‘Who is going to fund this white elephant?’



Is it an unrealistic dream to want trains back on our tracks?

Or should we get on with building the rail trail?

A new company, Northern Rivers Rail Ltd, has been established in an effort to get the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line reopened for trains.

They will host their first public meeting this week.

But the issue of what our rail corridor should be used for continues to divide our community.

On The Northern Star‘s Facebook page, readers were vocal with their opinions.

On the pro-train side, Doug Moses wrote: “I remember travelling from Murwillumbah on that train back in 1958. Train was ancient, carriage letting rain in everywhere, but the country scenery was beautiful, making it a thoroughly enjoyable journey. Wish the proposal well.”

But Peter Hatfield replied: “There is no proposal. It is just a delaying tactic to try and stop the rail trail. They have nothing to offer the community except a continuation of the disused corridor.”

Sam Lees said a long distance walking/cycling track was a better and cheaper option, and wrote: “It will bring visitors but have less ongoing need for capital.”

It seems the cost of bringing trains back and keeping them on the tracks long term was the key issue fuelling people’s doubts.

Peter French: “I hope the company who is behind this proposal has a lot of money, because it’s going to take a hell of a lot to rebuild that.”

Geoff Bensley: “Gympie Shire has a train that runs 22km with a return fare of $62. It cost $17.5 million to get the 22km line and locomotive back into a running state after only being off the track for six years. Dreams are good but without hundreds of millions of dollars this venture will be just that.”

Nev Buckley: “Who is going to fund this white elephant? It closed for a good reason, move on.”

Wayne Stark: “I would love to see the detailed business plan for this with full financials.”

Heidi Louise: “The cost of catching a train nowadays is what will ultimately kill it off again once it starts back up. Ongoing maintenance and wages wouldn’t be covered by the fares.”

But other locals embraced the idea of bringing trains back.

Hugh Hyland said the potential on the Northern Rivers was “huge”.

“This railway line must be kept, and opened,” he wrote.

“Also note the steel sleepers, which I expect have many more years life. Get the economics right and reopening the line is a no-brainer.”

Rebekah Fletcher: “Awesome news. Such a beautiful train ride.”

Trevor Chapple: “The financial gain for small cottage industries along the track and less traffic all round would be great for the whole region.”

Sara Ducat: “Trains are a strategic move. Also, trains just make a lot more sense economically. They should never have been stopped.”

And if the cost is the biggest concern, Troy Okeefe had an answer for that.

He thought it would be good to get all the Hollywood stars who had moved to the North Coast to pay for it.

“Hemsworth, Efron, Damon, the list goes on. They could use it as a party train,” he said.

Now that’s an idea … all aboard!



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Lantau Tomorrow: silver bullet for Hong Kong’s housing woes or costly white elephant?




The Hong Kong Legislative Council on Friday approved an initial funding requested to kick-start a feasibility study for Lantau Tomorrow Vision, a massive land reclamation scheme aimed at creating the city’s next housing and business hub.The contentious bill was passed in the absence of the opposition camp, whose members resigned en masse last month after four of their colleagues were summarily booted from the legislature over their political stance.But the HK$550 million (US$71 million) in…



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The ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ given warm farewell at Pakistani zoo ahead of long-fought relocation


With music, treats and balloons, friends of Pakistan’s only Asian elephant threw a farewell party for the animal ahead of his relocation to Cambodia following years of campaigning by animal rights activists.

The plight of Kaavan, a 35-year-old bull elephant, has drawn international condemnation and highlighted the woeful state of Islamabad’s zoo, where conditions are so bad that a judge in May ordered all the animals to be moved.

Kaavan is set to be flown to a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia on Sunday, said Saleem Shaikh, a spokesman for Pakistan’s ministry of climate change, following months of veterinary care and a special training regime to habituate the elephant to a huge metal crate he will travel in.

But before flying out, the capital’s animal lovers said goodbye, with performances from local bands who serenaded Kaavan ahead of the mammoth move.

“We want to wish him a happy retirement,” said Marion Lombard, the deputy mission leader for Four Paws International – an animal welfare group that has spearheaded the relocation effort.

The Islamabad Zoo, where Kaavan has lived for decades since arriving from Sri Lanka, was decorated with balloons for the occasion and banners wishing the animal well.  

“We will miss you Kaavan,” read one of the signs.

With music, treats and balloons, friends of Kavaan threw a farewell party for the animal ahead of his relocation.

AFP via Getty Images

Kaavan’s plight was given a boost over the years by American pop icon Cher, who publicly campaigned for the elephant’s relocation and called the decision to move him one of the “greatest moments” of her life. 

Zoo officials have in the past denied Kaavan was kept in substandard conditions or chained, claiming instead the creature was pining for a new mate after his partner died in 2012.

But Kaavan’s behaviour – including signs of distress such as continual head-bobbing – raised concerns of mental illness.

Activists also said Kaavan was not properly sheltered from Islamabad’s searing summer temperatures, which can rise above 40 degrees Celsius. 

Kaavan’s mate Saheli, who also arrived from Sri Lanka, died in 2012.



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Indian officials use crane to free elephant that fell down a well in 12-hour rescue mission


The elephant, which strayed into a village bordering a forest in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district, fell into the well that was covered with bushes and did not have a fence or wall around it, according to district forest officer Rajkumar.

“It was a deep and narrow well,” said Rajkumar, who goes by only one name. “We were informed by locals early on Thursday and were able to retrieve the elephant only late in the night.”

Forest officials first started by clearing the bushes around the well and then tried to pump water out of the well. But the elephant attacked the pipes pumping out the water, according to Rajkumar.

“Eventually, we sedated the animal with the help of doctors and used a crane to lift it out of the well,” Rajkumar said.

“It was found to be healthy and active when we monitored it for three hours after the rescue.”

Two other elephants have fallen into such wells in the past year in the area.

The destruction of forests, rapid urbanization, and rising village populations have led animals to venture close to human settlements in India. There has been a spate of incidents in recent years of wildlife wandering into villages, and sometimes attacking or being killed by humans.

In 2016, a leopard entered school grounds in the city of Bangalore and mauled three people; days after that incident, a large elephant rumbled through a town in West Bengal state, knocking over walls of small shacks and trampling motorbikes. Nobody was hurt; officials tranquilized the elephant, and used a crane to lift it and return it to the forest. Just last year, a panicked leopard attacked five people in a village in the state of Punjab before it was trapped and tranquilized.



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Botswana says it has solved the mystery of mass elephant deaths


Authorities will monitor the situation during the next rainy season, and Taolo said for now there was no evidence to suggest that Botswana’s wildlife was still under threat as officials were no longer seeing deaths.

The department’s principal veterinary officer Mmadi Reuben told the same news conference that questions remained as to why only elephants had been affected.

Other animals in the Okavango Panhandle region appeared unharmed.

Some cyanobacterial blooms can harm people and animals, and scientists are concerned about their potential impact as climate change leads to warmer water temperatures, which many cyanobacteria prefer.

Southern Africa’s temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A dead elephant lies on the banks of a water source in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.Credit:AP

“It amounts to having the right conditions, in the right time, in the right place and these species will proliferate,” said Patricia Glibert, a professor at the University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science, who has studied cyanobacteria.

“These conditions are coming together more often, in more places, so we are seeing more of these toxic blooms around the world.”

In neighbouring Zimbabwe, about 25 elephant carcasses were found near the country’s biggest game park and authorities suspect they succumbed to a bacterial infection.

The animals were found with tusks intact, ruling out poaching and deliberate poisoning. Parks authorities believe the elephants could have ingested the bacteria while searching for food. The carcasses were found near water sources.

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“We considered the possibility of cyanobacteria but we have no evidence that this is the case here (in Zimbabwe),” said Chris Foggin, a veterinarian at the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, which tested samples from dead elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Zimbabwe has sent samples to Britain and is waiting for permits to send samples to two other countries, Foggin said.

Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent’s elephants, has seen numbers grow to around 130,000.

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Grand elephant parade at the Kotte Rajamaha Viharaya enthralled Sri Lankans


Colombo, September 1 (newsin.asia): On August 29th, as the sun was setting, a historic Buddhist temple, the Kotte Rajamaha Viharaya located in the outskirts of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, held its annual “Perahera” or public festivities which included a grand procession of richly decorated elephants accompanied by dancers, musicians and entertainers.

It was the first “Perahera” with public participation in Sri Lanka after the lifting of the country-wide lockdown which had been imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Kathakali dance from Kerala in the Kotte Rajamaha Vihara Perahera. Photo: Tang Lu

Over 20 elephants wearing colorful caparisons participated in the Kotte Perahera. The dancers performed the traditional fire dance, whip dance, the Kandyan dance and also Kathakali, a dance form associated with Kerala in South India. Pipers playing plaintive tunes and drummers executing intricate rhythmic patterns entertained a large crowd of common people.

The brightly lit canopy on the elephant covers the Buddha’s relics. Photo: Tang Lu

The elephant parade is an annual religious-cum-cultural event in Sri Lanka’s Buddhist temples. Each major temple has elephants in its stables. The largest and the most famous of these elephant parades are held by the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy in Central Sri Lanka. The festivities in the Temple of the Tooth last for more than ten days, and at least 50 elephants participate in the procession.

Kandyan drummers herald the appearance of another elephant.Photo: Tang Lu

Every elephant parade has an ornately decorated lead elephant, which has the privilege of carrying a huge canopy on its back housing the Buddha’s relics. White cloth is spread on the path of the procession as a mark of respect to the relics.

Varying designs in the decorations kept audience interest up.Photo: Tang Lu

In order to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus, the Sri Lankan government had first restricted such religious celebrations. But as the threat from the virus thinned, the government gradually eased the restrictions, while insisting that the public abide by health guidelines which included wearing masks.

(The photograph at the top is by Tang Lu)





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Is infrastructure an economic saviour or a white elephant? What COVID-19 can teach us about delivering big projects


Governments are banking on infrastructure projects to help the Australian economy recover from the coronavirus recession.

With almost $300 billion already committed to infrastructure before the COVID crisis, state and federal governments have announced an additional $15 billion for projects since the beginning of the pandemic.

But not everyone is convinced it will be worthwhile.

Michael Keating was secretary of prime minister and cabinet during the last recession, in 1991.

He thinks the money can be better spent.

“I’ve got very strong reservations about an infrastructure or major infrastructure response to a recession,” he told 7.30.

“Most people won’t say they’re white elephants.

Former NSW Premier Nick Greiner thinks infrastructure can be an effective part of the response when it is done properly.

“I don’t think there is a perfect answer to getting it right,” he told 7.30.

“And we don’t have a good track record in Australia on major projects, frankly.”

But Mr Greiner thinks the response to the COVID-19 outbreak can provide a lesson for the delivery of infrastructure projects.

“If you trust the experts, you get a better answer,” he said.

“I think listening to the experts doesn’t just work in a pandemic, I think it works in infrastructure.”

‘Keeps us employed’

WA Minister for Transport Rita Saffioti says the Metronet project will keep people employed in vital industries.(ABC News: Richard Glover)

The West Australian Government promises Perth’s new Metronet project will “change how people live and travel”.

“Metronet is the biggest rail infrastructure program ever undertaken in Western Australia,” WA Minister for Transport Rita Saffioti told 7.30.

“It is a comprehensive package of new rail lines and new stations.”

It was planned well before coronavirus pushed the economy into recession, but Ms Saffioti said it was the right time to push ahead with the project.

“What we’ve seen through the COVID pandemic is a loss of jobs in many industries,” she said.

“But with the construction industry, we’ve been able to keep those jobs going and keep employment in those vital industries.”

The WA Government is pushing for local companies to get a high percentage of the work.

One of the beneficiaries is Eilbeck Cranes.

“Metronet allows us to basically retain the employment base that we have,” Operations Manager John Rasmussen told 7.30.

“It is important for governments to focus on local supply.

“For one thing, that keeps us employed, but we also have the capability.

“The know-how and the quality is already here in Australia.”

Super funds are long-term investors

MCU of Greg Combet wearing open necked white shirt with thin blue checks
Greg Combet says super funds will become more involved in infrastructure projects from the beginning.(ABC News)

Traditionally it has been government that has funded big infrastructure projects, but times are changing and the superannuation industry has a big bucket of money to invest and is keen to get involved in new projects rather than just purchase existing infrastructure.

Former Labor minister Greg Combet heads IFM Investments, an investment company owned by Australia’s industry super funds.

“The industry funds over the next three years, we’ve got plans to invest about $19.5 billion, and we think that’ll create 200,000 jobs over that period,” he told 7.30.

“So that’s a demonstration of what can be achieved.”

IFM owns the Port of Brisbane and Brisbane Airport, and it put up the $1.3 billion needed for the project.

Mr Combet insisted the industry funds were in for the long haul.

“Super funds are long-term investors,” he said.

“So we’re natural partners with governments for that reason.”

But he said the Government needed to get the setting right.

“The missing ingredient — particularly at a time like this in the midst of the pandemic where we’re needing to invest to achieve economic recovery, and not just government investment, but mobilising private investment — it requires national leadership to identify the projects and to bring them to market,” Mr Combet said.

‘Delays and overruns’

MCU of Michael Keating with white hair and beard, almost rimless glasses and wearing dark blue jacket and light blue shirt.
Michael Keating is doubtful of the economic benefit of many infrastructure projects.(ABC News)

Mr Keating is not convinced the industry super funds’ strategy is sound.

“If I was a director, I’d rather buy an existing project where there’s no cost overrun,” he said.

“I’d pay the price consistent with getting a return on my money.”

And with governments also ramping up infrastructure spending to provide stimulus, he offered this word of caution.

“Back in the 1991 recession — when I was head of the prime minister’s department and prime minister [Paul] Keating was putting together an infrastructure response to that recession, and premiers swore on stacks of Bibles that every project was shovel ready — some of them didn’t start for another three years,” he said.

He doesn’t expect this time round to be much different.

“The most likely thing is there’ll be budget overruns and there will be delays.”

A federal government spokesman said its package would “support jobs and businesses by delivering priority projects focused on infrastructure upgrades and maintenance”.



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Elephant Pals Play Together Under Rainbow at Oregon Zoo


Elephant Pals Play Together Under Rainbow at Oregon Zoo

Two Asian elephant friends at the Oregon Zoo – 10-year-old Samudra and 21-year-old Samson – enjoyed their habitat’s water features recently, entwining their trunks and splashing as a rainbow formed, video posted July 28 shows. Samson and Samudra, both males weighing about four tons apiece, have lived together at the zoo in Portland, Oregon, since May 2019. Credit: Oregon Zoo via Storyful



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