Herald Breakfast – December 31

Credit – @glenn_landers (Instagram) Weather: Partly cloudy. Medium (50%) chance of showers about the Lower Hunter, slight (30%) chance elsewhere. Winds E/SE 20 to 30 km/h. Daytime maximum temperatures 25 to 31.

Beachwatch:Ordinary conditions on the open beaches with bumpy waves on offer, the odd set worth surfing. Protected southern corners have slightly better conditions with a bit of protection from the wind though its only average.

Traffic:Road closures will be in placefrom6pm to 10pmon Honeysuckle Dr, Wharf Rd, Workshop Way and Settlement Ln.If you are driving in the area, expect delays and exercise caution as pedestrian activity will be high.

Trains:Newcastle trains start and end at Broadmeadow.

Buses run between Newcastle and Broadmeadow, leaving stations Newcastle to Hamiltonup to 25 minutes earlierthan train departure times at Broadmeadow.

If you are connecting with Hunter Line trains, please change at Broadmeadow.

Morning Shot: A man searches for treasure at Bar Beach. Picture: Darren Pateman

MPs told to respect donation laws:AN EXPERT panel advising on electoral funding reforms has rebuked two Hunter MPs for criticising laws and downplaying the seriousness of dodgy donations.

30,000 expected at Newcastle Foreshore for New Year’s Eve:DRUNKS and troublemakers face being arrested or thrown out of New Year’s Eve celebrations along the Newcastle Foreshore and Honeysuckle, as police crack down to ensure a safe and happy start to 2015.

2014 in review: Coal exports set to grow despite price fall:FOR the coal industry, 2014 was not a stellar year.

Melbourne City 5 defeat Newcastle Jets 2: photos:JETS coach Phil Stubbins admitted his players were “a yard off the pace” from the outset after copping a 5-2 hammering from Melbourne City at Hunter Stadium on Tuesday.

Sydney siege: Mamdouh Habib claims he could have stopped hostage deaths

Bold claims: Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib says his offer to negotate with siege gunman Man Haron Monis was rejected by police. Photo: Janie Barrett Bold claims: Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib says his offer to negotate with siege gunman Man Haron Monis was rejected by police. Photo: Janie Barrett

Bold claims: Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib says his offer to negotate with siege gunman Man Haron Monis was rejected by police. Photo: Janie Barrett

Bold claims: Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib says his offer to negotate with siege gunman Man Haron Monis was rejected by police. Photo: Janie Barrett

Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Counter-terrorism at New Year’s Eve frontline

More than seven years before he mounted the deadly Lindt cafe siege, Man Haron Monis worked on the NSW election campaign trail for Mamdouh Habib, the Australian citizen released from Guantanamo Bay after the United States wrongly accused him of being an “enemy combatant”.

Mr Habib, who stood unsuccessfully as an independent in the safe Labor seat of Auburn in 2007, now makes two bold claims about Monis. Firstly, he insists the gunman had no intention of killing any of his 18 hostages, despite the violent finale to his 16-hour siege in which cafe manager Tori Johnson and barrister Katrina Dawson were fatally shot before police killed Monis.

Secondly, Mr Habib says he is “100 per cent”  sure that he could have convinced the gunman to give himself up, if only police had agreed to his offer to help them negotiate.

“This man is not violent,” Mr Habib told Fairfax Media. “I know him very well.”

He believes 50-year-old Monis was “sick and disturbed” and desperately seeking attention over his grievances with government officials that had nothing to do with terrorism, particularly his failure to gain access to his two children. But Mr Habib does not accept that Monis was so mentally deranged that he meant to harm anyone.

“I believe this man, in this situation, prepare himself to be shot – but he doesn’t want to shoot somebody. He is prepared to be killed but he doesn’t want to kill anybody. He is prepared to be harmed but he doesn’t want to harm anybody.”

Other Muslim leaders also offered to help police during the siege in Martin Place on December 15. They included the Grand Mufti of Australia, Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, and Rebecca Kay, who has previously told Fairfax Media:  “We felt the only people that could get through to him on a religious level or a cultural level was a member of the community.”

None of these offers was accepted and it appears police were unwilling to allow untrained civilians to have any contact with the gunman. However, asked why they did not – or could not – accept the offers, NSW Police said no comment could be made while its “major critical incident investigation” continued with the oversight of the State Coroner.

Mr Habib first met Monis, an Iranian refugee, while they were protesting in support of detainees at the Villawood detention centre. Monis later offered to help Mr Habib in his campaign for the state election of March 2007, in which the Egyptian-Australian took about 4 per cent of the vote.

Monis handed out pamphlets, talked to voters and was “smart” with the internet campaign, Mr Habib recalls.

In January 2005, the United States had released Mr Habib from Guantanamo Bay without charge after holding him for more than three years. Five years later, an Egyptian intelligence officer confirmed Mr Habib’s claim that he had been tortured in the presence of an Australian official. The federal government soon made an undisclosed payment to Mr Habib.

He now dismisses Monis’ claim during the siege – via messages delivered by his hostages on YouTube – that he was launching an attack on Australia for Islamic State.

“He wanted the biggest attention,” Mr Habib says.

He says he called the federal Attorney-General’s office and police twice each during the siege, but neither came back to him. He was willing to enter the cafe but also offered to speak on the phone to Monis and suggested that the hostage taker’s family or doctor might also be used as intermediaries.

“Whatever he want me to do, I will do it,” Mr Habib says, “because we don’t want any crime to happen, because we don’t want to look bad, because we don’t want anybody to say Muslims done this rubbish.”

He still refuses to believe Monis fired the shots that killed his hostages. He says judges and magistrates had also decided Monis was not dangerous when they granted him bail in two cases. Monis took his hostages while on bail awaiting trial for being an alleged accessory before and after the fact of the stabbing murder of his former wife; and he was accused of the sexual assault of seven women who had attended his spiritual healing practice in western Sydney.

Following Monis’ arrest over the murder, police found Mr Habib’s number in his phone and called. “What I tell you now I told the police:  ‘I don’t believe this man is violent.’ “

Claiming he “definitely” could have pacified Monis, he says: “If he tell me what’s the problem, I will tell the world. I’ll keep my promise and tell the world.”

AirAsia wreckage confirms the worst for victims’ families

Killed in the crash: Herumanto Tanus (second from left) with his wife and two sons. Photo: Supplied/Amilia Rosa Killed in the crash: Herumanto Tanus (second from left) with his wife and two sons. Photo: Supplied/Amilia Rosa

Killed in the crash: Herumanto Tanus (second from left) with his wife and two sons. Photo: Supplied/Amilia Rosa

Killed in the crash: Herumanto Tanus (second from left) with his wife and two sons. Photo: Supplied/Amilia Rosa

Weather may have caused crash: CEOBodies pulled from AirAsia plane wreckageThe passengers on board AirAsia Flight QZ8501

A man who lost seven members of his family in the AirAsia tragedy says confirmation that flight QZ8501 had crashed had at least given them some certainty.

Agus Panjaya has been in the families’ room at Surabaya airport for much of the past three days, waiting for news, jumping at every rumour of debris found.

On Tuesday afternoon, Indonesian search and rescue authorities confirmed the worst.

“In total it’s seven family members. My aunt, her husband, one son and his girlfriend and two daughters. They were aged 17, 15 and the youngest was 12 years old,” Mr Agus said after emerging from the room on Tuesday night.

“We are sad, but with the finding, at least we will get that certainty … We’ve been sad, sleeping restlessly. Missing our loved ones”.

Mr Agus said his grandmother had been “so excited” to be taking a trip to Singapore and following it with a cruise.

“She always loved and looked after her family members – we are going to miss her.”

While AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes had spoken about a grant of compensation “straight away” to the bereaved families, Mr Agus said he had not yet thought about money, or the future.

“As long as the bodies are found, we are grateful. That’s what we’re thinking about now.”

Herumanto Tanus, the vice-president of Boga Sari, one of the biggest bread companies in Indonesia, was going to visit his elder daughter, who studies in Singapore.

According to a family member who wanted only to be known as “Yohannes”, the family, including two brothers, were going to take her some goods and then spend the holidays with her.

Now all were dead and the daughter whom they were going to visit “cannot stop crying”.

with Amilia Rosa

NSW bans the commercial use of solariums

Sara Cuneo sprays a customer at her business on the central coast. Photo: Edwina PicklesSara Cuneo felt much more confident with a bit of colour. Working long hours at her corporate marketing job in Alexandria, she would often slip into the solarium at lunchtime to work on her tan. On holidays on the Gold Coast with her husband, they would seek out apartments that had sauna and solarium facilities. “Essentially, our holiday was focused around getting a tan”, Ms Cuneo said.

After emerging from a routine visit to the solarium with burnt skin nine years ago, Ms Cuneo became concerned about the risks associated with the cosmetic treatment, and decided to put a stop to her tanning-bed sessions. Today, her spray-tan business on Toowoon Bay services former solarium users who have opted for spray tans upon the advice that it’s a safer alternative. “Spray-tans have come a long way in the past five years”, Ms Cuneo said.

A ban on the commercial use of solariums will come into effect in NSW from Wednesday, December 31. It will be illegal to offer anyone in NSW UV tanning services for cosmetic purposes for a fee or reward. Offences will carry fines of up to $44,000.

The ACT, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland will ban the practice from the beginning of 2015.

According to the Cancer Council’s National Sun Protection survey, released in November, the majority of Australian adults (76 per cent) support the ban on solariums. The survey, which sampled 6349 Australians, found that less than 1 per cent had used a solarium in the past 12 months.

But Maggy Der Bedrossian, the owner of  a spray-tanning business in Bondi Junction, said she receives as many as 20 phone calls a fortnight from people who are searching for solarium facilities.

Anti-solarium campaigner and melanoma sufferer Jay Allen has applauded the NSW Government for implementing the ban. Allen was diagnosed will stage 3 melanoma in 2007. He was told by surgeons who treated him at the time that his history of sun-bed tanning – which included undergoing 20-30 sun-bed sessions between 2005 and 2007, many of which were doubles sessions – is likely to have contributed to the severity of his disease.

According to the Cancer Council NSW “those who use a solarium before the age of 35 have a 59 per cent greater risk of melanoma than those who do not.”

“I’ve lost many of my friends from skin cancer, and my own life is still at risk”, Mr Allen said.

“I like to think I have finished what was started by Clare Oliver,” said Mr Allen, after six years of campaigning for the ban. Miss Oliver died from melanoma in 2007, at age 26. She had a history of tanning bed use and spent the final years of her life warning the public about the risks associated with solariums.

Solarium business owners have criticised the government’s handling of the ban, saying the move is likely to stimulate an unregulated black market of tanning-bed operators. Under the The UV Tanning Units Disposal Scheme, introduced in 2013, eligible solarium businesses receive $1000 for each sun-bed collected and disposed of by a licensed specialist waste operator.  Commercial-grade machines are being advertised  in NSW on popular online trading websites Gumtree and Ebay for between $900 and $8000 dollars.

Attitudes towards sun tans are changing among young Australians, according to The Cancer Council’s National Sun Protection survey. It found 38 per cent (aged 12-17 years) like to get a sun tan, compared to 60 per cent 10 years ago. The Cancer Council of NSW recommends the use of fake tan, in place of solariums, for those who still wish to achieve a tanned-skin look.

Bushwalks under 10km in Sydney

Hidden away: Henry Head Circuit in Botany Bay National Park is a record of Australia’s war history. Photo: Tamara DeanWhat sets Sydney apart from other global cities is that scenic bushland is never more than a short drive away. All across Sydney, there are wonderful pockets of Australia’s diverse flora and fauna.

Here are five of the best bushwalks under 10 kilometres.

1. Blue Gum Walk (Joe’s Mountain Circuit), Hornsby

Hidden within the northern suburbs, this 4.2-kilometre track features an array of creeks, cascades, sandstone caves and plant life. Have a rest at Waitara Creek and enjoy the tranquil isolation. There are a few difficult hills and creek crossings. Accessible by car or a one-kilometre walk from Hornsby station.

2. Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach

For lovers of history and coastal views, this six-kilometre walk has both. Heritage gun pits, underground tunnels and brick workshops tell the tale of defence fortifications that once watched over the sea. Stop off at Chowder Bay, grab some lunch and go for a snorkel or kayak out in the water.

3. Henry Head Circuit, Botany Bay National Park

Stowed away in the south of Sydney, the 7.4-kilometre Henry Head Circuit is a museum of Australia’s war history. Take a short detour to the coastal cemetery and meet the people who died in the world wars.

4. Grand Canyon Track, Blue Mountains

This heritage listed walk runs for six kilometres in the majestic Blackheath landscape. Enjoy the majestic views from Evans lookout before setting out on a journey past creeks and waterfalls. This well-shaded track is particularly popular in summer.

5. Lake Circuit, Parramatta

Circling Parramatta lake, this 4.2-kilometre track sits on the land of the Burramattagal clan of the Dharug people. Shelter caves, hand-stencils and tree scars tell their story. A place where man and bush come together, this land is home to culturally significant plants and several birds and reptiles.