New Zealand batsman Henry Nicholls replaces Jacques Kallis in Sydney Thunder squad

Incoming: New Zealander Henry Nicholls. Photo: Phil WalterThe Sydney Thunder will rush New Zealand batsman Henry Nicholls into their line-up for Saturday’s must-win Big Bash League match against the Sydney Sixers to replace injured all-rounder Jacques Kallis.

Kallis has a groin injury and will be rested from the match at the SCG. It is hoped the South African great will be available if the Thunder progress to their first finals appearance.

Nicholls, a 24-year-old left-handed batsman, made his one-day international debut for the Kiwis against Sri Lanka on Boxing Day, but he came to the attention of the Thunder during their pre-season tour of New Zealand when they played trial matches against Canterbury.

He scored an unbeaten 42 in the Canterbury Kings’ nine-run win over the Thunder in Christchurch. When the Thunder realised they would need to replace Kallis and Usman Khawaja, who is in Australia’s one-day squad, it is understood Nicholls received endorsements from Mike Hussey and Shane Watson after they played alongside him in a New Zealand’s domestic T20 competition match.

“He’s an exciting player, who is playing extremely well,” Hussey said. “He’s just working his way into the New Zealand set-up and is a player of high quality and we are very fortunate to have him.”   After losing Kallis and Khawaja for the local derby, Hussey said the Thunder were keen to secure a top-order batsman.   “We threw around a number of ideas,” Hussey said. “Losing both our opening batsman created a hole at the top of the order. Even though we’ve lost Kallis we feel we have the cover with the ball, but [we] were keen to shore up the batting.”

Nicholls said he could not believe how the summer had turned out after playing in New Zealand’s triumphant series against Sri Lanka.

“It’s all happened very quickly,” Nicholls said. “It was awesome to play in series against Sri Lanka, especially to play as much as I did.   “The Big Bash is very popular back home and it’s very exciting to now be involved in a very big game for a team who have a chance to qualify for the finals.”   When Nicholls was selected for the Kiwis, New Zealand’s batting coach, Craig McMillan, spoke glowingly of his game.

“His progression over the last 24 months has been excellent, he’s matured in a lot of areas in terms of his game,” McMillan said. “He’s a good back-foot player, he’s good against spin, prepared to use his feet and sweep. He pretty much covers all the bases.”

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RAISE THE ROAD: 6000 more signatures needed

CAUSE OF THE STORM: Testers Hollow is under water for the second time in eight months. Picture by NICK BIELBYMost people who took part in a Mercury web poll say they would sign a petition to fix Cessnock Road at Testers Hollow.

The Mercury published the poll on Monday as part of the Raise the Road campaign to persuade the government to find a solution to the flooding problem at Testers Hollow.

Of the 544 respondents as of noon on Thursday, 94.3 per cent (513 people) said they would sign a petition to raise the road, while 5.7 per cent (31 people) indicated they would not.

The poll referred to an online petition created by Hunter resident Sonia Warby who wants the road, which has been subject to flooding for at least 90 years, to be fixed.

The petition has already attracted more than 4000 signatures.

Under NSW parliamentary guidelines, 500 signatures or more will trigger a response from the ­relevant minister, in this case Roads Minister Duncan Gay, within 35 ­calendar days.

The Mercury is encouraging anyone who wants the road at Testers Hollow fixed to sign the petition, which will be distributed to various locations around Maitland and Cessnock in the coming days.

It will take 10,000 signatures to have the petition tabled in Parliament for discussion in the house.

Cessnock Road was closed for five days earlier this month after more than 220mm of rain pelted the Hunter in 48 hours.

While the Testers Hollow road was one of about 40 closed in the Maitland and Cessnock local government areas, it remained off limits to traffic a longer time than any other route.

It was also the second time the key route between Maitland and Cessnock had been closed for an extended period in nine months.

Newspaper records show the road was flooded four times between 1927 and 1931, and another four times between 1950 and 1955.

Cessnock Road at Testers Hollow has flooded four times since 2007.

Would you like to support this petition?Download it here. Print, gather signatures of other supporters, and mail or deliver it to Raise the Road, The Maitland Mercury, 6/555 High Street, Maitland, NSW, 2320.

Previous stories in the campaign to Raise the Road

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Sacked boss lands top job

COMEBACK: Former Newcastle Art Gallery director Ron Ramsey has been named executive director of the Art Gallery Society of NSW. Picture: Simone De Peak.FORMERNewcastle Art Gallery director Ron Ramsey has performeda remarkable career turnaround tobe namedexecutive director of the Art Gallery Society of NSW.

Accepting the jobon Thursday, Mr Ramsey said he looked forwardto servingthe society’s 24,000 members and movingbeyondthe “politics” and “shenanigans” that took place inNewcastlewhenhe oversawthe acquisition of Brett Whiteley’s sculptureBlack Totem II.

Mr Ramsey said he stood by his performance as director of the Newcastle gallery.

“I am very proud of the period I spent in Newcastle,” Mr Ramsey said.“The great sadness is that a new building should be open and operating by now and isn’t.”

Outgoing society presidentLes Moseley“played a role” in recruiting Mr Ramsey, an Art Gallery of NSWspokeswoman said.

Mr Ramsey’s2014sacking as Newcastle Art Gallery director was closely tied to the dispute overBlack Totem II.

The late MrWhiteley’s wife Wendy had given the sculpture to the gallery, but Newcastle City Councilsuspended Mr Ramsey andfuture citydirectorJudy Jaegerafter it allegedthe workwas not donated as the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation had claimed, but was part of adeal that required the foundation to donate $350,000 to the Brett Whiteley Foundation in Sydney.

Mr Ramsey’s subsequentterminationand the axing of his position caused outrage in some political andarts circles.

Ron Radford, then director of the National Gallery of Australia, slammedthe decision as“bogan-like”. FormerNewcastle lord mayorJohn Tate claimed“a vendetta against the art gallery by the council’’.

Robert Henderson, who resigned asNewcastle Art Gallery Foundation presidentin 2014 after clashingwith then Newcastle lordmayor Jeff McCloy and general manager KenGouldthorpoverthe Whiteley affair, said Mr Ramsey tookthe covetedSydney post with his reputation “unblemished”.

“It’s not a surprise to anyone in Newcastle who’s aware of the arts community,” Mr Henderson said.

“It’s great news for Ron. He’ll do great things for them. I just wish he was doing them for Newcastle.”

Mr Ramsey’s career as an arts administrator spans three decadesand alsoincludes tenuresatthe National Gallery of Victoria andtheNational Gallery of Australia. He wascultural attaché at the Australian embassyin Washington DC for three yearsand, most recently, development manager of the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne.

Dark net drug marketplaces begin to emulate organised street crime

Drugs on a site site (since taken down) on the dark web. Australians are the largest group of drug peddlers on the dark web per capita. Photo: Louie Douvis

The Silk Road site before it was taken down.

Reddit users discuss the fluctuating Bitcoin price after criminals running the Evolution drug marketplace ran off with everyone’s money.

Online drug marketplaces on the “dark web” have begun to resemble traditional organised crime, according to the latest findings from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) based at the University of NSW. And Australian drug dealers are the most prevalent users of this system per capita than any other nationality.

The NDARC’s Drugs Trend Project, which has been monitoring dark web marketplaces since 2013, reports an emergence in extortion, server attacks and conflict over digital territory between online marketplaces and third parties over the past 12 months.

The “dark web” refers to a large collection of websites that use services to hide their server locations. To find these websites, users must also install anonymising programs such as Tor on their computers, creating a portion of the Internet where user exchanges, activities and purchases cannot be traced to specific computers or people.

“Because of the anonymising features of the Tor network, there is no concern for legality,” said NDARC research officer Joe Van Buskirk. “Any sort of substances can be sold.”

According to the research the most widely available drug on the dark web is cannabis, followed by pharmaceuticals and MDMA (ecstasy).

Largely, dark web drug stores take the form of online marketplaces, facilitating the sale of drugs from multiple retailers for a cut of the price.

“Marketplaces on the dark net operate in a very similar way to eBay,” said Mr Van Buskirk. “They have a feedback system where both buyers and retailers are rated on the efficiency of the transaction, and the quality of the substance,” he said.

A long-term user of dark web marketplaces said she was initially shocked by the high functionality of these websites.

“Going on for the first time I was surprised by how legitimate these websites look, they look like eBay,” she said. “I would think anyone who is determined to buy drugs online could do it with relative ease,” she said.

As awareness of dark web marketplaces grows, so too are buyer and retailer numbers, said Mr Van Buskirk.

The FBI estimated by the time of its closure, the original dark web drug marketplace, Silk Road, generated $US79.8 million for the website’s founder Ross Ulbricht. In February 2015, Evolution, the largest marketplace on the dark web at that time, suddenly shutdown with moderators suspected of taking an estimated $12 million of retailer and buyer money being processed through Evolution’s transaction system.

Mr Van Buskirk said that while “exit scams” such as Evolution’s are common in the dark web’s history, extortion by third parties  began to emerge only last year.

“Third parties are coming on to marketplaces and making a digital threat to take down the marketplace temporarily, they continue these attacks until the marketplace pays them money. They also blackmail moderators with identifying information, and extort money out of them,” he said.

A bout of server attacks early last year made many marketplaces inaccessible to retailers and buyers. While marketplaces have stabilised in the past six months, Van Buskirk suspects extortion is still taking place but is “being managed differently.” He said it is difficult to identify who third-party extortionists might be.

“It is similar to an organised crime approach that happens in real world crime networks. But really, it could be anyone who has a good knowledge of technology,” he said.

Unlike the original Silk Road, which banned the sale of stolen credit cards and weapons, Mr Van Buskirk said large dark web marketplaces have expanded their sales beyond illicit substances.

“As more people see how much money can be made, more opportunistic methods are being used. And that can be seen in the range of products too,” he said.

NSW’s Drug Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Tony Cooke, said there is no doubt that online drug retailers have involvement with organised crime networks.

“It is another means by which organised crime sells drugs into the community,” he said.

The penalties for buying and selling drugs online are the same as when drugs are bought and sold in other ways.

“Whilst drugs and other illicit commodities are sold over the Internet, they still need to be sent and delivered. The NSW Police Force along with partner agencies interdict where possible.” Dark web drug facts from NDARC Australians are the most represented nationality of drug retailers on the dark web proportional to population10% of surveyed regular psychostimulant drug users had bought drugs over the dark web in the past yearThose purchasing drugs over the dark web were more likely to be male and under the age of 25Psychostimulant users buying off the dark web tended to use a greater variety of drugs at a greater frequency compared to other users.

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Orica gets approval for expansion

Approved: Orica will increase the annual production of ammonia by about seven per cent from 360,000 tonnes to 385,000 tonnes. Picture: Peter Stoop

The Department of Planning has approved an application to increase limits on the amount of ammonia produced at Orica’s ammonium nitrate facility on Kooragang Island.

The application sought to increase the annual production limit of ammonia by about seven per cent from 360,000 tonnes to 385,000 tonnes.

Production rates of nitric acid and ammonium nitrate will remain unchanged.

The approval comes despite concerns from residents in thesurrounding suburbs about the increased risk of explosion.

Residents also raised concerns about noise and air quality.

A Department of Planning statement said the project had beenapproved subject to strictconditions, including the completion of hazard studies for each stage of the project.

The Environment Protection Authority did not object to the proposal.

“The EPA noted that the ammonia plant is currently meeting concentration compliance limits and the modification would not increase local concentrations of nitrogen oxidegreater than predicted and approved in the original project application,” the application said.

The modification does not require any physical works to the ammonia plant or any new infrastructure.

There will also be no corresponding increase in the production limits of nitric acid or ammonium nitrate.

“The modification would result in a temporary increase in ship exports (an additional 11 ships per year) from the Kooragang Island Berth No. 2,”the department’s assessment said.

“Surplus ammonia that is not used on the site would be exported to Orica’s facility in Gladstone, Queensland.”

Orica has also requested a minor amendment to the flare activation reporting requirements included in the project

The proposal was put on exhibition for feedback in June 2015 and received four submissions from the City of Newcastle Council, the Environment Protection Authority, WorkCover NSW and theRoads and Maritime Services.

No public submissions were received.

Marine protected areas around the world do not support corals and fish: researchers

Ninety per cent of the world’s coral reefs don’t have adequate protection, a study has found. Photo: Rostislav AgeevMarine protected areas around the world are failing to protect most of the evolutionary diversity of the world’s coral and fish, a new study has found.

The study into marine parks was conducted by an international team of researchers and found marine protected areas were  not adequately protecting the evolutionary history of corals and fish, which stretches back 7,160 million years and 3,586 million years respectively.

These figures may seem outlandish, but there are in fact true numbers, describing the accumulative amount of evolutionary time, and not the absolute amount.

For example 7,160 million years is the accumulative amount of evolution experienced by all the organisms in the particular tree.

Focusing on 805 species of coral and 450 species of labrid fish, the team, which included scientists from James Cook University, Queensland, and Université de Montpellier in France, calculated how much of the species’ geographic range was covered by the marine protected area network.

After assessing how much evolutionary history was encompassed by all the species on a shared evolutionary tree branch, they found that the world’s network of marine protected areas covered less than 2 per cent of the total known evolutionary history of corals, and less than 18 per cent of the evolutionary history of fish.

“It was quite disturbing because I didn’t expect values to be as bad as they were,” said report co-author Professor David Bellwood, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Marine protected areas were created worldwide to counteract human impacts and maintain the integrity of coral reefs.

Originally their purpose was to conserve species diversity, as opposed to evolutionary diversity, but the report argues the latter is a critical component of biodiversity.

It states that the layout of global marine protected areas is “largely contingent on local socioeconomic conditions and history rather than regional or global considerations”.

“This is the problem,” said Professor Bellwood. “We tend to put marine protected areas, to a greater or lesser extent, where humans want them and not where they are needed.”

Now that the problem had been realised, it was time to address it by placing marine protected areas in the right places, he said.

“The issue is there is a lack of protection in key areas. Say you’ve got two species that recently diverged and one that diverged 20 million years ago. The two that diverge recently have the same information, while the other is carrying 20 million years of independent evolution,” he said.

“If we lose that species, it’s far more important than losing one of the more recent species. Not all species are equal, these old diverged different species are far more valuable than we think.”

Different bodies of water presented different needs, he said, noting that the Atlantic ocean “is crying out” for greater protections of its coral, while, in the Pacific it was fish that required attention.

On the global scale, Australia led  the way when it came to marine protected areas; it was other areas that were in trouble, Professor Bellwood said.

“Ninety per cent of the world’s coral reefs don’t have adequate protection. The trouble is, a lot of declines in reefs are happening even with marine protected areas.

“These areas protect against fishing and extractive activity, but they are not able to protect reefs agains bleaching, sediment input and climate change.”

Professor Bellwood said climate change was the number one problem for reefs around the world and the impacts were still yet to fully bite. The next 50 years would involve “serious impacts on coral reefs”, he said.

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Smack, baby, smack: Bowie’s liver cancer

I KNOW I did my David Bowie tribute thing on Wednesday, but his death has generated something of a war of words, thanks to the odd newspaper letter-writer describing Bowie as an aged drug fiend who did not deserve our sympathies, let alone our adulation.

One puritan described Bowie as a “69-year-old man who died of a common disease”. That’s true as far as cancer goes, but if reports out of Britain are correct, and Bowie died of liver cancer, then he hasn’t died of a common disease;hedied of a rare one, even if it isoverly represented in the rock’n’roll hall of deathly fame.

Those with an ear for rock trivia might recall that Lou Reed –whose ’70s collaborations with Bowie resulted in Reed’s epochal Transformer album, among other gems –was also a victim of liver cancer when he died in October 2013.

In both cases, their liver cancer will have almost certainly been caused by the Hepatitis C virus, which has been running rampant through drug-injecting communities since the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Lots of people are pretty cagey about how they contracted the disease, and some will havepicked it up from blood transfusionsbefore Australianauthorities began screening for the virus in 1992.

Even so, there is no debate about the main method of transmission: injecting drug users sharing needles.Bowie and Lou Reed were so out and open about their drug use in the 60s and 70s that theirs are probably both open-and-shut cases.As Bowie sang about heroin on Cracked Actor: “Smack, baby, smack, is all that you feel.”

Turning to the ever-helpful Wikipedia and itslist of famous people with Hepatitis C, it’s not surprising to find rock musicians dominating the line-up.Keith Richards, who owned up to it in his autobiography Life;Marianne Faithful,who bedded Keith and his Rolling Stones bandmateMick Jagger;Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler (cured) and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers are just some of the names on the Hepatitis C hit parade.

All of this would simply be so much salacious gossip were it not for the fact that Australia, like the rest of the world, is in the grip of a rising tide of Hepatitis C infection.

As the Newcastle Herald’s Michael McGowan reported last month, about 220,000 people in Australia have Hepatatis C.

The Hunter’s Hepatitis C-positivepopulation is estimated to be about10,000.

Not everyone who contracts Hepatitis C goes on to get sick, or to develop cancer. Between 15 per cent and 25 per cent live without symptoms, and some apparently clear the virus from their systems without treatment. But up to 85 per cent will end up with chronic liver infection. Upto 70 per cent will developliver disease and about 20 per cent develop cirrhosis of the liver after20 to 30 years.Up to 5 per cent will die from their infections, either by cirrhosis or liver cancer.Caught early enough, Hepatitis C is no longer a death sentence.

Early treatments based on interferon and ribavirin are increasingly giving way to newly developed drugs that are capable of clearing the virus, with few if any side effects, in just two or three months.

These drugs are still expensive –drug companies are negotiating with Canberra over the eventual subsidies to treatments that could otherwise cost $50,000 to $100,000 a course. Expensive perhaps, but far less than the cost of hospital treatmentfor thousands of Australians who wouldotherwise go on todevelop serious and potentially fatal disease.

Regardless of how they contracted it.

Automotive policy is just an expensive car crash

The decision to reduce automotive tariffs to levels our Asian competitors see as unworkable has sent the new-vehicle market into turmoil. According to the latest registration figures, the top 10 selling marques have been significantly rearranged since 2001, when the Button plan had reached fruition and a 15 per cent tariff, a favourable dollar and a cheap assistance plan seemed enough to sustain the local industry.

The registration figures also show how Australia will be exporting more than a fifth of its manufacturing base just so we can buy new cars for a few dollars less. It goes to show how much Australians like a discount – we’re happy to put our neighbours out of a job to get one.

MILEAGE: The Australian car industry is coming to the end of the road. We are getting nothing in terms of employment from getting rid of tariffs and the car industry.

In 2001, the four most popular marques were Holden, Toyota, Ford, and Mitsubishi, all local manufacturers. Together they garnered 62.3 per cent of the market. In 2015, the top four makes were Toyota, Mazda, Holden and Hyundai. The two local manufacturers held 26.7 per cent while Ford, now in 6th place, added 6.1 per cent to the locals’ market share.

The importance of this change lies in how many Australian jobs are supported by the vehicle sales of each marque. In 2001 the four manufacturers directly employed more than 12,000 people, excluding the parts suppliers that are the bedrock of the industry.

In 2015, the top four marques employed about 7700 people in Australia, and that figure will drop alarmingly over the next two years. Comparisons between the four marques illustrate the folly of the Abbott government in deciding to close the car industry.

A total of 206,236 Toyotas were sold in 2015 and Toyota employed 3900 people in Australia to achieve those sales, a ratio of 53 vehicles for each person employed. Mazda, which came second with 114,024 sales, employed 125 people. In total. That’s a ratio of 912 cars for each person employed.

In short, Australia is getting nothing in terms of employment from getting rid of tariffs and creating the most open car market in the developed world. Yes, we have access to cheaper cars but, although market economists say competition will keep prices down, there is reason to believe that when the local factories close, the constraints they have brought to price rises will also disappear.

No one can be surprised at this result. The surprise lies in the willingness of the Abbott government to export as many as 200,000 automotive jobs to other countries, jurisdictions that value domestic employment more highly than we do.Australia already offered the lowest level of assistance of any car-making country when acting prime minister Warren Truss and treasurer Joe Hockey decided in December 2013 to closethe car industry without a vote in the House.

All it took to wipe out 70 years of achievement and accumulated industrial capacity was a whim by an austerian treasurer, who did not even last long enough in the post to oversee the displacement of the 200,000 automotive workers he in effect sacked, and a National Party leader keen to redirect some of the automotive assistance to his own constituency.

Our embrace of the misleadingly named free trade philosophy has made us even more of a laughing stock than Australia’s current carbon emissions policy. There is nothing “free”about removing tariffs and kissing goodbye to 200,000 automotive jobs. That sounds like just the opposite, a trade policy with a very high price tag.

Ian Porter is a manufacturing analyst andformer business editor of The Age.

James Dargaville to turn Henry Speight’s Olympic dream into a Super Rugby chance

James Dargaville playing for the Canberra Vikings this year. He’s chasing a Super Rugby start in 2016. Photo: Stefan Postles James Dargaville scores a try for the Brumbies during the 2015 season. Photo: Stefan Postles

One man’s Olympic Games dream is another’s Super Rugby opportunity. At least, that’s how James Dargaville is approaching his second ACT Brumbies season and a chance to fill Henry Speight’s shoes.

The Brumbies are set to roll out up to 12 internationals in their starting side for the Super Rugby season opener against the Wellington Hurricanes on February 26.

But Speight’s decision to pursue an Rio Olympics ambition with the Australian sevens program is set to parachute Dargaville into a back-line littered with Wallabies.

It remains unclear how often Speight will be available for Brumbies selection as he commits most of his time to learning the sevens game plan and slotting in for tournaments across the world.

Speight will play at the Sydney Sevens on February 6-7 at the same time the rest of the Brumbies are fine-tuning their Super Rugby preparations at a trial match in Wagga.

That gives Dargaville, Nigel Ah Wong, Lausii Taliauli and Aidan Toua a chance to slot into the vacant wing spot, with whoever impresses the most pressing their claims for a regular call-up.

“It’s a matter of being ready for my opportunities when they come, it’s such a good team and in particular a good back-line, that you’ve got to fit in and do your role,” Dargaville said.

“With Henry going to sevens during the year we’re slightly thin there … one of us can step up there.

“It’s just a matter of getting your opportunity in the trials and performing. That’s all you can do. [Having so many Wallabies] definitely helps you as a player to see where you can improve, it makes you better when you’re with better players.”

The Brumbies will play pre-season trials against the NSW Waratahs and the Queensland Reds in February as coach Stephen Larkham tinkers with his final starting XV.

The club boasts Wallabies players in almost every position and is being touted as a championship contender.

It looms as a golden chance for the Brumbies to breakthrough for their first title since 2004, with skipper Stephen Moore and playmaker Matt Toomua signing deals to leave Canberra at the end of the year.

It is hoped Christian Lealiifano is edging closer to a new deal with the Brumbies while negotiations have started with superstar flanker David Pocock.

Dargaville just has his head down and focused on earning more Super Rugby caps after his debut campaign last year.

“Last year was my first experience of getting through the first training block and then all of a sudden it was time for the trials,” Dargaville said.

“You’ve just got to put as much hard work in now as you can and hopefully reap the rewards of that later.”

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Don’t be too proud to ask for a hand

TIME TO LISTEN: Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen and NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant talk to Chris and Ron Castles, left, and William and Wendy Heapy, right. WHEN NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant hit the streets of Dungog for the third time in less than a year on Thursday, the wellbeing of the town’sresilient residents were firmly on his mind.

He brought the state and federal government’s chequebook to help kick along the community’srecovery from the April superstorm and this month’s floodingand was ready to listen to their concerns.

At the Dungog RSL, he announced $52,000 for the club to renovate its ageing kitchen and buy 15 inflatable mattresses – in case another disaster occurred.

He also gave $55,000 to the Dungog Memorial Bowling Club so it could buy a generator and be a hub for residents during future floods.

Then there was a natural disaster funding package to help residents, business owners and primary producers across Dungog, Maitland, Port Stephens, Great Lakes and Newcastle local government areas.

Eligible households can access food, clothing, emergency accommodation and financial assistance to replace damaged items.

Small businesses, primary producers and not-for-profit organisations will have access to concessional low-interest loans.

Primary producers canapply for freight subsidies, and grants will be available fornot-for-profit organisations to assistthe community.

Councils can also apply for money to help pay for the clean-up.

The government is yet to put a cap on the funding pool.

Mr Grant has not ruled out further natural disaster funding, saying damage assessments were still being done across the region.

The actual cost of the storm was still unknown, he said.

Mr Grant was concerned about the region’s mental health and said suffering two floods within eight months would affect them physically, mentally and psychologically.

“It is difficult, it’s going to be hard … We have every confidence that your resilience will prevail, you’ll get through this and ultimately you’ll be able to get on with your lives knowing you’ve been backed by your local members,” Mr Grant said.

“This is a hand up, it’s not a handout, and we’re more than willing to back you”.

Mr Grant urged farmers to seek help and apply for the assistance.

“Don’t be too proud, don’t be too brave to ask for help,” he said.

“We’re there to help you, it’s nothing you should be ashamed of.

“This is what the assistance is set up to do.”

Mr Grant dropped into Dungog’s Barrington Bakery with Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen to enjoy a pie after a stroll down the main street.

Mr Grant, who opted for a plain pie, wanted to compare it to the manypies he had eaten across NSW.He judged it 9 out of 10.Mr Johnsen chose the cheese and bacon variety.