Riders hit the streets for ‘Safe Cycle Month’

Amy Robertson, Monash Journalism

Bike riders from Whitehorse are set to hit the road in a bid to urge police and motorists to take more care while using Victorian roads.

Whitehorse cyclists group, the largest recreational bike riding group in Melbourne’s east, have organised bike rides this October to raise awareness about bike safety in their community.

The organised rides coincide with Safe Cycle Month, a road safety initiative of the Victorian Police, and Ride2Work Day, held in October each year.

Whitehorse Cyclists’ Group president Micheal Rogers said there needs to be a greater level of respect between cyclists and motorists on the road.

“One major issue is cars driving too close to bikes on the road. This is really dangerous for cyclists as it increases the chance of a collision, and it is the cyclist who’s going to be injured or killed,” he said.

IMG_5201

Whitehorse Cyclists President Michael Rogers rides up to 200km per week. Photo: Michael Rogers.

Whitehorse Cyclists’ safety officer Doug Hammerton said one of the most dangerous hazards for riders on the road are motorists who drive or pass too close to cyclists, and a lack of concentration on both sides. He said motorists need to maintain at least one metre spacing beside cars.

“Dooring is also quite common. The most famous incident of this in recent times happened on Sydney Road where a cyclist was killed by someone opening their car door on them,” he said.

The permanent bike memorial in memory of Alberto Paulon, who was killed in March 2015 in a car-dooring incident on Sydney Road.

Permanent roadside memorial in memory of Alberto Paulon, who was killed in March 2015 in a car-dooring incident on Sydney Road. Photo: Amy Robertson.

“We need to create more separation between cyclists and cars, but more often accidents with bike riders occur through lack of concentration on behalf of the bike rider.”

Mr. Rogers has been involved in two separate road accidents, mostly due to momentary lapses in concentration. His latest accident resulted in a shattered elbow and a seven month recovery period.

“If we keep people thinking about safety and the safety of people around them, then we’ll minimise the number of accidents.”

bike stats infograph part 1

bike stats infograph part 2

bike stats infograph part 3

Factory farming – behind the veil of ignorance

Amy Robertson, Monash Journalism

FEW people stop to consider the previously rich and complex lives of the animals that end up on their plates. Fewer still invest much thought into the lived experience of factory farmed animals in Australia. Pam Ahern is not one of those people. As the founder of Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary in Lancefield, Victoria, she is committed to educating the public on factory farming, and devotes her life to the rescued animals in her care.

“Coming to know farm animals, as opposed to cats and dogs, I realised their differences are limited to the outside and certainly don’t justify the way we treat them,” Ms Ahern says.

“They’re simply animals, we just put ‘farm’ in front of it, and that justifies our thinking and our treatment of them… But the animal doesn’t know it’s being bred for pork. It just wants to live.

“We incarcerate pigs and chickens, these incredibly intelligent animals who are really curious about their world, who desperately want to live. Factory farming denies them the most fundamental freedoms.”

Farm animals, unlike other domesticated animals in Australia, are currently exempt from animal protection laws due to industry ‘Codes of Practice’. For Ms Ahern, Edgar’s Mission is one of the few places where farm animals are protected from cruelty and valued for who they are, not what they produce.

Pam smiles nostalgically, as she recalls her time with a factory farmed sow named Alice.

Alice played the mother of Wilbur in the movie ‘Charlotte’s Web’. At the end of filming, she was to be sent to slaughter, until Edgar’s Mission stepped in. It took Pam nine months to earn Alice’s trust – it was only then she could touch her.

“In the end she would come up for pats and belly rubs, she loved making messes, and collecting branches. I think of all the animals Alice comes close to being the most inspirational – because she forgave. Cruelty was all she’d ever known. But she trusted us in the end. And that’s incredible,” Ms Ahern says.

Alice, who spent the first 4 years of her life in a factory farm, passed away in Febuary 2012. She spent her last 7 years living a life worth living at Edgar’s Mission. Photo: Edgar’s Mission.

Alice, who spent the first 4 years of her life in a factory farm, passed away in February 2012. She spent her last 7 years living a life worth living at Edgar’s Mission. Photo: Edgar’s Mission.

Ms Ahern says the public are not sufficiently informed on the issue of factory farming. We cannot understand factory farming, let alone combat it, if we do not have the full picture.

“I remember when I was finding these things out, about factory farming, I was actually really angry. I was angry because the public don’t know about these things. Why wasn’t I told?”, she says.

Relationship manager for Animals Australia, Jodie Jankevics, agrees the public are not fully aware of the practices involved and the prolific nature of factory farming in Australia.

“The industry don’t want people to know because if people knew what was going on behind closed doors, they wouldn’t stand for it… People are shocked they don’t know these things. They feel betrayed,” Ms Jankevics says.

Statistics on factory farming in Australia are scant. Estimates from the Australian Chicken Meat Federation suggest free range chicken production sits at 15%.

Rather than rally governments to change or update laws, groups like Animals Australia work with corporations to inspire greater corporate social responsibility. Under public pressure, McDonald’s and Subway have committed to phasing out the use of cage eggs. Whilst the public are becoming more informed on factory farming, and free range egg sales are increasing, factory farming is still common practice in Australia.

Professor of Economics at Monash University, Jeffrey LaFrance, says an entirely free range system of farming is unlikely due to the increased cost passed onto the consumer.

“When California mandated all eggs sold in California had to come from hens confined to larger pens – doubling the size of the pen – it doubled the cost of the egg. Eggs are a low cost, high-protein source of food – that taxes low income people the most,” he says.

“It would be hard to imagine 100% free range or pasture based. People like their food cheap; one way to keep food costs low is to concentrate production activities.”

Ms Jankevics disagrees, stating free range doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive. She says most people, regardless of their income level, do not want to fund animal suffering.

“Just because you’re on a lower income, doesn’t mean you stop caring,” she says.

Ms Ahern says although factory farming produces cheap produce, it comes at great cost to the animals, who suffer routine abuses that would be illegal in any other circumstance.

“We’ve taken these animals and forced them to grow three times faster than nature intended. They suffer respiratory problems, musculoskeletal problems, mobility problems, because their muscle mass is so much…and that’s legal,” she says.

Battery hens in Australia are confined to a space equivalent to an A4 sheet of paper, and sows are kept in metal crates so small they cannot turn around or extend their limbs. Groups like Animals Australia appeal to the purchasing power of consumers to incite change.

“For a long time I didn’t know what happened to these animals – Edgar’s Mission is my way of saying sorry to these animals who I never thought about. I thought I was this wonderful animal loving person, yet how many animals lived terrible lives, shortened lives because of choices I made” Ms Ahern says.

“I can’t change the past but I can shape the future. Hopefully through the work we do we can open people’s eyes to the incredible, rich, emotional world of farm animals, and see an end to factory farming.”

Ms Ahern says our animal protection laws deliberately exclude farm animals from protection. Photo: Amy Robertson.

Ms Ahern says our animal protection laws deliberately exclude farm animals from protection. Photo: Amy Robertson.

Don’t supersize me – Tecoma still says NO to McDonald’s

Amy Robertson, Monash Journalism

The mountains are a luscious green. The sun filters through the trees and creates prismatic layers of light. The leaves dance past, brilliant colours of red and purple – a flurry – an explosion of autumn, and then…

…a single McDonald’s wrapper floats by.

The golden arches are one of the most recognisable symbols on the planet. Two thirds of three-year-olds are able to identify them before they can recognise their own name. But the golden arches in Tecoma – the gateway to the Dandenong Ranges – are unwelcome in this little town.

Since the stores opening, the battle against a McDonald’s in Tecoma may appear to be lost, but Tecoma residents and those opposed to the store continue to fight.

Media spokesperson for the Burger Off group and Tecoma resident, Garry Muratore, says protesters and those from the community are now focusing their energies on promoting other businesses in the area, and ensuring that similar developments cannot occur in the Dandenong Ranges in the future.

“We will continue to hold the council to account over the development laws so they can’t do this again,” he says.

“We’re working with tourist groups to sort of say that if you come up here, don’t go anywhere near it, don’t support it. Instead support the local cafes and the people that are doing the right things.”

Media spokesperson for the No McDonald's in the Dandenong Ranges group, Garry Muratore. Photo: Amy Robertson

Media spokesperson for the No McDonald’s in the Dandenong Ranges group, Garry Muratore. Photo: Amy Robertson

“For what they did to us they really don’t deserve the customers.”

Mr. Muratore is enthusiastic about an app currently being developed that will direct visitors to the Dandenongs to other local businesses and cafes.

“We’ve had a guy donate an app, which we’ll probably call the Burger Off app. Anywhere up in the Dandenongs it will tell you where to go, so we’ll promote those businesses at the expense of that business.”

Mr. Muratore says the main problem locals have with McDonald’s is the manner in which they dealt with protesters, and their consistent attempts to shut down protesters right to free speech and peaceful protest.

What began as a protest over a single McDonald’s store became a fight for freedom of speech and democracy in general.

“I think above all what binds all these people is the fact that our democratic right was just run over,” he says.

“McDonald’s went and spent $900,000 at VCAT, essentially overturning a democratic decision, and that is what most people get angry with. What happened to our rights?”

Tecoma McDonald’s store owner, James Currie, says there are many benefits to a McDonald’s store and that the store is largely supported by the local community.

“We’ve created well over 100 jobs here,” he says.

“Also, McDonald’s is actively involved in helping the community – from a sponsorship point of view, from a fundraising point of view.”

“The majority of people, in a 5km area in the radius of this restaurant, want a McDonald’s here.”

But locals paint a different story.

Opponents conducted an extensive community survey in which they door-knocked every house in Tecoma. The survey revealed that 88.2% of locals are opposed to a McDonald’s store in their town, and only 5.3% actually support the store.

Tecoma McDonald’s Survey

A McDonald’s in the Dandenong Ranges, opponents say, is both aesthetically and environmentally inappropriate for the area. It is too close in proximity to national parks and schools, it will increase litter, pollution, and traffic, and will negatively impact on local economic diversity and businesses.

The proposal for a McDonald’s in Tecoma was first announced in 2011, and it met with strong opposition. Originally denied by the local council after a record breaking 1,170 objections by local residents, the decision was overturned by VCAT, and building on the site began in October 2013.

Members of the community lobby group “Burger off – No Maccas in the Hills” have been tirelessly protesting, petitioning and campaigning ever since the proposal for the development.

All efforts to stop the site from opening were unsuccessful. In the face of community opposition, the controversial Tecoma McDonald’s site officially opened on April 7th.

Hundreds queued up on the day of the store’s opening. On my visit a mere three weeks later the store is unusually quiet; the initial enthusiasm for the store seems to have died down.

What has endured is the community’s spirit and strength; protesters and local residents remain united, and have made it clear they will continue to fight for their town.

Drug offence rates on the rise in Maroondah and Knox

Amy Robertson, Monash Journalism

DRUG offences have risen in the Maroondah and Knox area in 2013 from the previous year, Victoria Police Corporate Statistics found.

The area recorded 371 drug offences in 2013, up by 53.3% from 2012.

amys_graph_two

Leading Sen-Constable and Maroondah Crime Prevention Officer, Robert King, said police are particularly concerned with an increased use of methamphetamines, specifically ice.

“It appears that ice is a very addictive drug, and people who take ice appear to become fairly violent,” he said.

Alcohol and Drug Service Development Officer at the Salvation Army, Belinda McNair, has noticed an increased use of ice amongst their clients.

““In our withdrawal unit in Geelong, we have seen ice move to the second primary drug of concern,” she said.

“It is addictive and they’re making comparisons to crack cocaine. People become quite violent.”

“It’s an interesting one because it’s a different cohort. It’s actually capturing a lot of students, tradies, hospitality workers.”

The Salvation Army services in Maroondah. Photo: Amy Robertson

The Salvation Army offers extensive services and support for those fighting drug addiction. Photo: Amy Robertson

Sen-Constable King said the increase in recorded drug offences is most likely due to stronger police presence and enforcement, not an increase in general drug use in the community.

“If we are catching more offenders, then the stats will increase; it’s greater police focus or police presence or whatever it is we’re doing at the time,” he said.

“We tend to vary what we do according to what presents itself to us.”

Knox Crime Prevention Officer, Lee Thomson, agrees, saying a rise in drug offences does not indicate an increase in drug use in the community.

“The harder we work on a problem, the more it looks like we’ve got a problem,” she said.

Leading Senior Constable and Knox Crime Prevention Officer, Lee Thomson. Photo: Amy Robertson

Leading Senior Constable and Knox Crime Prevention Officer, Lee Thomson. Photo: Amy Robertson

“We have been working really hard on the drug problem, particularly of ice.”

Maroondah and Knox have also seen an increase in assaults, theft of motor vehicles and non-residential burglaries in 2013, with theft of motor vehicles rising by 34.1% from 2012.

Meanwhile, the area has experienced an 11.3% decrease in residential burglaries and a 20.8% reduction in road injuries from 2012.

amys_graph

Tourism studies undervalued in Victoria

Amy Robertson, Monash Journalism

Tourism is a major part of the Australian economy but TAFE cuts to tourism courses and reduced training puts Victoria’s tourism at risk.

TOURISM makes up a significant part of the service sector for the Australian economy but the $290 million Victorian TAFE funding cuts last year could have an impact on regional tourism in Victoria.

There are fears that the industry will suffer due to the closing of tourism and hospitality courses at universities across Melbourne, including Victoria University and Swinburne University of Technology in Lilydale.

Swinburne's Lilydale campus has been closed. Photo: Amy Robertson

Swinburne’s Lilydale campus has been closed. Photo: Amy Robertson

Monash University senior lecturer in tourism Dr Vicki Peel says tourism is being downgraded which is worrying because of how significant tourism is in terms of economy building.

“Together with education tourism is a hugely significant service sector for the economy,” Dr Peel said.

“A lot of universities established masters of tourism for example and many of those have fallen by the way and undergraduate programs have dispersed because of the high Australian dollar.”

Managing director of the Australian Tourism and Export Council Matt Hingerty says the tourism industry is undervalued in Australia.

“It is by far the largest service export earner for Australia. It earns more than all the agricultural produce where export combined. Not many people know that it’s a massive sector of our economy but is not always appreciated as such,” Mr Hingerty said.

Swinburne University of Technology in Lilydale closed in June 2013 axing many TAFE courses.

More than 900 students were enrolled in TAFE at the campus in 2012 many of which were studying hospitality and tourism.

“Certainly we see it in the way tourism as an area of study for students has fallen away. Tourism has sort of lost that drive that it had,” Dr Peel said.

Enrollments in Swinburne across campuses. Graph: Amy Robertson

TAFE enrollments in Swinburne campuses. Graph: Amy Robertson

Victorian tourist hot spots. Graph: Amy Robertson

Victorian tourist hot spots. Graph: Amy Robertson

Tourist hotspots in Victoria:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Experts say East West Link won’t ease congestion

Amy Robertson, Monash Journalism
Croydon Station during peak hour. Photo: Amy Robertson

Croydon Station during peak hour. Photo: Amy Robertson

President of public transport, Daniel Bowen, says the answer to Melbourne traffic congestion lies in a more efficient public transport system.

MR BOWEN says the East West tunnel may initially alleviate congestion but in the long term will put more cars on the road, adding to Melbourne’s traffic problems.

“No developed city in the world builds these massive highways and then finds that that’s the end of their traffic problems. It always generates more traffic.”

“…You suck all that money out of the transport budget; billions and billions of dollars that could have otherwise been used to upgrade public transport…”

The East West tunnel will connect the Eastern Freeway with the Western Ring Road.

Linking Melbourne Authority, who are managing the road project, say it will reduce congestion, particularly at the end of the Eastern Freeway.

But Mr Bowen says we’re not fully optimising our public transport system and that improving the efficiency of public transport will encourage people to leave their cars at home.

Ringwood Station is due for a revamp. Photo: Amy Robertson

“The answer is not more roads. The answer is actually to get people out of their cars and move them more efficiently round the city.”

Chair of public transport, Graham Currie, agrees that the East West Link will not reduce congestion in the long term.

He says the government needs to focus on improving the efficiency of Melbourne’s public transport, rather than expanding roads.

“It actually acts to increase the amount of traffic on the roads, which creates more congestion.”

“We’ve built ourselves into a really bad situation with the future of our transport.”

Construction of the East West Link is expected to commence late 2014.