15 Jan 19

Investigation into polling chaos promised

Gordon Brown held his seat of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, using his acceptance speech to promise an investigation into the polling chaos.

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The Electoral Commission has said an investigation will take place into reports that people have been turned away from polling stations.

With voter turnout higher than expected, the Commission says the guidelines are clear, but accepts the system is flawed. There is speculation that this could lead to legal challenges where reults are close-run.

Latest reports suggest some in Hackney South were turned away an hour before polls closed, with others missing out due to long queues.

Exit polls suggest Tory leader David Cameron would fall 19 seats short of an overall majority, leaving the country with a hung parliament.

The Liberal Democrats, Britain’s traditional third party, could emerge as kingmakers in a power-sharing deal after a surge during a grueling month-long campaign..

Early results could start coming in as soon as an hour later, but the bulk are expected to be declared from around 3:00 am.

The final result may not be known until much later if all hangs on a handful of seats, as some two dozen constituencies are not expected to be declared before noon on Friday.

Election day was marked by a plane crash which injured a high-profile anti-Europe candidate and a protest outside the polling station where Cameron voted.

Several eve-of-election polls suggested the Conservatives had a clear lead over Brown’s ruling Labour Party and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.

But they indicated that under Britain’s first-past-the-post system, Cameron’s Tories could fall short of an overall majority in the House of Commons, setting up the first hung parliament since 1974.

A poll by ICM for the Guardian newspaper predicted Conservative support had increased slightly to around 36 percent, with Labour unchanged on 28 percent, while the Lib Dems had fallen back to 26 percent.

That would roughly equate to 283 seats for the Tories, 253 for Labour and 81 for the Lib Dems. A total of 326 seats are needed for an overall majority.

Such an outcome would spark a scramble for power, with Cameron seeking a partner to govern or doing so through a minority government, possibly with the support of a handful of lawmakers from Northern Ireland.

More than 44 million voters were eligible to cast ballots, with observers predicting turnout could be as high as 70 percent after an unusual campaign transformed by the first televised leaders’ debates in a British election.

A smiling Cameron and his wife Samantha voted in the picturesque village of Spelsbury in his Witney constituency in Oxfordshire, west of London.

Earlier, two pranksters climbed on to the roof of the polling station and unfurled a banner drawing attention to Cameron’s education at the elite fee-paying Eton College, which has produced 18 British prime ministers.

Brown, who has been fighting for his political life in a frantic week of campaigning, was accompanied by his wife Sarah as he voted in steady drizzle in his constituency in Fife, north of Edinburgh.

Clegg, whose surprise strong performance in the first TV leaders’ debate gave his Liberal Democrats a massive boost, cast his ballot in Sheffield, northern England, where he was elected for the first time in 2005.

Nigel Farage, a high-profile candidate for the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), suffered minor head injuries and needed heart tests after the light aircraft he was travelling in crashed at an airfield in Northamptonshire.

His campaign manager said the pilot desperately tried to call for help in the seconds before impact.

“Apparently the plane nose-dived. We had a banner attached to the back of the plane which basically got wrapped around the tail,” said Chris Adams. “It’s all a bit of a shock, especially on polling day.”

Brown, who took over from Tony Blair in 2007, ended his campaign in his native Scotland, issuing a last-ditch plea to wavering voters to back Labour as the best party to safeguard the country’s fragile recovery from deep recession.

“At this moment of risk to our economy, at this moment of decision for our country, I ask you to come home to Labour,” he said.

Clegg pleaded with voters to back him and seize a “once in a generation opportunity to do things differently”.

Late Thursday, one Labour candidate who embarrassed Brown on the eve of the election by branding him Britain’s “worst prime minister” said he would not bother to go the election count later Thursday night.

“I had no chance of winning anyway, but I’ve been disowned by the party… I’ve decided not to go to the count — I’ll stay at home and watch the BBC,” he said.


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15 Jan 19

Aussie news crews rescue Haitian baby

Rival Australian news crews have rescued an 18-month-old baby from underneath the rubble in earthquake devastated Haiti.

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The little girl was lying alongside the bodies of her dead parents who were killed in the 7.0 magnitude earthquake which hit Port-au-Prince on January 12 when the camera crews heard her moans and began to dig her out on Friday.

Richard Moran, a cameraman with the commercial Nine Network, put down his camera and lifted pieces of concrete out of the way while Nine’s interpreter and fixer Deiby Celestino climbed into the tangled mess to retrieve the child.

“And then, out of the ruins came this little girl, and I will never forget it. She did not cry. She looked astonished, almost as if she was seeing the world for the first time,” Nine reporter Robert Penfold told The Australian.

The images of the child’s rescue were captured by Nine’s major rival Seven, and footage beamed around the world showed the network’s correspondent Mike Amor holding the dusty little girl and giving her water.

“That moment, it was beyond news,” Amor said. “I haven’t seen anything so remarkable since the birth of my own child. The emotion for all of us has been incredible.”

Amor said the news crews and the locals who had helped locate the girl were concentrated on rescuing the child rather than news priorities.

“The focus of everybody on that hill was the little girl, and as any of us will tell you, it was Deiby who went into that hole, and dug, and dug, until he got that little girl out. He’s the hero,” he told The Australian.

Channel Nine’s news director Mark Calvert said while disasters can sometimes bring out the very worst in journalists, they can also produce the best.

“I’m proud of the Nine News team, who put the welfare of the little girl before their own safety, and placed their personal convictions before professional pressures,” he said in a statement to AFP.


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15 Jan 19

Hidden camera stings UK MPs

An undercover investigation in the UK has uncovered what many MPs, including former government ministers, are prepared to do for lobbying companies in return for big fees.

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Former Trade and transport Secretary Stephen Byers was allegedly recorded offering himself ‘like a sort of cab for hire’ for up to £5,000 a day ($A8,280), while offering the use of his friendship with Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, which, he said, had proved useful in the past.

The ruling Labour party has promised a crackdown on lobbying by ex-ministers after some of its MPs were caught in joint Channel 4/Sunday Times sting, just weeks before an election.

Senior Labour MPs were filmed by an undercover reporter apparently offering to use their connections with government in return for money – but the MPs and the companies involved now deny wrongdoing.

In Australia, the Rudd government introduced new regulation surrounding politcal lobbying, and the government maintains a Lobbyists Register.

But in the UK, although there is some regulation, there is less openness. Last year, the British government rejected calls for a public register of lobbying, arguing the lobbying industry should be given the opportunity to self-regulate.

The Labour party responded on Sunday by promising tighter regulation on lobbying activities if Brown’s government is re-elected in polls expected on May 6.

“There can never be any suggestion that companies and businesses can only speak to government by buying access through MPs or anybody else,” a spokesman said.

But all polls are already putting Brown behind David Cameron’s Conservative Party, who has been quick to denounce the affair and call for a probe, mindful of the scandals that cost the Conservatives power in the 1990s.

They also threaten to further undermine the reputation of parliament after the enormous and ongoing scandal over MPs’ expenses last year.

“Just as the government has ended the old discredited system of self-regulation in MPs’ expenses, we need to act now to stop self-regulation of lobbyists and give the public greater confidence in the whole system,” the Labour spokesman said.

In a statement, Former Transport Secretary Byers said he had exaggerated his influence to

the undercover reporter and had subsequently retracted his claims, adding that he had “never lobbied ministers on behalf of commercial

interests”.


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17 Jun 19

To’s new Aust swim record at world cup

Short course specialist Kenneth To set a new Australian record in the 100m individual medley on Sunday night to take gold at the FINA World Cup swim meet in Doha.

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A silver medallist in the event at the 2012 world championships, To hit the wall in 51.19 from Russian Vladimir Morozov (51.49) and Trinidad and Tobago swimmer George Bovell (51.87).

After an impressive breaststroke leg, the Australian was just under half a second behind Ryan Lochte’s world record pace to set a new Australian short course time.

In the men’s 100m freestyle, To picked up his second medal of the night with bronze in a time of 46.81.

To’s world cup rival Morozov finished first in 45.94 with US swimmer Anthony Ervin second in 46.64.

The 25-year-old Robert Hurley (3:39.59) began his Doha campaign in style with a gold medal in the 400m freestyle.

Hurley, who led from the start was able to hold off a fast-finishing Myles Brown (3:39.98) from South Africa and Danish swimmer Mads Glaesner (3:42.03).

In the 100m backstroke, Hurley was just touched out for gold by American Thomas Shields who stopped the clock at 50.23 while Hurley (50.29) took silver.

In women’s events, Belinda Hocking and Emily Seebohm could not be separated in the 200m backstroke final, finishing equal fourth in a time of 2:06.19m, while first place went to Daryna Zevina from Ukraine in 2:01.17.

In the 50m backstroke, Seebohm again just missed a podium finish, securing fourth in 27.21. Poland’s Aleksandra Urbanczyk won in 26.49.

In her final event of the night, Seebohm finished fifth in the 200m individual medley behind eventual winner Katinka Hosszu (2:05.45) in 2:08.32.


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17 Jun 19

Coach Herrera turns to Mexico survival task

Herrera, who became Mexico’s fourth coach in six weeks on Friday after their failure to qualify directly for the 2014 Brazil finals, takes his team to face New Zealand over two legs at the Azteca on November 13 and in Wellington on November 20.

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“It’s not only me who’s putting his prestige at risk, we all are… What’s needed in moments like these is to strengthen the group’s heads,” Herrera, known for his motivational powers, told a news conference at his official presentation as national team coach.

“This seat doesn’t burn, we’re here thinking of getting the (World Cup) ticket and we’ll succeed. I’d never say no to my national team… so now I’m the happiest man on the planet to have been chosen to be here.

“We’re sure we’ll get off the plane (from New Zealand) with the great happiness of giving our federation and country our accounts and the World Cup ticket and then I’ll be back to work with America.”

Herrera, whose club side lead the Apertura championship, will remain at the America helm for Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League match against Alajuelense of Costa Rica before concentrating on Mexico.

Defending champions America, who are six points clear at the top of the Apertura standings after a 1-1 draw at Cruz Azul on Saturday, have already qualified for the eight-team knockout phase for the league title.

The 22 players in the squad the stocky Herrera, nicknamed Piojo (louse) picked for a friendly warmup against Finland on October 30 are all with Mexican clubs.

“There are lots of America people because there’s little time to work, because they know perfectly well what we want on the pitch and this way we can reach the level we need a lot quicker,” Herrera said.

He added that it was unlikely he would call any of Mexico’s foreign-based players like Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez and Villarreal’s Giovani dos Santos because they were not in good form.

Herrera, on loan to the Mexico team until after the playoff, has replaced Victor Vucetich, who lasted two qualifiers after Jose Manuel de la Torre and Luis Fernando Tena both lost the job before him.

The Mexican Football Federation may choose to retain Herrera for the World Cup finals but there will be a board meeting in December to evaluate his performance and future.

Mexico have qualified for all the World Cup tournaments since 1986 apart from 1990 when they were banned for fielding over-age players in the World Youth Cup.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Moises Munoz (America)

Defenders: Rafael Marquez (Leon), Juan Carlos Valenzuela, Francisco Rodriguez, Adrian Aldrete, Paul Aguilar, Miguel Layun (all America), Miguel Herrera (Pachuca), Hiram Mier (Monterrey), Rodrigo Salinas (Morelia)

Midfielders: Juan Carlos Medina, Luis Mendoza, Jesus Molina (all America), Lucas Lobos (UANL Tigres), Carlos Pena, Edwin Hernandez, Luis Montes (all Leon)

Forwards: Jesus Escoboza, Oribe Peralta (both Santos Laguna), Raul Jimenez (America), Aldo De Nigris (Guadalajara)

(Writing by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires; Editing by Clare Fallon)


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17 Jun 19

Newell’s title charge hit by Rosario loss

Arsenal failed to profit when they lost 2-1 at Tigre and remained on 23 points, three behind Newell’s and level with San Lorenzo.

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All three goals at the Gigante de Arroyito came during a pulsating first half in the first Rosario “clasico” in three and a half years following Central’s relegation in 2010.

The victory took Central’s unbeaten run to five while ending Newell’s five-match winning streak.

Defender Alejandro Donatti headed home side Central into the lead from a free kick in the 12th minute.

Newell’s responded with a fine lob from Pablo Perez that was just wide before Maxi Rodriguez equalised in the 16th.

The winger came into the box from the left, nudged the ball towards the net but goalkeeper Mauricio Caranta got a touch and it came back off his left-hand post only for Rodriguez to steal in and touch it home.

It was Rodriguez’s seventh goal in six successive matches including Argentina’s World Cup qualifier against Uruguay on Tuesday when he scored two.

Central scored the winner just before the half hour thanks to a poor kick out of his box by goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman.

The ball fell to the unmarked Antonio Medina, who steered a low pass back into the box where striker Carlos Luna stumbled but managed to head it towards the right where Hernan Encina raced in to score.

Newell’s striker Victor Figueroa missed a chance for another equaliser when his shot hit the post on the stroke of halftime.

San Lorenzo recovered from losing 3-0 to Arsenal in the final of the Copa Argentina knockout competition on Wednesday with a 3-0 home victory over All Boys on Saturday.

(Reporting by Rex Gowar, editing by Ed Osmond)


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17 Jun 19

Poetry project aims to break cycle of re-offending

(Transcript from SBS World News Australia Radio)

A poetry program in New South Wales prisons is attempting to improve the literacy levels of inmates.

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The non-profit organisation behind the program says improving literacy levels is one of the keys to breaking the cycle of re-offending.

And people from non English-speaking backgrounds are among the main beneficiaries.

It’s a Monday morning at the South Coast Correctional Centre in New South Wales and teacher Johanna Featherstone is challenging her students with a task they have never done before: writing a poem.

Many find it a daunting task.

Malaysian-born Hong of Chinese descent says the hardest thing is writing the poem in a language that is not his mother tongue.

“I try to link up what is meaningful for what I’m going to express for people when they read they can feel it. That’s the hard part. When you make a poem you hope that people who are reading it, they can feel it.

“When we express ourselves, we’re afraid that people don’t get it. But when people read it they get it, there is the most happiest way I feel.”

At the end of three days of intensive workshopping, Hong joins the rest of the class in reading to what is – for most – the first poem they have ever written.

“I’m Mr Hong. Life is short but today you’re still wasting your life. Tomorrow you will realise that life is away from you. We always hope that we can live long life. Why not enjoy a wonderful life right now? … Hello, I’m Alan McCloud and this one of riddles. I come in not too many sizes. I can be found all over the world. People don’t like me because all I do is dodge people. But sometimes I can land and you will know I’m there… This a Peter poem. It is translated by Patrick. Speechless. You led me into a good play. Let me into a dream and a maze. Do not ask me about it. Just ask me about the end. This is short and sweet. This is unite us into one. This has already split my heart… My name is Lamb Chop. In the kitchen cook the chilli. My girlfriend does not let me. I feel the world is grey.”

The inmates in the class have voluntarily signed up to take part in the workshop funded and run by the non-profit group promoting poetry, the Red Room Company.

Serving time in prison on drug-related charges, Chinese-born Lam says the workshop has helped him to achieve one key goal he set for himself: to improve his English language skills.

(translated): “Now I want to focus on studying English. This fills my emptiness. I feel very lonely in prison and sometimes I feel numb. In prison, I study English and learn to write poems. I spend more time studying English because my English is very poor. For example, when I am working in the metal workshop, I cannot understand others and there are no other Chinese people working there for me to talk to.”

Hong says the main benefit he got out of the workshop was greater self-confidence and a newfound ability to communicate with inmates from other language groups.

“They (other inmates) say ‘oh, you can make a poem’. There is a difference, different view when when they look at the Chinese bloke. We’re not just Chinese. We can (speak English) spoken. We are creative. (It brings) equality, you can show respect to each other. That’s a big thing, that’s a big deal.”

Red Room Company founder Johanna Featherstone says the program is as an offshoot of the company’s poetry workshops run in high schools.

“Most of the work that we do and most of the work that I’m interested in and focusing on, is working with younger people in the low-to-medium security (correctional facilities). The majority of those people who are in those centre are in there for violence and drug-related crimes. And the majority of people are from incredibly disturbed, tough backgrounds and circumstances where they’ve been trapped in the generation after generation in this particular cycle.

“So the idea to be able to present them with poetry or something that breaks that cycle, in one sense, and allows them to have a skill that certainly makes their lives on the inside better and improved. But that they can continue on the outside.”

New South Wales government data shows a large proportion of inmates have poor literacy skills.

45 percent of inmates did not finish year 10.

A literacy assessment of 70 percent of the state’s prison population of almost 10-thousand inmates found one quarter could not read at year 10 level.

Half could not write at year 10 level, and some could hardly read or write at all.

Rapper and poetry workshop teacher Nick Bryant-Smith says a number of the inmates who sign up for the classes come from non-English speaking backgrounds.

“A lot of the inmates that we worked with were of non-English speaking backgrounds, particularly Chinese and Korean. It was about showing those guys that they do actually have the ability to communicate and express themselves in English and maybe achieve a sort of level of eloquency that they didn’t know they were capable of. And initially there were a bit sort of intimidated and resistant to doing it. But we worked through it with them and it was really cool how the situation forced them to collaborate and so there were one or two guys in that group who had a better grasp of English and they working on translations together.”

Nick Bryant-Smith says the outcomes of workshops are not easy to measure, but go beyond literacy.

“Probably the thing that I took away most from my whole experience was the way we improved those relationships between the inmates themselves. And we allowed them to find out more about each other and each other stories and backgrounds and to bond basically. You know, by the end of it, on the last day we were leaving. I was seeing guys hanging out in the yard, chatting and talking about the poetry that (the cultural groups) at the beginning of the process had been very separate from one another.”

Mr Bryant-Smith says he sees scope for the program to bridge divides not only among cultural groups inside individual prisons but across different correctional facilities.

One of the results of an early collaboration, involved turning some of the inmate’s poems into a song with the help of Indigenous artist and blues piano player.

“I really like that idea of the story travelling from one centre to another. Any maybe connecting those guys on some level in a way they’re not capable of doing because they can’t physically leave.

“I also think there is a really important element of giving the wider community an insight the lives, the thoughts and the experiences of these prisoners. And I think often in society we forget about people who are in prison because we have effectively removed them from society.”

Former inmate Brendan participated in the workshop run at the Balunda diversionary program for male and female Aboriginal offenders in northern New South Wales.

He says the workshop – along with other drug and therapy programs – helped formed part of the strategy that has kept him outside of prison for nine years now.

“I believe that cultural laws is the key to the discipline (needed to stay out of prison). And I look back now when I was younger, I should have stayed around my elders more and listened and maybe I wouldn’t have gotten in trouble like I did. I found that coming back to Widjabul country, Bundjalung, that’s where I have learnt a lot about my culture and respect and who my ancestors were and how they lived. So that really just cuts my heart. Now if the kids are really in trouble in school or they’re in trouble with their parents they won’t go to school. I take them out fishing in the boat down the river and we talk about cultural laws and respect.”

The poetry workshops have been held up to four times a year over three years in New South Wales, and the Red Room Company’s Johanna Featherstone says the organisation is looking to take the workshops to correctional facilties in other states. 

“One of the most important things is when you see a program that is successful is to continue to do it because you want to reach more people. We’ve worked with a small amount of correctional services in New South Wales. There are so many more and then of course there are many around the country. I would say the same thing about the same thing we run in high schools and junior schools too. For me, I think poetry should be a part of every student’s life, not just the studying of poetry of dead white Australian males, but looking at all of the new contemporary poetry that’s coming in from so many different voices.”

NSW Assistant Commissioner for Offender Management and Policy, Anne-Marie Martin, is supportive of the program.

“I went and saw one of their presentations a while ago and so what I’ve seen is the ability for inmates to express how they’re thinking and feeling in a different way and in a meaningful way to them. From our point of view, it’s not resource intensive (self-funded), you know the poets are external coming out. So as long as they support, extend what we’re doing and it can work within our environment then it’s no concern in it continuing to be used.”

Anne-Marie Martin says that she is unaware of similar programs being run in other states, but the NSW Department of Corrective Services has found the arrangement with the Red Room Company beneficial.

“So each of the states have different initiatives that they’re doing to target. So I think it would be a bit unfair for me to say what some of those states are doing. But rather it’s more appropriate for me to focus about the good work that’s happening here in New South Wales. Which around the literacy and numeracy, at the moment it’s really the intensive learning centres, which is a great push forward. As well as programs like this – the Unlocked (program)through the Red Room company.”

The New South Wales’ government ten-year strategic plan has as one of its aims, to reduce rates of reoffending by five percent by 2016.

Professor of Criminology Eileen Baldry at the University of New South Wales says an even greater reduction – of couple of percent each year – could be achieved.

She suggests targeting low-level crime offenders serving terms of less than a year, who she says comprise the majority of the prison population.

“We’re talking 60,000 people flowing through the prison system in a year across Australia and New South Wales maybe 19,000. By far the majority of that group of people come from a small number of places is really very important. Most of those places are disadvantaged. As far as the make up of those places are concerned there are particular groups of Cultures Other Than English represented to some extent. Some Pacific Islander populations, some southeast Asian populations. But by far the overrepresented group are Indigenous Australians.”

Professor Baldry says state government services working in health and education need to work with better-resourced community organisations to ensure at-risk individuals don’t enter the prison system in the first place.

“The biggest predictor of going to prison is going to prison before. So you know being known in the criminal justice system becoming part of the way you live is the biggest hurdle.”

And the professor says literacy can be a key factor in giving inmates pathways to overcome the challenges of integrating into the community, post-release. 

“Literacy is a kind of marker for participation for enjoyment in connecting with a whole range of things in society. And it’s also an aspect of not feeling ashamed. It opens up opportunities for different work for even considering further education, you know to go to TAFE.”

For first-time offenders Hong and Lam, the strategy for breaking the cycle of re-offending includes a plan for the future.

(translated) “My goal is to improve my English so I can find a good job, to participate more in social worker activities and help others in need. As long as the job is in my interest, it will be OK.”

“I’m pretty clear now in my mind what I’m going to do in my future. You know get a good education. Take good care of my family. Stay out of bad friends. Try to be good in future. Be a better man.

And for Brendan, who has made it on the outside and is now a homeowner, the battle to stay outside prison continues.

“I ain’t do drugs, I ain’t smoke cigarettes, I only socially drink every now and then. I still find it hard to do employment because my driving history and criminal so I have to wait for two years until I get a licence. Hopefully, I can do some mentoring or working with the youth or something like that. I like to tell the children the story about my life and how crime and drugs and alcohol ruined my life. So I would like to teach that to the up and coming generation.”


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17 Jun 19

NSW mayor flags appeal for fire victims

The mayor in the NSW Blue Mountains is launching an appeal to help fire-ravaged communities rebuild.

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Mark Greenhill says the appeal should be open by the end of Monday, as the bushfire crisis rolls on.

He’s thanked the NSW government for declaring a state of emergency, which gives authorities to power to order people from their homes.

“The absolute intensity of what we face in coming days means the government has to take all steps to ensure the safety of others,” Mr Greenhill told ABC television.

“(We’ve got) 210 homes lost, 109 damaged, but yet no loss of life. To maintain that fantastic record we need to be tough and strong.”

Mr Greenhill said fire crews and other support were pouring in from all over the country.

“And that community spirit, both within and outside the Blue Mountains, just lifts you,” he said.

“We’ve got tough days ahead, and we’ve had tough days behind us, but make no mistake, we will get through this.”

He hoped to announce how people could donate to the mayoral appeal in coming hours.

The mayor of a Queensland city hit hard by the 2011 floods says his community is right behind Mr Greenhill and the Blue Mountains community.

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale will use the Local Government Association of Queensland conference, underway in Cairns, to start co-ordinating a supportive response from Queensland councils.

He said he’d spoken to Mr Greenhill at the weekend, offering his support.

“I know what he’s going through,” Mr Pisasale told AAP.

“In 2011, we were devastated by the floods.

“I went five or six days without sleep.

“There’s no manual for this. You’ve got to rely on your gut instincts and get out there and help.”

He said he had powerful memories about the support that came from across Australia when Ipswich flooded.

And he wants to return the favour.

“We’ll be in the thick of it. I’ll co-ordinate whatever help they need,” he said.

“I do ask people to wait and see what is needed first because the last thing they need is truck loads of things they don’t need.”


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17 May 19

Federer admits errors, vows to play on

Roger Federer admitted on Sunday he had made serious errors in his planning which contributed to a disastrous 2013 campaign but insisted retirement is not on his agenda.

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The 17-time grand slam winner has slumped to No.7 in the world and eighth in the race for the ATP World Tour Finals, and failed to make a final at any of the four majors, a run of disappointments that has led many to predict the end of the road for the 32-year-old.

The Swiss, who split last week with coach Paul Annacone after more than three years, confessed that he could have done things differently.

“I played matches that I should never have played,” said Federer, ahead of his participation in his home Swiss Indoors event which starts on Monday.

“I should have left in Indian Wells (last March, with back pain) before the quarter-finals against (Rafael Nadal). This summer, I should not have tried to play on clay in Hamburg and in Gstaad.

“But things always look better in hindsight. I wasn’t able to train as I wanted during my seven-week break following Indian Wells. I fell into a negative spiral.”

Despite his wretched year and seeing rivals Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray carve up the majors, Federer insists he will keep playing.

“As long as my body and mind is ready to go to travel, I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. I’m successful. I’ll be playing for some time. That hasn’t changed due to a tough six months.

“Playing at the Rio Olympics is something I’d like to achieve. That doesn’t mean I’m going to end my career there, or earlier or later. It’s just an idea.”

Federer pronounced himself ready to battle to earn a place in the season-ending eight-man Tour Finals in London.

The Swiss, who has won the year-ender six times, set out his goals for the final two weeks of the regular season as he prepared for a Monday start at the Swiss Indoors which he has won five times.

“I want to compete for London, but I’ve got to win matches to get there.

“I need to approach this (goal) in the correct way. But I’m going to give everything I have to get to London.”

With Nadal withdrawing from the Swiss event with fatigue, Federer said his focus was entirely on his first match in Basel (against France’s Adrian Mannarino).

With only one trophy in 2013, the season shapes as the worst in more than a decade for the former world No.1.

“I knew my trajectory this season – OK at the beginning, then difficult and not so bad recently. But today I feel ready, physically and mentally. In Basel, I’m playing at home. It’s an advantage which I intend to exploit.”


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17 May 19

Shutdown not to be repeated: US pollies

Leaders from both parties insist a sequel to the government shutdown must be avoided although a plan to dodge it is still elusive.

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“This can never happen again,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said.

Added Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell: “There’ll not be another government shutdown, you can count on that.”

The 16-day partial shutdown ended last week although a possible repeat may be on the horizon. Legislators approved a budget that keeps the lights on through January 15 and lets Treasury continue to pay its bills through February 7.

That’s not to say there is a solution at hand, and no one is rushing forward with alternatives to a potential repeat of the gridlock that shuttered parts of the government and pushed the nation toward a default on its debt.

The political price has been high ahead of 2014’s midterm elections, especially for Republicans.

“I think there was some ground lost from the political point of view,” said former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 presidential contender for the Republicans.

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi of California reiterated the public’s reaction to the partisan gamesmanship that played out over more than two weeks: “I join the American people in their disgust at what happened in terms of the shutdown of government.”

But there’s no real way forward to dodge a repeat and its chief architect, Republican senator Ted Cruz, is urging one.

Hundreds of thousands of government workers were sent home amid the shutdown and national parks were barricaded while politicians negotiated. The whole situation could be repeated – combined with economic consequences – early next year, perhaps with more severe consequences.

“The deal this week was a lousy deal for the American people,” Cruz said.

It’s not ideal, but no one has a tangible way to avoid it.

“We just went through an awful period for our country,” said Republican senator Lindsey Graham.

A stand-off between President Barack Obama and a group of Republicans over spending for the budget year beginning on October 1 and defunding the nation’s healthcare overhaul led to the shutdown. Lawmakers also pushed the country to the edge of economic default by threatening the Treasury Department’s authority to continue borrowing the money needed to pay the nation’s bills.

The bitter feuding ended on Wednesday, and a group of House and Senate lawmakers has until December 13 to produce a spending deal to stave off another shutdown and possible default in early 2014.

“There were really no winners,” said Democratic senator Mark Warner. “I mean, our country took an economic hit.”

The public won’t tolerate a repeat, said Senator John McCain, a Republican.

“I am very confident the American people will not stand for another repetition of this disaster,” he said.

Lew appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press. McConnell, Warner and Graham were on CBS’ Face the Nation. Bush and Pelosi spoke to ABC’s This Week. McCain and Cruz were on CNN’s State of the Union.


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17 May 19

WCB will proceed with rights proposal

Takeover target Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory (WCB) will seek shareholder approval to grant $175,000 in performance rights to its chief executive, despite opposition from suitor Bega Cheese.

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But WCB says it won’t grant the performance rights unless it is sure that Bega’s takeover offer for WCB will be unsuccessful.

Three companies are trying to take over WCB: Bega Cheese, Canadian dairy giant Saputo, and the Murray Goulburn Co-operative.

A condition of the Bega offer is that no performance rights are to be granted or issued during the Bega offer period, which currently closes on November 28.

WCB is seeking shareholder approval to grant extra performance rights to chief executive David Lord, at WCB’s annual general meeting (AGM) on October 24.

WCB has asked Bega to waive the condition, but Bega has refused.

“Despite the above condition in the Bega offer and Bega’s position not to waive it, WCB intends to still put the performance rights resolution to shareholders at the AGM as it is an important aspect of Mr Lord’s remuneration package,” WCB said in a statement on Monday.

“However, if the performance rights resolution is approved by WCB shareholders, WCB will not grant the performance rights to Mr Lord unless and until it becomes reasonably certain that the Bega offer is unlikely to result in Bega acquiring a majority of the WCB’s shares on issue.”

WCB said the number of extra performance rights proposed for Mr Lord was relatively modest, but they were an important part of his pay package.

WCB is proposing to grant Mr Lord performance rights worth up to $175,000, giving him the right to acquire WCB shares for nil consideration if various company performance measures are met.

Murray Goulburn has made a $420 million offer for WCB, at $7.50 per WCB share, trumping the offers from Bega and Saputo.

Saputo has bid $7 per WCB share.

Bega has offered $2 in cash plus 1.2 Bega shares for every WCB share.

Murray Goulburn currently owns more than 17 per cent of Warrnambool, around the same sized stake owned by Bega.

Shares in WCB were 36 cents higher at $8.25 at 1034 AEDT. Bega was up 22 cents at $4.10.


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17 May 19

UK show features witness in Alps killings

A key witness in the case of a British satellite engineer gunned down in the French Alps with his wife and mother-in-law has claimed he saw a vehicle with UK number plates heading towards the crime scene around the time of the killings.

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The anonymous French forestry worker also said he saw a man on a motorbike in the lay-by near Lake Annecy where Saad al-Hilli, 50, his 47-year-old dentist wife Ikbal, and her elderly mother Suhaila al-Allaf were shote dead last September.

Iraqi-born al-Hilli’s eldest daughter Zainab was shot, beaten and left for dead but survived. Her four-year-old sister Zeena lay hidden under her mother’s corpse and was only discovered eight hours after the murders.

In a BBC Panorama documentary to be aired on Monday evening, the local man explains that he passed the parking area as he went down a quiet mountain road just minutes before the onslaught.

He tells filmmaker Jane Corbin that the motorbike was white and black, with panniers on either side, and the rider – who investigators have suggested may have been the shooter – was dressed in black from head to toe.

Minutes later he passed another vehicle going up the mountain, while colleagues told him they saw the motorbike further up the road and spoke with the rider, describing him as a man with “a bit of a beard”.

“The car was a BMW 4×4, X5, grey metallic, in good condition, clean, it looked pretty new,” the forestry worker said.

“It was a right hand drive, English. I didn’t get much of a look at him but the driver was slightly bald and he had dark skin, no glasses.”

French police had previously played down reports that they were looking for a black Mitsubishi Pajero 4×4 with British number plates in relation to the shootings.

Al-Hilli’s 53-year-brother older brother, Zaid al-Hilli, was arrested in June on suspicion of orchestrating the shootings to settle a family feud and is due to answer police bail on Wednesday.

He has strenuously denied any involvement and accused the French authorities of ignoring details which might reveal that the intended target was a local cyclist also found dead at the scene.

“They are covering up for someone in France in that region and they know it,” he told Ms Corbin.

“Sylvain Mollier was involved in family disputes and was an outsider to (his) rich family. There is something more to it locally – most crime has local roots.”

Investigators have repeatedly stated that they believe Mollier was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was shot dead on September 5 2012.

Mr al-Hilli, a father of one who works as a payroll manager and lives in Chessington, southwest London, also claimed that he has refused to go to France to meet Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaud because he does not trust the French.

“My brother was killed there in that region and I am not going to take the risk,” he told the Sunday Times.

The widower also said he was willing to take a lie-detector test to prove his innocence.

Following the killings, speculation was rife about a dispute between the al-Hilli brothers over their inheritance.

Al-Hilli remains free on bail having been arrested in June over the deaths of Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal, her mother, and the French cyclist.


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17 May 19

Sex abuse inquiry spotlight on YMCA

The second public hearing of the national royal commission into child sex abuse is expected to provide insights into how families and children are groomed by pedophiles.

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The second hearing opens in Sydney on Monday and will look at how sex abuse allegations against a YMCA child care worker were handled by both the voluntary organisation and the police.

Jonathan Luke Lord, 26, was sentenced in January this year to 10 years in prison, with a non-parole period of six years, for molesting 12 boys aged between six and 11.

The offences occurred from 2009, when he was first hired by the YMCA in southern Sydney, up until the day he was stood down in September 2011.

The CEO of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Janette Dines, says the hearing will examine the responses of the YMCA and the police to allegations made in 2011 that Lord sexually abused children in the care of association.

Ms Dines also says the hearing, which could run for two weeks, is expected to provide insights into the practice of grooming, “where an offender deliberately establishes an emotional connection with a child, the child’s family and others prior to a child being sexually abused”.

The commission’s function is not to examine individual cases of alleged abuse, Ms Dines said in a statement.

It will look at policies and procedures around the recruitment, training and supervision of staff working in out-of-school hours care, examine where systems failed and what institutions offering before- and after-school care and vacation care can do.

Lord worked in before- and after-school programs and in a YMCA creche, also finding private babysitting clients through his job.

Some of the abuse happened on bus trips to and from YMCA daytime activities and at YMCA events.

AAP reported earlier in the year that the YMCA, whose NSW chief executive Phillip Hare at first said it was not association practice to ring referees, later clarified it had checked two Australian work references provided by Lord.

But the association said it had not checked on his overseas employment, which was terminated over similar allegations of child abuse.

Lord had listed the US camp job on his resume but did not specify where he had worked and did not provide contact information for the employer, the YMCA told AAP.

The hearing at Governor Macquarie Tower will be presided over by Justice Peter McClellan, chair of the commission.


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