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Teachers’ union says WA government has slashed $200 million

The WA teachers’ union says the state government has slashed almost $10 million from school funding.The WA teachers’ union says the state government has slashed almost $200 million from school funding. State School Teachers Union president Pat Byrne said four schools would lose more than $850,000 – but not one school would gain as much. “According to our calculations, the top 20 losers will lose a total of around $14 million, while the top 20 winners would only gain a total of around $4.3 million,” she said. “Those that are losing money are being hit hard, while the winners will have only moderate gains.” She said while some schools would gain under the move to a new funding model, the gains came on the back of heavy losses due to funding cuts last year. “If the state government had brought in the student-centred funding model on the back of funding increases, as was originally intended, WA’s public schools would be better off,” Ms Byrne said. A spokesperson said several low socio-economic schools were among “Top 20 losers”. “The top 10 biggest losers are all high schools and include Churchlands, Kelmscott, Mount Lawley, Kununurra and Shenton College.” Education minister Peter Collier said public schools would receive a record amount of funding in 2015 under the student-centred funding model.
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“$4.58 billion has been allocated in the 2014-15 State Budget, and $4.86 billion in 2015-16,” Mr Collier said.

“This new funding model is fair and equitable, and reflects the central findings of a review of the Western Australian public school funding system by Melbourne University.

“Every school will get the same amount of funding for each student depending on their year level.

“On top of this will be funding for students who need extra support.

“In the past, incredibly complex budget formulae have led to inexplicable and often massive differences in funding for very similar schools.

“The new budget model will ensure the funding goes where the students are, and to the students who need it most.

“Over time the model will also deliver more funding for children in the early years of their schooling, where research shows it’s most needed.

“A five-year transition period will ensure schools have time to adjust to their new budgets.

“Where schools need to make adjustments to programs, it will be up to the principal and the school board or community to decide what is best for their school.” Follow WAtoday on Twitter

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Town hall hits century

CELEBRATION: Kentish Mayor Don Thwaites in the throes of party preparations for the town hall centenary.JOIN in and celebrate 100 years of history this month as Sheffield commemorates the centenary of its town hall.
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On Wednesday, August 20, the Kentish Council has organised a number of events to recognise the contribution the hall has made to the town and region’s history.

Mayor Don Thwaites said he would be giving tours of the hall, which is a much loved part of the town.

“In the morning we’ve got school kids coming through, we’ve opened it up to let groups of young people come through and we’ll take them into bits of the town hall that they haven’t been into before,” he said.

“We’ll take them into the old meeting room and the projection room, they’ll be on the stage and down underneath the stage, in the dressing rooms and in the gallery.”

Councillor Thwaites said during the tour he will talk about each of the rooms and about the building itself.

“We’ll also be talking about the history of the place, when it was built, where the bricks came from and who the builder was and how they paid for it, it’s all a very interesting story when you go into it,” he said.

“We’ll talk about some of the things that have happened in the hall over the years, such as it has hosted RSL gatherings since during the war and it’s hosted lots of debutante balls and dances and music halls, there’s been lots of public meetings and they’ve had carpets there for sale, even weddings.”

The hall will be open to the public in the afternoon for tours until 2pm but these must be booked ahead.

In the evening a cocktail function will be held to celebrate in style and a replica cake of the town Hall will be made for the occasion.

“We’ve got a very short, old film that we are going to show and we are planning on a bit of music and a bit of a tour again much like what we are giving to the young,” Cr Thwaites said.

For more information or to RSVP for either event call the Kentish Council on 6491 0200.

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Reverend Mel Macarthur celebrates life on the road to Santiago

Cancer survivor Reverend Mel Macarthur of Wentworth Falls won’t let a life threatening illness slow him down. He leaves to walk the 900 kilometres Camino de Santiago next month with his wife Anne Lawrence, his second pilgrimage to Spain in as many years. “No one wants to have cancer, but there are experiences I value since being a cancer patient.”He has an inspiring story, and he’s about to add a few more page-turning chapters to it.
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Reverend Mel Macarthur of Wentworth Falls, 68, has endured six cycles of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant since being diagnosed with lymphoma a decade ago, but that will not deter him from walking the El Camino de Santiago for the second time in as many years, next month.

Popularised in the movie, The Way, the former Central Blue Mountains Uniting Church minister will be one of more than 100,000 pilgrims from over 100 countries to make the trek to Spain this year, making the Camino the most famous pilgrimage in the world.

Rev Macarthur finds the Christian pilgrimage to the 9th century cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-western Spain, where the apostle Saint James is said to be buried, so enjoyable, he is doing a doctorate on pilgrimages and hopes one day to take groups of other cancer survivors, or troubled adolescents (he has a background in youth work) on the same journey.

“I appreciate my pilgrimages and remote area hikes much more as a cancer patient than I did in my pre-cancer days.

“For me the Camino is the opportunity to have five or six weeks to reflect on life. The international nature appeals to me very much. The people I meet along the way are the highlight.”

It’s not his first pilgrimage. He rode from Dublin to Jerusalem via Rome in 1998. And two years later he did a bike trip from Sydney to Alice Springs. He’s completed many more since then in Australia and overseas.

“My pilgrimages have all brought about changes in me in one way or another. Periods of deep reflection and deep connection with other people sharing the long journey tend to both influence and inform me. Sometimes it can be transformative”.

Crediting his good health to the Nepean Hospital Cancer Care Centre, he sees the walk as “honouring them”. One centre staff member – “the person who put the first canula in my arm 10 years ago” – had even accompanied him on his many pilgrimages to Tasmania, he said.

“The staff at the Nepean Hospital Cancer Care Centre have put time, effort and expertise into my treatment and to use my potentials to their fullest is to honour their efforts in extending my life. It is a priceless gift they have given me. All of my fitness and discipline could never have brought it about without their care, skill and knowledge.”

He says the spiritual “life affirming” journeys “keep him off the streets” and he’s looking forward to his wife Anne Lawrence and friend, Ian Curtois of Hazelbrook, joining him on this trip.

Rev Macarthur said that “commonality of purpose and camaraderie along the Way do make the ending rather special” and while his body will take him he’ll give thanks “for that body and the discipline that will take me to Santiago”.

“My non Hodgkins lymphoma is in remission currently. I feel confident enough about my health to have undertaken another doctorate at the beginning of this year.

“However, my lymphoma has relapsed once before, five years after my six cycles of chemotherapy and antibody therapy. So, who knows what the future holds?

“What I can say is I plan to pursue my physical, intellectual and spiritual activities unrelentingly. If that worked out to be for not very much longer, that would be OK; it would be preposterous of me to complain of such an eventuality when it has been 10 years since my diagnosis, 10 years crammed with great, life shaping experiences.”

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Record-chasing All Blacks have an ominous spring in their step

There is a spring in the step of the record-chasing All Blacks as they prepare for a Bledisloe Cup opener of monumental proportions – a situation assistant coach Ian Foster takes as a very good sign indeed.
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After the constraints of June, when three Tests are indecently squeezed in three-quarters of the way through a Super Rugby campaign, Foster feels the leisurely week and a-half to build up for Saturday’s Sydney showcase is almost luxurious in comparison.

“It feels completely different,” Foster said on Monday after a productive training hitout on a sunny winter’s day in Auckland. “I was feeling that today on the training park. It felt like the guys were fresh, bouncing around rather than us dragging them around the park, and you feel a real freshness in the attitude.

“It’s a physical and mental thing – they know now there’s just one job to do, and it’s to get back in black and do it well.”

A good chunk of the All Blacks have even had time to rest and recover from their exertions and those that haven’t – namely the Crusaders – have come in determined to atone for the Super Rugby final defeat to the Waratahs.

But Foster was yesterday eager to play down any relevance around the Crusaders’ defeat to the Waratahs at the same ground where Saturday’s Bledisloe contest will take place.

“I’ve got no doubt there will be a little bit of that deep inside them, but it’s not visible to us,” the All Blacks assistant coach said. “We’ve discussed that on the first day but it’s a new camp, a new level and new challenge.

“All I’m seeing is those guys are invigorated by what we need them to do. Certainly going back to Sydney I guess for some there’s going to be a little bit of hardening of their attitude but we’d expect that anyway.”

Foster also wasn’t buying the theory that there were spinoffs for the Wallabies from the Waratahs’ last-gasp victory over the Crusaders.

“You could debate that maybe it’s boosted a bit of confidence,” he said. “But the Wallabies is a different environment, international rugby is different from Super Rugby, and there are a couple of significant variables that are different.

“The step from Super Rugby to international rugby we think is a significant step and we’ve got to make sure it is on Saturday night.”

Foster confirmed all his troops were fit and healthy  after Friday’s 80-minute hitout against North Harbour and Northland. Blues utility forward Steven Luatua took the worst battering (a hyper-extended elbow his worst affliction), but was expected to take a full part in the week’s buildup.

Asked if the coaches had felt the need to reiterate what the Bledisloe Cup meant given the All Blacks have held the giant trophy for 11 years, Foster indicated no stone was left unturned on that front.

“We certainly talk about the Bledisloe,” he said. “It’s a highly significant trophy for us. It’s a special one. When you’ve got the message from the other side of the Tasman about how important it is to get it back after all this time, it just shows us how meaningful it is.

“Yes, we’ve discussed it; and, yes, it’s something we want and means a lot to us.”

Foster was giving nothing away ahead of what should be a straight-forward starting XV announcement on Thursday, admitting they had “plenty of options” in a back-three mix studded with form players.

Equally problematic in terms of deciding which three of Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Julian Savea, Cory Jane and Charles Piutau deserved to start, was the outside backs coverage on the bench without Dan Carter there covering 12.

“It just changes the way we see things,” Foster said. “Having Dan covering 12 means we can have a slightly different option on the bench. It does change things.”

What doesn’t change is what they expect from Ewen McKenzie’s buoyant Wallabies who have won their past seven Tests on the bounce and fancy their chances of ending the All Blacks’ own run of 17 straight victories one short of the outright record.

“They’ve got a nice balance to their game. They don’t kick much, they’re more of a retention team. When they do kick they try to make it meaningful either because they’re under a lot of pressure or for tactical reasons,” Foster said.

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Essendon’s task now a taller order

West Coast coach Adam Simpson conceded he had little idea what sort of performance his team was going to produce just before Sunday’s demolition job on Collingwood at Patersons Stadium.
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And even after the Eagles’ third win from their past four games, their second-straight impressive victory over a finals contender, he can’t  be sure what to expect on Saturday against Essendon at Etihad Stadium.

“Maybe the pressure valve got released a bit a few weeks ago thinking that the season was over and that released the shackles a bit,” Simpson mused. “This is the test for our group now, to see how much of this is real.”

Win it and few will dispute this late-season surge is very real indeed. In fact, the game against Essendon shapes as the first of what could be a series of de facto finals before the real thing.

A West Coast victory, before playing  Melbourne and Gold Coast in its last two games, will probably see it replace Essendon in the final eight, those two teams plus Adelaide a chance then to all finish on 12 wins, but the Eagles and Crows boasting superior percentages to the Bombers.

An Essendon win and the Eagles are almost certainly finished, two of Essendon, Adelaide or Collingwood likely to finish a game ahead of them.

What’s beyond dispute is that if the West Coast of the past two games turns up for a third, the Bombers will have an entirely different proposition ahead of them than they might have expected a couple of weeks ago.

With the exception of a 30-goal picnic against an entirely disinterested Greater Western Sydney mid-season, the Eagles’ 19 and 20-goal tallies the past two games have been their highest since round one, their renowned stock of tall forwards suddenly clicking like they hadn’t all season.

But no less significant has been some support finally arriving for midfield warrior Matt Priddis, who’d had to shoulder the burden seemingly on his own.

In the last two victories, Andrew Gaff and Luke Shuey have come to the party in a big way. Gaff’s 31 and 34 disposals against Adelaide and Collingwood were his highest tallies of the season. Ditto for Shuey with 31 in both games.

Over the past two games, the Eagles have not only won a lot more of the ball than they have all season, their differential ranking for disposals over the two rounds was second as opposed to their 2014 ranking of 13th, but they’ve used it far more effectively. Their disposal efficiency in the two wins ranked third compared to their season ranking of 14th.

Speed and precision of ball movement has made a huge difference to the likes of Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and now Scott Lycett, who have been able to exploit their height advantage in space and without defenders hanging all over them.

Now it’s Essendon’s turn to feel that heat, and if the Dons can’t slow the Eagles down or put them under more pressure on the delivery, they’re going to be in just as much trouble as the Crows and Pies were.

The Bombers do at least appear to have more hope in that regard with a defence not only ranked third for fewest points conceded this season, but with some decent tall options in Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley, Jake Carlisle and Dustin Fletcher should he recover from groin soreness.

And there’s more hope in the likely returns of  captain Jobe Watson, who hasn’t played since round 12, and rebounding defender Michael Hibberd, who’s played just one of the past five games because of hamstring trouble.

Essendon’s midfield had coped reasonably well in Watson’s absence until the past two losses to Sydney and Richmond, in which Dyson Heppell has had to shoulder far too much of the load.

In their past two losses, the Bombers have been badly beaten in midfield, where on the differentials they’ve been in the red for disposals, disposal efficiency, contested possession and clearances, none of which is likely to help correct a season-long issue with converting inside 50 entries, for which, in the last fortnight, they’ve ranked a dismal 16th.

Indeed, look at West Coast and Essendon’s numbers for the past two games and, even in Melbourne, you’d have little hesitation in tipping a third win on end for the visitors.

Perhaps the Bombers’ greatest hope on Saturday is that the Eagles do respond to their own coach’s query in a manner he’d prefer they didn’t, and that those psychological shackles released by their finals chances appearing finished, are clamped on once more now they’re back in the ball game.

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Hird signed settlement under ‘duress’, court hears

James Hird arrives at court James Hird arrives at court
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James and Tania Hird. Photo: Eddie Jim

Suspended Essendon coach James Hird has revealed in court he signed a deed of settlement with the AFL last year aft er charges were laid over the Bombers’ controversial supplements program under “duress, threats and inducements”.

On the first day of the trial in which Essendon and its coach are claiming the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority acted unlawfully in running a joint operation with the AFL, Hird sat in the witness stand for the last hour of the day and said he disagreed with some of the things the club’s then leaders divulged on February 5 last year when they confirmed the club had self-reported to ASADA.

Hird also twice implied to the Federal Court that it was former AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou who told then Essendon chairman David Evans, the night before – on February 4 last year – that the club was being investigated by ASADA for possible for anti-doping violations.

Demetriou has repeatedly denied leaking ASADA’s investigation of the Bombers to Evans, and has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Australian Crime Commission.

“I was never present when Essendon made a request to ASADA,” Hird said when asked about Essendon selfreporting to the anti-doping body.

“I was only present when Andrew Demetriou rang David Evans.”

The first witness called in the trial, Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell, told the court he knew nothing of the Bombers’ plans to selfreport to ASADA in his then role as the club’s chief financial officer.

Hird told the court he disagreed with what Evans and then Essendon chief executive Ian Robson told the media in announcing the Bombers had selfreported.

He said he was told by Gillon McLachlan, the AFL’s deputy chief executive last year and now the head of the league, that he, Hird, should appear next to Robson and Evans at the press conference, “for the look of the club and my reputation”.

Hird and Essendon argue ASADA was not authorised under its Act to run a joint investigation with the AFL, and that the show-cause notices issued to 34 players should be declared invalid. The antidoping body maintains it was entitled to run a joint investigation and that the World Anti-Doping Agency encouraged sporting bodies to work with investigators.

Hird, with wife Tania watching, said he did not want to settle with the AFL in August last year on charges of bringing the game into disrepute, for which he was suspended for one year. “I signed a deal of settlement under duress, threats and inducements,” he said.

The court was told Hird was reluctant to meet ASADA investigators but did so once he knew he was contractually obliged to, and in April last year met with two ASADA investigators and an AFL investigator.

Under cross-examination from Sue McNicol, QC, representing ASADA, Hird again brought Demetriou’s name into the fold. “I was told to tell the truth but not what Andrew Demetriou said to David Evans on the 4th of February,” he said of being told he had to undergo an interview with investigators.

Under the sanctions imposed by the AFL in August last year, Essendon was fined $2 million, kicked out of the 2013 finals series and stripped of draft picks. Hird was suspended for one year, his then assistant coach Mark Thompson was fined $30,000 and Essendon’s then football chief, Danny Corcoran, was handed a six-month ban, suspended for three months.

Towards the end of Monday’s evidence, Hird said he did not breach anti-doping rules. Dr McNicol then asked him who had if he had not, but the question was not permitted by Justice John Middleton after Hird’s lawyer, Nick Harrington, objected.

Hird is scheduled to return to the witness box on Tuesday and will be asked about statements the club gave to the media last year.

Earlier, lawyers for Essendon, Hird and ASADA outlined their opening arguments on the legalities of a joint investigation between the anti-doping body and the AFL.

Lawyers for both the Bombers and Hird argued ASADA, an independent body, acted outside its powers in conducting the investigation through “improper purposes”.

This purpose, they argued, was to assist the AFL in laying charges against Essendon for governance breaches and to impose sanctions on the Bombers, Hird, Thompson and Corcoran.

Neil Young, QC, representing Essendon, said that a finding against his client could “effectively destroy its business”.

Tom Howe, QC, for ASADA, also warned of possible ramifications if a ruling went against his client, as future anti-doping investigations would be potentially compromised.

The day’s proceedings were also told of a secret recording of an ASADA official addressing Bombers players, that was made by Essendon solicitor Tony Hargreaves.

Daniel Star, for ASADA, said Essendon had “begged” the anti-doping body to speak to the players because the club had concerns for their health and wellbeing, and that the Bombers now wanted to have a transcript of that recording tendered as evidence.

Justice Middleton will rule on that point on Tuesday.

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Lake no certainty for Dockers match

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson has avoided an opportunity to guarantee Brian Lake’s automatic recall for Sunday’s crucial interstate challenge against Fremantle.
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Clarkson suggested on Monday that the  Norm Smith medallist might need to regain match fitness in the VFL,  having missed the past four games through suspension for his “choke hold” on North Melbourne’s  Drew Petrie.

Given key forward Jarryd Roughead has been suspended, and tag-team partner Jack Gunston is doubtful with a knee injury, having Lake in the team might allow Clarkson to push one of his  key defenders forward.

“We’ll make that assessment throughout the course of the week … we need to have a look at the Fremantle side and how they might put their forward line together,” Clarkson said.

“We’ll make a determination on whether [Lake]  is best suited or whether he needs a run at Box Hill  to get some match fitness.”

Clarkson said he expected defender Matt Suckling to recover from illness for the Fremantle game.

Fremantle’s  Michael Walters is set to return on Sunday, after a solid comeback  in the WAFL on Saturday from ankle surgery.

But the news isn’t so good for key defender Luke McPharlin, who broke down with yet another calf injury in Saturday’s  loss to Geelong.

McPharlin has now been subbed off with calf troubles in two of his past three matches and will have scans to determine how serious his latest setback is.

Should McPharlin be unable to get his body right in time for the finals, Fremantle will be forced to rely on Alex Silvagni to fill the void in defence.

With aap

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Jarrod Croker hopes Canberra Raiders fans ‘get into’ Josh Dugan

Canberra centre Jarrod Croker hopes scorned Raiders fans ”get into him a little bit” when Josh Dugan returns to the capital this Saturday to face the music for the first time since his sacking.
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Dugan, now at St George Illawarra, left the Raiders in disgrace when his contract was ripped up for multiple behavioural breaches just one game into last season.

He skipped training to drink pineapple Cruisers on a roof with fellow sacked Raider Blake Ferguson, and the picture he posted on Instagram has gone down in rugby league infamy.

Almost two full seasons have passed since Dugan was given his marching orders, but Raiders fans are unlikely to be willing to forgive and forget this weekend.

Asked what reception he felt Dugan should expect from Green Machine fans, Croker said with a grin: “I’d like them to get into him a little bit. Hopefully the crowd gets into him a bit, but he’s the sort of player who will probably thrive on that.”

Croker said exacting revenge on Dugan would be the furthest thing from their minds as equal-bottom Canberra looks to avoid a first wooden spoon since 1982.

“I don’t think anyone really cares now to tell you the truth,” Croker said. “It’s been a while now, we’re over it. I haven’t really talked to him for a while, but when you see him you say g’day. It’s hard to stay in contact when you’re doing your own thing down here.

“I don’t know about the other boys, I can’t speak on behalf of them.”

Croker says the NSW Origin star, who typically relishes the big stage, would be steeling himself for a huge game to keep the Canberra crowd quiet.

“He’ll be down here for a big game and he’ll have all his boys geed up as well,” Croker said.

“The talk about ‘Duges’ this week will be how good a player he is, he’s an Origin centre. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of other rubbish thrown up about it all.”

Left centre Croker said he was excited about the challenge of facing Dugan head-to-head, after the former fullback successfully switched to right-centre this year with the Dragons and Blues.

Croker trained as a shadow player with Dugan before Origin II,  and is also in tremendous form after 16 tries this year.

“It was a bit weird,” he said. “With NSW I was training at fullback when Jarryd Hayne wasn’t there and he was at centre, a role reversal. As soon as he moved to centre I knew straight away he’d be fine, I still remember as a kid he could always tackle.

“It’s exciting for me, he’s the incumbent Origin centre and it doesn’t get much better than this.

“He breaks a lot of tackles and is a very strong ball runner.

“You can’t bring him down by yourself, you need some help from the boys around you. With first-up contact I’ll have to be nice and aggressive.”

In the NRL’s most-lauded hoodoo, the Raiders have beaten the Dragons in their past 10 meetings at any venue. The Red V last won in round 17, 2007.

St George Illawarra has lost its past 11 games in Canberra, it’s last victory in the capital was in 2000 when current Origin coaches Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley were Raiders coach and captain respectively.

Dugan was involved in some minor scuffles in Canberra’s 22-18 win at Wollongong last year, and left the field late with concussion after copping an accidental  knock from a Dragons teammate.

He also ensured Canberra’s stranglehold over the Dragons continued with a late match-winning try at Canberra in 2011.

“I’ve got no idea [what the secret is], if I knew what it was I’d be spreading it around,” Croker said.

“We’ll be hearing about it all week but we won’t be talking about it. They’re in a lot better position than we are at the moment.

“I feel it’s a bit tough to be talking about a hoodoo when we’re sitting on the bottom.”


Raiders stranglehold over the Dragons

Rd 20, 2013: Raiders 22 bt Dragons 18 at WIN Stadium

Rd 3, 2013: Raiders 30 bt Dragons 17 at Canberra Stadium

Rd 17, 2012: Raiders 22 bt Dragons 18 at Canberra Stadium

Rd 20, 2011: Raiders 24 bt Dragons 19 at Canberra Stadium

Rd 24, 2010: Raiders 32 bt Dragons 16 at Canberra Stadium

Rd 11, 2010: Raiders 22 bt Dragons 14 at WIN Stadium

Rd 23, 2009: Raiders 24 bt Dragons 12 at Canberra Stadium

Rd 18, 2008: Raiders 19 bt Dragons 12 at WIN Stadium

Rd 3, 2008: Raiders 21 bt Dragons 14 at Canberra Stadium

Rd 17, 2007: Dragons 58 bt Raiders 16 at WIN Stadium

Rd 11, 2007: Raiders 30 bt Dragons 6 at Canberra Stadium

Rd 20, 2006: Raiders 31 bt Dragons 12 at Canberra Stadium

Rd 4, 2005: Raiders 42 bt Dragons 22 at Canberra Stadium

Rd 1, 2004: Raiders 21 bt Dragons 12 at OKI Jubilee

Rd 18, 2003: Raiders 19 bt Dragons 18 at OKI Jubilee

Rd 3, 2003: Raiders 18 bt Dragons 14 at Canberra Stadium

Rd 9, 2002: Raiders 22 drew with Dragons 22 at WIN Stadium

Rd 18, 2001: Dragons 44 bt Raiders 12 at WIN Stadium

Rd 5, 2001: Raiders 32 bt Dragons 22 at Canberra Stadium

Overall since 2001

Played: 19, Raiders: 16, Dragons: 2 Drawn: 1

At Canberra

Played: 11, Raiders: 11, Dragons: 0.

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Teenager refused bail over house fire

INVESTIGATION: A police officer and a firefighter enter the Griffith house badly damaged by fire at the weekend. A teenager has been charged. Picture: The Area NewsA GRIFFITH teenager has been charged over a fire that killed a cat and gutted a family home on Noorla Street in Griffith in the early hours of Saturday morning.
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The 16-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, appeared in Deniliquin Children’s court on Mondayvia audio-visual link.

He has been charged with damaging property by fire.

He was refused bail and will face court again in Griffith on Thursday.

Fire crews from Griffith and Yenda were called to the fire about 6.30am, and forced entry through the front and rear doors of the building.

Fire inspector Rick Jones said eight firefighters attended the blaze and contained the fire to the front area of the house and one bedroom.

Nobody was at home at the time, but in the bathroom fire crews found a cat that had died from smoke inhalation.

Mr Jones said the fire was being treated as suspicious and was still under investigation by detectives from Griffith police.

It is believed the blaze started in two different places inside the house.

Griffith police Detective Inspector John Smith said circumstances surrounding the incident were under investigation. – The Area News

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Schools face please explain on religious instruction

Schools that stop offering special religious instruction this term will be ordered to provide an explanation after Education Minister Martin Dixon said they may not be complying with legislation.
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Mr Dixon has also ordered his department to revise its new guidelines on religious activities in schools saying he never intended a ban on student-led prayer groups.

A new ministerial direction, which came into effect this term, said parents must clearly ”opt-in” if they want their children to attend special religious instruction.

It also says if principals determine there are insufficient resources – such as inadequate teachers to supervise students – special religious instruction will not be delivered at the school.

The Age understands the government did not intend to make any other changes to the way the program was run.

However the education department’s new guidelines went further than Mr Dixon’s ministerial direction.

Christian groups complained they meant even student-led prayer groups at lunch time were prohibited and the distribution of bibles banned.

And a growing list of schools have ”dumped” special religious instruction following the ministerial direction, according to lobby group Fairness in Religions in Schools, which has campaigned to remove the controversial program from state schools.

“The trend we are seeing of parents voting with their feet, now that they know what SRI is all about, has been remarkable,” spokeswoman Lara Wood said.

Twelve of the 37 schools that offered Jewish special religious instruction have withdrawn the program this term.

“The flawed implementation of the recent changes has meant that many hundreds of children are being denied a Jewish education,” United Jewish Education Board president Yossi Goldfarb said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Dixon said the minister had met with the United Jewish Education Board and other groups.

“The minister expressed concern that schools may not be delivering special religious instruction as required under the legislation and the ministerial direction,” she said.

“The minister has asked the department to get an explanation from schools that no longer offer special religious instruction or have experienced a significant decrease in student enrolment since the ministerial direction came into effect.”

The new education department policy stated prayer groups, youth groups, clubs, information sessions or workshops “would constitute promotion of specific religions in schools outside Special Religious Instruction and are not permitted”.

Mr Dixon has ordered his department to revise this to better reflect his ministerial direction.

The amended guidelines will make it clear that student-led prayer can continue at schools and no group working with schools will be discriminated against because it is a religious organisation.

Australian Christian Lobby Victorian director Dan Flynn said he welcomed the announcement the education department had ”over reached” and the ban on student-led prayer groups and exchange of religious texts would be withdrawn.

Andi Lentin, whose two children go to Caulfield South Primary, was disappointed when the school  stopped offering Jewish special religious instruction this term.

”We keep a very traditional Jewish home and our children learn Hebrew,” she said. ”We elected to go to a government school because we wanted them to be part of the community. One of the benefits of Jewish SRI is that they have met other kids they didn’t know were Jewish at school.”

Ms Lentin said many parents had not received the forms asking parents to opt-in to special religious instruction at the end of second term – she discovered her own child’s form crumpled at the bottom of a school bag.

“Our greatest disappointment is the process the school went through – it seems like the principal made this decision without any consultation.”

But principal Gayle Yardley said the school went to great lengths to ensure parents understood the new policy and had adequate time to return the consent form, including reminders in two consecutive newsletters.

Ms Yardley said only 200 out of the 470 students had consent to participate in either Jewish or Christian special religious instruction, which meant the school was unable to ensure all students were supervised.

“I advised parents that the decision to not offer Jewish and Christian SRI in the second half-year was based solely on low student participation. I also advised them that the program would be re-offered again in 2015.”

The state government is understood to be working with the United Jewish Education Board, Christian provider Access Ministries and other special religious instruction providers to work through any ”unintended consequences” of the new policy on a case by case basis.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.