Feds wash hands of sanitiser

AN ALBANY distiller, who answered Government pleas to make hand sanitiser, has been left high and dry with thousands of litres of unwanted product as overseas imports flood the market and demand levels out.

Only a couple of months ago you had a better chance of winning Lotto than securing yourself a bottle of hand sanitiser from the supermarkets.

As panic buying hit its peak, hospitals kept the liquid gel under lock and key, while some retailers charged inflated prices for bottles that didn’t even contain alcohol.

With national stocks thinning, the Federal Government approached Australian spirit makers to help meet sky rocketing demand.

Cameron Syme, the founder of Great Southern Distilling Company, said Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews invited him to a round table discussion on increasing local production.

To fast-track the process, Government even removed requirements for companies to seek manufacturing approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), provided they follow one of two recipes endorsed by the World Health Organization.

Mr Syme had little interest in the venture from a financial point-of-view but was willing to do his part during a pandemic.

“I wasn’t interested in making hand sanitiser,” he said.

“A number of schools and businesses said they needed it. I had three emails from GPs in this region saying ‘please can we make it? We can’t get it.”

But now the whisky and gin distiller says he and other spirit makers around the country have been left with huge stockpiles of product as cheaper Chinese imports flood the market.

“We are sitting on eight thousand litres that there is no demand for,” Mr Syme said.

What makes matters worse for Great Southern Distilling is they had to buy ingredients in bulk because of stretched supply chains, leaving Mr Syme with a massive inventory of raw material.

“There’s distillers all around the country left with this stuff and don’t know what to do with it,” he said.

“We supplied 18,000 litres, we’ve been left with 8000 litres ready to go out and we’ve got materials to make another 20,000 litres because we had to buy a lot of stuff,” he said.

Mr Syme, who is the Vice President of the Australian Distillers Association, said he has approached Federal, State and Local governments to take some of the hand sanitiser off his hands, but with no success.

“Distillers were producing a quarter of a million litres a week around the country, but the problem was very few distillers were able to get contracts with Government,” he said.

“It’s particularly unfortunate that Government procurement have opted for overseas imports.”

With Australian distillers having to pay for new equipment and ingredients out of their own pocket, Mr Syme said spirit makers felt like they had been let down.

“I don’t want to whinge, but it is hard when Government asks us to help out,” he said.

“The Australian distillers who were asked to step up have been left holding the baby.”

Mr Syme said cheaper overseas hand sanitiser wasn’t necessarily made to the same standard required by the TGA.

“It’s a sign of the times when Australians look for overseas imports out of China, rather than domestically-made product,” he said.

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On cloud nine

INTERNATIONAL YouTuber Cameron Bostock captured a once in a lifetime-esque moment on camera atop Bluff Knoll last week.

Mr Bostock and his friend Deon Wilde climbed the peak in the early hours of Friday morning with the hope of snapping an unobstructed sunrise.

What they didn’t expect to see was a ‘cloud waterfall’ – rolling, fluffy clouds ‘falling’ off the mountain face.

Mr Bostock said the frosty conditions were worth facing to capture the stunning natural occurrence.

“I’ve never been so lucky,” he said.

“It was pretty surreal. Something I’ll never forget, for sure.”

Mr Bostock splits his time between Perth and Tokyo climbing mountains and exploring nature for his YouTube channel and photography.

But, he says the south-west of WA is his favourite spot.

More footage from Mr Bostock’s Bluff Knoll can be found on his Instagram and YouTube @cambostock

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New program for gifted students

ALBANY Senior High School will soon be home to the second Gifted and Talented Program for regional students in WA.

Premier Mark McGowan visited the school on Tuesday this week to announce new fund- ing which will support the introduction of the program, which aims to supplement their current online program.

The main goals of its introduction is to cater for students with exceptional academic ability in the Great Southern, also giving opportunity for students who live outside of Albany, who will be able to board at Albany Residential College.

The new program represents a big investment by the McGowan government, with $250,000 being provided for initial funding with a further $350,000 per year once the program is fully up and running with students from Years 7 to 12.

Students entering year 7 in 2022 will be eligible to apply for a place in the program when applications for Gifted and Talented secondary selective entrance programs open later this year.

Mr McGowan said that the introduction of this program will help ASHS students to reach their full potential.

“Every Western Australian student should have the opportunity to thrive and have access to a comprehensive education no matter where they live,” he said.

“By introducing this new program, students with exceptional academic ability from Albany will now be able to reach their potential face-to- face with their teachers.”

The first round will see up to 32 selected Year 7 students join the program in 2022 before it expands to other year groups.

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Shark barrier nets funds from State

IT HAS taken less than two weeks for the WA Government to come through with the goods on a new swimming enclosure at Middleton Beach, with Premier Mark McGowan announcing the State would go halves with the City of Albany on costs.

Late last month Council voted to seek funding for a replacement shark net at Ellen Cove, and 14 days later the move was met with a swift tick of approval.

The WA Government will now match every dollar spent by the City of Albany to construct a new enclosure, up to $200,000.

The current barrier at Middleton Beach, which was put in place in March 2016, has deteriorated beyond repair and will be removed in the coming weeks.

Citing insurance advice, the City of Albany said it may be liable for damages if the enclosure remained in the water.

Ellen Cove is a popular area for swimmers, and an enclosure has made people feel safe, according to keen swimmer Georgie Walker.

The existing barrier cost $340,000 in 2016, of which the State Government provided a $200,000 grant for a three-year trial.

Ms Walker, who swims in the enclosure almost every morning, said she didn’t feel comfortable exercising far from shore.

“The fact that the net is here now has made me feel totally secure.

Before the net, we used to swim parallel up the beach with our hands grappling on the sand,” she said.

A survey of the Albany community in 2017 found 93 per cent of people saw value in the City installing and maintaining the enclosure.

City of Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington said he hoped the new barrier would last longer than the current model.

“The technology has improved in the past four years,” he said.

Mr Wellington said early estimates showed the enclosure would cost between $350,000 to $400,000.

With just nine months till the next election, he said it was a great time for local government to get other projects approved for funding.

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Battle for Albany

ALBANY was a hotbed of politicians this week as the fate of the Seat of Albany lays wide open.

Current long-term Labor Member Peter Watson will have held the seat for 20 years when he retires next year.

Prior to Mr Watson’s 2001 win, the Liberal Party held the Seat of Albany for 27 years.

State Opposition Leader Liza Harvey was in town on Friday following the endorsement of Liberal candidate Scott Leary.

Premier Mark McGowan was in Albany on Tuesday with Labor candidate Rebecca Stephens by his side as he toured two schools and visited Middleton Beach for various State announcements.

One Nation State Party Leader Colin Tincknell also visited town to introduce the party’s candidate to the community, Perth-based Michelle Kinsella.

Other political parties are yet to announce any candidates to join the fight for the Seat of Albany.

Pictured here is a snapshot from Mr McGowan’s visit to Flinders Park Primary School, where he officially opened the school’s new early childhood centre.

The $2.5 million facility caters for a play-based learning approach and includes shaded outdoor areas, early childhood-specific equipment, soft-fall flooring and interactive touchscreens.

Mr McGowan also announced that Albany’s AD Contractors had been award- ed the forward works contract for Mount Lockyer Primary School’s $15.2 million major redevelopment.

Construction is also underway on new buildings and refurbishment works at North Albany Senior High School and Albany Secondary Education Support Centre.

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University study hub to open

TERTIARY students can choose to swap their home offices for a town-based study hub from next year with the development of a new regional university centre (RUC) in Albany.

The centre will be the third established in WA alongside existing RUCs in Geraldton and the Pilbara and include 10 computers for university and TAFE students to utilise.

It was one of nine new RUCs announced nationally on Monday by Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan as part of a $53.2 million plan.

Access to town-strength internet, video conferencing tools, study spaces and academic support will also be available 24/7 to students studying a tertiary qualification via distance at partner universities.

In 2018, the Great Southern recorded more than 400 residents studying fully and partially online with 14 different Australian universities.

Acting Director for the Albany RUC Jan Davidson said the facility would also be helpful to people wanting to upskill, retrain or gain additional ‘microcredentials’.

A registered nursing course will be the first course fully supported by the Albany RUC with agriculture and teaching being considered for the future.

The RUC will be located on the first floor of the Albany Co-Op Building on Frederick Street, under the Regional Development Australia Great Southern offices.

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Period of isolation frustrates

A DENMARK local who has spent nearly a month in quarantine after returning from overseas says WA’s hard border stance should remain in place.

Laura Blake, who had been working as an English teacher in Hungary for four years, decided to travel back to Australia after her school semester was cut short due to the pandemic.

Ms Blake travelled to London so she could secure a repatriation flight back to Perth, but soon found the only plane she could book would take her to Melbourne instead.

It meant the Denmark-raised teacher would have to spend two consecutive 14-day periods in isolation because of WA’s hard border stance.

The frustrating part for Ms Blake was that her flight back to Australia did actually stop in Perth to refuel on its way to Melbourne, but passengers were told they couldn’t disembark.

“We kind of just sat there while they refuelled and went on to Melbourne,” Ms Blake said.

“I think they wanted to spread the quarantine centres around Australia.”

After arriving in Victoria, Ms Blake said the forced quarantine process was a tightly run operation.

“They had been quarantining foreign arrivals for about a month by the time I arrived in Melbourne so it was a very streamlined process,” she said.

“They disembarked the plan row by row. On the plane they gave us a goodie bag full of masks and disinfectant.”

When Australians were first forced to stay in hotels after returning from overseas, social media was full of people complaining about isolation life in five-star accommodation and being treated as second-class citizens.

But, Ms Blake didn’t share those nightmare experiences on her 14-day stay.

“I think I was pretty realistic going into it,” she said.

“I was staying at Crown Melbourne, which is a five-star hotel, but I wasn’t expecting a five-star stay.

“I had already been distancing and in isolation when I was staying in London for a week. I had already experienced the mental processes you go through when you are in isolation.

“I feel like I was a bit more prepared than some people were.”

Ms Blake said the Victorian Government covered all her costs from the moment she left the plane to the day she could leave the hotel.

During a challenging period of isolation, Ms Blake said she was lucky to friends and family regularly staying in touch.

“You do realise your own mental strength,” she said.

“Realising the strength of your relationships with other people and how helpful that was in getting me through.”

Despite having to go through a frustrating second 14-week period of self-isolation after returning to WA, Ms Blake is more than happy to do her part to keep the virus out of the state.

“I’d rather quarantine than risk spreading anything,” she said.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s not really about the individual. It’s about taking care of everyone.”

Under current rules, interstate travellers are required to quarantine in Queensland, Tasmania, WA, SA and the NT.

In Victoria, ACT and NSW you do not need to quarantine or self-isolate if you have travelled interstate.

WA Liberal Party Leader Lisa Harvey has been a vocal critic of the interstate travel restrictions and has called on the WA Premier to take them down.

“We’re talking about our economy being impacted every day,” Ms Harvey said.

“Families losing their businesses, families who are going to lose their houses because of the lack of customers for their businesses.”

Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has also urged states like WA to relax restrictions now the COVID-19 curve has been flattened.

But WA Premier Mark McGowan is holding firm on the hard border stance.

Instead, the State Government launched a $2 million tourism campaign this week titled ‘Wander out Yonder’ to encourage Western Australians to holiday in WA and boost the local tourism sector.

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Hikers return to Knoll

WESTERN Australians from across the state ascended on a rebuilt Bluff Knoll trail over the weekend as the iconic hike opened up to the public for the first time in nearly five months.

When bushfires savaged the Stirling Ranges throughout the Christmas and New Year period, nearby walking trails, which attract thousands of visitors every year, were left devastated.

With almost the entire 3km track at Bluff Knoll needing a rebuild, contractors and staff from Parks and Wildlife Service at the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) have spent four months working to repair the extensive damage.

Taking the opportunity to re-design the popular track, DBCA have made improvements to the trail to make it easier to climb and more family friendly.

With Bluff Knoll’s peak 1098m above sea level, more than 50 tonnes of materials had to be airlifted onto and off the mountain by helicopter.

Funding for the repair bill was paid through the Australian Heritage Grant and the rest of the balance was covered by the DBCA.

The revamped trail seems to be already paying dividends for Great Southern tourism.

On Saturday, the Bluff Knoll carpark was packed with visitors gearing themselves up for a steep ascent in picture-perfect conditions.

Perth couple Adam Stokes and Bianca Harding, who were down in Albany for the weekend, said it was an “amazing climb”, and they were pleasantly surprised by the amount of infrastructure that had been built into the trail.

As the Stirling Range’s biggest draw card, the reopening of Bluff Knoll is very welcoming news for local businesses who have been hit hard by the bushfires and then COVID-19.

Mt Trio Bush Camp and Caravan Park owner Margot Byrne said it just felt great to hear the business phone ringing again.

“The fires came through on December 26 and we had a few people at the very start of March and then that petered out with the pandemic,” she said.

“With the park being closed it has been really difficult. It has been a
very slow start to the year, that’s for sure.”

Ms Byrne never thought she would be so excited to see a caravan heading down her driveway.

“We’ve got people coming for the long weekend and we are looking forward to the snow season and wildflower season,” she said.

“The light at the end of the tunnel has arrived. It’s all positives ahead of us.”

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Tourists get a room

THIS coming long weekend is what many tourism and accommodation operators have been holding their breath for, but for some businesses the spike in customers might not be enough.

Non-essential travel restrictions between many of the state’s regions were lifted on May 18, prompting a surge in bookings for Great Southern accommodation providers.

Owner of Lilac’s Waterfront Villas and Cottages Joe Lembo said the phone rang for the first time in three months when the restrictions were lifted, where before the only contact they received was for cancellations.

“We’re fully booked this weekend we’re very pleased to say,” Mr Lembo said.

“It has been very quiet since the lockdown of course, so we’re very happy and relieved that the borders are open.”

Nigel Oakey, one of the creators behind Katanning’s Premier Mill Hotel, said ‘tough’ couldn’t begin to describe what the business had been through during lockdown, however is grateful to have customers back for this long weekend.

“We’re all booked up and it’s looking good,” Mr Oakey said.

“I think the positive momentum we built previous to the shutdown has made sure people haven’t forgotten us and they’re keen to get out and do something different.

“We’re looking forward to this weekend, but it’s about making sure this can be sustained after that.

“Obviously that’s going to be all related to future restrictions being eased and so forth.”

But not all businesses have received the same rush of bookings.

Albany Visitor Centre Coordinator Steve Williams said other restrictions have hampered the region’s potential.

“Bookings are about 30 per cent of what was received for this long weekend last year and feedback suggests many visitors are waiting for restrictions on museums to lift so attractions like the National Anzac Centre are open again before they commit to visiting Albany,” he said.

Owner of Dog Rock Motel Neville Buss said his business is still feeling the grip of COVID-19, with comparisons to last year showing how much of an impact the pandemic has had.

“It’s been very tough on all accommodation places and all around because of the restrictions on borders, once the borders opened we have become busier, but it’s nothing like it was pre-COVID,” Mr Buss said.

“[The bookings] were higher last year for sure, at least at this stage.”

Mr Buss encouraged people who are booking to try and keep the money they are putting into tourism within Australia.

“If anyone knows anyone coming, tell them to book direct,” he said.

“When people book with agencies online all of the commission goes out of Australia, whereas if they ring places directly, they’ll get a better deal and the money stays in Australia.”

Amazing South Coast Chief Executive Peter Grigg said while the effects of coronavirus restrictions have been deeply felt across the region, this long weekend shows hope for the future.

“Our air is pure, our water is crystal clear, if there is any place in Western Australia or even Australia to come and re-energise your soul after being locked up in your house after so many months, this is the best place to be,” he said.

“Whether it’s Denmark, Albany, Plantagenet, the Porongurups or Bremer Bay, people now have a bit of fresh air that they can get out into and enjoy.”

Mr Grigg said now is the time for businesses to take advantage of the visitors we will have. “The opportunity that we’ve got is to promote the region to three markets,” he said.

“Those that have never been, and what a great destination they will enjoy when they
get here, there are those that have been down 20 years ago and so much has changed in that time and that is the very reason that they need to come back, and the other big market is our relations.

“We haven’t seen our grandparents or our grandchildren for many months, and now we’ve got some friends and relations and family that can interact and socially engage, share a bottle of wine and share a meal, all outside of having a Zoom meeting or a FaceTime on the computer.”

While he emphasised the importance of people remaining cautious, Mr Grigg said he is excited to see people enjoying the gifts of our region once again.

“I think for us the opportunity now is the next four weeks, and hopefully everything goes well,” he said.

“The last thing we want is a resurgence of this.

“We do need to be cautious, but our message is that we’re open for business, the region is open for business, our operators are open for business, so please come back and we’ll make you most welcome.”

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Fast-track plea for radiation machine

ALBANY’S promised cancer radiation therapy machine is set to be operational by the second half of 2022 but local campaigners and politicians say it’s not good enough patients must continue to wait for lifesaving treatment close to home.

Currently, patients from the Great Southern requiring radiation must travel to Perth or Bunbury for treatment.

Campaigner Mary Williams, whose initial $15m fundraising fight for the machine in Albany began four years ago, was beside herself when the project was awarded $6.6m in Federal funding in September 2018 and $13.1m in State funding in March 2019.

But she is frustrated with what appears to her as a lack of trying on the State’s behalf to get the project underway.

“I am at a loss as to why we can’t fast-track this,” Ms Williams said.

“It’s the perfect time – we need to give our people jobs and this would create jobs.

“Our cancer patients are so vulnerable, particularly now … the anguish of our people when they have to travel for treatment … that’s when the depression sets in.”

Federal Member for O’Connor Rick Wilson echoed Ms William’s disbelief, describing the delay as “unacceptable”.

“On April 20, Premier Mark McGowan announced a list of major infrastructure projects to be fast-tracked, supporting jobs and boosting local economies,” he said.

“But perhaps the most imperative project for our region, one which will save lives, was left off that list – the Albany Radiation Machine Project.

“I’m calling on Premier McGowan to fast-track this vital project.”

State Health Minister Roger Cook said efforts to streamline the oncology project were in place now by concurrently completing the Project Definition Plan and Schematic Design processes ahead of procurement.

“However, this is a complex operation in biomedical engineering to create a specialised bunker for radiation equipment,” he said.

“The design and construction needs to protect the safety of patients and staff so they aren’t exposed to unnecessary radiation.

“We will work to ensure the project is completed to the appropriate level of efficacy and safety.”

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