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Local police and customs officers joined forces to carry out raids in Dubbo.THE Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) believes it has put a dent in an operation allegedly involving the importation and distribution of performance and image-enhancing drugs.
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The discovery of a sophisticated set-up followed the execution of warrants by the Service, assisted by NSW Police in Dubbo on Wednesday.

The operation began in March last year when ACBPS officers began investigating the importation of pill presses.

ACBPS officers at Aviation Goods Sydney detected anabolic steroids concealed in a package from China declared as ‘refinery catalyst’.

Warrants were executed at three Dubbo residences. During a search of one, ACBPS investigators allegedly found a pill press, some white powder and tablets. The items were transferred to the NSW Police, who seized the items.

ACBPS Regional Commander NSW Tim Fitzgerald said the operation highlighted Customs and Border Protection’s reach.

“If you think you live far from the physical border, don’t fool yourself that Customs and Border Protection is far away,” he said.

“The importation of performance and image enhancing drugs without a permit is a serious offence, and reflects the danger to the community such substances can have.

“No importation is too small to warrant further investigation, and no address is too remote – if you attempt to import illicit substances, you could get an investigator knocking on your door.”

The maximum penalty for importing performance and image-enhancing drugs without a permit was a $250,000 fine and/or 5 years imprisonment, he said.

Anyone with information about potential illegal importation, was urged to call Customs Watch on 1800 06 1800.

Inquiries continue.

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The Milton median house price has remained relatively flat since the floods. The Rosalie/Milton precinct was one of the hardest hit areas. Photo: Glenn Hunt.
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Residents row down the main street of Rosalie after the flood waters peaked in January, 2011. Photo: Glenn Hunt.

Brisbane’s inner-city suburbs have recovered faster than any other area hit by the 2011 floods.

Domain Group figures show the median house price has increased by more than 20 per cent since 2010 in the suburbs of Bulimba (29.8 per cent to $980,000), Hawthorne (28.5 per cent to $988,500), New Farm, (26 per cent to $1.17 million), and West End (23.7 per cent to $925,000).

Tennyson has topped the list, with its median house price increasing by 37 per cent, to $842,500, since 2010. Toowoomba’s median house price also increased by 14.5 per cent, to $355,000.

But one of Brisbane’s worst hit areas, Milton, has remained flat since the worst of the floods on January 12, 2011 – exactly four years ago Monday. Its median house price has increased by just 1.6 per cent since 2010, to $755,750.

Despite Milton stalling, properties have still been bought and sold in that time. For 27-year-old Dan MacKillop, the gamble paid off.

He bought a property which had water just to the floorboards about 18 months after the devastation and believes it was one of the best financial decisions he ever made.

His offer of $535,000 for a three-bedroom house at 19 Blaxland Street, Milton was accepted before auction – $100,000 less than a similar property next door, which was sold before the flood.

“I was happy to pay that amount for just the land value only,” he said. “But the house was bad, it didn’t pass the building inspection.”

Being in a demolition control precinct area, Dan couldn’t knock the house down. So he spent $500,000 raising it, renovating it and adding extra rooms. And boy what a change – these days, his home is worth about $1.2 million.

“I think people have a short memory, there’s so much demand for inner-city blocks,” Mr MacKillop said.

“I prefer the proximity of the city over the risk (of it flooding again) and living further out.”

Belle Property agent Anne Fidler sold the property to Mr MacKillop back in 2012, and said the discount at the time was about 10 per cent.

She said the stigma of a flooded house was still there, and people still asked if a recently sold property at 20 Nairn Street, Milton, was flood affected.

But these days, more people were willing to buy a flood-affected property.

“Some people took their punt and chance to buy in an inner-city location, where perhaps otherwise, they might not have been able to,” she said.

“Some will do extremely well. They’ve weighed up the pros and cons. But there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again. You can’t bargain with mother nature.”

Brisbane residents will remember that the flood didn’t discriminate. Since then, not all areas have fully recovered. The Hamilton median house price is still 15.7 per cent lower than it was in 2010, at $970,000. St Lucia’s median house price is down 12.9 per cent ($858,000), along with the Lockyer Valley (down 4.9 per cent to $309,000), and Ipswich (down 1.4 per cent to $320,500.) 

The southwest corridor has also remained flat – Chelmer’s median house price has increased by 2 per cent to $907,500, Graceville’s is up 1.5 per cent to $690,000, and Oxley’s has grown by 3.5 per cent, to $475,000.

Domain Group senior economist Andrew Wilson said Ipswich and the Lockyer Valley had been the clear underperformers.

“To what degree that’s a reflection of the flood is up for debate,” he said. “It’s clear Brisbane has been the better performer.”

Dr Wilson pointed out the best performing flood-affected suburbs had experienced most of their growth over the past two years, mainly due to “strong demand for higher priced property”. So although a jump of 29.8 per cent in a suburb like Bulimba seems high, it’s over a four-year period, indicating modest growth of about 7 per cent per year, or about 15 per cent over the past two years.

“There’s still some work to do, in terms of prime areas affected by the floods. I think the big picture is that those areas have generally recovered. That’s similar to what we saw after the 1974 floods. It’s all about that neighbourhood connection, particularly in the prestige suburbs,” Dr Wilson said.

Base Estate Agents’ Thomas Coussens said prices in the blue-chip suburb of Auchenflower still weren’t at the same level as prior to the floods, but were “significantly higher” than in 2012. The median house price is now $805,000, up 10 per cent since 2010.

However, Mr Coussens said although the post-flood bargains had gone, flooded properties still came with a five to 10 per cent discount, depending on the extent of damage.

“The majority of them have been fixed up, there aren’t the fire sales that there were then, that was an excellent time to buy,” he said.

“Now if it was flooded I’m disclosing it, rather than being asked about it.”

However, Mr Coussens said a lot of buyers’ agents had a definite “no” when it came to the floods, and refused to buy anything that was affected, no matter what the discount.

“They just don’t buy them, as a rule. They’re still cautious,” he said.

Ray White Sherwood agent Cameron Crouch had a similar view.

He said the first question people used to ask when inspecting a property was whether or not the home flooded.

But it was slowly changing and now, about one in 10 potential buyers would ask.

“It has really dropped in comparison. With all flooded properties, what we have seen with the local area is that people want to be here so much. It’s such a desirable area, people just want to get in,” he said.

The discount, four years later, depended on the suburb, location, street and also the extent of flooding.

“I wouldn’t call it a discount, it’s more that you get more people interested in a non-flooded property,” Mr Crouch said.

“For flooded properties, it depends on how much water came through, where it came to, and if there was water to the roof in comparison to inside.”

On the other hand, flooded properties in cheaper areas such as Oxley were still more difficult to sell.

“In Oxley, it’s not as blase as Graceville and Chelmer, because it’s the next step down,” he said.

“But we sold one recently for a very good price.”

That property, at 56 Bayford Street, Oxley, went under contract for $468,000.

Mr Crouch said most buyers thought the flood probably wouldn’t happen again. Others did flood checks and took the chance, to buy a better house or to get into a better area.

And these days, there are easy ways to check just how high the water came.

Following the floods, Brisbane City Council established a FloodWise Property Report – allowing potential buyers to type in any address in Brisbane and view the property’s ground level in comparison with the 2011 flood waters. Let’s hope buyers and sellers won’t need another comparison any time soon.

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Students at the Regional Academy of Performing Arts taking instructions from Clare Morehen, Principal Ballerina with Queensland Ballet. Picture: KYLIE ESLERBALLERINAS on the Border set the bar high at the weekend when they showed off their talent at the Regional Academy of Performing Arts.
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Principal Dancer with the Queensland Ballet Clare Morehen spent two days at the Wodonga studio working with about 20 dancers.

She said the quality of the dancers at the ballet school was “excellent”.

“You don’t have to be in the city to learn dance, Wodonga has some great teachers here and the students are on track to some wonderful careers,” Miss Morehen said.

“The kids are so dedicated and I can see the work ethic they have behind them, they have had really good teachers and they are hungry for it — that’s the thing, you’ve got to be hungry for this career and the kids here really are.”

Miss Morehen has been a professional dancer for more than 10 years and has trained in Melbourne and London.

She did a QandA session as well as master classes with the dancers and said she passed on some of her advice.

“I love meeting the next generation of dancers and passing on as much knowledge as possible, some of the students here are going to a competition soon so passing on the knowledge that I’ve learnt throughout my career and giving them some pointers about performance,” she said.

“Dedication, working for yourself, working as hard as you can and applying all of the corrections your teachers give you – the dancers who really apply themselves are the ones who are really going to excel and really prosper in this career.”

They were so responsive to me this weekend and it was really wonderful.

Academy Director Tim Podesta said the visit was an “incredible” opportunity.

“She is at the top of her game and we have many dancers who are training to be professional dancers who are hoping to one day end up where Clare is,” Mr Podesta said.

“Having Clare also speaks volumes about the standard of regional dancers, that’s something that is often missed.

“Regional dancers are just as prepared and ready to be professionals as any other area.”

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THE rain was a blessing and a curse for firefighters on the weekend when they attended a blaze at the Wangaratta land fill station.
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A large rubbish pile went up in flames about 4.40pm yesterday and the fire had engulfed 10square metres of rubbish by the time crews arrived.

Wangaratta firefighter Brett Myers said they encountered problems trying to access the fire.

“Due to it being a weekend the premises was locked, so we had to make a forced entry,” he said.

“The fire wasn’t spreading too badly due to the lack of wind and the amount of rain we have had, but that rain actually caused complexities with gaining access to the fire.

“That meant we had to come up with better plan to get the trucks in so they didn’t become bogged.”

Three trucks and 15 firefighters from Wangaratta, Wangaratta North and Bowser attended the incident.

It took just under 30 minutes to bring the fire under control.

Mr Myers said it would have been a different story if the fire had happened during last week’s weather conditions.

“The local land fill operator arrived and we used his bulldozer to pull apart rubbish and spread it along the grounds to make sure it was extinguished,” he said.

The fire is not being treated a suspicious, however the cause is unknown.

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THE NSW Rural Fire Service Association, as the official representative organisation of the members the NSW Rural Fire Service, would like to commend the volunteers and staff of the service for providing assistance to communities in South Australia and Victoria during the recent bushfire emergencies.
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Several hundred NSW Rural Fire Service volunteers and staff have selflessly given up their time in the past week, at a time many Australians traditionally spend with family or taking a well-earned break from work, to help fight these fires, which destroyed about 30 homes, businesses, a large number of sheds and livestock.

Each and every community across the state should be proud of their local rural fire brigades as they get on with the job of protecting the local community.

Not only are they willing to do this but also are willing to give up their time, and in many cases income, to help other communities in other states at a time of crisis.

Next time you see one of the men and women who wear the NSW Rural Fire Service uniform, please take a moment to think about what they do in serving our local community during a time of most need.

— TIM ARNOTT,

President, NSW Rural Fire Service Association

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WODONGA Council’s offices have been added to a list of priority development sites within the city’s centre.
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The Hovell Street headquarters were listed among six sites in a document circulated among potential investors late last year.

The document titled Wod-onga: Alive With Possibilities is the latest attempt by council to spark developer interest in key locations in the central business area.

But the inclusion of the council offices on the shopping list is the first public confirmation they could be sold.

Wodonga mayor Rod Wangman doubted a move on the offices would be made before the next council elections due next year.

“What we do with our current building is probably going to be a resolution of a future council,” he said.

“But what we’ve done is remove anything that would inhibit them being redeveloped, added to or a future council choosing to sell and creating another space.”

Early last year the council agreed to buy back part of the Hovell Street building formerly occupied by North-East Water for $1.2million following the water authority’s relocation to a larger site on Thomas Mitchell Drive.

The council’s latest plan for 2014-15 to 2016-17 also mentions investigating options for the council’s home since 1976 and a report is due to be presented to councillors in coming months.

Other priority development sites include land between High Street and Church Street as part of the Junction Place site, the block of land created on the corner of High Street and Elgin Boulevard as a result of the Elgin Boulevard re-alignment and the former Stanley Street pool, Richardson Park and court house.

Also on the list of sites awaiting a buyer is the block of land opposite the Wodonga court house currently used as car park.

The council has also been trying to sell the former “circus site” on the Lincoln Causeway since the late 2000s.

The Wodonga: Alive With Possibilities document trumpets the exciting opportunities available to developers in central Wodonga.

But Cr Wangman ruled out the council having a fire sale on sites to spark investor interest.

“Land will still be sold at or above valuation,” he said.

Places Victoria is also to trying to spark investor interest in the 10hectares of former railway land.

Changes made included removing conditions guiding particular uses to nominated precincts, limits on retail floor space and restrictions on ground level frontages.

The council will use funds from any land sales to reduce its debt of more than $30 million, infrastructure renewal and priority capital works.

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A little mud won’t stop cattlemen: photos Sale’s Hunter Ellis, 2, making the most of a muddy situation.
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Rain and mud added to the entertainment for Hunter Ellis, 2, and Tiani Ellis, 7. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Hunter Ellis, 2, from Sale, making the most of the muddy situation. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Brett Lancaster from Benambra, pictured with his horse Kelly, who won the Cattlemen’s Cup. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Bairnsdale’s Emiliqua East won the open whipcracking. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Matty Clark, from Omeo, and Brett Lancaster, from Benambra, who won the Cattlemen’s Cup. Pictures: DYLAN ROBINSON

Milawa’s Kane Lamperd and Elli Lamperd, 2. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Benambra’s Tom Buckley and his mate Aaron Sumner from Yarra Junction. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Brett Lancaster from Benambra, pictured with his horse Kelly, who won the Cattlemen’s Cup. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Tarrawingee’s Marlene Robb with Flick playing around in the muddy water. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Tarrawingee’s Marlene Robb with Flick playing around in the muddy water. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Bairnsdale’s Emiliqua East won the open whipcracking. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Rain and mud added to the entertainment for Hunter Ellis, 2, and Tiani Ellis, 7. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Jake Pickersgill, 6, from Flinders with his dog Daysie in the dog jumping competition. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Louise King from Hayfield encourages her dog Tip to get up the wall in the dog jumping competition. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

Ash King, from Hayfield, with his dog Tip. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSON

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A coroner has linked a sixth Victorian drug overdose to the need for an electronic prescription monitor and pleaded for Labor to introduce the system – which had been a Coalition election promise – “as a matter of urgency”.
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Drug overdose statistics also reveal that 2014 is likely to have set a record for prescription drug-related deaths, with 16 overdoses in six months linked to one particular drug alone.

Coroner Jacinta Heffey called for a prescription system in the inquest findings  for Paul Kanis, who died after being prescribed methadone by one doctor, and benzodiazepines – tranquillisers commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia – by another.

Ms Heffey found it was the fifth time in less than nine months that a coroner had recommended the system, which would allow doctors access to an electronic record of all prescribed drugs being taken by their patients.

Coroners have found the system would reduce the chance of patients being prescribed dangerous cocktails of drugs, as in the case of Mr Kanis, and curtail “doctor shopping”, in which prescription drug abusers target multiple GPs to get their fix.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy is receiving advice on the issue, a spokeswoman said, but did not commit to the system.

Mr Kanis’s mother, Suzie Kanis, said she feared more families would suffer the heartache of needlessly losing loved ones before a monitor was introduced.

Mr Kanis, 38, died of pneumonia after taking methadone and benzodiazepines but had not abused the drugs. Ms Heffey found Mr Kanis’s asthma may have also contributed to his death.

Mr Kanis was found dead in a Traralgon park with his puppy, Max, on January 30, 2012.

“We were calling him, going around to his place, doing everything to try and find him, and the whole time he was laying dead in Victory Park,” Ms Kanis said.

“He died a horrible death, it was a really muggy day and then rained all night, and his pup sat with him the whole time.”

Ms Heffey, in her findings published last month, says the Department of Health must implement a real-time prescription monitoring system.

“I take this opportunity to draw the new Minister for Health’s attention to the ongoing issue of pharmaceutical drug overdose in Victoria and the vital – and universally acknowledged – need for an RTPM system to reduce the harms and deaths associated with pharmaceutical drugs.”

Coroners Court data presented at the Asia Pacific Coroners Society Conference in November, and released to Fairfax Media, shows that Victoria was on track for a record number of pharmaceutical-related overdoses last year.

In the first six months of 2014, there were 130 deaths linked to three popular prescription drugs. The benzodiazepines, which include drugs commonly referred to as xanax and valium, were present in a record 228 deaths in 2013, but the half-yearly figures show that record was likely to fall.

The third drug, clonazepam, should be prescribed only for epilepsy but doctors are giving scripts “off label” to patients who suffer anxiety, Ms Heffey found.

There were 16 deaths related to clonazepam in the first six months of last year, with the Coroner Prevention Unit forecasting a total of 30 deaths – more than four times the amount recorded in 2009.

The court data shows that benzodiazepines contributed to 919 – or 50 per cent – of pharmaceutical-drug overdose deaths from 2009 to 2013.

The Coroners Court could not confirm the final number of drug-related deaths in 2014.

In November, days from the state election, then health minister David Davis pledged $7 million during five years for the monitoring system, saying misuse of prescription medication ended “sadly all too often with tragic consequences for the patients and their families and loved ones”.

The scheme would have recorded all prescriptions for schedule 8 drugs – particularly opioids and benzodiazepines – in a central database, creating alerts for cases of potential misuse.

A spokeswoman for Ms Hennessy said the scheme would need extensive consideration and planning, with aspects that might require national co-ordination. A fatal mix

Deaths linked by coroners to lack of prescription monitoring:

Paul Kanis, 38 Died January 2012 in Traralgon of pneumonia after being prescribed methadone by one doctor and a benzodiazepine by another.

Anne Brain, 44 Died December 2011 in Sunshine West of intoxication caused by eight prescription drugs.

Glen Kingsun, 42 Died July 2007 in Traralgon hospital after complications from various prescription drugs.

Georgia Cheal, 31 Died December 2006 in Glen Iris of pneumonia and combined drug toxicity.

Kirk Ardern, 32 Died June 2012 in St Kilda from an overdose of prescription drugs and heroin.

David Trengrove, 38 Died September 2008 in Thornbury from a combination of morphine and benzodiazepines.

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The new director of the Benalla Art Gallery Bryony Nainby. Picture: JOHN RUSSELLARRIVING in regional Victoria from Paris, the new director of the Benalla Art Gallery has wasted no time bringing her international experience to the town.
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Bryony Nainby was appointed to the job in August after the retirement of former director Simon Klose.

Ms Nainby said the gallery had made a good first impression.

“I had been to Benalla once before and the gallery had such a picturesque location, it had wonderful spaces and great art so I thought there was the potential for me to explore exciting opportunities here,” Ms Nainby said.

The position has been filled just in time for the gallery’s 40th anniversary coming up in April.

She said it was a good time to look back at the its history and move into the 21st century.

“So many people when I first moved here were telling me how the gallery used to be such an active place in its first 20 years,” she said.

“But they said in the last 10 years it had really dropped off and they wanted to come back and do things in the gallery.

“In November my first project was setting up an exhibition around the idea of a free art school.

“The gallery becomes a container for all of these activities that really activate the space.

“We’ve been running hundreds of workshops and have had thousands of people through doing drawings, paintings and even chocolate sculpting workshop and the street art this week has been the next aspect of that.”

Ms Nainby’s efforts to get the community more involved with the gallery paid off on the weekend, when street artists travelled to the town to paint the walls.

Ms Nainby has held positions as a curator in Sale and Morwell.

She spent the past three years as a curator of contemporary art at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, where the exhibition she was managing took her to Paris.

Applications for the director’s role at Albury’s new art gallery have just closed.

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A man in Havana waves a Cuban flag while celebrating the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US.Last month, United States President Barack Obama announced he intended to lift the trade and travel restrictions between the US and Cuba and establish diplomatic relations between the two neighbours. “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interest,” Obama said. The embargo, which Cubans refer to as “el bloqueo” (the blockade), enforces strict US economic sanctions and travel restrictions to Cuba along with restrictions on companies under US jurisdiction.
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The Cuban Assets Control Regulations were issued more than 50 years ago by US president John F Kennedy. The Trading With the Enemy Act came into force after the failed US Bay of Pigs invasion. This act applies not only to US citizens but covers “all branches and subsidiaries of US organisations throughout the world – as well as all persons engaging in transactions that involve property in or otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the United States”.

My husband and I came up against el bloqueo recently, when we travelled to Cuba. In our experience, and in Obama’s own words, the embargo simply doesn’t make sense.

It began with a visit to our local Westpac Bank in Canberra – the bank we have been customers with for years and where all our accounts are held. The foreign exchange bureau, located inside this bank in the national capital but operated by American Express, inquired where we were travelling to. When they were told our trip included Cuba, they immediately refused to convert Australian currency into euros because we were travelling to Cuba and, as they are an American company, they would not help us travel there.

American Express staff informed us that even though we might want euros (or US dollars) to use elsewhere, the fact we were travelling to Cuba meant not only would they not serve us, but they would not “facilitate” our trip in any capacity. They also told us if we tried to go to another American Express currency exchange, we would not be served, as our name would be forwarded to all branches.

A call to American Express confirmed that, even though we are Australians and Australia has no restrictions or embargos with Cuba and we were doing business in our local bank branch in the national capital, it is an American company and that is its policy. American Express also confirmed it does not sell any “products” or services to people travelling to Burma, Iran and Sudan, and that it does not recommend (but will service) travellers to Syria, North Korea, Albania, Algeria, Libya, Nigeria, Haiti, Congo, Lebanon, Pakistan, Paraguay, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Interestingly, in 2008, I travelled to Syria, which had then been included by then US president George W Bush as a part of the “axis of evil”, but American Express had no problems giving me currency to travel there.

Obama’s announcement was greeted with outrage by some. Reasons given by those not wanting to end the embargo included that Cuba is Communist, does not have free and fair elections, and that there are internet restrictions. Let’s remember that the embargo rests on events that occurred more than 50 years ago. The US does business with and allows unrestricted travel to other countries that fit each of the listed reasons for not ending the embargo, including Vietnam, with which it was at war in the 1960s and ’70s, and China, one of the US’s biggest trading partners.

This does not deny or excuse human rights abuses and political repressions in Cuba, as there most certainly are. But how can the policy be justified when there are many other countries with restrictions on voting, freedom of speech and significantly more serious human rights issues that the US routinely does business with? This includes Saudi Arabia, where two women were recently arrested and threatened with a charge of terrorism for driving a car.

The second instance of the trouble with the Cuban embargo came when American Airlines lost one of our bags. Normally, an airline that misplaces luggage will forward it to your destination. But because of the embargo, American Airlines refused to send the missing luggage to Cuba. We were told they would leave it at another airport for two weeks (the length of time we were travelling in Cuba) and we could pick it up when we had returned. Again we heard the mantra that, as an American company, it would not “facilitate” our travel to, or any interaction with, Cuba.

The lack of sense with US-Cuba policy rings through loudly when you consider the issue of Guantanamo Bay – the infamous US military base located in southern Cuba. Just a short drive out of Guantanamo City, you pass the entrance to the base with a big sign announcing this is a military base, entrance is not allowed (or words to that effect), and various physical obstacles block the dirt road.

It makes you wonder how someone could explain to a Cuban child, when they can’t get pens, pencils or crayons to do their school work because of the embargo, that the same country that enforces this embargo runs one of the world’s most notorious military bases in their backyard.

A few days after leaving Cuba, where the warm and generous people make it one of the most rewarding countries to visit, Obama made his historic declaration that 50 years of the embargo had achieved little and needed to be rescinded.

The issue is not just the hypocrisy of the blockade against Cuba; it is the way companies operating in Australia and those servicing Australians travelling to a country that we have no restrictions with, are subject to the so-called Cuban “regulations”.

Amanda Bresnan is a former Greens member of the ACT Legislative Assembly.

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