Author: Keith Platt

STAFF numbers have been cut to 14 at the Port of Hastings Development Authority. The latest cuts are in line with the Labor government’s aim of hearing from Infrastructure Victoria before deciding on a site for the state’s second container port. While falling short of formally abandoning Hastings, this latest move is likely to leave a significant vacuum in the forward planning policies of the Mornington Peninsula and Frankston. The Port of Hastings Development Authority has all but been left out of the latest state budget and must rely on ever decreasing revenues from port operator, Patricks Stevedores. In the…

THE making of six wooden paipos, or wooden Hawaiian bodyboards, is a centrepiece of a project that is sees generations swapping skills. In return for being shown how to handle timber working tools by members of Mornington Men’s Shed students from Mt Eliza Secondary College are giving lessons on handling such digital touch screen devices as smart phones and hand held computers. But the outcomes for both old and young go much deeper than the creation of a surfboard or ability to operate a smart phone or computer. A surprising connection between the generations comes in the form of statistics:…

A NEW land, a new language and no friends or job. It is a situation that is hard to imagine and even harder to experience. However, that was the predicament confronting Luz Restrepo when she arrived in Australia five years ago after fleeing her native Colombia. “I was a political asylum seeker with no contacts, very little English language and no employment,” Ms Restrepo said last week. “I had left my successful communications business to protect my family under threat.” It was a fear that she was unable to shake. “When I arrived in Australia I was full of fear,…

THE future of the Port of Hastings Development Authority is in doubt following the failure of the state government to refinance its operations in last week’s budget. Hastings MP Neale Burgess has accused the government of “siphoning off” $80 million that should have gone to the authority’s operations. He said the “disturbing and cynical move” was a “further betrayal” from the Labor government which had provided no new funding for the area. “Just five months ago the Port of Hastings was building a real future for our community, already providing more than 100 jobs and preparing to provide thousands more…

NEW restrictions have been imposed on the fishing industry following the deaths of eight dolphins and four fur seals during two offshore trips by the factory trawler, Geelong Star. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) says trawlers in the small pelagic fishery must now only fish during daylight while the Geelong Star has to prove if has taken “all reasonable steps … to minimise further marine mammal mortalities”. Boats operating within a defined management zone would face a six-month ban on fishing if a dolphin died as a result of their operations. The tightening of fishing rules is seen as…

WHEN a small flock of grey plovers takes off from Flinders next year little would the birds know that their progress is being monitored 24 hours a day. The movements of each of up to five birds carrying a transmitter will be tracked for two years, probably over a distance of 48,000 kilometres. Each year, after spending summer in Australia, the plovers take flight for their breeding grounds in Siberia and Alaska. This pattern of following the sun is not unusual, but little is known about the grey plovers’ journey and the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG) has launched a…

IT may have started as a pure flight of fancy, and has developed into one of the most successful marketing and branding exercises the world has known, but there seems no end to epic that is Star Wars. The movies have been shown (repeatedly), merchandise made, costumes worn, snatches of dialogue endlessly swapped and still the lure of time and travel seems infinite. Like space, the story of the Star Wars phenomena seems to have no outer limits. Next week’s May the Fourth Be With You Day is being as eagerly anticipated around the globe as the staged releases of…

THOUSANDS of people commemorated Anzac Day, attending dawn services and marches across the Mornington Peninsula. The threat of rain did not appear to impact on the numbers gathering to mark the centenary of the ill-fated landings of Australian and New Zealand troops on the beaches at Gallipoli, in Turkey. In direct contrast to the suffering of the troops, Saturday’s crowds parked their cars and walked to the various ceremonies free of any impending danger. Children proudly wore the medals of relatives as they approached memorials, letting everybody know the soldiers’ deeds would not be forgotten. Ironically, while the various speakers…

THE final winding up of the financial affairs of the organisation behind the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga, Mt Eliza, could depend on “litigation flowing” from allegations against its former spiritual leader, Russell Kruckman, also known as Swami Shankarananda and Swamiji. Paul Burness and Con Kokkinos of Worrells Solvency & Forensic Accountants were last week appointed voluntary liquidators of the troubled Shiva Yoga Inc. Mr Burness on Saturday said the timing of the winding up of the organisation would be determined by the “litigation flowing” and contingent liabilities. Once finalised, the liquidation will see the end of an organisation…

The Frankston Visitor Information Centre has again taken out top honours at the QANTAS Australian Tourism Awards held 2015. Frankston Visitor Information Centre is the first one of its kind to be inducted into the national tourism hall of fame. The visitor centre based near Frankston pier has won the Australian Tourism Awards gold award for visitor information and services for the third year in a row. The induction in Adelaide on Friday 10 April followed the Frankston centre entering the Victorian hall of fame after three consecutive wins in the state awards. The wins mean that the centre can no longer…

LIBERAL MPs have been accused of wrongly blaming the state government for not giving public access to the soon-to-be-opened Somerville police station. Police Minister Wade Noonan last week said Hastings MP Neale Burgess and Opposition police spokesman Edward O’Donohue are “conveniently misleading the community on this issue “. Mr Noonan decisions about police numbers and public access were made by the Chief Commissioner, not the government. “Under the Napthine government, changes were made that enshrined in law the independence of the Chief Commissioner to make determinations over the deployment of police to specific locations,” Mr Noon said. “This includes determining…

RUMOURS of the imminent closure or liquidation of the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga heightened last week in the face of an ongoing police investigation, threat of a class action and suspension of its accredited yoga teacher training course. Signs have been removed from the school’s ashram in Tower Rd, Mt Eliza, and former residents have reportedly been told they have until Tuesday to remove any belongings. Police from the Seaford-based SOCIT (Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams) on Thursday confirmed they are investigating allegations of sexual assault. St Kilda lawyer Angela Sdrinis is launching a class action…

HUNDREDS of names have been added to an online petition calling for the head of a Mt Eliza ashram to step down while police investigate allegations of sexual abuse. “Signatures” have come from around the world, including Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Kazakhstan, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the Unites States. Messages left on the petition call for the managers of the tax exempt Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga to appoint a new leader to replace Russell Kruckman, also known as Swami Shankarananda and Swamiji. One message suggests selling the ashram in Tower Rd and distributing the proceeds to…

TALES of personal grief, heartbreak and broken relationships continue to emerge in the aftermath of admissions of secret sexual relations between the spiritual leader and some of his female devotees at the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga, Mt Eliza. In the past week several new accounts of relationship breakdowns attributed to the actions of the school’s founder Swami Shankarananda have been described on a website established by his former followers. The owners of the leavingshivayoga website have told The News that they have been advised publishing personal testimonies “does not interfere with the ongoing work by the Victorian police…

FRENCH Islanders have again been left stranded by the ferry. Engine problems put both the main ferry, George Bass, and its back-up, Schouten Passage, out of action. It is understood the Department of Transport issued a stop notice on the George Bass on Friday 27 February. The ferry is reported to have been running on one motor and was docking on the outside of the Stony Point jetty because restricted maneuverability prevented it from using its normal landing inside of the jetty. Without the regular ferry service schoolchildren were being brought from the island in small private boats. Over the…

FEW people get to live on a small island close to a major city. Even fewer can claim they are the island’s sole inhabitant. Anne Tillig has been in that enviable situation since 1996 after buying Elizabeth Island with her late husband, Ivan Vit. The 26 hectare island is close to the south east corner of French Island and an eight kilometre boat trip from Corinella and just over twice that distance from Stony Point. Isolated it might be, but Elizabeth Island has all mod cons, including mobile phone and internet access, there are adequate water tanks, bottled gas and…

THE sound of screeching seagulls is nothing new over the shops at Mt Martha. The birds are masters of the air and making the trip across the road from beach to scavenging on the footpath is just a wingbeat away. But on a Sunday afternoon in early January a glance upwards would have shown shoppers that the screeching of the gulls had nothing to do with squabbles over food. Not too far above the shops glided a wedge-tailed eagle, its characteristic silhouette raising alarm among the birds underneath. Sightings of Australia’s largest bird of prey are becoming more common on…

LIKE ripples from a pebble tossed into a still pond, revelations of sexual impropriety at the Mt Eliza-based Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga have been echoing around the world. The ripples have left a string of fractured and broken friendships and relationships in their wake. Announced first to “members” of the school and ashram and then published in The News, the revelations that the school’s founder Swami Shankarananda had admitted to having secret sexual relations with women devotees was soon picked up by national news organisations. Inevitably, it has also become a source of comment on social media, mostly…

AUSTRALIAN of the Year Rosie Batty is taking time out from official duties for a motorbike ride. The inaugural Luke Batty Memorial Ride was held last year three weeks after 11-year-old Luke was killed by his father after cricket training at Tyabb. Since then, Rosie batty has become a high profile symbol for the growing anti-domestic violence movement. And with her being named by the Prime Minister Tony Abbott as Australian of the Year and a Royal Commission into domestic violence about to begin in Victoria, she is guaranteed never to be far from the limelight. Ms Batty will be…

THE activities of the Port of Hastings Development Authority have been drastically scaled back following the election of the Labor state government. Staff numbers have been slashed from about 100 (including consultants) to 31, with one insider telling The News that the authority is “shrinking fast, all the consultants are about to go”. The authority’s CEO Mike Lean says the authority is working with the government to investigate logistics associated with the use of Hastings as a bulk port. The authority was established by the former Coalition government in 2012 with $110 million (over four years) to manage the Port…

A LOYAL disciple of Mt Eliza-based guru Swami Shankarananda has defended criticism of his self-admitted sexual impropriety as being “a publicity stunt from those that would bring him down”. The “high priestess” Rhonda “Vilasini” Reukers says one of the swami’s former disciples “is trying to destroy his credibility because he wants to be a guru himself”. However, Callum Campbell, CEO of the Australian Mediation Association has been appointed to come up with a solution to the crisis enveloping the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga in Tower Rd. Swami Shankarananda has apologised to his followers for his actions and the…

THE sight of the little boy running excitedly up the beach and wrapping his arms around his mother’s legs before running in circles is reward enough for the 20 or so onlookers whooping and cheering him from the water’s edge. His joyful careering around in the sand reminds me of a small puppy let off the lead. It is just one small cameo enacted out on Point Leo beach on Saturday as 60 disabled surfers take to the water helped by a small army of volunteers. The Disabled Surfers Association’s Mornington Peninsula branch is holding the first of the year’s…

FLINDERS MP Greg Hunt says the federal government is “determined to protect and manage the Great Barrier Reef not just for the coming decades, but for the coming centuries”. Since its election in late 2013 the government has “put an end to the five massive dredge disposal plans for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park that were inherited” from the former Labor government”, Mr Hunt, who is also the environment minister, said. “The Coalition is ending the century-old practice of dumping in the marine park – a practice that was fully embraced by Labor governments at both a federal and…

ALLEGATIONS of sexual impropriety have shaken the usual calm surrounding the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga at Mt Eliza. American-born ashram director Swami Shankarananda, also known as Swamiji (formerly known as Russell Kruckman), is alleged to have had sexual relations with more than 40 women attending the ashram. Free confidential counselling is being offered to “anyone who needs assistance” while a sub-committee has been appointed to write a code of conduct for everyone working for the ashram, including Swami Shankarananda. “It breaks my heart that our beautiful Satsang [gathering for the truth] has been shaken and split by anger…

FILMMAKER Sean Cousins and his GP wife Steph Ryan were a bit surprised when their driver in Papua New Guinea took what appeared to be a diversion and drove into the grounds of a school. Once inside the school the driver’s purpose soon became apparent: he knew of a teenaged girl in need of medical assistance. That diversion in the town of Popondetta, near the Kokoda Valley, will have a sequel in March when 15-year-old Coco arrives in Australia for corrective surgery to one of her feet that was badly mangled in a car accident. Allowed to heal on its…

PORTS Minister Luke Donnellan intends talking with “all parties involved” about the government’s plans for the Port of Hastings. The government has announced Infrastructure Victoria will assess the merits of expanding Hastings or building a new port north of Geelong in Port Phillip, despite Labor candidates going into the November election with promises of “no container port in Western Port”. However, now in government, Labor is taking a much softer line. “As a government we do have time and we need to get the decision right on the location of Victoria’s next container port; that’s why we will commission Infrastructure…

AS tens of thousands of holidaymakers descend on the Mornington Peninsula over summer, official statistics show record numbers of residents are out of work. While locals may appear to be on holidays, the federal electorate of Flinders – covering most of the peninsula from Mornington south and across to Hastings and including Phillip Island – has had one of the highest jumps in unemployment across Australia. A drop of 4.8 per cent in job participation rates puts Flinders as the second worst hit electorate in in the country. Neighbouring Dunkley (Mornington, Mt Eliza and Frankston), saw a 3.1 per cent…

DESPITE the new state government’s apparent lack of enthusiasm to build a major container terminal at Hastings, Liberal MP Neale Burgess maintains the port expansion will go ahead. He believes the Labor government led by Daniel Andrews will establish a panel to evaluate Hastings and the so-called Bay West area in Port Phillip before announcing it will go ahead with long-held plans for Western Port. The government says no decision will be made until after a review by the yet to be formed Infrastructure Victoria. The new body will assess the merits of developing the state’s next container port at…

THE Labor Party may have won government in Victoria, but the Mornington Peninsula stayed where it has been for years: solidly behind the Liberal Party. Saturday’s poll held no election surprises on the peninsula, with all three Liberal candidates being re-elected with safe margins. David Morris was back for Mornington with 62.39 per cent of the vote; Martin Dixon in Nepean, with 57 per cent; and Neale Burgess, Hastings, 57.67 per cent. While Labor made inroads in all three seats – Mornington (3.8 per cent swing), Nepean (6.67 per cent) and Hastings (1.93 per cent) – the outcome never seemed…

THE state government is under fire over secrecy surrounding an agreement for a major commercial development with Point Nepean National Park. The Nepean Conservation Group and Nepean Historical Society has accused the government of keeping the community “in the dark” on critical details of the plan which includes a 99-year lease over the Point Nepean Quarantine Station to a Portsea property developer. And the National Parks Association of Victoria is “deeply concerned” about the creation of a “private enclave” within the national park. It says the public will have to pay to use most of the “facilities and activities” in…