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19 July
Comments Off on Deadline draws near for unions commission

Deadline draws near for unions commission

The trade union royal commission has announced it will hold its final public hearings in November, marking the completion of a controversial inquiry that has run for almost two years.

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On Friday the commission concluded hearings into the Australian Workers’ Union, which was headed at national level by federal Labor leader Bill Shorten before he entered parliament in 2007.

The Labor leader said the commission had been “a waste of time”.

“It’s been a political smear,” he said on Friday, echoing frequent criticisms from the ALP and the union movement.

Mr Shorten was also the AWU’s Victorian branch secretary until 2006, when he was succeeded by Cesar Melhem, who held the post until entering the Victorian parliament in 2013.

Both men faced the commission – Mr Shorten in July and Mr Melhem making his second appearance before the commission this week.

On Friday, Anthony Sirsen, an executive of engineering corporation Downer EDI, was asked about a $25,000 invoice he authorised to be paid to the AWU in 2012, when the union was holding a picket that disrupted a project Downer EDI was working on in Victoria.

The AWU was picketing an Essendon heliport over the dismissal of two workers – union employee representatives who were made redundant two weeks before the end of a job on a gas platform in Bass Strait.

Mr Sirsen said the payment was for the training of eight workers and denied evidence to the commission by one of the sacked workers that the money was paid to make the picket “go away”.

Mr Melhem told the commission this week that he was aware of the dispute at the time but had no involvement with the invoice being listed for “health and safety training”.

He said he believed the payment was a settlement for the two dismissed workers and did not pay attention to the description.

“I should have paid more attention but I don’t read every single email,” Mr Melhem told the commission.

Commissioner Dyson Heydon, the former High Court judge appointed to the commission by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is due to hand up his final report to the government by December 31.

Since starting in May, 2014, with an investigation targeting an AWU slush fund operated by former PM Julia Gillard’s ex-boyfriend, the commission has held more than 170 public and private hearings around the country and called almost 500 witnesses.

Its original one-year time frame was extended to two years in late 2014.

The royal commission will hold hearings in Sydney on October 29 and 30 focusing on the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

Its final public hearings, on the NSW branch of the National Union of Workers (NUW), will run from November 4 to November 6.

Previous hearings involving the National Union of Workers focused on its relationship with a fundraising organisation, IR21, that raised money for union elections and the Labor Party via functions featuring speakers including Ms Gillard.

19 July
Comments Off on No action taken on Gordon’s NSW DV claims

No action taken on Gordon’s NSW DV claims

NSW police are not taking any action against scandal-prone Queensland MP Billy Gordon over claims he abused his former partner while living in the state.

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Kristy Peckham told Channel Nine in April the Cook MP – her former partner – was physically and emotionally abusive and locked her in a house in Dubbo.

NSW Police says inquiries have been made.

“However, due to a lack of evidence, no further action has been taken,” a representative told AAP.

Ms Peckham said she would try to have Mr Gordon prosecuted in NSW after police north of the border cleared him of domestic violence allegations.

But the latest comments may come as little relief to the MP, who has lost all but one of his staff from his main office this week.

Queensland Parliament Clerk Neil Laurie said there were no allegations the two employees had resigned because of misconduct on Mr Gordon’s behalf.

Their positions have been filled on an interim basis, while Mr Gordon’s second office – in the Torres Strait – has not been staffed since he was elected early this year.

The MP has not talked to the media in person since numerous women began going public with claims he sent them explicit photos through texts and social media.

Police are looking into the claims, and one woman has been charged with extorting Mr Gordon over at least one image she allegedly received.

Mr Gordon was forced to quit the Labor Party in February after failing to disclose his past criminal convictions.

He was also in hot water for unpaid child support.

Another former partner has also made domestic violence claims to Channel Nine after Ms Peckham spoke to the network.

19 July
Comments Off on ANZ last bank to raise variable interest rate

ANZ last bank to raise variable interest rate

ANZ has joined its rivals in hiking standard variable interest rates, lifting rates for home owners by 0.

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18 percentage points to 5.56 per cent.

Earlier on Friday NAB announced a 0.17 percentage point raise to 5.6 percent to take effect from November 12.

The move comes on the heels of the Commonwealth Bank’s announcement on Thursday to push up its rate 0.15 percent to 5.6 per cent, and Westpac’s 0.2 per cent lift to 5.68 percent last week.

The lifts put pressure on the last remaining major lender ANZ, to take similar action.

A majority of the big four have raised their rates now since Westpac triggered this latest spate of hikes on October 14.

NAB followed the other banks in blaming the increase on tougher market conditions and regulations.

All of the banks have undertaken billion dollar capital raisings in the past few months to build capital to absorb possible losses and to secure their business.

Related reading

NAB raised $5.5 billion in May.

“There are a range of factors that come into consideration in interest rate decisions. The home loan market is dynamic, with multiple changes being seen across the industry,” NAB group executive for personal banking Gavin Slater said.

“Today’s decision has not been easy, but we believe this is right decision for the long term.”

NAB’s move fuels further speculation of a Melbourne Cup Day rate cut by the Reserve Bank next month.

Like the other banks, NAB has cited market conditions and requirements to increase capital for the increase, which will come into effect on November 12.

The changes mean owner occupiers with a $300,000 loan will fork out an extra $27 a month in repayments.

CBA’s variable rates on home loans for investors will also jump 0.15 percentage points to 5.87 per cent, its second rate increase for investors in three months.

The hikes are being made to help cover the cost of new requirements for the banks to hold more capital to absorb possible losses and make their businesses more secure.

“We recently raised $5.1 billion to strengthen our capital position in line with new regulatory requirements implemented in response to the Financial System Inquiry,” CBA group executive for retail banking services Matt Comyn said.

“We have now reviewed our home loan pricing in light of these changes.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described the rate increases as “nothing but a rip-off”.

“Westpac and Commonwealth Bank customers have every right to be angry at their banks,” Mr Shorten said in a statement.

The ANZ bank is yet to announce whether it will move on rates.

19 July
Comments Off on Bishop visits haze-blanketed Indonesia

Bishop visits haze-blanketed Indonesia

Indonesia has reached out to Australia as it confronts an escalating emergency in one of its worst-ever seasons for forest fires.

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on the sidelines of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) council of ministers meeting in Padang, Sumatra, an island at the heart of the haze crisis.

It was Ms Bishop’s first visit to Indonesia this year, which has been dominated by diplomatic strife over the execution of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, but the pair had met elsewhere four times in the past three months.

Australia has already responded to a request for aerial firefighting support, sending a water bombing aircraft to operate in south Sumatra for five days last week.

Ms Retno said that effort was appreciated, and she looked forward to further work with Australia in the near future.

It’s hoped Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull can visit Indonesia this year, and Ms Retno will visit Australia on December 21 for “two plus two” talks involving the defence and foreign ministers.

“The bilateral relationship overall is in very good shape and both us are very committed to strengthening our bilateral relationship in the future,” she told reporters.

Ms Bishop, who saw Indonesia’s haze first hand when she took her morning run in a grey Padang park, earlier told reporters that any further requests for firefighting help would have to be weighed against Australia’s needs as the bushfire season starts.

Mr Turnbull would meet President Jokowi, as he is known, at international summits next month.

“They had a very constructive and positive conversation upon prime minister Turnbull coming to office and we’re looking forward to establishing a rapport between our two leaders as we continue to work together as neighbours, as friends, as partners,” Ms Bishop said.

Jokowi stopped short of ordering evacuations on Friday, instead mobilising authorities in affected areas to reserve their buildings for residents who must flee their homes due to smoke.

Neighbouring countries are also suffering from severe air pollution and cancelled flights due to the haze, but Jakarta rejected offers of outside help for weeks.

The fires are an annual event caused by slash-and-burn farming, but the dry el Nino conditions and winds have prolonged the situation this year.

The loss is expected to exceed $14 billion in damage and disruption to tourism in Indonesia alone.

At least 12 Indonesians have died from respiratory illnesses, the youngest reported a 27-day-old baby.

Closing Australia’s two-year term as IORA chair and handing over to Indonesia, Ms Bishop announced $3 million to support innovation in aquaculture in Indian Ocean states, and a high-level event for senior women business leaders in Australia in 2016.

In its term as chair, Australia had sought to make the group stronger and more practical, she said.

19 July
Comments Off on Refugees’ 8-year wait for PNG citizenship

Refugees’ 8-year wait for PNG citizenship

Refugees on Manus Island will be resettled on Papua New Guinea’s mainland but won’t be allowed to become citizens or own land for eight years.

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The Australian government welcomed a decision by PNG on Friday to begin resettling refugees processed from the island’s immigration detention centre.

“The PNG government has shown … its commitment to permit those found to be refugees to get on with their lives and have a fresh start in this dynamic nation with a growing economy,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on Friday.

The refugees have been processed under a regional resettlement arrangement negotiated by the Rudd government in mid-2013 and aimed at stemming the flow of asylum-seeker boat arrivals.

Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the arrangement had the biggest single impact on stemming the flow and preventing deaths at sea.

But the fact that not a single refugee had been resettled in PNG was evidence the coalition had mismanaged an important bilateral relationship and failed to actively engage with Port Moresby, he said.

According to a leaked transcript of a video message recorded by PNG deputy chief migration officer Esther Gaegaming, obtained by AAP, none of the refugees will be resettled on Manus Island.

Instead they will be relocated eventually to the mainland.

Refugees will undergo a course called Wei Bilong to build their English and Tok Pisin language skills and understanding of PNG society and culture.

They will be offered opportunities to do voluntary work to “contribute meaningfully to their local community”.

A recruitment agency has been engaged to help refugees find work and they will also be given assistance to relocate.

Initially, they will be housed in guesthouse accommodation and assisted to find long-term housing.

“Accommodation can be expensive in some parts of PNG so initially you may need to share with other refugees or with Papua New Guineans,” Ms Gaegaming says.

Refugees will receive some basic food and household items and will get temporary assistance to cover medical expenses in the first six months.

After refugees find a job they will be allowed to bring family members to join them in PNG.

They won’t be eligible for citizenship for eight years. After that they will be able to vote, own land or run for public office.

The message urged refugees refusing to move out of the detention centre to the transit accommodation centre on Manus Island because of safety fears to “start your journey towards your new life”.

“If you choose not to relocate, you are choosing to deny yourself freedom,” it said.

It reiterates Australian government policy that none of the refugees will ever be resettled in Australia.

Mr Dutton was asked about the government’s provisions for gay asylum seekers resettled in PNG at a media conference in Brisbane later on Friday.

He said the Australian government was “sensitive to situations” where discrimination may occur and was able to provide support to people affected by such treatment.

However, he didn’t elaborate as how it related to refugees in same-sex relationships once they were relocated to PNG.

“But in relation to Manus … the management of the Manus regional processing centre is an issue for the PNG government,” he said.

Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato said his country had a proud tradition of helping people in need.

But there were concerns about refugees taking jobs off locals.

“Settlement of refugees is not easy and we have to ensure refugees are not competing for employment and income earning opportunities with our citizens,” he said in a statement.

PNG’s refugee policy would also cover people from Indonesia’s Papua provinces who had fled the trouble spot years ago.

The PNG government would start assessing more than 2000 applications from West Papuans seeking PNG naturalisation from next month.

19 June
Comments Off on Dozens of IS hostages rescued from ‘imminent execution’ by US and Iraqi forces

Dozens of IS hostages rescued from ‘imminent execution’ by US and Iraqi forces

Sixty-nine hostages were rescued in the action, which targeted an Islamic State prison around 7 kilometers north of the town of Hawija, according to the security council of the Kurdistan region, whose counterterrorism forces took part.

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Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said at a news briefing the operation did not mark a change in US tactics in the war on Islamic State militants, who pose the biggest security threat to Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“I would not suggest that this is something that is now going to happen on a regular basis, but I do think it is symbolic of the kinds of efforts that we are taking on behalf of our partners,” he told reporters.

It was the most significant raid against Islamic State since May, when American special operations forces killed one of its senior leaders, Abu Sayyaf from Tunisia, in a raid in Syria.

The US rescue mission unfolded amid mounting concerns in Washington over increasing Russian intervention in the Middle East.

The hostages rescued in the raid were all Arabs, including local residents and Islamic State fighters held as suspected spies, a US official said on Thursday.

The official told Reuters that around 20 of the hostages were members of Iraqi security forces.

“Some of the remainder were Daesh (Islamic State) … fighters that Daesh thought were spies,” the official said. “The rest of them were citizens of the local town”.

More than 20 Islamic State militants were killed and six detained, the security council said.

Islamic State called the operation “unsuccessful” but acknowledged casualties among its fighters.

In a statement distributed online on Thursday by supporters, it said US gunships had shelled areas around the prison to prevent the arrival of reinforcements, then clashed with militants for two hours.

The statement confirmed US claims that some guards had been killed and others detained in the operation.

“Dozens” of US troops were involved in the mission, a US defense official said, declining to be more specific about the number.

“It was a deliberately planned operation, but it was also done with the knowledge that imminent action was needed to save the lives of these people,” the US defense official said.

The US serviceman was shot during the mission and taken to the Kurdistan regional capital Erbil, where he died, the US defense official said. He was the first American serviceman killed in ground combat in Iraq since the United States withdrew its forces in 2011.

US Army Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for US-led coalition in Iraq, said the possibility that Americans were among the hostages was not a consideration in carrying out the operation.

Some of the rescued people said Islamic State militants had told them they would be executed after morning prayers, Warren said.

The US forces were acting as advisors then were sucked into the battle when Kurdish fighters came under heavy fire, he explained.

“They were pinned down and they were beginning to take casualties, so the Americans in the heat of battle made a decision,” he said.

Cook said he was not aware at this point that there were any Americans among those who were rescued. “My understanding is there was no indication there were specifically Americans present here.

“The understanding was that there were a number of hostages, although we were not sure exactly who was among that group, but that they had been held there for some time and again the information we had received … was that those hostages did fear for their lives, that there was the threat of a mass execution perhaps within hours.”

He said the mission had been requested by the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Sources in the Hawija area said they heard blasts and gunfire overnight and that Islamic State militants had withdrawn from view after the raid, apparently relocating their bases.

Five US helicopters launched from Erbil were involved in the mission, and the United States was providing helicopter lift, intelligence support, air strike support, and advisory support to the peshmerga, the US defense official said.

Air strikes were launched before and after the mission to block approaches to the prison and destroy it afterward, the US defense official said.

Hawija is a stronghold of Islamic State militants who have captured several dozen Kurdish peshmerga fighters in battle.

Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has been for more than a year the target of daily air strikes in Iraq and Syria by a US-led coalition.

The United States’ former Cold War foe Russia has been conducting airstrikes in Syria against opponents of its closest regional ally Bashar al-Assad, as Iraq questions American resolve to fight militants on its soil.

Russia has also joined a Baghdad-based intelligence cell along with Iran, Iraq and Syria that has provided information on Islamic State targets.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi faces intense pressure from the ruling coalition and powerful Shi’ite militias to request Russian air strikes on Islamic State, which controls a third of the major OPEC oil producer.

(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and David Alexander in Washington and Stephen Kalin in Baghdad; Editing by Michael Georgy, Toni Reinhold)

19 June
Comments Off on European master paintings come to Australia

European master paintings come to Australia

Some of the world’s most significant old master paintings are on display at the Art Gallery of NSW – with many works appearing in Australia for the first time.

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From Titian’s Venus rising from the Sea or a classic by Boticelli, Michael Clarke the director of the Scottish National Gallery said in a busy world the collection encouraged us to simply stand still.

“Where as so much flits across in the world of social media, film, TV, in front our eyes in a matter of instants, these are things you can stand infront of for 15 to 20 minutes and really analyse and think about,” he said.

The exhibition brings together more than 70 of the paintings and drawings from a collection held by the National Galleries of Scotland.

With the exception of two paintings, it’s the first time most of these works have been exhibited in Australia.

The work covers a period of 400 years from the Renaissance to Impressionism and the biggest names in Western art from Rembrandt to Monet to some of the greats of Scottish art, which has a special section dedicated to it.

The room replicates the Scottish National Gallery’s interior where octagonal rooms and sumptuous red fabric line the walls.

Ms Clarke said it was a tradition replicated in many European countries.

“For centuries it’s been a traditional colour for displaying old master paintings,” he said.

“From the Piazza De Pitti in Florence or somewhere like that. It’s a colour that works very well for old masters.”

As for what the old European masters offer contemporary Australia Michael Brand, the director of the Art Gallery of NSW, said some things never get old.

“Every few years someone says painting is dead,” he said.

“Painting is an extrordinary artfrom, it’s magical, and this exhibition – the cool brushstrokes of Boticelli, to Titian right through Monet – [has] just superb examples of great painting.”

The exhibition opens on Saturday and runs until February, 2016. Tours are available in Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese well a special lecture in Spanish. 

19 June
Comments Off on Stocco manhunt area widened

Stocco manhunt area widened

Detectives have confirmed a vehicle that rammed a police car in northern Victoria on Thursday afternoon was that of father and son fugitives Gino and Mark Stocco.

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It was the same Toyota LandCruiser that Gino, 58, and Mark, 35, had stolen in the NSW town of Holbrook on Sunday or Monday, police say, although its number plates had been switched.

Decals had been added to the vehicle in an additional attempt to disguise it.

Police also have a new confirmed sighting of the pair entering a supermarket in Bairnsdale about 10.30am on Wednesday.

The latest developments come as police said they have widened the search zone for Australia’s most wanted men.

“It’s believed the men remain in the northeastern corner of Victoria and the police presence in areas surrounding Yea, St James, Wangaratta and Bairnsdale will be increased,” Victoria Police said in a statement late on Friday.

The public are urged to report any sighting but to not approach the men, who are armed and dangerous.

They are carrying a high-powered rifle and fired at police in country NSW while evading arrest.

The LandCruiser had Victorian number plates (ZUE632) when in Bairnsdale and these same plates were on the vehicle when it rammed a police car at St James on Thursday.

They are also known to be carrying the number plates NSW BV70WP, Vic YHS085 and SA 415AZL.

The manhunt has focused this week on the rural town of Yea about 100 kilometres north of Melbourne.

A chef at a cafe on Yea’s main road told AAP he was not taking any chances.

“I’m not really worried, but at night I do make sure the doors are locked,” Tony Zhao told AAP.

The father-of-two said he doubted the pair would approach the town centre but there were concerns.

“I am worried that they might threaten a local or grab a local person and use them as a hostage against police,” Mr Zhou said.

STOCCOS ON THE RUN

Oct 16 – Shoot at police in Wagga Wagga

Oct 18 or 19 – Steal a Toyota LandCruiser with NSW plates from Holbrook

Oct 19 – Refuel at a petrol station in Euroa

Oct 20 or 21 – Steal three sets of number plates from an address in Tumbarumba

Oct 21 – Seen entering a supermarket in Bairnsdale

Oct 22 – Ram a police car near St James

19 June
Comments Off on Wallabies delay naming team to play Argentina

Wallabies delay naming team to play Argentina

The Wallabies were due to name their team on Friday morning but held back the announcement until the afternoon so they could conduct a full-contact training session.

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Number eight David Pocock, fullback Israel Folau and prop Scott Sio have skipped almost all of this week’s practice runs but coach Michael Cheika said they would have to complete a full session to be considered for selection.

“We’ll run them out today and see how we go,” Cheika told a news conference.

“It’s a World Cup semi-final so it’s not like we’re keeping anyone for next week.”

Pocock, who is suffering from a calf problem, and Folau, hampered by an ankle injury, both missed last weekend’s quarter-final win over Scotland.

But Cheika said he remains optimistic both will play.

“Nothing’s changed. Like I’ve said before, they’re on the improve,” he said.

“The goal will be for them to play to get out on the paddock today and have a bit of a run around, finish the full session and see how they go.”

Sio is more doubtful. The loosehead prop, who has played a big role in improving Australia’s scrum, started against the Scots but left the field early with a badly swollen elbow.

“He ran a little bit the other day. It all depends on how much the swelling comes down in his elbow,” Cheika said.

“Obviously it’s important for him for scrummaging in particular so that will be the main issue there.”

James Slipper is the most likely replacement for Sio if he is not passed fit.

Ben McCalman, who started at the back of the scrum last week, would keep his place if Pocock was ruled out with Kurtley Beale likely to continue at fullback if Folau is not fit.

(Reporting by Julian Linden. Editing by Patrick Johnston)

19 June
Comments Off on Police search homes in mum-daughter murder

Police search homes in mum-daughter murder

NSW Police have searched homes in the ACT and South Australia as their investigation into the muders of Karlie Jade Pearce-Stevenson and her daughter Khandalyce ramps up.

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Speaking to the media on Friday, NSW homicide squad boss Detective Superintendent Mark Willing said Strike Force Malaya had been formed to co-ordinate the multi-jurisdictional investigation.

“We’ve searched a number of homes in the ACT and South Australia of people we suspect are connected with Karlie and Khandalyce and those searches have been very productive,” he said.

“We’re speaking to people we suspect have actual knowledge of what occured to this young mum and her little girl.”

A police spokeswoman told the media the homes that were searched were not related to possible suspects were are currently serving unrelated sentences for violent crimes in NSW prisons.

The remains of the 20-year-old single mum and her little girl Khandalyce, were found five years and 1200km apart.

Karlie’s body was discovered in the Belanglo State Forest, south of Sydney, in 2010 while her daughter’s bones were found in a discarded suitcase beside a highway near Wynarka, in South Australia’s southeast, in July.

The police spokeswoman said the car Karlie was driivng at the time has since been re-registered from the Northern Territory to NSW plates.

She said the last registered owner of the car had been discounted as a suspect but had given police a new lead in the investigation.

Detective Superintendent Willing said police had been overwhelmed by support from the community and the media, and he asked that the support continue.

“There is every indication that friends or associates – people Karlie may have met or been in contact with while travelling between 2006 and 2010 – hold the key to their deaths,” he said.

“This is now a multi-jurisdictional investigation, which spans at least two states and two territories over a time period of up to 10 years.

“Our focus is gathering evidence and building a solid case. 

“We want to charge those responsible and ensure a conviction for what can only be described as the brutal murder of a young mum and her little girl.”

Karlie was 20 when she was last seen driving near Coober Pedy with then two-year-old Khandalyce in November 2008.

“(We are) appealing for people from across the country who may have seen this young mum and this little girl at any time in the last 10 years so we can piece together their moments,” Detective Superintendent Willing told the Seven Network.

Landlords and operators of hotels, motels, caravan and cabin parks are being urged to check their records for any sign of Karlie.

Meanwhile family say the pair will be laid to rest in Alice Springs thanks to funds raised by the public and the help of the local government.

An online campaign, which kicked off on Wednesday, raised nearly $4000 in two days.

On Thursday afternoon, $1060 short of the $5000 target, the campaign ended after an offer of help.

“With your help this campaign was brought to people’s attention and we have now been offered some assistance from local government with costs,” a post from someone who appeared to be family of the deceased said.