Hawkins tipped to rebound

Jeremy Hawkins and Reece Robinson at a Raiders fan session on Thursday. Robinson is likely to replace Hawkins, who was blocked from making his NRL debut on Sunday because of the second tier salary cap, in Canberra’s team to take on the Gold Coast. Photo: Jeffrey ChanCanberra Raiders prop Paul Vaughan witnessed the talent Jeremy Hawkins possesses as teammates in the club’s under-20 team.

So Vaughan has no doubt the former Junior Kiwi international will get the chance to shine in the NRL after salary cap restrictions forced his debut to be delayed.

Hawkins was named on the wing for the Raiders in Sunday’s match with the Gold Coast Titans at Cbus Super Stadium, only for the Raiders to be denied an exemption to the club’s second-tier salary cap.

The Raiders had reached the $440,000 limit when hooker Kurt Baptise, who with Hawkins is part of the club’s extended first-grade squad, played in their most recent game against the Wests Tigers.

In rejecting the Raiders’ application, the NRL decided there were players in the club’s top 25 squad, most notably Reece Robinson, who were fit and available to play in the same position as Hawkins.

By coincidence, Hawkins and Robinson happened to be sitting next to each other on Thursday as they were signing autographs for Raiders fans at the club’s holiday clinic.

While Robinson is the favourite to replace Hawkins, Matt Allwood and Bill Tupou are also in the mix.

Hawkins, 21, was chosen after an impressive four-try haul for the Raiders’ NSW Cup affiliate Mounties last weekend.

Vaughan believes it is only a matter of time before Hawkins, who is signed with the Raiders until the end of next year, makes his NRL debut.

“Jeremy is another of the boys I’ve played juniors with back in the day and he’s a really strong player,” Vaughan said.

”It’s upsetting that he’s not playing this weekend, but I’m sure he’ll have the opportunity down the track to play first grade.

”It is disappointing, but I’m sure he’ll be in the lime green next year some time.”

It’s the second time in as many seasons the Raiders have been unable to blood a young player because of the second-tier salary cap.

Last year, NSW Residents halfback Mitch Cornish was named to make his debut against the Cronulla Sharks in round 26, the final game of the season.

However, the NRL rejected the application because fellow half Sam Williams was available.

The NRL this season increased the second-tier salary cap from $375,000 to $440,000 in response to requests from most clubs.

The salary cap for a club’s top 25 squad is $5.5 million.

Six players – Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Matt McIlwrick, Sam Mataora, Jake Foster, Mark Nicholls and Lagi Setu – in the top 25 squad have played just three games combined this season.

The Raiders have had four players from their extended NRL squad in the first-grade team – Allwood, Baptise, Kyle O’Donnell and Shannon Boyd – while Brenko Lee has also been promoted from the club’s under-20s.

Boyd, 21, has been a regular in the side since making his NRL debut in round one and knows Hawkins isn’t far off.

“He’s a good player, he’ll get his crack next year or whenever he can,” Boyd said.

“It’s a bit unlucky.

“It’s what you work for, it’s what you put all these years in for, so it’s disappointing for him, but he’ll get there.”

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Raiders hell-bent on avoiding wooden spoon

It’s a place the Canberra Raiders haven’t been for 1119 days – on the bottom of the NRL ladder.

That streak could come to an end if they lose to a Gold Coast Titans side without suspended NSW star Greg Bird at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday.

Raiders prop Paul Vaughan believes the side can take plenty of confidence from its narrow defeat to the Tigers as its aims to kickstart its season.

Having lost seven of their past eight games, the Raiders (4-11) are 15th on the table with 12 competition points, level with the 14th-placed Newcastle Knights and the last-placed Cronulla Sharks.

The Knights have a for and against of -97, just ahead of the Raiders (-119) and the Sharks (-157).

However, the Sharks can leapfrog both of their nearest rivals for the dreaded wooden spoon when they host the Knights on Sunday.

Vaughan said having the week off for the bye had refreshed the squad after the 19-18 loss to the Tigers the week before.

“We were pretty unlucky not to get the win,” Vaughan said.

“I was happy with the boys’ effort and it was a really tight game.

“We can take a lot of confidence out of that game, we’re all refreshed and happy to be back at training this week and hopefully we can get the win over the Titans.”

It would be the first time the Raiders have been in last place on the ladder since round 14 in 2011 after they lost 25-24 to the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium.

The Raiders spent just seven days on the bottom before they finished that season in 15th place ahead of the Titans.

It kept the club’s foundation year in 1982 as the only time the Raiders have claimed the wooden spoon.

They are the favourites with betting agency TAB Sportsbet at $2.10 to finish this season with the most losses, just ahead of the Sharks ($2.20) with the Knights at $6.

Their immediate focus is on the Titans and trying to win just the club’s second game in seven attempts on the Gold Coast.

Controlling the impressive Titans forward pack will go a long way to the Raiders collecting the two competition points.

The Titans have been dealt a blow with Bird set to miss this weekend’s game after being charged with a lifting tackle in the 32-8 loss to Queensland on Wednesday night.

They are set to have Queensland pair Nate Myles and David Taylor back up and take on the Raiders.

Vaughan said keeping Taylor under check would prove to be a difficult challenge, but one his side was looking forward to.

“We’ve got to keep up in his face, have good line speed and really try and shut him down nice and early and make sure he doesn’t have too much confidence after last night’s game,” Vaughan said.

“The Titans are coming off a pretty good win against the Rabbitohs the other night, so we’re happy to go up there and give them a pretty strong game.

“I’m sure we’ll get our season back on line this weekend and make a charge to the finals.”

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Government says no risk from asbestos at former Brisbane Law Courts site

The CFMEU believes there is a public risk from dangerous asbestos on the former Brisbane Law Courts site. Photo: CFMEU The state government says there is no risk to the public from asbestos on the site. Photo: CFMEU

Queensland’s Department of Justice says the abandoned Brisbane law courts demolition site poses no threat to public health, after fears were raised it was riddled with asbestos.

No airborne fibres were detected in site monitoring undertaken by Workplace Health and Safety officers on Wednesday, according to a departmental spokesperson, and samples of broken cement sheeting taken from the site last week have also tested negative for the cancer-causing fibres.

“WHSQ is satisfied all necessary steps have been undertaken to maintain public safety,” the spokesperson said.

However, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union said it commissioned its own independent testing of eight samples taken from the site last week, five of which it says have tested positive for chrysotile asbestos.

The union maintains the partially demolished site is a public health disaster in the making, with broken cement sheeting causing wind gusts to blow the deadly fibres across the city.

Health fears were raised publicly last week when it was revealed the prominent CBD site, in the heart of Brisbane’s business district, was abandoned mid-demolition when the contractor, the Wacol-based P&K Demolitions went broke, owing $3.7 million to creditors.

The director of River City Asbestos Removals, the company contracted by P&K Demolitions to safely remove the cement sheeting, said he had not been able to declare some areas of the site safe, prompting fears thousands of city workers could unwittingly be inhaling the deadly airborne fibres.

Despite the departmental test results, CFMEU Queensland and Northern Territory branch president David Hanna said workplace health and safety officers had neglected their duties in properly supervising the demolition of the 1970s buildings, which they knew contained large amounts of asbestos.

“Everyone has known there has been asbestos there all along and that’s fine, if it’s managed well but it just hasn’t been,” he said.

“The asbestos has to be taken off in full sheets but this has been broken and parts have been pushed off the roof.

“There has been no reticulation system put in place, so there was no way to contain any of the dust that rose and spread.”

Mr Hanna said CFMEU members on site raised concerns about the asbestos removal procedures in early June, six months after the demolition process began.

He said all asbestos needed to be removed in a “soft strip” before demolition work commenced, which he alleged had not been the case.

Mr Hanna said the workplace health and safety officers should move quickly to install a reticulation system to prevent dust blowing off the site, despite its test results returning a negative finding for the fibres.

“It’s no good the department saying it’s not their responsibility, the department is there to protect the public to ensure legislation is adhered to,” he said.

“We think the department should ensure the asbestos is contained and removed in a proper manner and that means a sprinkler system needs to be set up as a precaution straight away.”

The Workplace Health and Safety spokesperson said sealed bags of asbestos remained on site at 300 George Street but that they that posed no public health risk.

“The sealed bags of asbestos still remain on-site, and demolition cannot resume until the bags are collected. It is the responsibility of the site owner to manage the safe removal of these bags,” the spokesperson said.

The developer, the Taiwanese-based Shayher Group, has not been available for comment.

The procurement process to find a new demolitionist is underway.

The CFMEU’s independent testing was undertaken by environmental consultancy Parsons Brinckerhoff. It did not undertake independent air testing at the site.

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Man forbidden to drive until 2153

LUCKY: David Browne leaves court yesterday after escaping a jail term. HE would be 200 years old, if he lived that long, before he could legally get behind the wheel of a car again.

But retired bus driver David John Browne, of Shortland, says he’s done with driving.

‘‘I’ve certainly learnt my bloody lesson,’’ he said yesterday.

The 61-year-old narrowly escaped a 12-month jail term after receiving a suspended sentence in Newcastle Local Court for driving while disqualified.

He was caught by Newcastle Highway Patrol officers during a random breath test at Wallsend at about 6pm on June 16.

He told police he did not have a licence and produced a proof-of-age card. Police checked it and found that he’d been disqualified from driving until 2149.

That was not counting the extra two-year disqualification he’d been handed in Newcastle Local Court the week before for another driving while disqualified charge.

Outside court, Browne said he was relieved to escape a jail term.

‘‘I am very, very grateful that the judge saw it that way,’’ he said.

He said he got into the car to drive on June 16 because his son was urgently required at work.

‘‘It was a case of necessity. I had a son who needed to get to work and the car was there.’’ He admitted that there was some ‘‘stupidity’’ involved.

After six strokes, he is partially blind in one eye and will never attempt to drive again, he said.

‘‘The car’s in the top of the back yard. It’s going to my son who is about to go for his test.’’

Browne said he’d only been caught driving while disqualified three times, but it had involved a 22-day stint behind the wheel as the driver of a bus ferrying kids.

That only happened because he’d been disqualified from driving without his knowledge – he’d moved house and had not received the notice, he said.

His criminal record reveals he was fined $500 and disqualified from driving for two years for each of those 22 days in Parramatta Court on April 21, 2006.

He was also declared a habitual offender, with 100 years added to his disqualification period, pushing his non-driving days out to 2149.

Then he was caught driving on March 28 this year, for which he was given a 50-hour community service order and a further two-year disqualification, to 2151.

Yesterday he was given a 12-month suspended sentence and placed on a good behaviour bond, as well as being disqualified for a further two years, until 2153.

Prosecutor Cunneen stands by ‘trivial’ comment

TESTIMONY: Margaret Cunneen is questioned at the royal commission hearing yesterday.THE highly regarded NSW prosecutor who told Queensland authorities that a child sex abuse allegation against Scott Volkers was relatively “trivial” has staunchly defended the comments, saying she was referring to what a jury was likely to think, not her own opinion.

“I don’t resile from the advice at all,” Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen, SC, told the royal commission into child sex abuse yesterday.

“I certainly don’t want to hurt any person who has suffered from those assaults by saying that – but that’s the human side of me. Being a barrister, one must follow the law.”

The royal commission’s hearings into child sex abuse in Australian swimming has heard that in 2004 the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions elected not to continue pursuing child sex allegations against Mr Volkers after advice from Ms Cunneen, who said there was “no reasonable prospect of a conviction”.

In her advice, Ms Cunneen expressed scepticism about a doctor’s finding that one of the alleged victims was suffering from depression stemming from an alleged assault 14 years before, in which Mr Volkers allegedly touched her breasts.

“Dr Cotter’s evidence seems in view of the trivial nature (relative to the nature and duration of most sexual assaults which come before courts) of the allegations, almost fanciful,” Ms Cunneen said in the advice.

‘‘It is legitimate to consider whether 12-year-old swimmers even had breasts,’’ her advice said.

But yesterday, Ms Cunneen denied that this represented her own, personal opinion. Rather it was “prosecutor’s shorthand” about the likely interpretation of the evidence by a jury.

“That is my opinion of the view a jury would form, given the usual robust submissions by defence counsel,” she said.

“I’m called upon to give a full and frank and informed opinion about what would happen. I regard that the position would have been that the jury wouldn’t have [favourably] regarded this additional complaint … being so aged and being so relatively minor to cause such a massive mental health [breakdown].”

Regarding allegations that Mr Volkers had rubbed the alleged victim’s genitalia, bringing her to orgasm, Ms Cunneen expressed concerns in her advice about ‘‘the unlikelihood a 13-year-old girl would have experienced an orgasm while being indecently assaulted’’.

‘‘I have frequently seen occasions where male victims have had an orgasm while being sexually assaulted, and the best witnesses among them explain that, while the moment of orgasm was pleasurable, the sexual assaults and their contexts were ghastly.

‘‘I have never before, in the many hundreds of sexual cases that have crossed my desk over 18 years, seen a female complainant who experienced orgasms during the assault.’’

Ms Cunneen, who chaired the recent NSW special inquiry into child sex abuse in Newcastle, said she had never expected her “privileged advice” to go to the Queensland authorities, let alone be made public.