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NSW Now: Water restrictions to be relaxed, man arrested over brothel filming without consent

Sydney International Airport 2020

Here’s what you need to know this morning.

Water restrictions to be relaxed

Level two water restrictions across Sydney are to be relaxed after recent downpours boosted dam levels.

The downgrade from level two to level one is expected to come into force on March 1.

Warragamba Dam is currently at 80 per cent capacity, up from 44 per cent a month ago.

NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey said there was a two-week delay due to the extra pressure the downpour had put on the system in quality and quantity.

“A number of initiatives are in place to ensure the water is safe for use, including extensive testing, filtration and nets to catch debris, but we are allowing an extra two weeks purely as a precautionary measure,” she said.

Brothel filming charges


Police arrested a man at a Surry Hills brothel on Monday. (ABC News)

A man was arrested at a Surry Hills brothel yesterday following reports a 23-year-old woman was filmed without consent.

A 49-year-old man was taken to Surry Hills police station and charged with 38 counts of filming a person without consent.

Police allege they found on the man’s phone a large number of videos of women at various adult entertainment venues.

The man was refused bail and will appear before Central Local Court today.

Coronavirus quarantined return to Sydney


People who were quarantined on Christmas Island arrive at Sydney Airport. (AAP: Steven Saphore)

There were emotional scenes at airports around the country as the first group of Australians quarantined on Christmas Island over coronavirus fears returned home.

The 240 people were evacuated from China a fortnight ago and put into quarantine at the immigration detention centre.

None tested positive to coronavirus and were cleared to leave after two weeks in isolation.

Heidi Sun flew into Sydney last night and was overcome with gratitude.

“Thanks for [the] Government,” she said. “Everybody [has treated] us very nice. [When] we first arrived in the island they said, ‘Welcome home’ — one word you know makes your heart very warm.”

Obeid trial continues


Former Labor minister Eddie Obeid. (AAP)

The trial of former New South Wales Labor minister Eddie Obeid, his son Moses and former minister Ian Macdonald will continue today.

Eddie Obeid, his son Moses and Mr Macdonald are accused of conspiring over a coal mining licence granted to the Obeid family farm in the Bylong Valley when Mr Macdonald was mining minister.

Obeid’s barrister said there were complex commercial arrangements surrounding the coal licence.

Moses Obeid’s barrister is expected to make his opening address today.

Disability royal commission begins

The disability royal commission will turn its attention to the healthcare system, with a two-week hearing starting in Western Sydney today.

The inquiry will look at the treatment of people with acquired brain injuries, autism and intellectual disabilities in the healthcare system and the barriers they face.

People who have a lived experience of disability will give evidence to the hearing, along with parents and advocacy groups like the Council for Intellectual Disability.

Yesterday the royal commission held a familiarisation day for witnesses with disabilities so they felt comfortable with the hearing room and the process of giving evidence.

‘Naked’ man charged over unit fire

A man will appear in court today, charged over a fire which caused extensive damage to a unit in Chippendale.

Officers who attended the scene were told a naked man was seen running from the unit, before allegedly approaching a woman and demanding she give him her coat and shoes.

She handed them over and ran from the man before he allegedly grabbed her from behind and punched her.

The Chinese national is also alleged to have attempted to stop a nearby car by opening the car door and punched the driver, before running away.

He was charged with damage to property by fire and robbery.

Tuesday’s weatherAfternoon shower. Possible severe storms. Min.Max.CBD2130Parramatta1933


Complaints about skinny camels, wounded devils, joeys dressed in human clothes received by Government

Hobart 7000

Tasmania’s Environment Department has received “disturbing” complaints about wildlife parks and zoos displaying skinny camels, wounded devils and joeys dressed in human clothes, but documents show only one complaint was considered a breach of the operator’s permit.

Key points:

  • One complaint about wildlife treatment came from a volunteer after just one day in the job
  • The DPIPWE says it has investigated eight complaints since January 2018
  • Greens say the reports are “disturbing” and animal welfare comes “a lazy second” in the state

The Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) has released two years of complaints made about wildlife exhibitors under the state’s Right to Information laws.

One report showed authorities were called 12 times to an unnamed Tasmanian site.

Another DPIPWE inspection of a zoo revealed a long-billed corella and galah were kept in cages that were “way too small”, two eastern quolls were missing and a pademelon looked “on the scruffy side”.

In October 2019, DPIPWE inspectors followed up a call from the public at an unnamed site about a Tasmanian devil with an “ugly wound on its side, who kept falling over and falling down the hill”, as well as another devil seen staggering through its den. A vet was ordered to the park.


There was a complaint about cassowaries behind fencing at unidentified Tasmanian wildlife park. (Supplied: DPIPWE)

In another report, an extremely skinny camel with “hardly any lump” was found to have worms and placed on a special diet, after a couple visiting a Tasmanian zoo called DPIPWE and the RSPCA with a long list of concerns.

The DPIPWE file note said a keeper at that zoo was unable to handle the amount of animals on her round.

One complaint came from a wildlife park volunteer after just one day in the job.

In an email to DPIPWE authorities, the volunteer said they swallowed their fear of birds to feed an enclosure full of chickens because they were concerned about their welfare.

“I realised that if they weren’t [fed], and given water especially, I wasn’t sure how long they’d actually have left as it looked like they hadn’t been attended to in a while,” the complainant said.

A separate 2019 incident in which punters were invited to enter a “name a pademelon” raffle saw seven individual concerned phone calls made to one unnamed, independent carer, who passed their concerns on to DPIPWE.

“This group is renowned for releasing tame wildlife, this is not what rehabilitation is,” the person said.

Greens say ‘complaints haven’t gone far’

A spokeswoman for the DPIPWE said the agency had investigated eight complaints related to the display of wildlife since January 2018, six of which related to wildlife parks or zoos and two related to the temporary display of animals.

“One investigation identified that several animals on temporary display were of inappropriate age, and the displayer agreed to only display animals in the appropriate age range in the future,” the spokeswoman said.


Contaminated water bowl at one of the wildlife parks in the state. (Supplied: DPIPWE)

“No other investigations revealed breaches of permit or license conditions, although the opportunity to improve the conditions for some displayed animals were identified in several cases.”

Recommendations included providing more water and shade for wildlife on very hot days, ensuring appropriate veterinary checks were undertaken and removing very young animals from display.

Industry veteran Androo Kelly, who operates a wildlife sanctuary in Tasmania’s north, said there was goodwill within DPIPWE’s wildlife unit, but it did not have enough resources to monitor all operators effectively.

“With the growth of the wildlife park and zoological [industry], they haven’t also given more roles to wildlife park officers,” Mr Kelly said.

“We have actually seen a reduction of the wildlife officers.”

Greens leader and animal welfare spokeswoman Cassy O’Connor said the DPIPWE reports were “disturbing”.

“It’s clear from the DPIPWE documents that these complaints haven’t gone far, nor has any wildlife park or zoo operator been cautioned or faced any sanction,” she said.

“Why is it the welfare of animals so often comes a lazy second to the profits of business in Tasmania?”


Man shot dead by police in front of family north of Hobart


Police have shot dead a 38-year-old man in front of his family north of Hobart, with two children understood to have witnessed the incident.

Key points:

  • Police say they acted in self defence, alleging the man deliberately drove at them
  • The man had already set fire to part of the home
  • The matter is being investigated by Tasmania Police’s internal investigation unit

An occupant at a home on Tea Tree Road in Brighton called police shortly after 8:00pm on Monday night, saying the man was armed with a knife, acting aggressively and making threats.

Three officers were sent to the address, and police said when they arrived the man deliberately drove at them.

Police Commander Tony Cerritelli said it was then that officers shot at the man.

“We know that there were three police officers … at this stage I’m unsure of how many shots were fired,” he said.

“We know at least one shot was fired.”

The man died on the driveway of the property.

It is understood two children witnessed the shooting.

“This is a tragic event for all involved, including the male, the family, the attending police, all emergency workers, so it’s a terrible event and there’s no winners out of it,” Commander Cerritelli said.

He said officers’ decision to open fire was not one that was ever made lightly.

“We train for those sorts of events, but you train with the view of never having to use it. It is such a large call,” he said.

“The police officers that attended … I’m advised that they believe that their life was at risk, a direct threat. And that’s why they took the action they did.”

The man had already set fire to part of them home and firefighters were also called to the property.

It is understood it was not the first time police had been called to a disturbance involving the man.

Tasmania Police’s internal investigation unit, Professional Standards, is investigating the shooting. It is also the subject of a coronial investigation.

Commander Cerritelli said it was important there is “independent oversight” during the investigation.

“We’ll be making sure that the investigation is conducted professionally and at arm’s length, with the coroner having input as well,” he said.

No officers were injured during the incident.

Police said the officers, as well as the man’s family, would be offered counselling and support.


Grand Designs host Kevin McCloud answers the one question everyone asks


Kevin McCloud is the charming and urbane host of the wildly popular British lifestyle show Grand Designs.

For more than 20 years, he has documented people’s attempts to build their own perfect — dare we say “bespoke” — home, and audiences have revelled in the success and budget blowouts.

Now, McCloud is touring Australia with a new stage show, The World According to Kevin McCloud. He sat down with the ABC to talk drinking games, the best-designed Australian city, and his pick for “one of the greatest inventions of all time”.

This Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


The British designer, writer, and presenter has been with the UK show since it began in 1999. (Supplied)

What’s the one question everyone asks you?

The punter question people always ask me is: ‘What’s your favourite home from the show?”

They say this: “What’s your favourite one? Mine is …” and they immediately launch into their own. [Laughs]

And I’ve learnt over the years just to nod and say, “Yeah, that’s a really good one, wasn’t it? That one, I think.”

Do you get that often? People calling out to you on the street, or asking for selfies?

Yeah. It’s great though, isn’t it? A lot of very beautiful women in their 30s come up to me with cameras and say, “Can I have a photo, my mum really loves your show!” [Laughs]

OK, so what is your favourite home, then? Do you have one?


Sometimes it’s the houses that don’t come together that are the most compelling. (Supplied)

I don’t, no. I mean, I don’t have a favourite colour or favourite record or favourite book? I do sort of have a favourite film.

You know, you’ve got your favourites, the things you love that are your favourites until something new comes along.

The thing is that I’m old, so I kind of have my favourites that have changed over the years.

Why, in your view, are people so obsessed with their homes?

Psychologists call it place attachment, place connection — the idea that we want to feel safe and we need to feel safe and secure in order to grow the crops outside the front door and keep the lion away from the cave and look after our own, our loved ones.

We do it with other people. That is the interesting thing about human beings. You walk out the door in the morning and you say to your neighbour, “Hello, how are you? Are you alright?”

And if they actually tell you how they are, you’re not that interested.

But it’s that idea that as a community we are all cementing our belief that this is a safe, good place to live. That is really at the heart of it.

External Link:

Home cheap home: Are these ideas the future of affordable housing?

Are you like a doctor at a party when someone says, “Could you look at my elbow?”

[Laughs] Yes, “Can you look at my kitchen” and “Can I show you photographs of my insulation?” I find other things to talk about.

Tell me about the Grand Designs drinking game

There are several versions of the drinking game.

If I utter the word “bespoke” or somebody gets pregnant halfway through the show — it is nothing to do with me — [you drink].

Students do 24-hour stints, which you can do now with the back-to-back episodes. That is good fun for them.


The so-called “cob house” was a real struggle to build for the owners. (Supplied)

There must be projects that you think no, this is going to be a disaster

Yes, plenty of those. But it’s also the risk, isn’t it?

This terrible thing that human beings both overreach because that has got us out of the cave, and also it leads us into trouble.

It’s that idea that hope springs eternal. It drags us and pulls us and eventually pushes us over a cliff if we’re not careful.

What is the best-designed Australian city?

That is so hard. There has been a traditional rivalry forever between Sydney and Melbourne.

I could say Brisbane. It’s interesting because I was in Adelaide a couple of days ago and it is really navigable.

Couple gave up water, electricity to buy first home
In the thick of winter, Ben and Victoria lived without water and electricity in a tool shed to dodge hefty rental prices — 18 months later, they’ve bought their first home.

What it is, is it’s a big square, it’s a grid, and it is surrounded by parks. So in a sense you can’t get lost, right. It is a beautiful city.

I really love Perth. I enjoyed Perth because it is open, big and there is a sense of space about that place.

I love Melbourne, right? I adore the street cafes and the big Italian culture here and all of that, love it. But I can’t find my way around it.

My problem with Melbourne is I don’t understand the geography of it. I am sorry, it is just a problem I have. I have to use my phone to navigate me through it.

You described Canberra as the great 20th-century city of Australia. Do you want to elaborate?

Because it is the city of government and it was designed and laid out and so many of the modernist greats of the mid-20th century designed and worked there.

There is layering and there is older stuff too, and it is a big statement and it is spread out like a campus, the entire city.


Audiences have revelled in the success and challenges builders have faced. (Supplied: Grand Designs)

What is the future of Grand Designs in the modern media world? Is it going to be live-streamed on YouTube soon enough?

You know, I’ve got a good, good, good stint ahead of me. But if I were doing this job, and I was half my age, I’d be worried about whether or not it was going to be a sustainable activity.

I’m not sure about television. I think where we go is that we carry on making it as long as we get commissioned. And that seems to be currently where we’re at.

So I think what, maybe in five years time, is our position? Who knows.


The Australian version was launched with host Peter Maddison. (Supplied)

Long may it last, and when it doesn’t, I’ll completely understand. Because as one director of television said to me once: “Kevin, we love you. We love you. Absolutely right until the moment that we stop commissioning the program.”

And that’s how television works. It’s a brutal world.

You have a thing about toilets. What’s that about?

The last time I was in Australia, I did a tour, and a big part of the tour was about sewerage, drainage and toilets, not because I have a morbid fascination for them, but because they’re underrated.

Without sanitation, there is no civilisation. Without drains, there are no cities. Without clean water, half of us die.

A third of the people on the planet — about two and a half billion — do not have access to clean water.


Clean water has become a passion for McCloud. (Supplied)

And we should appreciate and value the fact that we flush 120 litres a day of potable water down the toilet and that there are alternatives which we should consider.

And that it does seem to be bonkers at the same time that people build a house for four occupants and put six toilets in it.

You can’t use two toilets at the same time, I challenge anyone, and it just seems to me to be enormously wasteful.

Having said that, you know, the soft-close toilet seat is one of the greatest inventions of all time.

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My mates and my mum lost their homes, I need to help: Feeling helpless in bushfires inspires volunteering

Albury 2640

A feeling of helplessness during the summer’s devastating bushfires led Jack Campbell to join his local rural fire brigade.

Key points:

  • The Rural Fire Service is seeing a big increase in people keen to volunteer with their local fire brigade.
  • New volunteers learn about a variety of roles, not just fire fighting.
  • The more volunteers the better, as people are busy with family and work to attend every time they are called up.

“I got stuck in Batemans Bay and about half-a-dozen of my mates all lost their homes, my mum lost her home, so I just need to help,” Mr Campbell said.

“The whole area was pretty much wiped out, so you’ve just got to do what you can to help now. When I was down there I couldn’t do anything.”

Mr Campbell who lives near Albury on the New South Wales-Victorian border experienced the fires twice.

“We were stuck in Batemans Bay for about nine days, we had no food, no water, no electricity, no phones, no fuel,” he said.

While back home the Dunns Road fire north of Albury burnt for 50 days, destroying more than 180 homes and devastating more than 333,000 hectares of land.

He said one thing that stood out during the fires was the tireless work of the volunteer firefighters.

“All you saw all day, you heard sirens all day, everyone going back and forth — but I couldn’t do anything. So next time it happens you want to be able to help out,” he said.


Jack Campbell (middle) and Troy Harris (right) both say they have been inspired to join their local volunteer fire brigade. (ABC News: Ashlee Aldridge)

He was one of the countless community members left inspired to join the brigade in the wake of this summer’s bushfires.

Fellow Albury local Troy Harris was able to assist but now wants to do more.

“During the fires, myself and a mate who has a transport company ended up teaming together with the Lavington Rural Fire Brigade in transporting all their goods up to the firegrounds,” he said.

“We spent six days running in and out of there and thought it’d be a good thing to get around and get amongst.”

Despite never considering becoming a volunteer, Mr Harris is now he is hoping to go from helping in the background, to joining the front line.

“I want to learn where you can go from here, what you can do and what you can give back and help out,” he said.

Volunteer inquiries spike

Lavington Rural Fire Brigade’s senior deputy captain and training officer Kathy Barnes said the interest in joining the border based brigade had been unprecedented.

“Compared to last year, [when] we may have had a dozen, this year we’ve had a couple of hundred,” she said.

But Ms Barnes said she was not surprised.

“When the fires hit locally around here closer, and the call came out that people needed help, everyone just came out. It’s the Australian spirit — when it’s needed people come out,” she said.

“They start to realise what we do and what roles they could play, some people look and go ‘Oh I don’t want to be a firefighter, there’s nothing for me to do.’ But there actually is — there are non-firefighting roles.”

She said it will be critical for potential volunteers not to get caught up in the hype of the bushfire season and to understand exactly what goes into joining the brigade.


A Rural Fire Service volunteer keeps watch on bushfire. (Dean Lewins: AAP)

In response, the brigade has opened its doors and invited those considering becoming a volunteer to come along and find out what it takes.

Yesterday, more than a dozen people including Mr Campbell and Mr Harris attended an information session at the brigade’s headquarters.

“It is not easy, it is hard work. It is not just about getting on a firetruck with lights and sirens and going to a fire and putting water on it. You do have to have the skills to be able to do it, to keep yourself safe as well as the rest of your crew safe,” Ms Barnes said.

“The sky is your limit with the RFS they will support you all of the way. You basically become one big family doing a job to help protect the community.”


Lavington Rural Fire Brigade’s Kathy Barnes speaking at recruitment session for volunteers on Sunday. (ABC News: Ashlee Aldridge)

Many hands make light work

Despite having 55 active junior and senior members, Ms Barnes said they are always looking for more volunteers.

“Because we are all volunteers, people have their day jobs, their families and everything to fit in around it. So sometimes we might have 20 people turn up for a call out, sometimes you might only have five, so new members are always welcome.

“The more people that come and be involved, the easier it is for everybody.

“There are just so many roles and so many components of being a member of the rural fire service.”


Woman posing as photographer drugged mother in order to kidnap baby, police allege

United States

A woman has posed as a photographer as part of a plot to drug a woman and steal her newborn baby to raise as her own, US police allege.

Key points:

  • The suspect allegedly posed as a photographer offering to take photos of babies for free
  • Police allege she visited a woman’s house three times and on the third time drugged her with a cupcake
  • Police allege the suspect planned to steal the woman’s newborn baby

In a Facebook post, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in Tacoma, Washington, said a 38-year-old woman and her 16-year-old daughter were arrested on February 14 following an extensive investigation.

Police said they received a 911 call on February 5 from a woman who believed she was drugged by another woman who had come to her house after they met via a newborn baby group on Facebook.

“The suspect had advertised free photos of newborn babies so the suspect could build her portfolio,” police said.

“The suspect reportedly came to the victim’s residence on three occasions to photograph her newborn baby.


Police allege the suspect was known by various names including Juliette Parker, Juliette Noel or Juliette Gains. (Supplied: Pierce County Sheriff’s Department)

“The suspect was observed taking cell-phone selfies with the victim’s baby and was seen wiping her fingerprints off items she touched inside the victim’s home.”

Suspect used cupcake to drug mother, police say

During the third visit, police say, the woman — who posed online as Juliette Parker, Juliette Noel and Juliette Gains — and her teenage daughter gave the mother a cupcake to eat.

“The victim reported feeling numb and drowsy immediately after eating the cupcake,” police said.

“The victim told the suspect and her daughter to leave her home.

“After they left, the victim noticed that the suspect had stolen her house keys.”

After conducting an extensive investigation, including identifying additional alleged victims, the police said evidence indicated the suspect was planning to steal a newborn baby to raise as her own.

After police executed a search warrant, the woman was arrested on multiple felony charges, as was her 16-year-old daughter.

Police encouraged anybody who had been contacted by the woman online and who believed they may have been a victim to contact them.

Sheriff deputies had donated money to buy new locks and window guards for the alleged victim and volunteered to install them at her home, the department said.


Police officers donated their money and time to buy and install new locks and window guards for the alleged victim. (Supplied: Pierce County Sheriff’s Department)


‘Bad day for Australian journalism’: ABC loses court case over Afghan Files raids

Sydney 2000

A case over the validity of police warrants used to raid the ABC’s Ultimo headquarters last year has been dismissed by the Federal Court of Australia.

Key points:

  • The story at the centre of the raid was based on leaked Defence documents
  • ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the raid was “attempt to intimidate journalists”
  • The ABC was ordered to pay the costs of other parties

In June, Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers searched ABC computer systems for files linked to a series of 2017 reports known as “The Afghan Files”.

The reports covered allegations of unlawful killings by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

The ABC launched a challenge to the validity of the warrant, arguing it was “legally unreasonable” and included search terms which failed to create any meaningful limitation on the scope.

Federal Court Justice Wendy Abraham on Monday morning dismissed the case and ordered the ABC to pay the costs of the other parties.

The Afghan Files
The ABC’s Afghan Files stories in 2017 gave an unprecedented insight into the operations of Australia’s elite special forces, detailing incidents of troops killing unarmed men and children and concerns about a “warrior culture” among soldiers.

The Afghan Files, by investigative journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, were based on leaked Defence documents.

A whistleblower involved in the stories has, separately, faced legal proceedings.

In a statement, the ABC’s managing director, David Anderson, said the raid was “an attempt to intimidate journalists for doing their jobs”.

“This is at odds with our expectation that we live in an open and transparent society,” he said.

“We are not saying journalists should be above the law, we’re saying the public’s right to know should be a factor that is taken into account — and legitimate journalism should not be criminalised.”


ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the accuracy of the reports had never been challenged. (ABC News: Taryn Southcombe)

The AFP case argued the terms of the warrant clearly indicated its investigation was focused on alleged offences concerning the provision and receipt of the leaked documents.

In a 117-page judgment, Justice Wendy Abraham ruled the warrant’s three conditions, when read in the context of the warrant as a whole, provided “sufficient particularity in the offence descriptions”.

“The applicant’s primary submission is based on a consideration of words and phrases in the conditions in isolation, devoid of their context,” she wrote in the judgment.

“It is of no assistance to consider the breadth of individual words and phrases in the warrant in isolation, as material must satisfy all three conditions before it can be seized pursuant to the warrant.”

Video: John Lyons was disappointed with the ruling

(ABC News)

The ABC argued the case on several grounds, but named the registrar who issued the warrant as the first respondent.

It argued the decision to approve the warrant was not authorised under the Crimes Act, having regard to the implied freedom of political communication.

Further, the ABC argued the warrant itself was too broad and included terms which failed to provide any meaningful limitation on its scope.

The ABC sought a declaration that the warrant was invalid.

In a statement, the AFP said it “respects the decision of the Federal Court”.

“As the investigation remains ongoing it is not appropriate to comment further.”


AFP officers sit with ABC lawyers and IT specialists during the raid. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito )

In October, ABC solicitor Michael Rippon told the court the warrant’s terms included very general words such as “secret”.

The court heard the AFP’s executing officer told Mr Rippon, in the lead up to the raids, that he wanted them carried out in a fashion “amenable” to all parties.

Mr Rippon also recalled words to the effect of “we don’t want any sensationalist headlines like AFP raids the ABC”.

The material seized included 124 files on two USB sticks, some which were duplicates.

The AFP has previously given the court an undertaking that the material will remain sealed until the legal proceedings have been resolved.

The ABC had also sought an immediate injunction to return the seized material and prevent any part from accessing or copying it.

I live-tweeted the raids on the ABC — and it was a first for the AFP
John Lyons spent nine hours in a room with six AFP officers — who were unfailingly polite and respectful — but who were doing something he believed attacked the very essence of journalism.

ABC head of investigative journalism John Lyons said the decision was disappointing.

“It is a bad day for Australian journalism,” he said.

“After 18 months, we still have two journalists that face possible criminal charges.

“I contrast this to Angus Taylor and what the AFP’s treatment of him was, that case was over within weeks.”

ABC news director Gaven Morris described the ruling as “a blow to the way Australians have access to information in their society and their democracy”.

“Urgent law reform is clearly required and all the way through this process, it’s clear that the way that journalists go about doing their role, the way public interest journalism is able to be undertaken in this country is a mess.”


Man’s body discovered inside burnt-out Townsville apartment

Townsville 4810

A body believed to be that of a 71-year-old man has been discovered inside a unit ravaged by fire in Townsville in north Queensland.

Key points:

  • A neighbour says the man had lived in the unit for decades
  • Authorities were called to the fire just before midnight
  • Police are waiting for the site to be declared safe to enter

Emergency services were called to a blaze in the suburb of Cranbrook shortly before midnight.

Police are yet to retrieve the body and fire crews are investigating the cause of the blaze.

Two other units within the complex were damaged from the fire though no other residents were injured.

The single-storey building is cordoned off by police tape and is still smouldering.

Police said they had to guarantee the unit was safe before retrieving the body.

Detective Acting Inspector Phil Watts said a post-mortem examination would occur this week.

“We’ve contacted and spoken with the family and our thoughts go out to those people,” he said.

“We do have to confirm the identification, however we are confident it’s the 71-year-old occupant.”


A burnt-out apartment in Townsville where authorities discovered a body early this morning. (ABC News: Lily Nothling)

Acting Inspector Watts said three nearby units were evacuated.

“It’s quite a harrowing experience and something no-one would want to go through,” he said.

Acting Inspector Watts said late on Monday morning it was still unsafe to enter the building, which was severely damaged.

“The scene has to cool to a safe level and an examination is undertaken by fire investigators around the structure of the unit.”

‘Your Dad’s flat is on fire’

Neighbour Kay Newman said she heard banging and smelled smoke shortly before she realised a fire had broken out.

“Mum got evacuated — they brought her over to my place with the two dogs and she didn’t go back until two o’clock this morning,” she said.

Ms Newman’s mother lives in a house neighbouring the burnt-out building and Ms Newman lives in a house on the other side of her mother’s home.

Ms Newman said a man had lived in the unit for decades.


Kay Newman says she knew the man who lived in the unit. (ABC News: Lily Nothling)

“[He] has been a good friend for 18 years that I’ve known him, but he’s been here a lot longer than what I have.

“We’d always say g’day to each other — very quiet street this one — I feel sad for him and the family.”

Ms Newman said she called her neighbour’s son to break the news.

“It was hard for me to ring him up and say ‘your Dad’s flat is on fire’,” she said.

“He asked me, ‘is Dad OK?’ and I said, ‘look, I don’t know, I haven’t seen him around’, so he came straight over.

“He was devastated and his wife was really upset.”

Another resident, Michael Santo, said the situation was tragic.

“He had a couple of dogs that he used to walk in the morning — luckily they got out OK,” he said.

“I heard a noise like fireworks around 11:30pm and around 10 to 15 minutes later police and firies started showing up.

“You could see the flames shooting up through the roof — firies got it under control really quick.

“I do know the other residents, because of the crime scene, weren’t allowed back into their units last night.”


Farmers receive year’s worth of rain — and hope — in one week

Gulargambone 2828

A week of unexpected rain in western New South Wales has delivered mixed results, bringing immense relief for some farmers, while barely wetting the dirt for their neighbours.

Key points:

  • Recent significant rain across parts of NSW has brought hope to farming communities
  • Rainfall has ranged from 5mm to 300mm although some properties missed out altogether
  • Farmers says they will be able to stop buying feed and will not need to sell stock

In the first week of February a tropical low from Queensland swept across drought-ravaged parts of NSW, delivering drenching rain and cool temperatures.

Although it has not broken the drought, it was the most significant, widespread rain in three years and has brought hope to farmers and communities — even those who missed out.

In the last fortnight, Dubbo has received 70 millimetres of rain, Warren 103mm, Walgett 82mm, Coonamble 49mm, and Bourke 27mm.

Rainfall on properties has been even more varied, ranging from 5mm to 300mm.


A week ago, this Gulargambone paddock was dusty but after 300mm of rain it has a lake. (ABC Western NSW: Lucy Thackray)

Jim and Jo O’Brien were lucky enough to record 300mm in just seven days at their Gulargambone cattle farm.

“We had no green before and now we don’t need to feed our cattle anymore,” Mr O’Brien said.

“It’s a massive relief — we’ve been feeding since 2017. It’s so good to put an end to that and start moving forward.”


Before the week of heavy rain, there was not a blade of grass in the paddocks. (Supplied: Jim O’Brien)

In just a week, the O’Brien’s prospects have completely turned around.

“We were at the point where we were going to sell 200 of the cows, but we can now keep them,” Mr O’Brien said.

“We stopped buying feed instantly; it’s been fantastic.

“The last couple of months, we’ve been putting out 50 bales of hay and six tonnes of pellets a week. It’s been taking so much money out of our account.”

Some incredibly lucky, others miss out

Paddocks have turned from brown to green, every waterhole is full, and floodwater is still pooled in the O’Brien’s paddocks.


This paddock has become a lake, immersed in floodwaters and surrounded by green grass. (ABc Western Plains: Lucy Thackray)

“We haven’t cropped for the last two years; that was the first time we hadn’t cropped since 1994,” Mr O’Brien said.

“I think it looks very optimistic for us to sow a fodder crop in early March now.”

The O’Briens know they have been incredibly lucky.

“People less than 100 kilometres away from us still haven’t had a break; they had 25 millimetres in the last week and we’ve had 300,” he said.

“It’s frustrating and I feel for them because we’ve been through it for the last two years. I feel their pain.”


George Falkiner (left) says prospects have changed after significant rain at Haddon Rig merino stud. (ABC Western Plains: Lucy Thackray)

George Falkiner is principal at Haddon Rig merino stud in Warren. His property received more than 160mm in a week.

He said there was no warning before the heatwave conditions suddenly changed.

“It wasn’t forecast; no one said we’d receive rain that would put a big hole in this drought,” Mr Falkiner said.

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“The temperature drop meant the country wasn’t being burnt off with 45 degree [Celsius] temperatures, strong winds, and dust storms.

“The grass has been able to start shooting [so] it’s a complete different scenario to what happened in December and January.”

There had been concerns about how the land would start to recover after such extreme drought conditions.

“The landscape is responding dramatically, it’s already greening up,” Mr Falkiner said.

“The gumtrees are greening up, there are new buds on some of the trees; it’s all responding very quickly.”


Despite local properties receiving between 50mm and 100mm of rain, Tottenham remains parched. (ABC Western Plains: Lucy Thackray)

A week of rain has now changed Haddon Rig’s plans for the rest of the year.

“We were feeding 15,000 sheep and had been for 18 months. In a stud, destocking just wasn’t an option because you can’t rebuy your bloodlines,” he said.

“Now we can stop feeding in about two to three weeks.”

Town has ‘spring in its step’

External Link:

Facebook post showing floodwaters racing down a dry creek bed

The Warren farmer said while they did not expect to profit from the rain until December, the benefits would flow on to local communities almost immediately.

“It’ll be good for the local towns. People are starting to spend money,” Mr Falkiner said.

“We’ll put a crop in in March so we’re buying seed, fertilizer, diesel, and spare parts in Warren.

“There’s already a spring in the step of people in town.

“There was nothing happening here, everyone was laying off staff and no one was spending any money [so] it’s been a huge turnaround in a week.”

Meantime, Tanya Holmes in Bathurst said they were let down by the recent rain event, with just 20mm falling on their property.

“Unfortunately we don’t even have a puddle in our dam; the ground’s dry,” she said.

“You see the clouds coming and think ‘beauty!’ but then they go around you.

“It is disappointing, but I think you get used to knowing the weather report won’t be quite right.”

Despite missing out, Ms Holmes said she hoped this rain was a sign of change to come.

She said the random and often unfair distribution of rain was just the way it was.

“Some people have flooded paddocks and other people, 10 to 15 kilometres from them, get nothing,” she said.

“You get to a point where you just understand that’s how it is and there’s not much you can do about it.”


Early uptake of first home loan deposit scheme favours single buyers, people under 30


Nearly half the applicants using a new Federal Government scheme to purchase a property with a deposit of as little as 5 per cent are planning to buy outside Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

Key points:

  • Figures show more than half the scheme’s applicants so far are under the age of 30, except in Sydney
  • There are 3,500 places left in the scheme this financial year, with another 10,000 spots becoming available from July
  • Most of the buyers have been single buyers

But new figures show many younger buyers in Sydney are still struggling to get a leg-up on the housing ladder.

The Government today released the latest data on the uptake of its First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, which launched at the beginning of this year.

Under the scheme, the Government offers loan guarantees for properties worth up to $700,000 in Sydney or other New South Wales regional centres. Prices are capped at $450,000 for the rest of New South Wales.

Melbourne buyers can spend up to $600,000 on a home while the limit is $375,000 across other parts of Victoria.

The figures showed more than half the scheme’s applicants so far were under the age of 30, except in Sydney.

The property ‘blacklist’
These are the suburbs across Australia the banks deem the most risky when assessing home loans.

Housing Minister Michael Sukkar acknowledged helping those younger city buyers was an ongoing challenge.

“There’s no scheme, including this one, that is a silver bullet to the difficulties that particularly younger people face in our major capital cities, where their jobs are,” Mr Sukkar said.

However, he said this deposit scheme was partially designed to encourage people to look beyond the capitals, by capping the property prices and including smaller and regional lenders.

“One of the things the Prime Minister and I wanted to do was make sure this didn’t just become a Sydney-, Melbourne-, Brisbane-centric scheme,” Mr Sukkar said.

“And if we didn’t pay such close attention to the way we designed it, it could easily have gone that way.”

Just a month and a half into the program, the figures showed about 6,500 loans were being processed. Some of those had been approved for financing for a loan while others were at a much earlier stage.

That has left another 3,500 places in the scheme this financial year. Another 10,000 spots will become available from July.

The figures showed the average income of participants was $67,126 for single buyers or $111,534 for a couple.


The data also showed 70 per cent of the certificates issued so far had been for houses. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

The cap on an applicant’s income was $125,000 for a single buyer or $200,000 for a couple.

Most of the buyers have been single.

“We’ve certainly put in place modest price caps around the country — this is designed for people who are purchasing a modest first home,” Mr Sukkar said.

“Of course, if you’re on a single income, you’re … going to be more likely to be someone who fits within those price caps.

“If you’ve got a double income, perhaps your capacity is higher than a single, and my view is it probably pushes some people to looking at homes outside the house-price caps.”

The data also showed 70 per cent of the certificates issued so far had been for houses. Apartments made up 25 per cent and townhouses made up 5 per cent.

The scourge of negative equity
Mortgage delinquencies are on the rise, house prices are still tumbling and borrowers are falling into the quicksand of negative equity in their property. It’s bad.

Kristin Brookfield from the Housing Industry Association said the early data was encouraging and seemed to indicate many young buyers were willing to look beyond the east coast capitals.

“Young people are wanting to get into the market, they’re seeing the sense in getting into the market, and they’re going to those regional [areas] and getting houses which are more in the $400,000 mark rather than that Sydney $700,000 mark,” she said.

“Newcastle and the Illawarra have the same price cap as Sydney, which is $700,000 for the homes.

“But you would imagine that in those regional areas there’s a bigger choice in terms of houses, there is apartment building going on in those areas, unlike some of the more regional towns where you’re likely to see just houses and not very much in the apartment stock.

“So I think it really just reflects where people think they can afford to buy a house.”

However, Ms Brookfield worried the price caps under the scheme were still too restrictive for those wishing to buy a new home in Darwin ($375,000) or Perth ($400,000).

“We would like to talk to the Government about how we can stimulate new building in those regions,” she said.

The deposit scheme was first announced in the lead-up to the federal election.


‘Everyone thought we’d be the first to go’: Fire bunker helps couple save 130yo cottage

Kiah 2551

When the small community of Kiah, on the NSW far south coast, was engulfed by bushfire on January 4, it seemed unlikely that Sue Norman and Mick Harewood’s timber cottage would withstand the blaze.

“Everyone thought our place would be the first to go,” Ms Norman said.

“It’s a weatherboard house, built in the 1890s, and it’s right in amongst the forest. The forest has grown up around it.”

The couple had modified the cottage to make it less vulnerable to ember attack, but for Mr Harewood, the crucial reason the house is still standing is the bunker they built following Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires.

“If I didn’t have the bunker, I would have had to leave. I wouldn’t have been game to stay here,” he said.


The 1890s timber cottage seemed unlikely to survive the blaze that engulfed Kiah. (ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)

“It meant that I could turn on the sprinklers at the opportune time. If we’d turned them on at 8:00am and driven away, it would have wet down the house, then it would have dried out again and the fire would have taken it.”

When the couple began researching fire bunkers, there were few official guidelines.

“We found out that the CSIRO had investigated bunkers, and basically stopped investigating them, because people died in them from carbon monoxide poisoning,” Mr Harewood said.

“A bunker has to be gas-tight.”

Theirs is built into a hillside about 25 metres from the house, constructed of terracotta bricks below ground level and mud bricks above, with a concrete floor and ceiling.

It is impenetrable to gases and equipped with external and internal temperature gauges, a carbon dioxide meter, compressed air tank, a barometer to monitor air pressure and a valve to release air if the pressure builds.


The couple built their bunker after the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria. (ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)

A small ceramic glass window was a big investment but crucial for judging when it was safe to leave the bunker.

It was designed to provide refuge for two people, but Ms Norman decided at the start of this bushfire season that she would leave and get out early.

“I’m really glad I didn’t stay, because I only would have got in the way and I didn’t want to experience that fire,” she said.

“There are people who did stay in Kiah who had a hell of a time and are lucky to have gotten out alive.”


The couple made some additions to their bushfire survival plan as the season approached. (ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)

At 10:00pm on January 4, Ms Norman called Mr Harewood to let him know the fire was approaching Kiah and he went into the bunker.

For the next 90 minutes he remained inside, peering through the small window to watch fires igniting just metres away.


Mick Harewood spent 90 minutes in the bunker as the fire raged outside. (ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)

“I could see fire creeping down the hill, but in the background it was raging — the whole sky was red, it was alive with fire,” he said.

“When I came out the power was off to the house, the sprinklers had failed, the smoke alarm was screaming, and there were lots of little fires all around; anything that could catch alight was alight.”

Video: Mick Harewood's view from the fire bunker

(ABC News)

The historic timber cottage was still standing but Ms Norman’s studio was burning out of control. The mud-brick walls of the studio had withstood the fire but a timber door succumbed to sustained ember attack.

“It was burning from the inside,” Mr Harewood said. “There was black smoke fuming out of every opening.”


Sue Norman’s beloved studio was left in ruins. (ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)

The studio contained a lifetime’s worth of artworks, books and research — now reduced to ash.

But Ms Norman remains philosophical.

“It’s so much harder now to feel safe in an environment like this, or anywhere really, so we’ve all got to get used to letting go of material things.”

She said she was interested in the stories held within the objects and the new story they now told.

“As humans, we’ve reached a pinnacle of awareness and ability, and we seem to be so unaware of where we are and who we are in relation to the world, the environment.

“It will destroy us, and it is.”


Sue Norman found her childhood box brownie among the ashes in her studio. (ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)

More than half of Kiah’s homes were destroyed in the fire and the forest is deeply scarred.

“For a week or two after the fire, trees were just falling,” Mr Harewood said.

“On the first day, every few minutes there’d be another giant crashing down.”

“We’ve lost big old-growth trees that we’ll never see again in our lifetimes,” Ms Norman said.

“It’s not just here, the landscape all around us has changed forever.”


The forest surrounding the property has been badly scarred. (Supplied: Peter Constable)


Tayla Harris ‘useless’ at ground level, according to victorious opponent Stacey Livingstone

Melbourne 3000

Collingwood defender Stacey Livingstone was one of her team’s best players in a breakthrough AFLW win over Carlton, but she saved her most brutal contribution for after the final siren.

Key points:

  • Stacey Livingstone kept Tayla Harris to one goal, and said the secret is to nullify her in the air
  • Collingwood recorded its first win over Carlton in AFLW, winning by 15 points at Princes Park
  • The Pies remain unbeaten after two rounds of the season, while Carlton slips to a 1-1 record

Livingstone had the job on the Blues’ star key forward, Tayla Harris, and kept her to just one goal, kicked in the first quarter.

In an interview with Channel Seven post-match, Livingstone was forthright in her assessment of her high-profile opponent.

“This is year four [of the AFLW] so I would like to think that I know how to play on her already,” Livingstone said.

“But you’ve just got to stop her in the air. That’s her game. If you can do that, she’s useless.”

Harris’s one-word response to the comments suggests this isn’t the last we have seen of this rivalry.

External Link:

@7AFL: Hope Collingwood and Carlton meet again in the finals. Tayla Harris: Same.

Carlton coach Daniel Harford also responded to Livingstone’s comments, calling them “borderline garbage”.

“God love her (Livingstone),” Harford, who used to be a senior assistant with the Magpies women’s team, said.

“Anyone who’s watched Tayla play would know that that’s not the case.

“To suggest that there’s only one element to Tayla’s game is fodder.”

The Pies broke through for their first AFLW victory over their old enemy, winning by 15 points at Princes Park.


Stacey Livingstone was one of the Magpies’ best in the win over Carlton. (AAP: Michael Dodge)

Sunday’s 6.3 (39) to 3.6 (24) result ensured the Magpies, who lost their first three meetings with the Blues, continued their best start to a season with two wins from as many games.

Carlton’s woes were compounded by co-captains Katie Loynes (knee) and Kerryn Harrington (thigh) limping from the field in the second and third quarters respectively. The pair played out the game, but appeared hampered, while teammate Grace Egan was concussion-tested in the final term.

Sarah D’Arcy impressed up forward for the Magpies with 13 touches, three marks and kicking 1.2. She also set up goals in an influential performance.

Collingwood forwards Jordan Membrey (two goals and 11 disposals), Aishling Sheridan (one goal and 14) and Jordyn Allen provided D’Arcy with sound support, and Livingstone had 15 disposals while also keeping Harris quiet.


Tayla Harris in action during Carlton’s round one game against Richmond. (AAP: Rob Prezioso)

The Blues’ best performers were Egan, who had 18 touches and a game-high 10 tackles, Maddy Prespakis (17 disposals), Chloe Dalton (13) and Jess Hosking (11 and five tackles).

Carlton’s effort could not be questioned as it finished with more tackles (66-44) and clearances (23-18), but its inaccuracy in front of goal and lack of polish cost them.

Collingwood was more efficient than the Blues and capitalised on its dominance of disposals (246-188) and contested possessions (116-101).



More than a decade in the making, a troubled $6 million Perth footbridge project has been revived

Perth 6000

The State Government has announced a multi-million-dollar pedestrian bridge linking Perth Children’s Hospital to Kings Park is finally going ahead.

Key points:

  • The footbridge will allow the hospital to offer some therapies in Kings Park
  • The bridge was originally expected to open at the same time as the hospital
  • Construction is scheduled to be finished by the end of next year

The rainbow-coloured footbridge, called the Kids Bridge, will enable sick children, families and hospital staff to walk over Winthrop Avenue from the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Medical Centre site to visit the park.

Funded by the Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation, the $6.3 million bridge will be built over the road to connect an outdoor area between the hospital and a multi-storey carpark to Kings Park bushland.


Construction of the pedestrian bridge is expected to start later this year. (Supplied: WA Government)

WA Health Minister Roger Cook said the bridge would provide an opportunity to deliver a range of therapies for patients at Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH) in a natural environment.

“We know there is strong evidence in the power of healing that trees and nature have, and this bridge will allow this to be harnessed,” he said.

“The opportunity to have our young patients and their families be able to access this urban sanctuary during a challenging time is a wonderful bonus and a terrific testament to the values of our system and the Perth community.”

Bridge idea more than a decade old

The Kids Bridge was first suggested more than 10 years ago and was originally expected to open at the same time as the new hospital.


The bridge will let patients, families and staff walk over Winthrop Avenue to visit Kings Park. (Supplied: WA Government)

PCH Foundation chairman Ian Campbell said the idea came from a group of children on the then-Children’s Advisory Committee.

“They wanted easy access to Kings Park via a bridge to give them much-needed respite and distraction from the rigors of their medical treatment and some reprieve from their clinical environment,” he said.

Staff and visitors will also benefit from the bridge through increased access to existing cycling and pedestrian paths for commuting to work, along with the ability to use the park for fitness and work break activities.

Video: The saga of Perth Children's Hospital

(ABC News)

Construction on the project is expected to start later this year, after final approvals from the Kings Park Board.

Main Roads will manage the design, construction and maintenance of the bridge, working collaboratively with the PCH Foundation, Child and Adolescent Health Service, Botanic Gardens and Park Authority, QEII Medical Trust and the City of Perth.

‘An iconic new structure’

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said she was eager to finish the bridge as soon as possible.


The bridge will allow the hospital to deliver a range of therapies in a natural environment. (Supplied: WA Government)

“We are very hopeful that we will get this project underway very soon and have it completed for West Australian families and children to enjoy,” she said.

“The design of the bridge is unique and colourful and when complete, will become an iconic new structure across Winthrop Avenue.”

Mr Cook called the bridge an outstanding addition to PCH after the hospital endured “earlier troubles” before its opening.

“At last, we are finally seeing this project come to fruition,” he said.

Construction of the Kids Bridge is scheduled to be finished by the end of 2021.


The project was first suggested more than 10 years ago, with earlier artist’s impressions showing a very different bridge. (Supplied: Fratelle Group)


Shock and anger as NBA dunk contest ends in controversy

United States

Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr has celebrated his 23rd birthday by winning the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest, edging Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon in a memorable showdown that required two tiebreaker jams.

Key points:

  • Aaron Gordon leapt over Tacko Fall, the tallest player in the NBA, but still didn’t win the dunk contest
  • It’s the second time Gordon has been considered unlucky not to win, after also missing out in 2016
  • Derrick Jones Jr became the second Heat player to win on the day after Bam Adebayo won the skills challenge

Jones and Gordon each got a perfect 50 on both of their dunks in the final, before registering two more perfect scores on their first jam in the dunk-off.

Jones then took off from just inside the foul line and threw down a windmill jam with his left hand, drawing a 48 from the panel of five judges.

After a short discussion with Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, Gordon brought out 7’5″ Boston Celtics rookie Tacko Fall and positioned him near the basket. He then took the ball from Fall’s hands on his way to a thunderous two-handed dunk.

The United Centre gasped as the courtside NBA stars celebrated, but Gordon was controversially awarded a 47 by the five judges — three nines and two 10s — giving the victory to Jones.


Aaron Gordon clears Tacko Fall, but still falls short. (Reuters: Kyle Terada)

Gordon also lost a memorable dunk contest to Zach LaVine in 2016, and let his frustration be known.

“What are we doing, man? What are we doing? Who set the dunk contest up, man?” Gordon said.

“I wanted to jump over Shaq. He didn’t want to do it. Jumping over someone who’s 7’5” and dunking it is no easy feat.

“What’d I get? A 47? C’mon man. What’re we doing?

“I don’t even know who gave me the nines. I’ma find ’em tonight.”


Gordon’s dunk over Tacko brought the house down, but wasn’t enough to win. (Reuters: Quinn Harris)

Twice scorned, Gordon said this would be the last dunk contest he would compete in.

“It’s a wrap. I feel like I should have two trophies, so it’s over for that. My next goal is going to be to try and win the three-point contest,” he said.

Jones said he would have been happy to keep the contest going.


Derrick Jones Jr sails through the air en route to winning the 2020 dunk contest. (Reuters: Kyle Terada)

“He clipped Tacko’s head when he did that dunk so they couldn’t have given him a 50 for that one,” he said.

“I would have respected if they gave him another 48 so we can go again.”

Earlier, Heat big man Bam Adebayo won the skills challenge and Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield won the three-point contest.

Australia’s Ben Simmons will play in the All Star game on Monday (AEDT).



A storm is brewing in two key electorates as the WA Liberals smell blood in the bush

Perth 6000

It took a perfect storm for Peter Watson to ever make it into Western Australia’s Parliament in 2001.

Albany had been a Liberal seat since 1974 and had not even been a close contest since 1986, but the former Olympian caused one of the shocks of the election night by unseating big-name Court government minister Kevin Prince and winning the seat for Labor.

It was a crucial victory against the odds and one that likely never would have happened if not for the combination of Mr Watson’s high profile, a statewide swing against the Liberal government and a finance broker scandal that engulfed Mr Prince.

The Liberals threw enormous resources at the seat at each subsequent election, but Mr Watson held on — even amid substantial swings against Labor in both 2008 and 2013.


Peter Watson (left), pictured alongside Premier Mark McGowan, is retiring after two decades in Parliament. (ABC News: Andrew O’Connor)

But now he is bringing a 20-year career to a close, some Liberals are smelling blood.

They have been excited by the thought they might finally be able to win back what was once blue-ribbon territory.

“We’ve got an outstanding candidate and we will vigorously contest that seat,” Liberal leader Liza Harvey said this week.

‘Prepare for a regional onslaught’

Albany is not the only regional seat where the McGowan Government could have a fight on its hands.

West Australian regional areas have never been Labor’s heartland, but the party’s landslide win in 2017 saw it become the biggest party in the bush.

But unlikely victories in traditionally conservative areas have left it with potentially vulnerable territory to defend this time around.

“Prepare for a regional onslaught,” was the verdict from one MP this week.


An electoral storm is looming in Albany with the retirement of a key Labor MP. (Supplied: Darren Prior)

Collie-Preston Labor MP Mick Murray is also retiring, having won the seat by 34 votes in 2001 and just 56 votes in 2013.

His resignation marks another country seat where Labor has been left with a big hole through the loss of a long-term MP, considered by both sides to have strong local appeal and a large personal vote.

The bellwether seat to watch

There are several other seats Labor won in 2017 the conservatives will be desperate to win back.

Murray-Wellington, centred around Pinjarra, has existed in various forms since 1890 and has only been won by Labor twice. The Liberals are desperate to get it back.

Then-Nationals leader Brendon Grylls was toppled in the seat of Pilbara in 2017 and the party is likely to throw heavy resources at trying to win it back off Labor’s Kevin Michel.

Plus, the party victorious in Bunbury has prevailed in 12 of the past 13 West Australian elections.

It is the closest thing to a bellwether seat that WA has, making a fierce contest all but inevitable.


Bunbury is considered a bellweather seat, picking 12 of the past 13 WA elections. (ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

In addition, some Labor optimists give their party a chance of snaring Kalgoorlie, Geraldton and the semi-rural seat of Darling Range off the Liberals.

Labor believes it has strong candidates lined up to replace its retiring members, with local councillor Rebecca Stephens appearing likely to be picked by the party for Albany and Collie Senior High School deputy principal Jodie Hanns set to replace Mr Murray.

But the Government is still bracing for a fight, particularly in Albany where the margin is a relatively narrow 6 per cent.


Kalgoorlie is one of the prize electorates Labor is looking to snap up. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)

All up, it means there are plenty of seats in regional WA where the battle is set to be fierce.

Both parties expect Perth’s northern suburbs to be the most crucial battleground, with a long list of marginal seats held by Labor that the Liberals will target heavily.

But with uncertainty over the future of so many seats outside of Perth, regional WA also looms large.

Country WA’s share of seats in State Parliament has steadily declined over the years, something that has been a growing source of frustration for regional voters.

But the way things are shaping up, the bush could still play a big role in determining who is WA’s premier after March 13 next year.


Facebook willing to pay more tax, says Mark Zuckerberg

European Union

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg accepts that global tax reforms mean it may have to pay more taxes in different countries, excerpts of a speech he is due to deliver in Germany show.

Key points:

  • The OECD is pushing for a new global system of taxes on tech companies
  • Facebook only paid $55 million in taxes in the UK in 2018 while making $3.19 billion
  • The company has postponed the EU launch of its dating app due to privacy concerns

Cross-border tax rules are set to be rewritten after 137 states sought last month to avoid a new trade war over the global multiplication of taxes on digital services, prompted by some countries preparing to go it alone.

“I understand that there’s frustration about how tech companies are taxed in Europe. We also want tax reform and I’m glad the OECD is looking at this,” Mr Zuckerberg is expected to tell the Munich Security Conference.

“We want the OECD process to succeed so that we have a stable and reliable system going forward. And we accept that may mean we have to pay more tax and pay it in different places under a new framework,” he added.

OECD push for a global minimum tax
Well over a hundred countries and territories agree to an OECD proposal to revise global tax rules by 2020.

Amazon, Facebook and Google have strained existing rules because they are able to book profits in low-tax countries like Ireland, no matter where their customers are.

Government officials agreed last month to negotiate new rules for where tax should be paid and what share of profit should be taxed, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said.

A growing number of countries are preparing national digital taxes in the absence of a major redrafting of the rules, despite Washington’s threat of retaliatory trade tariffs because it sees such levies as discriminatory against big US tech groups.

Mr Zuckerberg’s speech excerpts gave no further details on tax rates.

Facebook says it pays all the tax it should and that this has averaged more than 20 per cent over the last five years.


The social media giant faces increasing scrutiny from governments around the world. (AP: Ben Margot)

In Britain, Facebook paid just 28.5 million pounds ($55.2 million) in corporation tax in 2018, despite generating a record 1.65 billion pounds ($3.19 billion) in British sales, media reports said.

Tax officials have only a few months ahead of an early July deadline they set for a deal on the complex technical parameters. They aim to reach a full deal by the end of 2020.

During his visit to Europe, Mr Zuckerberg is due to meet the EU’s digital and industry chiefs on Monday.

That comes two days before European competition and digital commissioner Margrethe Vestager and internal market commissioner Thierry Breton are set to announce the creation of a single European data market aimed at challenging the dominance of US tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon.

Dating application launch postponed

Facebook announced it had postponed the rollout of its new dating services in the EU after Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) raised concerns about the launch.

The social network announced the launch of the services in the United States in September.


Some worry that Facebook’s stated commitment to privacy will buckle under the need to make money. (Facebook)

They allow users to integrate their Instagram accounts with Facebook’s dating profile and add Instagram followers to their “Secret Crush” lists.

Ireland’s DPC, the main regulator in the European Union for a number of the world’s biggest technology firms including Facebook, said it was told about the February 13 launch on February 3 and was very concerned about being given such short notice.

Which third-party apps have access to your Facebook data?
There is a way of finding out which third-party apps and sites we’ve allowed to access our Facebook data. And it makes for fascinating (and potentially cringeworthy) reading.

The DPC said in a statement that those concerns were further compounded when it was given no documentation regarding data protection impact assessments or decision-making processes that had been undertaken by Facebook.

To expedite the process, DPC officers conducted an inspection at Facebook Ireland offices in Dublin on February 10 and gathered documentation, it said.

“Facebook Ireland informed us last night that they have postponed the rollout of this feature,” said the regulator, which has a number of privacy investigations open into Facebook and its WhatsApp and Instagram subsidiaries.

“It’s really important that we get the launch of Facebook Dating right so we are taking a bit more time to make sure the product is ready for the European market,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Video: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grills Mark Zuckerberg about knowledge of Cambridge Analytica

(ABC News)



Manchester City banned from Champions League for two seasons

United Kingdom

Manchester City has been banned from the Champions League for the next two seasons after being found to have committed “serious breaches” of UEFA’s spending rules.

Key points:

  • UEFA has banned Manchester City from European competitions for the next two seasons for breaching Financial Fair Play rules
  • It is the second time Manchester City has been found to be in breach of Financial Fair Play rules
  • The ban leads to question marks over the future of manager Pep Guardiola

The reigning English Premier League champion was also fined 30 million euros ($48.42 million).

The Abu Dhabi-owned club said it is “disappointed but not surprised” at the decision and would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the sanctions, criticising a “flawed” process.

“In December 2018, the UEFA Chief Investigator publicly previewed the outcome and sanction he intended to be delivered to Manchester City, before any investigation had even begun,” the club said in a statement.

“This is a case initiated by UEFA, prosecuted by UEFA and judged by UEFA.

“With this prejudicial process now over, the club will pursue an impartial judgment as quickly as possible and will therefore, in the first instance, commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the earliest opportunity.”

The verdict was delivered to Manchester City on Friday following a hearing of UEFA’s club financial control body on January 22.

“The adjudicatory chamber, having considered all the evidence, has found that Manchester City Football Club committed serious breaches of the UEFA club licensing and financial fair play regulations by overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016,” UEFA said in a statement.

“The adjudicatory chamber has also found that in breach of the regulations, the club failed to cooperate in the investigation of this case.”


Manchester City faces a tough couple of seasons outside Europe’s top flight. (AP: Dave Thompson)

Manchester City has become one of the world’s most powerful, and wealthy, football clubs since being bought by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family, in 2008.

However, the club has never won the Champions League or its predecessor, the European Cup.

What is Financial Fair Play?

Financial Fair Play (FFP) was introduced by UEFA, football’s European governing body, to prevent clubs spending beyond their means in pursuit of success in a way that might compromise their long-term survival.

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When it was first introduced in 2011, by former UEFA president Michel Platini, he claimed that 50 per cent of clubs were losing money in a practice he referred to as “financial doping”.

UEFA has since monitored the accounts of all clubs entering its two club competitions, the Champions League and Europa League, in a bid to curb unfettered spending on players regardless of the owners’ wealth.

Clubs must keep losses to within permitted limits over a three-year period of else face a ban.

The first period UEFA assessed clubs for compliance with FFP was 2011/13, when owners were allowed to cover losses up to 45 million euros ($72.61 million).

Rules stated that clubs must balance their books, meaning football-related expenditure — such as player transfers and salaries — must not outweigh revenue raised from their commercial departments, including television rights and ticket sales.


Manchester City has won the last two Premier League titles. (AP: Frank Augstein)

Why was Manchester City being investigated?

City was placed under investigation by UEFA after German newspaper Der Spiegel leaked a series of emails that showed Manchester City overstated sponsorship revenue in a bid to comply with FFP regulations.

Der Spiegel released emails in November 2018 that showed alleged schemes by the club to allegedly cover up the true source of income.

The leaks showed alleged manipulation of sponsorship revenue from Etihad Airways, the state-owned airline from Abu Dhabi, which is the naming rights sponsor of City’s stadium and training campus as well as appearing on jerseys.


Manchester City is home to some of the world’s best players. (AP: Rui Vieira)

The deal is worth 67.5 million pounds ($131.22 million) annually for City.

The leaks also showed how City allegedly tried to artificially raise its revenue, in one case by 30 million euros ($48.4 million), according to emails from 2013 reported by Der Spiegel.

Has any other club been punished?

Yes, in fact, City has already been punished by UEFA for violating FFP in 2014, although it escaped a ban on that occasion.

Instead, the club was fined 60 million euros ($96.81 million) for inflated sponsorship deals with companies linked to the club or its ownership.

An identical punishment was meted out to French club Paris Saint-Germain — who are owned by Qatar Sports Investments group, who have plunged a huge amount of money into the French champions — along with six other clubs from around Europe.

UEFA has also previously banned clubs from European competition.

Turkish giant Galatasaray was banned from European competition for the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons after it failed to comply with an agreement it reached with UEFA.

Italian club AC Milan was banned from this season’s Europa League after it was found to have been in breach of FFP regulations.

What does this mean for Manchester City?

First up, there are now serious question marks over the future of manager Pep Guardiola.

Guardiola has won everything possible domestically with City, but Champions League success has eluded him.


Pep Guardiola is one of the world’s most sought-after managers. (AP: Rui Vieira)

In previous interviews, Guardiola has said that winning the Champions League with City is an absolute priority and that he could even be sacked from the club if he does not deliver the silverware this season.

His Manchester City side plays Spanish and European giants Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 later this month.

City trails Liverpool by a whopping 22 points in the Premier League, meaning the Champions League is the only major trophy City has a realistic chance of winning this year.

Guardiola’s contract is set to expire at the end of the 2021 season, but if he fails to win the trophy this season, he could leave early.

Some of Manchester City’s top players may also wish to leave if they are left without the prospect of playing in Europe’s marquee competition for two seasons.

Additionally, the Champions League revenue that the club will now miss out on over the next two years could have further knock-on effects, as the club will be forced to cut back on wages in order to fit under the new financial constraints imposed by UEFA, perhaps by selling some of their higher earners.

For the rest of English football, the implications are also unclear.

City is currently in second spot in the Premier League behind champion-elect Liverpool. The top four clubs qualify for next year’s Champions League, meaning the club that finishes in fifth spot this season could be in line for a lucrative Champions League campaign.

City could also face further punishment in the form of points deductions from the Premier League.

Premier League rules state that clubs must abide by UEFA rulings or face domestic sanctions, which could include financial penalties or points deductions.


Pep Guardiola has not won a Champions League title with Manchester City. (AP: Rui Vieira)



Jessica will swim through shark-infested waters and rips to complete a 100km lap of Moreton Island

Brisbane 4000

Sharks, menacing tides and poor water visibility are some of the dangers Jessica Evans’ will face when she attempts to swim around Moreton Island later this month in a bid to draw attention to mental health issues.

Key points:

  • The 100-kilometre journey around Moreton Island is like swimming three English Channels
  • Jessica Evans is hoping to raise money for the Black Dog Institute
  • Her only protection from sharks will be an electronic shield

The open water competitor said she believes she will become the first person to complete the 100-kilometre journey around the world’s third largest sand island off the coast of South East Queensland.

In preparation, Evans has undertaken a brutal, non-stop and unforgiving training program.

But the 32-year-old is willing to suffer through the weekly torture sessions in a bid to honour her uncle, whose long, silent struggle with depression ended when he took his own life last year.


The Moreton Island wrecks are a popular dive site. (Ausfish)

“Sadly, a few months ago we lost my uncle Barry,” Evans said.

“He was having this fight with depression and none of us really knew how deep and how severe that was.

“He was the light of the room more often than not, and to have that taken away from you, I really think the family is struggling — everyone’s looking for answers.”

Evans said she searched for an explanation by researching mental health issues, which led her to the Black Dog Institute.

“I thought, ‘I want to do something big and I want to do something that hasn’t been done before to raise money for that charity’.”


Evans has had to learn to lower both her stroke rate and her heart rate. (Supplied: Scott Newman)

Evans will not be swimming in a shark cage.

Her only protection will be an electronic shark shield designed to keep them away.

Her support crew will also act as spotters from the boat and in kayaks, and several of her open water swimming buddies have promised to jump in the water during the swim.

Like three English Channels

Evans will tackle the swim in four stages, covering more than three times the distance of most people who have swum the English Channel.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

The starting point is Cape Moreton, on the north coast of the island and from there she’ll swim in an anti-clockwise direction.

“At the moment I’m training eight times a week,” she said.

“I definitely like to enter an event and know that I am well prepared, so we swim eight times a week and then we gym three times a week.

“Generally, the swim on the weekend will be a four, or a six-hour open water swim down on the Gold Coast.

“There are nights when I come home and I’m exhausted, like we’ve spent five hours in the pool that day and I’ve gone to work, and we’ve done an hour in the gym.”


Evans is swimming eight times a week in preparation. (ABC News: Michael Rennie)

Coach David Proud said the gruelling training program was vital.

“You’ve got to be able to swim at a fairly low heart rate, but swim for a long, long amount of time,” he said.

“In the pool, when you’re training for the distance swims in the 1,500 metres, you’re actually swimming at a pretty high heart rate.

“The biggest focus is we’ve been trying to swim with a lower stroke rate and swim with 30 to 32 strokes per minute.

“She’s (Evans) been getting down to swimming one-hour-one-minute for her 5-kilometre swim at that 32 (stroke) rate and holding that lower heart rate, so we’ve seen a big shift in that over the last three or four months.

“It takes a really special athlete to be able to swim for six hours at a time without really stopping too much.”


Three gym sessions a week come on top of her regular swim sessions. (Supplied)

Evans took up open water swimming with her partner Scott Newman, who will assist in her epic adventure.

“Begrudgingly, I’ve been dragged into a few [swims],” Mr Newman said.

“I’ve done a couple of longer swims, but I haven’t been able to keep up with Jess on any of them.

“It’s a draining sport. She does a lot of kilometres every week, there’s a lot of training that goes into it, a lot of preparation that goes into these kinds of events.

“It amazes me how fast she can do things and how easy it looks, but how long she can do that for is beyond amazing.

“I just can’t even fathom being able to do that.”


Evans says open water swimming is “a different kettle of fish”. (Supplied)

Evans said the benefits of open water swimming went beyond health and fitness.

“The open water is such an unknown,” she said.

“You can have the wind going one way, the sweep going the other way, you face blue bottles and jellyfish and everyone’s always afraid of sharks.

“Time you might do in the pool doesn’t necessarily correlate to the open water — you’re dealing with the wind and the sun in your eyes, it’s just a different kettle of fish.

“In Australia, we have some of the best beaches, the best open water you can find in the world.”

Evans plans to begin her Black Dog Lap around Moreton Island on February 27 and hopes to raise $10,000 for the Black Dog Institute.


Beijing threatens punishments as half a billion people ordered to self-quarantine in battle to control coronavirus spread


People returning to Beijing from extended holidays have been ordered to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine to help prevent spread of the new coronavirus, while hard-hit Hubei province reported more than 2,400 new cases.

Key points:

  • A shutdown on the scale of China’s current response is unprecedented
  • Some economists are forecasting major economic consequences of the outbreak
  • Chinese authorities expect that 160 million people will soon return to their home cities

State newspaper Beijing Daily said people failing to obey would be punished, but it was not immediately clear how that would be enforced or whether the restrictions would apply to non-residents of the Chinese capital or foreigners arriving from abroad.

“From now on, all those who have returned to Beijing should stay at home or submit to group observation for 14 days after arriving,” read the notice from Beijing’s virus prevention working group cited by the Beijing Daily.

“Those who refuse to accept home or centralised observation and other prevention and control measures will be held accountable under law.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know
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The virus, also known as COVID-19, is killing about 2 per cent of those it infects, but is able to spread faster than other respiratory viruses that have emerged this century.

Hubei officials said there were 2,420 new cases on Friday and 139 more deaths.

Including the latest numbers from Hubei, the total number of cases in mainland China now exceeds 66,000, with more than 1,500 deaths.

The figures show no sign that the outbreak is nearing a peak, said Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney.

Epidemic ‘under control’, assures Chinese official


Vehicles spraying disinfectant have been deployed across Chinese cities. (Reuters via China Daily)

Around 500 million people in China are currently affected by policies put in place restricting movement, to contain COVID-19.

That’s more than the entire population of the United States and is equivalent to roughly 6.5 per cent of the world’s population.

As of Friday, at least 48 cities and four provinces in China have issued official notices for lockdown policies, with measures ranging from “closed-off management”, where residents of a community have to be registered before they are allowed in or out, to restrictions that shut down highways, railways and public transport systems.


Beijing trains were almost empty on the first day “back to work” for China after the extended Lunar New Year holiday. (ABC: Steve Wang)

Citizens cannot leave the cities of Wuhan, Huanggang, Ezhou and a few others in Hubei province, while Shanghai and Beijing have only put movement restrictions in place for some smaller communities such as building blocks or neighbourhoods.

Many cities have reduced public transport lines and routes, while a few have closed intra-city public transport entirely.

Altogether, 80.41 million people have been affected by shut bus or metro lines.


Transport restrictions and official advice to stay home has dissuaded many from travelling back to work. (ABC: Steve Wang)

A top Chinese official acknowledged that coronavirus was a huge challenge, but defended Beijing’s management of the outbreak and lashed out at the “overreaction” of some countries.

State Councillor Wang Yi, who also serves as China’s foreign minister, said China has taken decisive measures to fight the epidemic, many going beyond international health regulations and World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

“Through our efforts, the epidemic is overall under control,” he said.

Shutdown is having a major impact on the economy


Across Beijing and in cities around the nation, many small shops run by out-of-towners remain locked up. (ABC: Steve Wang)

China is struggling to get the world’s second-largest economy going after the annual Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to prevent further contagion.

Cinemas, temples and other tourist sites were shut down to prevent crowds from forming. Group tours were cancelled and businesspeople told to put off travel.

President Xi Jinping warned top officials last week that efforts to contain the virus had gone too far and were threatening the economy, Reuters sources said.

A report published by the China Cuisine Association said scare over the epidemic has cost the catering sector 500 billion yuan in lost earnings during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, with 93 per cent of restaurants shutting down operations.


Restaurants have struggled to cope with the impact of a virus that has infected tens of thousands of people worldwide and sent dozens of cities into lockdown. (AP: Mark Schiefelbein)

But as some businesses reopen, Beijing has told anyone who still can work from home to stay there.

Amid these measures, canteen lunches have been banned in favour of boxed meals eaten at desks. Meetings are held online, not in person.

Employees must wear masks all day and report their temperature twice a day as fever is one of the virus’ main symptoms.

Coronavirus to see business slump
Across Beijing and in cities around the nation, many small shops run by out-of-towners remain locked up — transport restrictions and official advice to stay home dissuading them from travelling back to work.

Xu Yahua, an official from China’s transport ministry, said the government expects 160 million people to start returning to their cities of residence next week.

Economists polled by Reuters said China’s economic downturn would be short-lived if the outbreak was contained, but expected this quarter would show China’s slowest growth rate since the global financial crisis.

The Chinese carmakers’ association said auto sales in China were likely to slide more than 10 per cent in the first half of the year because of the epidemic.

Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University, recently told the ABC that China’s Government will likely nevertheless press on with a GDP target of 6 per cent.

“What we may see is GDP growth for the first quarter down substantially, but then in subsequent quarters they’ll likely significantly increase spending,” he said.


The death toll in mainland China has jumped by more than 100 in recent days. (AP: Zhang Yuwei via Xinhua)

A WHO-led joint mission with China will start its outbreak investigation work this weekend, focusing on how the new coronavirus is spreading and its severity, WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The mission will also seek more details on how, where and when the more than 1,700 health workers infected contracted the new virus, WHO officials said.

Outside mainland China, there have been nearly 450 cases in some 24 countries and territories, and three deaths.

Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death on Thursday. One person has died in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

Video: Authorities are apparently using drones to chastise residents

(ABC News)

More on the coronavirus outbreak:



10 children dead as families burn rubbish to keep warm amid ‘catastrophic’ Syrian winter

Syrian Arab Republic

Families fleeing air strikes and advancing troops in Syria’s Idlib province are sleeping rough in streets and olive groves, and burning toxic bundles of rubbish to stay warm in the biting winter weather, aid workers say.

Key points:

  • 3 million civilians are stuck between advancing Syrian forces and the Turkish border
  • A family of four suffocated after inhaling fumes from a fire made from old clothing
  • The UN says displaced Syrians are being ‘abandoned by the whole world’

Hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted by a Syrian government assault which has corralled ever growing numbers of people into a shrinking pocket of land near the Turkish border.

Humanitarian agency officials say it is the biggest single displacement of civilians in the nine-year-old war. But they lack the shelter and supplies to support them.

Relief workers say 10 children have died in the last week alone in makeshift camps that now dot the border area.

A seemingly endless flow of cars and vehicles packed with belongings of fleeing civilians jam the roads. Some have also fled on foot.


Syrian civilians have fled from Idlib toward the north in an attempt to find safety near the border with Turkey. (AP)

In one camp in northern Idlib, a family of four died of suffocation on Tuesday after inhaling fumes from a fire they had made from shoes, old clothing and cardboard, their neighbour in the camp, known as Dia3, said.

“Most people are bringing bundles of shoes or clothing and burning it … the family were sleeping and suffocated,” they said.

The father, mother and their two children were among tens of thousands of people who had driven north to escape the Russian-backed Syrian government offensive.

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Up to three million civilians are stuck between the advancing Syrian government troops and the closed-off border with Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and says it cannot take more.

Storms which blanketed much of northwest Syria in snow this week has worsened the plight of the displaced.

Shelter is scarce, with houses and tents already packed with dozens of people. Many who have become destitute have little money to buy fuel or heaters.

“People are burning anything they have available to them, things that are often dangerous to inhale just to stay warm,” said Rachel Sider of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Mark Cutts, United Nations deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria Crisis, said the situation in Idlib was catastrophic.

“We keep hearing stories of babies and people dying as a result of cold weather and the inability to stay warm,” he said.

With the Syrian army on the outskirts of Idlib city, currently home to an estimated 1 million people, a full military assault there could lead to even greater upheaval.


Humanitarian agencies have long pointed to the impact of the Syrian conflict on children. (AP)

‘No place left’

International humanitarian agencies say the number of people on the move has swamped existing camps in northern Idlib, set up to shelter families displaced by earlier fighting, and people were being turned away.

External Link:

@GerrySimpsonHRW tweet: Rusian & Syrian forces indiscriminately bombing #Idlib are displacing catastrophic number of civilians

“We are seeing people who simply have nowhere else left to go. They are being squeezed into a smaller and smaller area and are feeling very abandoned by the whole world and that the world is just failing them,” Mr Cutts said.

The once agricultural rural terrain of Idlib province, Syria’s main olive growing district, now resembles the shanty towns on the edges of large congested cities.

“Families are sharing tents with up to 30 to 35 other people so there is very little space for people to seek refuge in northern Idlib at this stage,” Ms Sider said.

A resident from the once sleepy border town of Atma said the many people in the human wave pouring north are now sleeping in cars and under olive trees along congested routes.

Some families, with relatives further east, are able to cross from Idlib into areas of northern Syria controlled by Turkish troops. For most, there is no escape.


The once agricultural terrain of Idlib province now resembles the shanty towns on the edges of large congested cities. (Reuters: Khalil Ashawi)

“Along the border area in northern Idlib it’s overcrowded and the situation is much more difficult,” said local aid worker Adi Satouf.

Despite the turmoil and constant upheaval in the shrinking area of rebel rule, few people say they would return to areas now under the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s Government.

“People are no longer thinking of returning as long as Assad is there,” said Ibrahim Islam, a rescue worker now struggling with his family in a camp on the outskirts of Idlib.

“They are ready to put up with every injustice and hardship here but not go back to the regime.”

Video: Civilians flee an offensive by Russian-backed Syrian Government forces

(ABC News)



Two arrested after man shot in leg outside Sunbury home

Melbourne 3000

Victorian police have arrested two people in relation to the non-fatal shooting of a man outside a Sunbury home last week.

The 57-year-old victim had arrived home from a wedding about 1:00am on February 8 when he was shot in the leg with a shotgun by a masked person while standing in the driveway of a Belleview Drive house.

The injured man was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in a stable condition.

Police today said Armed Crime Squad detectives had arrested a 39-year-old Kangaroo Flat man who was charged with attempted armed robbery, intentionally cause serious injury and conduct endangering life.

He was to appear before an out-of-sessions hearing this evening.

Detectives also arrested a 30-year-old woman yesterday in relation to the incident.

The Long Gully woman was charged with attempted armed robbery, intentionally and recklessly cause serious injury, conduct endangering life and prohibited person possess and use firearm.

She appeared before Bendigo Magistrates’ Court today and will reappear at a later date.

Detectives also located a four-wheel drive which had been seen in the area prior to the shooting and will now undergo forensic testing.


US accuses Huawei of stealing trade secrets and helping Iran spy on anti-government protesters

United States

US prosecutors have accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets and helping Iran track protesters in its latest indictment against the Chinese company, escalating the US battle with the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker.

Key points:

  • Huawei has been accused of installing surveillance equipment in Iran that was used to identify protesters during anti-government demonstrations
  • The US has been waging a campaign against Huawei, which it has warned could spy on customers for Beijing
  • Last year the company was charged with bank and wire fraud, violating sanctions against Iran and obstructing justice

In the indictment, which supersedes one unsealed last year in federal court in New York, Huawei Technologies was charged with conspiring to steal trade secrets from six US technology companies and to violate a racketeering law typically used to combat organised crime.

It also contains new allegations about the company’s involvement in countries subject to sanctions.

Among other accusations, it says Huawei installed surveillance equipment in Iran that was used to monitor, identify, and detain protesters during the 2009 anti-government demonstrations in Tehran.

The United States has been waging a campaign against Huawei, which it has warned could spy on customers for Beijing.

Washington placed the company on a trade blacklist last year, citing national security concerns.

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The indictment is “part of an attempt to irrevocably damage Huawei’s reputation and its business for reasons related to competition rather than law enforcement”, the company said in a statement.

It called the racketeering accusation “a contrived repackaging of a handful of civil allegations that are almost 20 years old”.

Huawei pleaded not guilty to the earlier indictment unsealed against the company in January 2019, which charged it with bank and wire fraud, violating sanctions against Iran and obstructing justice.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang urged the United States to immediately stop suppressing Chinese companies without reason.

Such acts seriously damage the United States’ credibility and image, he said.


Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018. (AP: Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press)

Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in December 2018 in Canada on charges in that indictment, causing an uproar in China and a chill in Canadian-Chinese relations.

She has said she is innocent and is fighting extradition.

There are no new charges against Ms Meng in the superseding indictment.

New charges outline alleged trade secret theft


Google stopped providing Huawei with access, technical support and collaboration involving its proprietary services last year. (AP: Andy Wong)

The new trade secret theft charges relate to internet router source code, cellular antenna technology, and robotics.

For example, beginning in 2000, Huawei and its subsidiary Futurewei Technologies are accused of misappropriating operating system source code for internet routers, commands used to communicate with the routers, and operating system manuals, from a company in Northern California.

Why is Huawei so controversial?
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Huawei then sold their routers in the United States as lower-cost versions of the US company’s products, the indictment says.

Although the US company is not identified, Cisco Systems sued Huawei in Texas in 2003 over copyright infringement related to its routers.

Huawei is also accused of recruiting employees from other companies, making efforts to get intellectual property from those companies, and using professors at research institutions to obtain technology.

The US Commerce Department in May put Huawei on a trade blacklist that restricted US suppliers from selling parts and components to the company.



Long before coronavirus, a disease kept millions of people like Denese Griffin isolated from the world

Perth 6000

Denese Griffin’s teenage years were far from normal after being struck down by a rare infectious disease that meant she could only see her parents once a week.

Key points:

  • Denese Griffin was one of 1,400 Indigenous people who lived in a WA leprosarium
  • She spent five years as a teen living in isolation, but still has happy memories
  • Leprosarium artefacts will feature in Perth’s new museum opening in November

From the age of 15, she spent almost five years living in a quarantined hospital facility for people with leprosy — now known as Hansen’s disease — in northern WA.

The stigma that was long attached to the sickness means that, 45 years on, it still makes Ms Griffin uncomfortable to talk about.

“It was sad to be there because we were essentially locked up,” Ms Griffin said.

She was one of at least 1,400 Indigenous Australians who lived at the Bungarun Leprosarium in Derby throughout its 50 years in operation, until a cure was found for the condition and it closed in 1986.


Members of the orchestra at the Bungarun Leprosarium in Derby in 1948. (Supplied: State Library of WA)

But despite spending a significant part of her teenage years living in isolation, Ms Griffin still has plenty of fond memories to look back on.

“I didn’t want to be there, obviously, but my memories sustain me,” she said.

“I can’t say that I never want to remember because there was a lot of happy times.”

Music brought joy to patients

Ms Griffin was part of the social orchestra at Bungarun where she learnt to sing and play the piano.

“I think music was something that just rippled right through Bungarun,” she said.

Decades later the melodica, an instrument she kept from Bungarun, still brings a smile to her face.


Denese Griffin looks over pictures from her five years spent at the Bungarun leprosarium as a teenager. (ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

Many of the instruments used in the orchestra were tossed away when the facility closed.

But a violin and a microscope were kept and preserved by The Sisters Of St John Of God at the Heritage Centre in Broome.

They help tell the complex story of Bungarun — one of sickness and sadness, and of recovery and joy.

“While we were all there because we were unwell, and there was rigorous testing and everything like that, we had, at the end of the day, music,” Ms Griffin said.


Denese Griffin spent much of her teenage years in isolation, but still has fond memories from the experience. (ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

“The orchestra … was an opportunity for people to practice using their hands,” Helen Mary Martin from the Broome Gallery said.

“The microscope was the thing that put people in there and kept people in there,” she said.

Leprosarium artefacts sent to new Perth museum

The artefacts are part of a small collection being sent to Perth’s new museum ahead of its opening in November.


Helen Mary Martin from the Broome Gallery holds a violin once belonging to the Bungarun Leprosarium that will be featured in the new Perth museum. (ABC Kimberley: Tom Forrest)

Some Bungarun residents like Ms Griffin have shied away from sharing their stories for years.

“Even with my work colleagues I haven’t shared it,” she said.

But the new exhibition in Perth will shed light on the leprosarium and its residents.

“Because the disease was so stigmatised and such a feared thing it was hard for them to talk about and it’s only now that a lot of people are being able to talk about it to their families,” Ms Martin said.

“It’s never had the attention that it deserves.”


Eden fisherman jailed for abusing two teenage boys 20 years ago

Wollongong 2500

A well-known south coast fisherman has been jailed for four years over the sexual abuse of two teenage boys 20 years ago.

Key points:

  • Reinhard ‘Fritz’ Drenkhahn, 69, assaulted two boys in the NSW towns of Eden and Wagga Wagga
  • The offences happened between 2000 and 2003
  • A victim impact statement revealed the toll the abuse took on the victims

Reinhard ‘Fritz’ Drenkhahn, 69, assaulted two boys in the NSW towns of Eden and Wagga Wagga between 2000 and 2003.

Wollongong District Judge Andrew Haesler handed Drenkhahn a non-parole period of two years and said the local trawler operator had exploited the “confusion and innocence” of his young victims.

“Children are socialised to be respectful and subservient to adults,” Judge Haesler said.

“[Drenkhahn] was otherwise looked up to by children and his actions and motivations would not have been clear to his young victims.”

The small-town fisherman was found guilty of molesting a 13-year-old boy at a south coast rental home.

The victim said on another occasion Drenkhahn tried to put his hands down the boy’s pants and asked if “he wanted to play”.

He was also found guilty of assaulting another boy who Drenkhahn tried to wrestle while naked during a road trip in Wagga Wagga, before the teen pushed him off.

The impact statement of one victim revealed his struggle to escape memories of his abuse.

“I met the offender when I was 10, and he would take me out on his fishing boat,” it said.

“Before I hung out with him, I felt normal. Now I feel like I don’t know who I am.”

The court heard the victim’s life spiralled, culminating in a suicide attempt soon after Drenkhahn was charged.

“I felt lonely at home, I felt lonely at school, but I couldn’t explain what happened,” his statement said.


Reinhard Drenkhahn will be eligible for parole in December 2021. (Supplied)

“I started drinking… I started using heavy drugs and I reduced it, but the memories were too hard.

“I still have a lot to figure out before I can get better… Just thinking about these things makes my mouth dry and I feel sick.”

Drenkhahn was first arrested in 2016, but adjournments delayed his trial for three years.

His lawyer argued the German-born fisherman came from a tight-knit community and had suffered “public humiliation” since his arrest.

But the Crown said Drenkhahn, who has lived in Eden for 50 years, still had “significant support” from some community members and that his case had divided locals.

Drenkhahn has maintained his innocence.

He was last year found guilty on three charges of aggravated indecent assault of a person under the age of 16, one charge of sexual intercourse with a person aged between 10 and 16, and for possessing an unregistered rifle.

He was acquitted of the more serious charge of aggravated sexual assault of a person under 16.

“He should be enjoying his retirement and caring for his wife,” Judge Haesler said in sentencing.

“Now he is a convicted sex offender.”

Drenkhahn will remain in protective custody where he shares a cell with three other inmates.

He will be eligible for parole in December 2021.


Farmer who called bushfire helpline told counsellors on holidays or sick

Lake Conjola 2539

After losing half his farm to a fire storm, Gerry McLaughlin reached out to the Federal Government’s bushfire help line only to be told the counsellors were on holidays or were away sick.

Key points:

  • Flower farmer Gerry McLaughlin lost half his property in bushfires at Lake Conjola, NSW
  • He recognised he was experiencing anxiety and needed help so called the Federal Government’s hotline
  • Mr McLaughlin was told all the counsellors were sick or on leave and waited four days for a call back

Mr McLaughlin and his partner moved to Lake Conjola on the New South Wales South Coast two years ago to start a flower farm.

On New Year’s Eve the devastating Currowan fire tore across their farm; four days later the fires retuned and half their farm was destroyed.

“I have had anxiety since December when the Currowan fire started,” Mr McLaughlin said.

External Link:

@GregHuntMP: If you are struggling with your mental health in the wake of the bushfires, please call 180 22 66 for assistance. Please reach out, get the support you need, and check in on loved ones.

“The fact that it just kept coming and coming, the fact that we fought it twice … every morning I got up and smelled smoke.

“My anxiety levels were going through the roof.”

Four days of waiting

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has repeatedly encouraged people impacted by bushfires to contact the 180 22 66 number.

Mr McLaughlin said once he realised he needed help, he called the number for mental health support but for days no one returned his call.

“I availed myself to the number. I rang. The woman said unfortunately the counsellors were on holidays or they were sick,” he said.

“I am sorry for that person if they are sick and happy for the one on holidays, but no one rang me back.

“For four days I dealt with it, until I couldn’t cope any more, and I rang Lifeline. I wasn’t suicidal, but I wasn’t coping.”

“Thank God I called Lifeline.”

Mr McLaughlin said many people in the community were suffering trauma and he wanted to make sure they had somewhere to reach out to for help.

“The idea that you can’t have a 24/7 manned number for people who are suffering trauma as a result of the fires — I think it is really important, something should be done.

“This trauma is not going to go away in the next month, or six months.

“Things will pop up, you will have memories and moments, and I don’t want people to be ashamed.”


A trauma expert is concerned counsellors who will be providing help to bushfire victims are not adequately trained. (Supplied: Gerry McLaughlin)

Department offers apology

General manager of Services Australia, Hank Jongen, said he was at a loss that as to how Mr McLaughin could have received that response.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

“I just want to apologise to Gerry. The fact that we may have contributed to additional stress at a very, very difficult time is of great concern to me,” he said.

Mr Jongen said the 180 22 66 number was operated by his department and used to access the two Federal Government payments for victims.

It is also a connection point to mental health services.

“I absolutely understand his situation and I’m very concerned about the way it was handled,” Mr Jongen said.

“But we have already referred more than 1,400 people to additional support as a part of this mental health package.

“I would still encourage people to call 180 22 66. We have trained social workers available to make the initial contact and to make referrals.”


A psychotherapist says it is very ‘un-trauma-informed’ to ask people about trauma they have experienced, like that during the Currowan fire. (Facebook: NSW Rural Fire Service (file photo))

Trauma expert warns counsellors not experienced enough

Clinical psychotherapist Elle Stübe has criticised the uncertainty of the service.

“As a trauma specialist, I am concerned to hear about Gerry’s treatment,” she said.

“It is inexcusable that someone in Gerry’s state is told that someone will call him back and that that doesn’t happen for a number of days.

“And that Gerry then has to find this resource himself at a time when he has no more resources left.”

She was sceptical of what would happen once a person was able to connect with someone on the phone after “jumping through a series of loops and hoops”.

“Is that person sufficiently trained to deal with this degree of trauma after the fires,” she said.

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Dr Stübe said it was a very high-risk situation.

“I would describe that as a kind of fragmentation that [Gerry] was going through,” she said.

“[That’s] where the load he was going through in his nervous system became too much for him to bear and he urgently needed somebody who could receive him, and receive all the feelings he was having, and to listen to him and help him regulate himself.”

Concern about counselling over phone

She also raised concerns about the broader process.

“It is entirely un-trauma-informed to ask someone about the traumas they have just experienced,” she said.

“This is, however, what is required in order to establish your eligibility for any kind of support.

“I am extremely concerned about this being undertaken on the phone, leaving the traumatised person alone once the call has ended and with whatever triggering has just occurred in recounting the traumatic event.”

Mr Hunt was contacted for comment, but referred the ABC to his department for a response.

External Link:

ABC embed: Tell us your bushfire questions


‘You know nothing about the process’: What to do when someone dies suddenly at home

Melbourne 3000

Before she needed one, Emma Grey had never thought to make a plan for what to do in the event of the sudden death of a loved one.

That was until the 45-year-old mother-of-three checked on her husband one afternoon while he was off work sick with the flu.

“He just seemed to be asleep,” Emma Grey recalled.

“The whole night now just seems like a blur in retrospect.”

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Join Jan Fran as she takes on life’s prickly bits, and makes them easier to deal with.

Ms Grey’s husband, Jeff, passed away suddenly during his sleep from an undiagnosed heart disease in Canberra in 2016.

“All I mainly remember is that one minute everything was normal family life and the next minute the house is full of police officers, ambulance officers, investigators, funeral directors and, you know, a huge crowd,” she said.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, someone dies every three minutes and 17 seconds in Australia.

Besides the grief and emotional turmoil, Ms Grey said she was surprised by the toll the administrative side of death took on her family. It’s something she believes most people are similarly unprepared for.

“I don’t think we talk about this sort of thing. I think our culture is really quite wary and scared of death, dying, and grief,” she said.

It’s like a ‘snowball when somebody stops living’

After she found her husband unresponsive, Ms Grey immediately phoned triple-0 and proceeded to provide CPR until they arrived, but he had long since passed away and there was nothing they could do.

“The police who came to our house were there for several hours, including an extra team of investigators, and I had to have quite a thorough police interview,” she said.

“There were questions like ‘what was our last meal?’ And they were checking the air-conditioning vents and all sorts of different confronting things at the time.

“It’s just their standard procedure to rule out foul play, I guess.”


The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine conducts hundreds of autopsies every year. (ABC News: Jane Cowan)

Jeff had also passed away without a will, so Ms Grey had to navigate the legalities and administration, which included her late husband’s bank accounts, mortgage information, funeral expenses, electricity providers, subscriptions, mobile phone contracts, car registration, licences, memberships, taxes, and countless passwords.

“It’s absolutely like a snowball when somebody stops living, all these things continue on and just keep you bombarded with all of this,” she added.

Talking can make your death easier on those you love
If you want to make one of life’s most traumatic and painful events easier on the people you love, talk to them about it, Jan Fran writes.

“I managed to get the accounts closed that we’d shared together and a new one started. But a couple of days later I received in the mail for Jeff an envelope that said, ‘we’re sorry to see you go. Is there anything we can do to improve our service?’

“Rather than consider the circumstances and realise that would be a very upsetting letter to receive as the surviving spouse, and that was the kind of kerfuffle that seemed to happen over and over again, no matter who I was dealing with.”

Ms Grey now implores people to sort out their will as soon as possible.

“If people can have those difficult conversations ahead of time, it can help make what is already a very difficult and traumatic time a lot more straightforward,” she said.

“You know nothing about the process of when someone dies, let alone when they die at home and the coroner has to become involved.”

When the Coroner gets involved


Jodie Leditschke is the manager of the Forensic Technical Services and Coronial Admissions and Enquiries at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine. (ABC: Karla Arnall)

Most people are taken straight to a funeral home after they die. But in cases where the cause of death is unknown, someone like Dr Jodie Leditschke usually gets involved.

She runs the mortuary inside the Victorian Coroner’s office and is responsible for the initial stages of the investigation on a deceased person on behalf of the Coroner.

“People don’t realise that death can happen at any point in time. It doesn’t happen between two to five. No, it happens 24/7,” she said.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Dr Leditschke has more than 30 years’ experience in her field and has also looked after mass fatalities.

“Our office is responsible for taking that phone call from a police officer, from a doctor, from any person that wishes to report a death,” she said.

“When a person dies out in the home or anywhere and is reported to the Coroner — could be sudden, unexpectedly, could be due to an accident or could be due to an injury — a phone call comes to our office.”

The majority of deceased people the Coroner receives are elderly, and this is because it is often difficult to determine the cause of death, particularly if the elderly person had not recently seen a doctor. But Coroners also commonly see cases of suicide, drug overdoses and car accidents.


Mortician’s tools inside the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine. (ABC News: Jane Cowan)

Despite the morbid nature of her profession, Dr Leditschke said a rewarding part of her job is being able to give families closure.

“In some senses, perhaps if they’re feeling a little bit guilty that they could they have done anything different, you might be able to put their mind at ease that, [and say] well, no, this was a completely natural thing that happened and it’s not your fault. That would be very comforting for some people, I imagine,” she said.

Dr Leditschke also reiterates that she works in an environment that includes a large number of professional scientists, technicians and caring people.

“So that’s the first thing I’d want people to know is that that their loved one is being transferred into a very respectful, professional place,” she said.


New Jane Austen movie Emma is no Clueless, but it should please newbies and die-hards alike

United Kingdom

Cinema returns to the snappy sense and sumptuous sensibilities of Jane Austen with Emma, the latest adaptation of the author’s social satire concerning the exploits of everyone’s favourite literary matchmaker.

With Greta Gerwig’s widely acclaimed Little Women slicing and dicing another beloved 19th-century classic for a more contemporary perspective, you’d be forgiven for expecting a similar sort of fashionably radical reworking here.

But this new Emma. (which the studio spells with a full stop), from veteran photographer and music video director Autumn de Wilde, is a relatively faithful rendition of the text, albeit with a ravishing design palette and an otherworldly star in Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch).

With her enormous, wide-set eyes and CGI-immaculate complexion, the actress could be a 21st-century alien materialised into Georgian-Regency England, corkscrew ringlets beaming back findings to the mothership.

As carefree, romance-immune society girl Emma Woodhouse, Taylor-Joy brings an appropriate air of modern nonchalance to Austen’s fictional setting of Highbury, where she devotes her unvexed days to plotting the love lives of the less socially fortunate.


Mia Goth (right) says her pre-rehearsal costume fittings were instrumental in developing her portrayal of the young and eager-to-please Harriet Smith. (Supplied: Universal Pictures)

The actress’s single eye peels open like Jurassic Park’s T-Rex in the film’s opening frame, sizing up a world ready for match — if not mischief — making.

Famously “handsome, clever, and rich”, Emma splits her time between obsessing over the entanglements of those around her, bickering with her sister’s principled, slightly older brother-in-law Mr Knightley (the shaggy-haired Johnny Flynn), and humouring her doddering old father — an underused but always reliable Bill Nighy, whose paper-cutout limbs and patterned coats give him the impression of a man recently emerged from the wallpaper.


Bill Nighy plays Mr Woodhouse, Emma’s valetudinarian father. (Supplied: Universal Pictures)

Emma seems even more self-possessed here than the independent woman of Austen’s prose; note the emphatic period after the film’s title, severing family ties and asserting its protagonist alongside other, historically mononymous heroines like Cher and Madonna.

The arrival of klutzy, unsophisticated teenager Harriet Smith — Suspiria and High Life star Mia Goth, initially unrecognisable as the plain understudy — is a gift for our bored and rich meddler. At last, Emma has her very own plaything she can set up with the local vicar, Mr Elton (an earnest and amusing Josh O’Connor, from The Crown.)

As anyone familiar with Austen’s story, or its many filmed iterations knows, Emma’s best laid plans soon comically crumble, when Harriet’s intended reveals his true crush — and our matchmaker begins to experience a world from which she’d remained cleverly aloof.


British folk musician Johnny Flynn plays George Knightley, a neighbour and close friend to Emma. (Supplied: Universal Pictures)

Emma’s emotional awakening runs parallel to her deepening friendship with Mr Knightley, with whom she often critiques the frippery of society life. But even the world-weary, progressive Knightley has a thing or two to learn from his younger companion, whose inexperience also brings a fresh perspective — allowing her to size up a class system where women aren’t permitted agency, and marriage is the only hope for those without wealth.

As spins through Austen’s classic go, Emma is bright and lively, though it isn’t about to supplant Amy Heckerling’s vivacious, bratty Clueless (1995), a loose adaptation that remains the standard to which all filmed versions of the text must aspire.

First-time feature filmmaker de Wilde, whose work includes photoshoots and clips for the likes of Fiona Apple, Beck, and Florence and the Machine, directs with confidence and an instinct for the story, although the movie’s plot-ticking breeziness occasionally feels mechanical.

The screenplay, adapted from Austen by Booker-prize-winning New Zealand novelist Eleanor Catton, offers little in the way of surprise — not necessarily a bad thing with a book so admired.

Frivolous in all of the ways it should be, de Wilde’s film feels purposefully airy, sliding around on its character axes in ways that splinter and shift Emma’s worldview — the kind that seems so unshakeable in the mind of a 21-year-old.

The momentum is powered by brisk, funny performances, Christopher Blauvelt’s (Certain Women, The Bling Ring) spacious cinematography, and a soundtrack that mixes perky classical cues (Beethoven, Mozart) with folksy ballads — with Mr Knightley himself, musician Johnny Flynn, contributing some of the audio accompaniment. (Flynn has the considerably more unenviable task of playing David Bowie in the forthcoming movie, Stardust.)


Screenwriter Eleanor Catton says Emma and Harriet’s friendship is at the heart of the film and not treated as secondary to either character’s romantic relationships. (Supplied: Universal Pictures)

And of course, there are looks to water the eyes, courtesy of make-up and hair designer Marese Langan, and Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), whose work has garnished productions from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Thor (2011) to last year’s Mary, Queen of Scots.

Emma’s luminous, rapidly revolving ensembles and the pastel panoramas in the drawing rooms show off de Wilde’s eye for the aesthetic, giving the film the look of an animated fashion spread.

In fact, the director’s film and photographic work for fashion label Rodarte is all over Emma, a fitting influence on a story where characters are defined by their poses — both socially and physically within the frame.

(Rodarte founding sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s 2017 curio Woodshock, starring a stoned and delirious Kirsten Dunst, would make for a fascinating double feature.)

De Wilde also offers some distinctive touches. Hers must be the first Emma to introduce Mr Knightley via a full-body, rear nude shot, and then to linger on his shapely legs as they’re being fitted with undergarments — the sort of period drama primping traditionally reserved for the ladies. And the chattering flocks of Harriet’s schoolmates, who float through scenes in red capes and winged bonnets, evoke future visions of The Handmaid’s Tale.


Director Autumn de Wilde describes Jane Austen as a talented satirist of early 1800s small town life. (Supplied: Universal Pictures)

Meanwhile, there are more cakes being ravished than anything since perhaps Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006).

De Wilde plays off this pristine world to startling effect at one point, when an unexpected nosebleed ruptures the icy surface of manners. (Or whatever alien host that’s been occupying Taylor-Joy decides it’s time to escape.) The dash of red comes as a minor shock, particularly in a film where — as often happens in English period dramas — one can find their attention adrift in a sea of interchangeable white faces.

And though Emma’s supposedly wiser perspective still leads her to the not-so-smart destination of the marriage altar, de Wilde’s adaptation honours Austen’s progressive intent within the context of the period it was created.

It’s not perfect happiness, but it’s a pleasing diversion.

External Link:

Emma YouTube Trailer


Australia’s first mine to be powered by wind turbines to save millions

Kalgoorlie 6430

Most wind farms in Australia are constructed on the coast to take advantage of the strong sea breeze.

Key points:

  • Once completed, Agnew will be home to Australia’s largest hybrid renewable energy microgrid and the first mine site to use wind generation
  • The microgrid will have a total power generation capacity of 54 megawatts, including 19MW of gas and diesel, 18MW of wind, 4MW of solar and 13MW of battery storage
  • Three of five wind turbines have been installed to date and they are on track to be commissioned by the middle of the year

While the bush landscape surrounding the remote Agnew gold mine, 640 kilometres north-east of Perth, might seem an unlikely setting, wind is not in short supply.

Before construction of five new wind turbines began in January, sophisticated equipment — which shoots sonic waves into the air to measure wind speeds — collected data for 12 months.

EDL Energy’s Andy Devene, who is overseeing construction of the wind farm, said the turbines are designed to operate in regions like Agnew where the average wind speed is 7.5 metres per second.

Smaller turbines typically start generating power when the wind speed is around 12 metres per second.

“Wind is a very constant resource there so it’s the perfect place for turbines,” Mr Devene said.


EDL Energy’s project manager Andy Devene in front of a blade measuring 66 metres in length. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)

“The larger turbines were selected due to their effectiveness at lower wind speeds.”

Crane does the heavy lifting

The ABC watched from the sidelines this week as gigantic components for the wind turbines were lifted into position.

External Link:

The first rotor has been installed at a new wind farm in the northern Goldfields. Five new wind turbines are being assembled at the Agnew gold mine near Leinster as part of a $112 million renewable energy microgrid.

A 1,600-tonne crane, which was previously used in the oil and gas industry off WA’s Pilbara coast, was trucked in and assembled for the job.

It can take nearly two hours between lifts, but the painstakingly slow process is part of a safety-first approach.

Depending on weather conditions — as high winds make it unstable — each turbine can take four to five days to assemble.

The turbines comprise five tower sections weighing between 50 to 100 tonnes.

The bottom sections are heavier.

As the gigantic cylinders were lowered into place, three workers wearing hard-hats were visible at the top as they guided it into position.

The nacelle, generator, and blade assembly — the parts that sit on the top of the tower with the blades — weigh 420 tonnes.

“The wind turbines stand 110 metres to the hub and they extend up to 170 metres with the blades fully extended vertically, so quite a challenging logistical exercise getting them up with the crane,” Mr Devene said.


Workers prepare to guide the tower section into position. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)

“This is a 1,600-tonne crawler crane. It’s one of the largest, if not the largest in Australia.


Wind turbines being installed at the Agnew gold mine in WA’s northern Goldfields. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)

“We were lucky enough to get it for this project.”

The wind turbines were shipped from China late last year, and transporting the components to Agnew was no mean feat.

There are 15 blades, each measuring 66 metres in length, and special trucks were used to truck them 630 kilometres inland from Geraldton Port.

External Link:

Wind turbines Facebook post

Agnew goes off the grid

Commissioning of the first wind turbines is due to start in the next couple of weeks.

The owners of the Agnew mine, which has been running since the 1980s and was prone to blackouts, expect the decision to take the mine off the grid will likely save millions of dollars a year in lost production.

Agnew mine manager Jason Sander said up to 60 per cent of Agnew’s electricity will be sourced from renewables once the microgrid is complete.

“It has the potential to be 50 or 60 per cent — that’s what we believe it will be — but it may actually be up to 100 per cent depending on ideal weather conditions,” Mr Sander said.

“I’m sure more and more mining companies will embrace this sort of technology in the future.”


EDL Energy’s Andy Devene (left) and Agnew mine manager Jason Sander at the solar farm which has more than 10,000 solar panels. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)

Mining industry ‘turns green’

The Federal Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency is funding $13.5 million of the $112 million project at Agnew.

External Link:

Saracen Facebook post

Already, five large solar farms are running at major WA mines and more are planned, indicating the mining industry is embracing a greener future.

Mining giant Oz Minerals has also announced plans for a $275 million renewable power station at a proposed nickel-copper mine near the WA, South Australian, and Northern Territory borders.

The $995 million West Musgrave project, 500 kilometres west of Uluru, has an estimated mine life of 25 years and has been awarded “lead agency status” by the WA Government to fast-track approvals.

The proposed 50-megawatt station, comprising a mix of wind, solar, and diesel power supported by a battery installation, means renewables would potentially provide up to 80 per cent of the mine’s electricity needs.

OZ Minerals CEO Andrew Cole said the plan at this stage is to outsource the power plant to a third party and purchase electricity back over the life of the mine.

“We are pleased the study has identified a means for us to reduce the project’s carbon footprint significantly and overcome the historical challenge of affordable power for West Musgrave,” he said.

“We believe, supported by the views of potential renewable energy suppliers, that 70 to 80 per cent of the power needs for West Musgrave can be supplied by renewable sources, supplemented by battery storage and diesel, or trucked gas fired generation.”

Oz Minerals said a final investment decision is due next year and the company hopes to be in production by 2024.


Defence Minister warns France over local work on $80b subs program


Relations between the Federal Government and the French company designing Australia’s future submarines have hit a new low, with the Defence Minister declaring she will hold the group to account on its local industry commitments.

Key points:

  • The chief executive of Naval Group questioned the capability of Australian suppliers in an interview with The Australian
  • Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the Government would “hold Naval Group to account for the commitments they signed on for”
  • Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price has previously said there is no specific percentage requirement of Australian industry content included in the contract

The Minister’s blistering attack followed comments from France-based Naval Group questioning the capability of local suppliers, and suggestions Australian businesses may not get half of the value of contracts under the $80 billion program.

Naval Group Australia chief executive John Davis told The Australian newspaper on Thursday that the company “didn’t know the Australian market before we joined the program”.

“Now we have a much deeper insight, and we recognise there is a lot more work to be done than we anticipated,” he said.

A furious Defence Minister Linda Reynolds expressed her disappointment at the comments and said she would discuss the Government’s expectation of strong Australian industry involvement when she met her French counterpart in Europe on Friday.

“I am disappointed by the comments attributed to Naval Group Australia on the Future Submarine Program as they do not reflect the strong collaboration between Naval Group and Australian industry on this program of national significance,” Senator Reynolds said in a statement.

“Our Government will hold Naval Group to account for the commitments they signed on for to work with Australia’s world-leading defence and shipbuilding industry.”


In 2016, Naval Group (then known as DCNS) beat rival bids from Germany and Japan. (ABPH Joanne Edwards)

The Defence Minister is scheduled to meet her French counterpart Florence Parly tomorrow during the Munich Security Conference, where she says she will “continue discussions on this ongoing commitment”.

Senator Reynolds said “the maximisation of Australian industry involvement through all phases of the submarine program” was outlined in the Government’s Strategic Partnering Agreement with Naval Group, signed last year.

Australia’s submarine requirements explained With the winning bidder for Australia’s next fleet of submarines announced, attention turns to how it will meet Australia’s high-endurance requirements.

Under earlier questioning in Parliament, Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price said there was no specific percentage requirement of Australian industry content in the contract with the French company.

“The actual proportion of Australian content on the submarines will be determined as the design of the submarine is completed,” Ms Price told Parliament.

In 2016, Naval Group (then known as DCNS) beat rival bids from Germany and Japan to build 12 new submarines for the Royal Australian Navy over the next three decades.

Last year the ABC revealed Australia would be forced to make multi-million-dollar compensation payments to France if the submarine program was terminated.


Tongan jersey waiting for Folau if he cuts out ‘crazy posts’, Fifita says


Israel Folau will have a Tongan jersey waiting for him if he restrains himself from “crazy” social media posts and returns to peak form, according to another controversial rugby league star, Andrew Fifita.

Key points:

  • Israel Folau is expected to return to the rugby league field with French club Catalans Dragons this weekend
  • Andrew Fifita said he would welcome Folau into the Tongan fold if he stopped the “crazy” social media posts that got him sacked by Rugby Australia
  • Folau has represented Australia in both rugby codes, but his parents are Tongan

Folau is preparing to return to the 13-man code with French club Catalans Dragons in the Super League on Sunday morning (AEDT).

A lack of form and fitness have prevented the former Wallaby, who was famously sacked by Rugby Australia (RA) for offensive social media posts, from making his anticipated debut with the Dragons so far this season.

His arrival was not warmly received by stakeholders in the Super League, which is mostly based in England, but the 30-year-old is expected to step onto the park this weekend against Castleford, marking his first competitive game since his RA axing last May.

The irony of the Folau ‘settlement’
The Israel Folau fiasco has sucked oxygen and money from rugby at a time it can ill afford it, following years of disasters for the sport, writes Mary Gearin.

Should his form hold, it could result in him playing for Tonga down the track.

Coach Kristian Woolf has already left the door open for Folau to be selected in their next Test, pencilled in for June later this year, and Fifita, who has been a key plank in Tonga’s rise as a rugby league powerhouse in recent years, shared the sentiment.

“I welcome anyone. Everyone needs to be forgiven,” he said.

“[But he] can’t come out with those crazy posts again.

“I’m all for God as well, but in saying that, everyone in life deserves to be happy.

“When we’re talking about gays and lesbians, I got one who’s close to me and my sisters. I got family who are also gay and they’ve got the right to be happy.”


Andrew Fifita’s (left) decision to play for Tonga rather than Australia has been key to their emergence as a rugby league powerhouse. (AAP: David Rowland)

There was speculation Folau could have returned for Tonga last year during the bitter war between the Tonga National Rugby League and its players.

But the board was eventually overruled by the world governing body, resulting in a Tongan Invitational team upsetting Australia in November.

“There were a few little loopholes they did to get him available, but I’m not going to go into depth there,” Fifita said.

“For him to come straight into a team where he hasn’t played league in over 10 years, it’s a bit extreme.

“But if he has a really good year, the international jersey would be waiting for him.”

The Minto-born Folau played eight Tests for the Kangaroos during his last stint in rugby league, from 2007 to 2010, but both his parents are Tongan.



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