Why industrial relations is China’s everlasting battle

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It’s the economic debate that just won’t die, even when it’s dead, buried and cremated.
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The fresh political war over penalty rates, and new ACTU Secretary Sally McManus’ controversial comments about the rule of law, are just the latest flashpoints in a century-long and bitterly fought battle between Aussie bosses and their workers, which began when a bunch of sheep shearers gathered under a ghost gum tree in central Queensland in 1891 to strike for better conditions and ended up creating the n Labor Party.

‘s one-of-a-kind industrial – or workplace – relations system has evolved over time into a set of rules, regulations and institutions designed to strike the best balance between the interests of employees and employers.

One worker’s wage is, after all, another business person’s cost of doing business.

Few disagree there is a need for workers to band together to overcome an inherent imbalance of information and negotiating power between capital (bosses) and labour (workers).

But it is possible for union power to go too far, just as it is possible for employers to screw workers down too far in the name of community standards.

As the Productivity Commission explained in its 2015 review of workplace laws: “Labour is not just an ordinary input. There are ethical and community norms about the way in which a country treats its employees.”

Any economics textbook will tell you that if prices are set above market equilibrium, demand for that product will fall.

If wages rise too fast, there will be less demand for labour, leading to higher joblessness.

The commission again: “The challenge for a workplace relations framework is to develop a coherent system that provides balanced bargaining power between the parties, that encourages employment, and that enhances economic efficiency. It is easy to both over and under regulate.”

Here’s the rub. Because we’re dealing with ethical and social norms, that balance is ever evolving. We used to think it was OK to have just one week’s mandated annual leave. Maybe one day we’ll think it inhumane to have a two-day weekend – not a three-day one.

At various points in our history, the balance of power between capital and labour has shifted.

For much of the early and mid-20th century, was celebrated as a “workers’ paradise”. High trade tariff walls protected domestic industries – profits and wages alike – from foreign competition.

Joblessness was low, and workers were able to push for super-sized pay rises, usually by drawing on their collective power to strike.

Industrial action reached a peak in the first three months of 1974, when a record 2.5 million working days were lost to industrial disputes, be it strikes or lock-outs.

Higher wage demands from scarce labour fuelled double-digit inflation, which would peak at an eye-watering 17.7 per cent in 1975.

Realising there was a problem, the Whitlam government gave support to a new system of wage indexation.

But joblessness began to climb, from 2 per cent in the mid 1970s to 10 per cent by the early 1980s. The Hawke-Keating era

In 1983, the newly elected Hawke government endorsed a Statement of Accord with the ACTU under which unions agreed to link pay increases to cost of living and productivity gains, in return for increased spending on social programs.

Meanwhile, the Hawke Government set about dismantling the wall of tariffs protecting n industry, exposing industries to fierce international competition.

The power once commanded by n industry to generate large economic rents was undercut, as was the ability of workers to lay claim to their share of the super-sized profits with super-sized wage demands.

In this new cut-throat competitive environment, industrial action became more damaging to the economy.

In 1993, the Keating government introduced a new “enterprise bargaining” system, which shifted to a more decentralised wage bargaining system, and also came with a new legal right for unions to strike, under certain conditions.

Strikes had, until this point, always been unlawful in virtually all cases. But rarely had employers ever sought to extract penalties from unions or workers for taking action.

This new right to legally strike came with harsher penalties for illegal strike action. Days lost to industrial disputes fell sharply as a result. Post-accord era

Three years later, the newly elected Howard government formally abandoned the accord and introduced the first form of individual contracts to the workplace relations system.

A decade later, Howard swallowed his own political poison pill by passing the highly unpopular WorkChoices legislation, which removed a long standing “no disadvantage test”, which ensured employers were unable to sign employees up to individual contracts which left them worse off.

The laws only stood for a year or so before the government re-instated, under employment minister Joe Hockey, a “fairness test” to protect workers.

The main principle behind the WorkChoices push was to make the industrial relations system more efficient by drastically reducing – from 4000 plus – the number of state and federal awards governing pay and conditions.

When the newly elected Rudd government abolished WorkChoices, it sought to continue this spirit of reform by securing agreement from state governments to reduce the number of awards down to about 122, which remains the case.

The Labor government’s 2009 Fair Work Act also retained some of the WorkChoices-era reforms to strike laws – much to the frustration of unions. Rules requiring unions to hold a secret ballot before being able to legally strike remain in place.

Having promised that WorkChoices is “dead, buried and cremated”, the Abbott and Turnbull governments have done little to meaningfully alter the balance of power between employers and employees, besides reinstating the n Building and Construction Commission and holding an inquiry into union corruption.

Employer groups still complain the Fair Work Act winds back the industrial relations clock to the pre Hawke/Keating era, with an excessively proceduralistic focus and by forcing employers to collectively bargain with their workers if they request it, whereas this was voluntary under Hawke/Keating. Unions, on the other hand, complain the act does not go far enough.

Where does this leave us today?

The Productivity Commission’s 2015 review – which the Turnbull government is yet to respond to – broadly concluded that ‘s industrial relations system is relatively “harmonious” and “not dysfunctional”.

“Contrary to perceptions, ‘s labour market performance and flexibility is relatively good by global standards, and many of the concerns that pervaded historical arrangements have now abated. Strike activity is low, wages are responsive to the economic cycle and there are multiple forms of employment arrangements that offer employees and employers flexible options for working.”

Most controversially, the commission recommended reducing Sunday penalty rates to Saturday rates, as the Fair Work Commission has just mandated.

‘s idiosyncratic system of awards still has some “undesirable inconsistencies and rigidities, but they are an important safety net and a useful benchmark for many employers”.

And industrial disputes remain at historic lows.

“In the debates about regulation of industrial disputes, there is often a mantra that disputes are harmful to productivity and efficiency, and that there should therefore be more binding constraints on their use,” the commission observed.

However, while this was possible, there was little evidence of material effects: “Many disputes are about who gets what portion of a cake, not the quantum of the cake.”

Blame for failures to resolve industrial disputes, according to the commission, more often fell at the feet of individual unions and employers, than flaws in the system as a whole.

“In fact, a missing story is that the toxic relationships that can surface between employers and employees are sometimes the result of poor relationship management ??? a key skill for both employers and employee representatives ??? not a fault of the workplace system.”

If the overriding goal of an industrial relations system is to balance the interests of workers and employers while resolving disputes quickly, efficiently and fairly – to avoid productivity-harming industrial action – then is not too far from where it needs to be.

Amid the recent slump in wages growth to three-decade lows, it’s certainly hard to argue workers have too much power.

When both sides of a deal are equally unhappy, that’s usually the sign of a good bargain.

Let the battle continue.

Stolen bike posted for sale on social media: owner in hot pursuitpoll

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GONE: Maryville man Jim Plummer, subject of a bike theft. Picture: Marina Neil.
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JIM Plummer thought two stainless steel wire rope locks would be enough security for his upmarket mountain bike when he and his wife Bronwyn dropped into the Kent Hotel for lunch two Sundays ago.

THAT’S MINE: A photo of Jim Plummer’s bike that was used in the online advertisement, shown below.

“It was Carnivale, and there were two police officers on patrol outside,” Mr Plummer said on Tuesday. “We were sitting there when a mate came back inside and said: ‘Jim, your bike’s gone’. Someone had cut the ropes clean as a whistle.”

There was one consolation;the thief had left his wife’s bike, which was worth more than the $3200 he’d paid for his. The police gave the Maryville resident a 1300 number to report the theft, which he did that afternoon.

SOLD: The day after the theft, an advertisement appeared offering the bike for sale or swap.

The next day at work, Mr Plummerwas telling his mates what had happened when one hopped on to the trading website Gumtree.

“There’s my bike, for sale with a photo,” Mr Plummer said. “It had been listed eight hours after it was stolen. I rang the police, and they said they could get in touch with Gumtree but it would take three days to get an answer and by that time it would be too late.”

At the same time, one of his mates lodged a bid for the bike, hoping tofinding out where it was. A bid of $1000 was accepted, but then the person said they would be out of town for a few days and the ad disappeared. Mr Plummer said the bike was offered twice more for sale, each time under a different seller name, before disappearing altogether. Each ad had a picture of the bike and Mr Plummer said his mate found the third ad had a GPS marker showing the seller was in Church Street, Newcastle.

“I went to the police to see if they could go with me but they said they couldn’t, it was entrapment,” Mr Plummer said. “I suggested maybe they could just happen to drive past at the right time but they said if a judge asked us whether we had spoken to you previously, we’d have to say yes. The police want to do their job but they have their hands tied behind their backs by the bureaucracy.”

On its website, Gumtree says advises people in Mr Plummer’s position to get a reference number from the police. It says:“If the police take the matter further . . . we’ll do all we can to provide . . . any information that helps.”

Mr Plummer doesn’t know whether the bike was sold or whether the thief was spookedbut he is puttingup posters and letter-boxing houses in hope.

He is upset, too, that despite having five insurance policies with GIO, the company has said it will not cover the theft because he did not have special cover for “portable goods’

The NewcastleHerald has sent questions about Mr Plummer’s ordeal to police media.

Tis the season to photograph fungi

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They’re colourful, fun guys to photograph Picture: Mathew Price
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Picture: Stacey Jenkins

Picture: Bree Dillon

Picture: Tam Locke

Taken on a Canon EOS 300, F/11, focal length 51mm, exposure 1/500sec. Picture: Ann-Maree Lourey

GARDENING: Mushrooms around town. Picture: Jessica Brown

GARDENING: Mushrooms around town. Picture: Jessica Brown

GARDENING: Mushrooms iaround town. Picture: Jessica Brown

GARDENING: Mushrooms around town. Picture: Jessica Brown

GARDENING: Mushrooms in Georgetown. Picture: Jessica Brown

Picture: Bree Dillon

Picture: Bree Dillon

Picture: Sheryl Brown

Picture: Stacey Jenkins

Picture: Sheryl Brown

Picture: Sara Dowling

Picture: Dee Rose

Picture: Ken Rubeli

Picture: Ben Jackson

Picture: Ben Jackson

Picture: Ben Jackson

Picture: Donna Gorton

Picture: Tam Locke

Picture: Tam Locke

Picture: Michelle Marklew

Pictures: David Andrews

Pictures: David Andrews

Mushrooms in an almost love heart shape. Picture: Rhiannon Petersen

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Picture: Bernie Flanagan

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Picture: Bernie Flanagan.

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Picture: Mathew Price

Picture: Mathew Price

Picture: Mathew Price

“I caught this specimen impersonating the water tower nearby. Sneaky camouflage.” – Neil Keene

Picture: Charlotte Patterson

Picture: Charlotte Patterson

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Scot MacDonald named as parliamentary secretary for the Hunterpoll

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Scot MacDonald at the Bogey Hole when it reopened in December last year. PICTURE: SCOT MacDonald has been named as the NSW government’s parliamentary secretary for the Hunter.
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Again.

Mr MacDonald takes back the job he held from April 2015 until January this year, when he was replaced in incoming Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s first ministry.

He replaces Catherine Cusack, who resigned in spectacular fashion earlier this month after a nine-page email she wrote to Premier Gladys Berejiklian criticising the government was leaked to the public.

Mr MacDonald takes backthe rolein addition to his existing jobas parliamentary secretary for the Central Coast and planning.

In a statement announcing the move he said he was “very honoured to be asked to be Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter”.

“It is a dynamic, beautiful region with so much potential and it is so important to the state of NSW,” hesaid.

“I enjoy working with the community and all the stakeholders in the Hunter and I will be doing my very best to support the interests of the region.”

@mmcgowan569 But still no Minister for the Hunter at the cabinet table – where the real decisions are made.

— Tim Crakanthorp (@crakanthorp) March 21, 2017

Labor were critical of Mr MacDonald while in the role –and after he left –and were quick to criticise the move.

Reacting to the news on Twitter, Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp lamented the fact the Hunter was still outside of cabinet.

“But still no Minister for Hunter at the Cabinet table –where the real decisions are made,” he wrote.

After former Premier Mike Baird resigned in January, Mr MacDonald openly questioned whether the government would retain the same interest in the Hunter, saying the region had lost a “genuine champion”.

Suburb profile: Rankin Park

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Suburb snapshotIt began as a housing estate called Cambridge Hills and has grown to become one of Newcastle’s premier suburbs.
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It is primarily populated withprofessionals and families seeking quality living in close proximity to Newcastle CBD.

With its easy access to freeways, connecting to both Sydney and the Central Coast, Rankin Park scores highon thelivability scale.

With schools, parks,amenities and the John Hunter Hospital all within easy reach, Rankin Park has become a popular choice for those seeking a quality built home and easy living.

Getaway: Blackbutt Reserve offers a great day out among the wildlife for the whole family.

LifestyleNestled among parks, schools and newly developed estates, residents of Rankin Park have the best of both worlds; quiet community living and yet aneasy dip into neighbouring New Lambton for the buzz of great cafes and restaurants, when desired.

Greenbelt: The leafy surrounds of Rankin Park and neighbouring suburbs.

The major shopping centres of Kotara and Westfields are just a short drive away, as are Newcastle’s pristine beaches.

Convenience: John Hunter Hospital is within easy reach for Rankin Park residents.

Home to George McGregor Park, 19.66 hectare bushland reserve and with numerous parks and recreation areas nearby including the scenic Blackbutt Reserve just over 1km away, there is no shortage of green space in this city-side suburb.

From the experts“Rankin Park gives young families the opportunity to live in a beautiful family centric community, with large homes, on good size blocks, all within a peaceful setting.

It’s close proximity to John Hunter Hospital, link Road and the University mean it has shown strong capital growth.

It’s quiet and peaceful, with parks, public transport readily available and the local shopping village easily accessible,”

Vlado Zvicer,

Robert Crawford Real Estate.

Malcolm Turnbull stands to lose both ways on 18C changes

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“Here in we have no tolerance for anti-Semitism, no tolerance for racism, no tolerance for anybody who seeks to demean or de-legitimise or dehumanise somebody because of their race or their religion or their culture.”
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That was Malcolm Turnbull, speaking to Holocaust survivors in Sydney on Sunday, before his government released a statement reaffirming its commitment to a multicultural “in which racism and discrimination have no place”.

But now, suddenly, it is okay to “offend, insult and humiliate” someone on the basis of their race, so long as this does not amount to “harassment and intimidation”.

Why? The Prime Minister justifies changing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act by citing the lawsuit against three Queensland University of Technology students that should have been nipped in the bud, and a complaint against one of this country’s pre-eminent cartoonists, the late Bill Leak, that was never going to succeed.

But there are two problems here. The first is that, if the section lost its credibility “a long time ago”, as Turnbull asserted in Parliament, why did he repeatedly insist before last year’s election that he had no plans to change it?

The second is that the two examples of abuse of the section would have been speedily thrown out under the comprehensive reforms to procedures for handling complaints that emerged from a national inquiry and will now become law. They solved the problem.

Rather than seize this opportunity and draw a line under debate that has bubbled along for six years since News columnist Andrew Bolt was found to have breached the section, Turnbull has bowed to pressure from the ideologues and gone further.

Not only has he supported replacing the words “offend, insult and humiliate” with “harass”, he has backed a change in the objective standard against which harass and intimidate are judged – from a ‘reasonable member of the relevant group’ to ‘the reasonable member of the n community’.

The Prime Minister defends the new wording by saying it more clearly describes “the type of conduct that should be prohibited, not mere slights or the taking of offence or hurt feelings”.

Yet Susan Kiefel, now chief justice of the High Court, has held there is no contravention of section 18C unless the offence, insult, humiliation or intimidation is found to have “profound and serious effects, not to be likened to mere slights”.

As for the higher threshold, it doesn’t cut it. How can a middle-class white person possibly know how an Aborigine feels when he or she is abused on a bus on a regular basis? As Indigenous MP Linda Burney told Parliament: “People that have never experienced racism cannot possibly stand in the shoes of those who have.”

Turnbull’s clear intention is to take the issue off the agenda by embracing a change he believes he can defend as striking a better balance between protecting people from racial vilification and advancing the cause of free speech.

His achievement is that he has a position his party room strongly supports. His problem is that the case doesn’t stack up and that the changes send a message that, in the words of George Brandis, people do have a right to be bigots.

The danger for Turnbull is that he loses both ways, with the Senate blocking the changes and those in racial minorities, who now feel more vulnerable to hate-speech, intent on punishing him at the next election.

Missing propeller found in Revesby bushland after falling off REX flight

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A 100-kilogram propeller that fell off a Regional Express flight bound for Sydney has been found in bushland close to a built-up residential area in the city’s south-west.
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The 34-seat plane, carrying 16 passengers and three crew, was about 19 kilometres from Sydney Airport when its right-hand propeller flew off last Friday, narrowly avoiding hitting the wing and tail.

The two pilots on board flight ZL-768 from Albury were forced to declare a PAN, which is one step down from a full-scale Mayday, before safely landing at the airport.

On Tuesday, a NSW Police helicopter patrolling Sydney’s south-west spotted the propeller in bushland at Revesby.

A crime scene was set up east of The River Road in the Georges River National Park, near the intersection of Prince Street.

The park abuts suburban backyards, and demonstrates how fortunate it was that no one was seriously injured or killed when it fell from the plane.

Ken Stasionis, who lives in nearby Austin Boulevard, said he was shocked to hear that the 100kg propeller had fallen so close to a residential area.

“We’re extremely lucky it didn’t fall onto a house,” he said.

The propeller will be central to the n Transport Safety Bureau’s investigation into what caused it to break off at the shaft of the Saab 340’s right-hand engine.

The ATSB said the location of the propeller in bushland was broadly consistent with its calculations. Investigators had been calculating the likely trajectory of the propeller using data from the plane’s flight data recorder.

“The ATSB investigation team will examine the propeller assembly to determine the contributing factors that led to its detachment from the aircraft,” it said.

The Saab 340 aircraft’s first officer saw the propeller break away, and rotate upwards and to the right before moving in a horizontal direction.

Aviation watchers have said it was “incredibly lucky” the propeller did not hit the wing, fuselage or the tail, which could have been catastrophic for the aircraft and those on board.

A large object falling from 6000 feet also posed a major danger to people below.

In the wake of the incident, Regional Express has temporarily grounded five aircraft to allow engineers to remove propeller gear boxes and shafts similar to those on the Saab 340 forced to make an emergency landing.

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Rugby League: Referees boss says South Sydney prop George Burgess should have been sent off in win over Newcastle Knights

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LUCKY ESCAPE: George Burgess on the charge against the Knights. Picture: Getty Images REFEREES boss Tony Archer has made the startling admission that George Burgess should have been sent off in the first half of South Sydney’s24-18 win over the Knights.
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OUCH: George Burgess.

With Souths ahead 10-0 in the 23rd minute, Burgess lashed out with his elbow and struck Mitch Barnett in the head after the Knights lockhad rattled the prop in a tackle.

However, match officials deemed the cheap shot worthy of only 10 minutes in the sinbin.

The Knights scored two tries during Burgess’ absence to level at 10-all. But they should have had an extra man for the entire match.

The Burgess hit was among a host of controversial incidents on Saturday.

Referee David Munro has retained his place on the NRL panel this weekend, howeverJared Maxwell has lost his position as senior review official in the bunker.

“Following a review of the match and evaluating the performance of the officials, I am comfortable with the on-field referees retaining their positions for round four,” Archer said.“In saying that, after reviewing the available angles I am of the opinion that George Burgess should have been sent from the field for the use of his elbow.All officials are accountable for their performances so not all officials from this match will retain their roles in round four.”

Burgess has been banned for two games for striking and wasone of three Rabbitohs suspended from the match. Hymel Hunt pleaded guilty to a grade-two reckless high tackle on Brendan Elliot and outed for four games. Winger Braidon Burns will miss one game for a shoulder charge on Sione Mata’utia.

Asked about the foul play before Archer’s admission, Knights coach Nathan Brown said: “Sending people off is a big call these days. It would have had a large bearing on the game if it had happened.”

Gesture politics from the people who claim to be above it

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General Senator George Brandis in Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 21 March 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew MearesThe hard right derides it in the liberal-left as “virtue signalling” – pious flag-waving by the elites around such causes as refugees, multiculturalism, climate change, and entrenched sexism – designed to show its members exist on a higher moral plane.
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So what is to be made of the Turnbull government’s fanatical tinkering with the nation’s racial offence laws? The expression of electoral urgency, of public clamour?

Hardly. Compare it to marriage equality, where there is wide support in the electorate and yet mulishness in Canberra.

Indeed, ordinary people, including many true conservatives, have been spectacularly unfussed by the prohibitions against offend, insult and humiliate on the basis of ethnicity, set out in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act – especially in light of section 18D, which severely attenuates its sanctions anyway. But to the muscular reactionaries who have appropriated that conservative mantle, the law is itself offensive – a symbol of past obedience to leftist thought control.

And so, under the whip from his own roiling backbench, another moderate shibboleth associated with the social mainstream, with Malcolm Turnbull himself, and with national unity, has been slain. On Harmony Day. Priceless.

The Senate is unlikely to pass the change, meaning this is also shaping as another lose-lose for Turnbull, who could be lumbered with the image damage of caving to some of the zoo’s madder monkeys, and then failing to change the law any way.

It’s been said that he’s shored up his support from the party’s right through this. Perhaps, but the external optics are not good. While a case may be made against 18C’s precise wording, it does that case no good to have the backing of ex-cabinet voices who lacked the sand to do it themselves while in office and who now delight in causing trouble for Turnbull as regularly as possible.

If the whole point is to bring the legal tests closer to the realm of common sense – the so-called person-in-the-street test – then the question arises: what is the functional perceptive difference among ordinary folk between the existing words, on the one hand, and the replacement, “harass”?

As marginal seat MPs noted – many with significant ethnic populations – the problems with 18C are (a) vastly exaggerated for ideological purposes, and (b) largely associated with the laborious processes of the Human Rights Commission, when handling vexatious complaints.

This change either portends racial vilification that is currently unlawful, or it is gesture politics born of over-reaction. The result perhaps of what happens when you offend, insult, and humiliate, political reactionaries.

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Brandy Hill and Seaham Action Group oppose Brandy Hill Quarry growth

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AT CAPACITY: Quarry neighbour Margarete Ritchie said Brandy Hill Drive was already at capacity. Mrs Ritchie is pictured here in 2014. Picture: Johnathan Carroll Brandy Hill and Seaham Action Group want quarry owners Hansonto come to the party if they are to support expansion plans.
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Hanson wishes to double the output of the Brandy Hill Quarry from 750,000 tonnes annually to 1.5 million tonnes.

The plans, including a concrete recycling facility and concrete batching plant, would create 10 new jobs –about 30 in total.

But a founding member of the action group said an additional 500 truck movements each day would break the already fragile community.

“We don’t want it to shut down but we don’t want it to expand unless there are certain concessions,” Margarete Ritchie said.

“When you put all these little pieces together –the recycling trucks, the cement trucks and the extra gravel trucks –it adds up to a big problem.”

Hanson says the quarry will be forced to close in documents that form part of an environmental impact statement, if it cannot start a new pit on the property.

Port Stephens Council first approved the quarry in 1983 and along with it, 27 truck movements. On average, the quarry now requires 340 truck movements a day from 6am –often earlier, Mrs Ritchie said.

The plans explain this will grow by 504 trucks a day.

“It will overload the road system,” Mrs Ritchie said.

“There are no footpaths and no bus bays.

“Parents either have to drive their children to the bus or drive them into Seaham Public School.”

Hanson has said it will be foreced to close if it can’t gain approval from the Department of Planning and Environment.

“Hanson is continuing to consult widely with the local community, as well as working closely with the local council and with state government authorities,” a spokesman said in a statement.

“We are aware of the concerns expressed in the past by some members of the community and want to assure them that the proposed development will meet the strictest NSW planning and environmental regulations.”

The Department of Planning and Environment scheduled apublic meeting for Wednesday night (after publication) at Raymond Terrace Bowling Club, as part of its assessment process.

People have until April 9 to make any submissions for or against the project.

Visit themajorprojects.planning.nsw.gov.au website.