up by a former adviser to former minister Chris Hartcher.

The allegations of wrongdoing are denied and ICAC has yet to release its findings.

Senator Sinodinos is not expected to face any adverse findings but he was called to give evidence at the inquiry about the company’s expenses.

Justice Katzmann said in a preliminary judgment on Tuesday that the case against Senator Sinodinos had been discontinued and he was “no longer a party”.

Mr Di Girolamo and others – including former Labor treasurer Michael Costa, also a former chairman – are still being pursued in court. But Justice Katzmann has ordered that most of the shareholders provide a combined $2.4 million in security for legal costs to continue their fight. This could in effect bring the dispute to an end.

She said there was “credible evidence” that the companies bringing the case “may not be able to pay the respondents’ costs should their claims fail” and it was appropriate for them to provide security.

At the heart of the case is the allegation that Mr Di Girolamo and others persuaded the shareholders “to invest substantial sums of money only to squander their investments”, Justice Katzmann said.

Mr Di Girolamo’s brother-in-law, Danny Koutsogiannis, his school friend, Rod de Aboitiz, and the well-connected Navarra family, who run reception centres including Le Montage and Curzon Hall, are among the shareholders taking action. Mr Koutsogiannis, who is suing in his own name rather than through a company, was not ordered to provide security.

The case will be halted until the first tranches of the money are paid into court or a guarantee provided.