AMP slammed for milking fees from customer compensation


Former AMP customers and consumer rights groups have been outraged by the troubled wealth manager’s latest tactic to delay returning money it stole in the fees-for-no-service scandal.

Key points:

  • AMP wrote to former clients informing them their refunded fees had been placed in new AMP superannuation accounts
  • Super Consumers Australia says the AMP Eligible Rollover Fund has underperformed comparable funds
  • The fund does not charge entry and exit fees but does have administration and investment fees

The banking royal commission found charging fees for no service was “taking money for nothing” and AMP is now putting that money into new accounts and charging new fees.

AMP has been forced to refund hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and charges it took from clients following scandalous revelations at the royal commission.

Late last year, AMP started to contact former clients to alert them AMP owed them the money it took in fees while providing no service.

However, instead of asking customers where they would like the money sent, AMP opened a new super account in their name.

“As your account with us is closed and we can’t pay super benefits directly to you, we’ve paid this amount into a new AMP Eligible Rollover Fund [ERF] account that was opened in your name,” it told them.

AMP move slammed as ‘simply unbelievable’

The strategy of opening new accounts has shocked regulatory and corporate governance academic Andy Schmulow, who lectures at the University of Wollongong and is currently an adviser to the World Bank on market conduct rules.

“It is simply unbelievable that after the horror show of the royal commission, AMP has learned nothing, it hasn’t changed, won’t change and demonstrates that the company no longer has the right to exist,” Dr Schmulow said.


AMP wrote to former clients informing them a new account had been opened without their prior knowledge. (ABC News)

An independent advocacy centre for superannuation customers criticised AMP’s move as a shameless grab for new accounts that could be sapped of fees.

“This is absurd — people left the fund because it was ripping them off, they’re now being forced to re-join to get their money back,” Xavier O’Halloran from Super Consumers Australia said.

“To make matters worse, they are being thrown into an AMP fund which has massively underperformed comparable funds over the longer term.”

Banks repay fees for work not done
The big banks and AMP repay fees for financial advice never received, but where’s the penalty? asks Stephen Letts.

The AMP ERF has performed poorly, returning just 2.6 per cent over the past decade, significantly underperforming other ERFs in the market, which have a median return of 4.6 per cent according to APRA data.

Clients who have had money taken from them by AMP have now had the money they are owed put in the second worst-performing fund in the category.

“The fund’s rate of return of 1.1 per cent over the last year was below inflation and had that money gone directly into a balanced MySuper account, they would have earned 6.89 per cent,” Mr O’Halloran said.

Refunded money to be charged fees

AMP’s letter states there are “no exit or entry fees” but says nothing about the fees charged while the account is open, which are quite steep.

Compensation, crackdowns and overhauls
Commissioner Kenneth Hayne’s final report offers 76 recommendations, all of which the Federal Government and Labor say they will support and implement. Find out more here.

Fees start at 2.36 per cent for “administration” and there is another 0.69 per cent investment fee.

These are far heftier than the fees charged by some of Australia’s top-performing investment funds, which return in excess of 20 per cent,” Mr O’Halloran said.

“For people with low balances, this looks like a naked attempt by AMP to claw back its ill-gotten gains.”

AMP’s letter states in bold type that no action is required: “You don’t need to do anything — the payment has already been made.”

However, those payments were made to new accounts customers did not know anything about.

Former client furious money back with AMP

Two months after the first letters were issued, AMP sent welcome packs to clients, including information about the ongoing fees and a form to fill in to move the money and close the new account.

Four Corners: ‘I was a puppet’
A former planner says financial services giant AMP was a “dictatorship”, he was pressured to sell in-house products.

One former client of AMP told the ABC they were furious AMP had set them up with an account without their consent and lumped them with the hassle of now applying to get their money out of the account and closing it.

“This is bullshit,” the former client said.

Mr O’Halloran said: “People would have been much better off being reunited with the money AMP stole from them by having it put into their existing super accounts.”

Dr Schmulow highlighted that AMP’s financial success rested on it opening new accounts and keeping funds within the institution.

“If there was anybody at AMP that said opening new accounts with the stolen money is a clever strategy of keeping funds under management, they should have been sacked. This is so bad,” he said.

“They obviously have these former clients’ details — addresses, emails, phones. It’s clear they put no effort into actually trying to give people their money back.”

While regulator ASIC has published detailed instructions on how it expects firms to review files and assess whether compensation or remediation is warranted, it does not have the power to tell companies how to do it, just that it should be in a “timely manner”.

In March last year, ASIC commissioner Danielle Press criticised banks, including AMP, for delays in reimbursing customers.

AMP responded to the ABC’s questions about why it didn’t first contact former clients before setting up new accounts on their behalf by saying the practice was legal.

It declined to say how many new accounts had been set up, or why information about moving the money into another super account wasn’t included in earlier correspondence.

“Remediating customers as quickly as possible is our priority — for members without a current AMP super account, payments were made through an eligible rollover fund (ERF), which was the fastest way to return money to clients and meets the legal requirement for the money to remain within superannuation,” an AMP spokesman said.


‘No way’ of stopping coronavirus from entering Australia, virus has no vaccine


Australia is ramping up airport screening of passengers arriving from China, after authorities in that country confirmed that a new strain of coronavirus has been passed from person to person, sparking fresh fears of a global epidemic.

Key points:

  • A Brisbane man who recently returned from Wuhan is being tested for the virus
  • The total number of worldwide cases of the virus is 222
  • There is no vaccine for the new virus

China’s National Health Commission said the virus, which causes pneumonia, had spread to new cities and that some medical staff had been infected by patients, the country’s official Xinhua news agency said.

What is a coronavirus?
Here’s what we know about the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, and how worried you should be.

On Tuesday morning, it was confirmed a man was in isolation in his Brisbane home as Queensland Health authorities ran tests on whether he was carrying the new strain.

The outbreak, which began in the central city of Wuhan, has now spread to other cities including the capital Beijing and Shanghai. Five new cases were confirmed in Beijing and 14 more in Guangdong province. A new case was reported in Shanghai.

The number of cases has tripled to more than 220, and three people are known to have died.

Cases have been reported in Thailand, South Korea and Japan, all involving people who had visited Wuhan.

Today Australia’s chief medical officer said the risk to Australia was low but warned that the disease had an incubation period of about a week, during which time symptoms would not be apparent.

He said stricter screening measures would apply particularly to the three flights a week that arrived in Sydney from Wuhan.

Those flights will now be met by border security and biosecurity staff as well as New South Wales Health officials.

Video: A video circulating on Chinese social media apparently shows medics checking temperatures of passengers on a flight from Wuhan to Macau

(ABC News)

“We’re doing some careful modelling to see if there are any other flights from China that have a high proportion of Wuhan-origin passengers, and we may consider expanding that too,” he said.

“But we have to do the analysis to find out where they come from, because there are apparently 160 flights from China a week.”

There is no vaccine for the new virus, and China’s President Xi Jinping said curbing the outbreak and saving lives was now the top priority.

“People’s lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed,” he was quoted as saying by state television.

Adding to the difficulties of containing the virus, hundreds of millions of Chinese people will be travelling domestically and abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday that starts this week.

Authorities around the globe, including in the United States and many Asian countries, have also stepped up screening of travellers from Wuhan.


Medical staff at Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, where patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated. (Reuters)

In a series of tweets, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said chief medical officer Brendan Murphy briefed him on the coronavirus on Tuesday.

He said precautions were being taken to protect Australians, adding: “We will be raising the level of our travel advice for Wuhan City to level 2 — exercise a high degree of caution. I urge all Australians travelling to check the DFAT Smart Traveller website for specific updates.”

He said state medical workers had initiated measures to mitigate the risk of infectious people entering the country.

“We are well prepared to respond to this situation and we will continue to monitor and take action where necessary,” he added.

Specialist in infectious disease epidemics and Wellcome Trust global health charity director, Sir Jeremy Farrar, said there was a need to be vigilant.

“Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast-approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high,” he said.

“There is more to come from this outbreak.”

The virus belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002-03 outbreak that also started in China.

Its symptoms include fever and difficulty in breathing, which are similar to many other respiratory diseases and pose complications for screening efforts.


Pedestrians wear protective masks as they walk through a shopping district in Tokyo after the first case of pneumonia detected in Japan. (AP: Eugene Hoshiko)

Virus spreads beyond China’s borders

Overnight South Korea confirmed its first case, a 35-year-old Chinese national who had travelled from Wuhan, the fourth patient reported outside China.

Thailand has reported two confirmed cases of the virus, both of whom were Chinese tourists from Wuhan.

Japan also confirmed one case of a Japanese citizen who visited Wuhan.

A report by London Imperial College’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis estimated that by January 12 there were 1,723 cases in Wuhan City with onset of related symptoms. Chinese health authorities have not commented directly on the report.

“This outbreak is extremely concerning. Uncertainty and gaps remain, but it is now clear that there is person-to-person transmission,” Sir Jeremy said.

The World Health Organisation said on Monday that “an animal source” appeared most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak and that some “limited human-to-human transmission” occurred between close contacts.


A computer artwork of a coronavirus, named after the corona, or crown, of surface proteins (outer dots) that are used to penetrate a host cell. (Science Photo Library: PASIEKA)

Shares in pharmaceutical firms and mask makers in China surged because of the outbreak.

“Who knows how many people who have been to Wuhan may be unaware that they have already been infected?,” said one commentator on Chinese social media platform Weibo

Many of the initial cases of the coronavirus were linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, which has been closed as authorities investigate.

The state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial the Government needed to disclose all information and not repeat the mistakes made with SARS.

Chinese officials covered up the SARS outbreak for weeks before a growing death toll and rumours forced them to reveal the epidemic.

“We have made great strides in medicine, social affairs management and public opinion since 2003,” the editorial said.

“Concealment would be a serious blow to the government’s credibility and might trigger greater social panic.”


A person wearing a white biohazard suit at the hospital treating patients in Wuhan.



Parents came from UK to meet daughter’s partner, but argument over loud music ended in his death

Perth 6000

A “professional, educated” 41-year-old woman fatally stabbed her partner in front of her parents — who had come to Perth to meet him — after he “exploded” in “an extreme and inexplicable psychotic rage”, the WA Supreme Court has been told.

Key points:

  • Tracey Bridgewater’s UK-based parents were meeting her partner of two years
  • They got into an argument with Nicholas Josephs about loud music he was playing
  • Mr Josephs allegedly attacked her parents and Ms Bridgewater fatally stabbed him

Tracey Elizabeth Diane Bridgewater, 41, is on trial accused of unlawfully killing Nicholas Josephs, 44, at their Hamilton Hill home in Perth’s southern suburbs in September 2018.

The court has been told the couple had been in a relationship for about two years. Her parents had come to Perth from the United Kingdom in September 2018 to celebrate Ms Bridgewater’s birthday and to meet Mr Josephs for the first time.

On Sunday September 23, 2018, the day after Ms Bridgewater’s birthday party, the four of them went to a local bar before returning home, where an argument developed about Mr Joseph playing music too loud.

State prosecutor James Mactaggart told the court a violent scuffle broke out in which Ms Bridgewater’s father had his eye socket fractured and her mother was pulled to the ground and possibly kicked.

Mr Mactaggart said it was alleged Ms Bridgewater then “massively escalated what was taking place”.

“The accused went to the kitchen sink and retrieved a large black-handled knife … with a very sharp blade,” Mr MacTaggart said.

“The accused proceeded to fatally stab Mr Josephs … she deliberately inflicted a wound that penetrated his chest … causing his death.”

Father ‘punched repeatedly until unconscious’

In his opening statement to the court, Ms Bridgewater’s barrister, Jonathan Davies, said his client maintained she acted lawfully in defence of herself and her parents.

Mr Davies said Ms Bridgewater and her parents were that night “confronted with a level of extreme, inexplicable, psychotic rage, the likes of which they had never experienced”.

He said after being asked to turn down the music, Mr Josephs “went out of his tree and exploded into a rage”.


Nicholas Josephs was stabbed to death by his girlfriend who argued she was acting in self defence. (Supplied)

Mr Davies said Ms Bridgewater was lifted off the ground and slammed into a wall by Mr Josephs, who then “turned his anger” to her father, pinning him down and repeatedly punching and headbutting him until he lost consciousness.

Mr Davies said Mr Bridgewater had a bad heart and both his client and her mother were concerned he was going to have a heart attack.

But he said when Ms Bridgewater’s mother tried to intervene, she was grabbed by the hair and “violently” thrown to the ground.

He also claimed Mr Josephs was yelling threats such as, “I am going to kill you all and kill the dogs”.

Mr Davies said when Ms Bridgewater believed Mr Josephs was not going to stop, she picked a knife up from the bench and used it as a weapon and to try to deter him from further attacks.

“She held the knife in front her [and] Mr Josephs lunged towards her,” Mr Davies said.

“He looked like a crazy man, she feared for her life.

“She took steps forward, at the same time as he lunged and the blade penetrated his chest.”

Mr Davies said the stabbing was the culmination of a “troubled relationship” in which Mr Josephs had been “periodically and irrationally violent” to Ms Bridgewater.

He claimed at times Mr Josephs was “irrationally jealous, controlling and obsessive” towards his client, and she had the year before gone to a doctor to seek help for his “anger and jealousy issues”.

The court was told in 2017 she had called police after one of his “outbursts” and he was ordered to leave their home for 72 hours, but he returned and she had to call police again.

‘It was self defence’, operator told

The court earlier heard Ms Bridgewater immediately called triple zero after the stabbing and when first asked what happened she replied, “I’ve hit [him] with a knife”.

She was asked where and said, “I’m not sure, he’s bleeding a lot”. But when she was asked again, she said. “In his chest”.


Tracey Bridgewater claims she acted in self defence. (ABC News)

Mr Mactaggart said when police and ambulance officers arrived Ms Bridgewater told them, “I stabbed him” and when advised she was under arrest she added, “but it was self defence”.

Mr MacTaggart said it was the state’s case Ms Bridgewater had no lawful justification nor excuse for stabbing Mr Josephs.

He said she had taken, “the drastic and unnecessary step of going to the kitchen and retrieving a large knife”.

“Her actions drastically escalated an already tense situation … to a new and deadly level.”

The trial continues.


Phoenix praises Joker predecessor Ledger, Brad and Jen have a cuddle at the SAG Awards

United States

With their proximity to the Oscars — only three weeks away — the Screen Actor’s Guild awards are closely watched as an Academy Awards harbinger.

Key points:

  • South Korean dark comedy Parasite is quickly accruing Oscars hype, winning the SAG Awards’ top honour
  • Brad Pitt watched Jennifer Aniston’s acceptance speech backstage before they warmly congratulated each other
  • Fleabag, the Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Joaquin Phoenix and Laura Dern also picked up awards

Held on Monday morning (Australian time) at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, the awards honour both film and TV and are voted on by members of the main actor’s union.

The ceremony made history, with South Korean film Parasite becoming the first foreign language film to win the SAG Awards’ top honour — only adding to growing Oscar buzz for the dark comedy.

In case you were not counting down the sleeps to the Oscars, this is your reminder that the ceremony will be broadcast from 11:00am AEST on February 10.

We will have full coverage of the red carpet, the ceremony and what it all means once all the gongs have been handed out.

But — for better or worse — the moment everyone will be talking about tomorrow was the reunion of former husband and wife Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston backstage.

If you can get over that, here’s a roundup of our top five takeaways from the evening.

The Parasite cast received a two-minute standing ovation

Parasite has officially infected this year’s award season.

Director Bong Joon Ho’s film won the Outstanding Performance by a Cast gong over starrier productions like Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and The Irishman.

The audience greeted the victory for Parasite with a standing ovation.

External Link:

@thr tweet: What a moment. The cast of #Parasite get a standing ovation at the #SAGAwards as they present their film in the best ensemble cast category

The win sets the dark comedy up as a legitimate best-picture contender to the frontrunner 1917 at next month’s Academy Awards.

But it’s not a given: for the last two years, the SAG ensemble winners — Black Panther in 2019 and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in 2018 — has not gone on to win best picture at the Oscars.

This year’s Oscars front-runner, 1917, more acclaimed for its technical acumen, wasn’t nominated for the SAG ensemble award.

External Link:

@ScottFeinberg tweet: PARASITE wins — the first non-English-language film ever to win the best ensemble SAG Award — and in a better position than ever to become the first non-English-language film ever to win the best picture Oscar! The little engine that could…

In fact, the Producers Guild Awards (PGAs) is generally more predictive than the SAG awards.

In 21 of the last 30 years, the PGA winner has lined up with the eventual best picture winner.

The PGAs, which were held on Sunday Australian time, chose 1917 as its top film.

Brad and Jen reunited backstage, breaking the internet

One reunion trumped all others at the SAG Awards, where both Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston took home awards and celebrated each other’s wins.

Pitt is headed toward his first acting Academy Award for his supporting performance in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, and he added to his front-runner status with a win from the actors’ guild.

External Link:

@sagaftrafound tweet: Here's #BradPitt & #JenniferAniston congratulating each other backstage at #SAGawards. What a moment! Both actors were @SAGawards recipients tonight.

Along the way, his speeches have been full of one-liners and he didn’t disappoint on Sunday night.

Pitt, who said he was nursing a flu, looked down at his award and said, “I’ve got to add this to my Tinder profile.”

“Let’s be honest, it was a difficult part,” he said.

“A guy who gets high, takes his shirt off and doesn’t get on with his wife.

“It was a big stretch.”

External Link:

@JohnCohen1 tweet: A Brad Pitt / Jennifer Aniston story in two photos:

The audience laughed and clapped, including — as the cameras captured — Aniston, his ex-wife.

Aniston later won an award of her own for best female actor in a drama series for the Apple TV Plus show The Morning Show.

Backstage, Pitt watched Aniston’s acceptance speech.

After she got off stage, they warmly congratulated each other on their first individual SAG Awards — promptly breaking the internet.

External Link:

@jduboff tweet: the entire staff of Us Weekly just got a text that was like, “GET TO THE OFFICE NOW”

Joaquin Phoenix praised his Joker predecessor, Heath Ledger

Along with Pitt, all the Oscar favourites kept their momentum, including wins for Renee Zellweger (Judy), Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) and Laura Dern (Marriage Story).

As expected, Phoenix took best performance by a male actor.

After individually praising each fellow nominee, Phoenix concluded with a nod to his Joker predecessor.

“I’m standing here on the shoulders of my favourite actor, Heath Ledger,” said Phoenix.

Dern also further established herself as the best supporting actress favourite with a win from the actors’ guild.

On her way to the stage, she hugged her father, Bruce Dern (part of the Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood ensemble).

External Link:

@tntdrama tweet: Joaquin Phoenix with a great acceptance speech honoring his fellow nominees

Awkward! A Marvelous Mrs Maisel cast member admitted she voted for competitor Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge continued her awards sweep for Fleabag, a winner at the Emmys and the Golden Globes.

Waller-Bridge added a SAG win for best female actor in a comedy series and took a moment to reflect on the show’s parade of accolades.

“This whole thing really has been a dream, and if I wake up tomorrow and discover it was just that, then thank you,” said Waller-Bridge.

“It’s been the most beautiful dream.”

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel also continued its streak, winning best comedy series ensemble for the second straight year, along with Tony Shalhoub taking home the statue for best male actor in a comedy series.

But while accepting the award for outstanding performance by an ensemble, the show’s shocked Alex Borstein said she had voted for Fleabag.

“I voted for Fleabag! This is really weird,” she said.

“This makes no sense, Fleabag is brilliant.”

External Link:

@birdiedraper_ tweet: alex borstein: i voted for fleabag, this is really weird, this makes no sense (…) honestly, this makes no sense. fleabag is brilliant, you guys are brilliant. i didn't vote for rachel, i didn't vote for tony… rachel brosnahan: i forgot to vote.

And of course, an awards show couldn’t go by without a reference to Trump

Robert De Niro was given the guild’s lifetime achievement award, an honour presented by Leonardo DiCaprio who, like De Niro, is a frequent leading man for Martin Scorsese.

The two co-star in Scorsese’s upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon.

A raucous standing ovation greeted the 76-year-old actor.

De Niro, a fiery critic of Donald Trump, referenced the President in his remarks.

“There’s right and there’s wrong,” he said.

“And there’s common sense and there’s abuse of power.

“As a citizen, I have as much right as anybody — an actor, an athlete, anybody else — to voice my opinion.

“And if I have a bigger voice because of my situation, I’m going to use it whenever I see a blatant abuse of power.”



Roger Federer loses only seven games in Australian Open first-round triumph

Melbourne 3000

The domination of the ‘big three’ in men’s tennis may take some stopping at this year’s Australian Open, as Roger Federer showed his class with a comfortable first-round win on Rod Laver Arena.

Key points:

  • Roger Federer only lost seven games in his first-round victory over Steve Johnson
  • Federer has won six Australian Open titles, his most recent tournament wins coming in 2017 and 2018
  • He has 20 major singles titles, one ahead of long-time rival Rafael Nadal

Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have won 13 of the last 14 men’s singles titles at Melbourne Park and the form of the Swiss in his opening-round clash with Steve Johnson suggested that run could continue for another year.

He triumphed 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 against the American journeyman, his momentum halted only by a brief rain delay that forced the closure of the roof on the centre court.

Federer was satisfied to open his account in Melbourne with a straight-sets result, having avoided a tricky first match.

“I think for me, really, the first three rounds are [the] key to get going,” he said in his post-match media conference.

“To get used to the pressure, stay calm, [know] when to save breakpoint, or [on] 30-30 points or whatever it may be, or just to stay calm if you’re down a set and a break or whatever it might be.

“This is sort of the unknown that can be a little bit scary at times. But today there was none of that because I broke early each set and was able to get on a roll, play freely after that.

“And also [I] felt I had margin. I felt like I had the game under control.”

Federer is a six-time winner at Melbourne Park, with his tally including back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2019, but he was sensationally dumped from last year’s tournament in the fourth round by young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas.

It was a defeat that stung Federer, with Melbourne having proven to be such a happy hunting ground, and he signalled his intent to capture a seventh crown with a clinical display against Johnson.

The third seed secured a break of serve in just the second game and despite having to cool his heels when the roof was closed, he settled quickly once play resumed to close out the first set in 27 minutes.

External Link:

@Australian Open tweet: "The Fed Express is in full flight"

The second and third sets were one-way traffic, with Federer’s ground strokes finding their mark, while he was also impressive on serve with 11 aces for the match and only a single double fault to his name.

Federer has 20 major singles titles in his keeping, the most wins by a male player, but a Nadal tournament victory in Melbourne will see the Spaniard draw level with his long-time rival.

Top seed Nadal plays Bolivian Hugo Dellien in his opening match tomorrow, while defending champion Djokovic begins his campaign tonight against German Jan-Lennard Struff.

Grigor Dimitrov, a semi-finalist in Melbourne in 2017, needed four sets to beat Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero to progress to the second round.

The 18th seed dropped the first set, but recovered to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-4 under the roof on Melbourne Arena.

It was a mixed opening to the tournament for several of the other men’s seeds, with rising Italian star Matteo Berrettini making light work of local wildcard Andrew Harris, while Canadian Denis Shapovalov had a surprise first-round exit.

The eighth-seeded Berrettini dispensed of Melburnian Harris 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 and Shapovalov, the 13th seed in Melbourne, fell in four sets to the Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 6-3, 6-7 (7-9), 6-1, 7-6 (7-3).

Harris’s countryman, John-Patrick Smith, was also a first-round casualty, losing to Argentina’s 22nd seed, Guido Pella, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

Borna Coric, seeded 25th, made his way out of the tournament following a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 defeat to former top-20 player Sam Querrey of the US.


Why this photo has sent the Chinese internet into a frenzy


As it would turn out, driving your Mercedes-Benz into an off-limits area of one of Beijing’s most iconic locations — for the sake of taking a selfie — is a great way to make a lot of people very angry.

Key points:

  • Cars are banned from the area in order to help preserve the site
  • Even motorcades for visiting heads of state are not permitted to drive in
  • Managers for the UNESCO World Heritage Site say they are “deeply distressed”

One woman in China found this out the hard way after snapping a photo of herself and a friend posing in front of an SUV in the Forbidden City, China’s 600-year-old former imperial palace in the heart of Beijing, on a day when it is usually closed to the public.

Cars have been banned from that particular area of the popular tourist location, which houses the Palace Museum, since 2013 to “show respect for ancient Chinese culture”, according to the state-owned China Daily newspaper.

“As it’s closed on Monday, we avoided the crowds and enjoyed the palace,” one of the women in the photo, Lu Xiaobao, wrote on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

It is not known if the woman’s real name is Lu Xiaobao, or if that was just an online nickname.

The online backlash to the photos was swift — one key issue was the age and value of the paved bricks at the site, some of which date back to the 18th century, and which already suffer wear and tear from foot traffic alone.


The Forbidden City, which houses the Palace Museum, is a popular tourism destination. (ABC News: Karen Barlow)

Staff at the Forbidden City ride bikes to work in order to mitigate damage to the paved bricks; even motorcades for visiting heads of state are not allowed to drive in.

However other Chinese social media users questioned whether the women had special connections, considering they were able to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site on a day when it is usually closed.

‘Flaunt your wealth challenge’ Photos of people lying face down on the ground — surrounded by luxury bags, shoes, and sometimes wads of cash — have gone viral on Chinese social media.

“It wasn’t a big deal that she drove her Benz on the bricks with 600 years history or showing off her wealth, it is a matter that the closed day is a VIP day for people with privilege,” one Weibo user wrote.

“Such privilege is China’s characteristic style, it is more disturbing when you can openly see it.”

The People’s Daily newspaper also chimed in, questioning in an editorial why certain people were being given private access to the Palace Museum.

“Why are guests still able to enter on a closing day? Why were people allowed to drive in? Is this a loophole in management or is this the flaunting of privilege,” the paper wrote.

“In front of the rules, everyone is equal. No one should be entitled to use their privilege.”

After the post began to go viral on social media, Ms Lu responded saying she had been given permission to drive in the area, China Daily reported.


Managers for the Palace Museum apologised after the incident became public. (AP: Mark Schiefelbein)

“I was just there for an exhibition while the Forbidden City was closed for public,” she wrote.

“It is legal to take a picture, isn’t it?”

The Palace Museum apologised for the situation in a post on Weibo, saying it would implement “strict management” to avoid any similar incidents in the future.

“The Palace Museum is deeply distressed and sincerely apologises to the public,” the post said.



Residual bushfire ash blackens soles, but water catchments stay clean

Adelaide 5000

If you’re in Adelaide and wondering why the soles of your feet are black, then blame the bushfires for covering your floorboards with a residual layer of ash.

Key points:

  • There is residual bushfire ash in Adelaide households and rainwater tanks
  • SA Water is working to prevent contamination of catchments
  • The loss of vegetation may lead to an increased risk of dust storms

The ash has also landed in metropolitan rainwater tanks, but, according to SA Water, there is little to be concerned about.

“If the water is discoloured or has a funny taste, it should still be OK to drink but it might be a bit unpleasant,” said SA Water Asset operations and delivery general manager, Mark Gobbie.

“SA Health are advising to look at getting that tank cleaned out and the roof cleaned out and a fresh source of water put into the rainwater tank.”

Environmental Protection Authority science and information director, Keith Baldry, said residual ash in metropolitan areas outside the bushfire grounds posed little risk for people.

“Other than dirty floorboards, there wouldn’t be any issues in regards to poor air quality from that,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s any more issues with ash than there is with any other general pollution in the air.

“There’s nothing particular about the ash that presents a hazard in comparison to other things but, obviously, if you’re going to be drinking from your rainwater tank, the advice from SA Health is that you manage it correctly and test the water.”

Those living on the bushfire grounds, however, did have “genuine issues” with large amounts of ash potentially making it into their water catchments.


Cleared vegetation due to bushfires can result in dust storms. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Silt traps considered for catchments

Mr Gobbie said parts of the Adelaide Hills and Middle River (Kangaroo Island) catchments had been impacted by the bushfires that have ravaged both regions since December.

“We’ve been looking at various ways of managing that situation going forward, like silt traps, hay bales, and the regeneration of growth within the catchment,” he said.

“Pretty much all of the Middle River [reservoir] catchment was impacted by the fire and we have a team of people who’ve been over there for the past couple of weeks looking at what steps we can put in place.

“We’ve also got the treatment plant at Middle River up and running again, and that gives us another source to be able to manage any of those water quality issues that we may experience over the next few months.”

Parts of the Adelaide Hills received up to 40 millimetres of rainfall in the 24 hours to 9:00am, but Mr Gobbie said SA Water had no concerns about contaminated run-off making it into its reservoirs.

“The rain we’ve had over the past 24 hours, we think, will be more of a help than a hindrance,” he said.

“It it has been fairly steady and we think that will actually help with revegetation and regrowth in the catchments.”


Kangaroo Creek Dam water supplies have not been negatively affected by the bushfires. (Supplied: SA Water)

He said the ash itself was not a health concern, but that the “organics” that came with it — both in the run-off and the algal growths that can be prompted by ash contamination — posed some concern.

Mr Gobbie said there was flexibility in the way SA Water provides water to customers in the Adelaide Hills.

“We need to wait for the catchments to revegetate, and [we] expect that to start to happen over the autumn and winter period,” he said.

“So we’ll have some pretty active management of the impacted catchments over the next six to eight months.”

Loss of vegetation to raise dust

Mr Baldry said the EPA did have some concerns about dust rising due to vegetation loss in areas subject to fire.

“You can potentially get more dust storms and poor air quality,” he said.

“Those people in vulnerable groups, particularly those with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, should try and minimise their exposure to poor air quality by staying indoors.

“And for the rest of the population, when air quality is poor, they should limit the amount of exercise in open spaces.”

The EPA monitors air quality and publishes results hourly from multiple sites across the city and from four country locations.

As of 9am Monday, air quality ranged from good to very good, with the exception of Port Augusta where it was rated as “fair”.

There was no data on Kangaroo Island, where South Australia’s worst bushfires of the summer so far have taken place.

SA Water’s reservoirs are currently at 50 per cent capacity, compared to 54 per cent at the same time last year.


He’s back! Conor McGregor takes down Cowboy in 40-second UFC demolition job

United States

Conor McGregor has stopped Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone with a head kick and punches 40 seconds into the first round at UFC 246, announcing his return to mixed martial arts with his first victory since 2016.

Key points:

  • Conor McGregor’s last UFC win came in 2016, and the win over Cowboy Cerrone brings a stunning end to a year of inactivity
  • Cowboy could not block McGregor’s decisive kick or the punishment awaiting him on the ground as McGregor won inside 40 seconds
  • McGregor had Cowboy on the canvas as early as 20 seconds in, to the delight of the sell-out Las Vegas crowd

The Irish former two-division champion returned from a three-year stretch of inactivity and outside-the-cage troubles with a performance that echoed his greatest fights during his unparalleled rise.

McGregor (22-4) floored Cerrone (36-14) only 20 seconds into the bout with a perfectly placed kick, and he mercilessly finished on the ground to the delight of a sell-out crowd in Las Vegas.

McGregor’s hand hadn’t been raised in victory since November 2016, when he stopped lightweight Eddie Alvarez to become the first fighter in UFC history to hold two championship belts simultaneously.

With his fame and fortune multiplying, McGregor fought his only boxing match with Floyd Mayweather in 2017, and he lost a one-sided UFC bout to lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in late 2018.

After a year McGregor vowed to return to elite form in this bout against a fellow UFC veteran and stoppage specialist. His dramatic victory over Cerrone indicated he’s on his way.


Cowboy Cerrone had no hope of recovery after Conor McGregor landed a brutal knee early on. (Reuters: Mike Blake)

Cerrone has the most wins of any fighter in UFC history with 23 victories inside the octagon, a mark that reflects both his durability and commitment to an uncommonly busy schedule.

Cerrone, who also holds the UFC record with 16 stoppage wins, had fought a whopping 11 times since McGregor’s win over Alvarez, and he was in the cage for the 15th time since he lost his only UFC title shot in December 2015.

But Cerrone’s last two fights were stopped when he took too much damage, and he couldn’t block McGregor’s decisive kick or recover from the punishment on the ground.


Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone crumpled in the face of a Conor McGregor barrage. (AP: John Locher)

McGregor believes he can recapture the fearsome form he showed during his meteoric rise to unprecedented MMA success.

He won 15 consecutive fights during a five-year run from low-profile shows in Dublin to the world’s biggest MMA events, stopping five straight elite UFC opponents with punches on the way up.



Impeachment proceedings a ‘dangerous attack’ on rights of American people, Trump says

United States

United States President Donald Trump’s legal team issued a fiery response ahead of opening arguments in his impeachment trial, while House Democrats laid out their case in forceful fashion, saying the President betrayed public trust with behaviour that was the “worst nightmare” of the founding fathers.

Key points:

  • Mr Trump’s legal team issued a rejection of the impeachment charges
  • They encouraged the Senate to reject “poisonous partisanship”
  • The House released a document supporting impeachment charges

The duelling filings previewed arguments both sides intend to make once Mr Trump’s impeachment trial begins on Tuesday (local time) in the Senate.

Their challenge will be to make a case that appeals to the 100 senators who will render the verdict and an American public bracing for a presidential election in 10 months.

“President Donald J. Trump used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain,” House impeachment managers wrote.

“[He] then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct,” they added.

In a 111-page document, they laid out their arguments supporting charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress against the President.

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Whether or not Donald Trump keeps his office might come down to what transpired in a phone call.

“The Senate should convict and remove President Trump to avoid serious and long-term damage to our democratic values and the nation’s security,” the document said, for the first time formally calling for the Senate to convict the President and remove him from office.

“The case against the President of the United States is simple, the facts are indisputable, and the evidence is overwhelming,” they said.

The document was an appeal directly to the senators.

“History will judge each senator’s willingness to rise above partisan differences, view the facts honestly and defend the Constitution,” the managers said in a statement noting “the President is not a king”.

‘A dangerous attack on the right of the American people’


The document released by Democratic impeachment managers received a fiery response from Mr Trump’s lawyers. (AP: Matt Rourke)

Mr Trump’s legal team issued a resounding rejection of the impeachment charges, which were read out in the Senate earlier in the week during formalities setting the stage for the trial.

“President Trump categorically and unequivocally denies each and every allegation in both articles of impeachment,” the Trump lawyers’ document said.

The Trump legal team called the two articles of impeachment “a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their president” and encouraged politicians to reject “poisonous partisanship” and “vindicate the will of the American people” by rejecting both articles of impeachment approved by the House.

“This is a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election — now just months away,” they argued in a six-page document released on Saturday (local time).

It was the first time Mr Trump formally responded to the two articles of impeachment that the Democratic-led House approved late last year.

External Link:

@realDonaldTrump “Nancy Pelosi said, it’s not a question of proof, it’s a question of allegations! Oh really?” @JudgeJeanine @FoxNews What a disgrace this Impeachment Scam is for our great Country!

The politically polarising impeachment case involves Mr Trump’s attempt to persuade Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden last year.

As well as the charge of abuse of office for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden and his son Hunter Biden, Mr Trump is also accused of obstructing Congress in its investigation into his conduct by refusing to hand over documents and barring administration officials from testifying, even when subpoenaed by House investigators.


Mr Trump faces the charge of abuse of office for pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. (Reuters: Carlos Barria)

The document filed by the Democratic House impeachment managers explained why the House passed the two articles of impeachment, and listed evidence supporting the charges.

The evidence included references to information released in the past few days from Lev Parnas, an associate of Mr Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who was involved in Giuliani’s contacts with Ukraine’s government.

Trump’s impeachment will end one of these five ways
Predicting what happens next in impeachment is almost impossible. But when it ends, it’ll be in one of these five ways.

It also included a finding by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) that Mr Trump broke the law when he withheld military aid that Congress had designated for Ukraine.

The trial in the Republican-led Senate is unlikely to lead to Mr Trump’s ouster, as no Republican senators have voiced support for doing so and a two-thirds majority vote is required to convict.

Mr Trump, at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, for the weekend, played a round of golf on Saturday (local time).

The Trump lawyers, in their document, argued the President acted at all times with full constitutional legal authority, said one of three sources close to Mr Trump’s legal team who briefed reporters on a conference call.

“We will take the facts head-on and we believe that the facts will prove, and have proven, that the President did absolutely nothing wrong,” the source said.



The most serious outbreak of locusts in 25 years is swarming across East Africa

Central African Republic

The most serious outbreak of locusts in 25 years is spreading across East Africa and posing an unprecedented threat to food security in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, authorities say.

Key points:

  • An increase in locust swarm activity has been reported in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Ejibouti, and Eritrea
  • The infestations are a major threat to food security across the entire Horn of Africa, which is already reeling from floods and droughts
  • Hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops are estimated to have been destroyed

The “extremely dangerous increase” in locust swarm activity has been reported in Kenya, with one swarm in the country’s northeast measuring 60 kilometres long by 40 kilometres wide.

In a statement, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) said a typical desert locust swarm could contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometre.

“Swarms migrate with the wind and can cover 100 to 150 kilometres in a day,” the IGAD said.


These two Samburu men work for a county disaster team identifying the location of the locusts, pictured in Samburu county, Kenya. (AP: Patrick Ngugi)

“An average swarm can destroy as much food crops in a day as is sufficient to feed 2,500 people.”

Thousands of hectares of crops destroyed

The outbreak of desert locusts, considered the most dangerous locust species, has also affected parts of Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea, and IGAD warned that parts of South Sudan and Uganda could be next.

Breeding is continuing on both sides of the Red Sea, in Sudan and Eritrea and in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.


A Samburu man holds a locust on his hand near the village of Sissia. (AP: Patrick Ngugi)

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) warned the outbreak could worsen the region’s poor food security situation, with hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops destroyed.

“These infestations represent a major threat to food security in Kenya and across the entire Horn of Africa, which is already reeling from floods and droughts,” said Bukar Tijani, UNFAO’s Assistant Director General, calling the swarms “vast and unprecedented”.

Already millions of people cope with the constant risk of drought or flooding, as well as deadly unrest in Ethiopia, extremist attacks in Somalia and lingering fighting in South Sudan as it emerges from civil war.

The further increase in locust swarms could last until June as favourable breeding conditions continue, IGAD said, helped along by unusually heavy flooding in parts of the region in recent weeks.


Desert locusts cover the ground in Ceel-Gaal village, in the Salal region of Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Somaliland. (UNFAO via AP: Isak Amin)

Major locust outbreaks can be devastating: a major one between 2003 and 2005 cost more than $US500 million ($727 million) to control across 20 countries in northern Africa, the UNFAO has said, with more than $US2.5 billion ($3.6 billion) in harvest losses.

To help prevent and control outbreaks, authorities analyse satellite images, stockpile pesticides and conduct aerial spraying.

Police shoot bullets and teargas at bugs

In Ethiopia, officials said they had deployed four small planes to help fight the invasion.


Mohamed Omar, left, from the Ministry of Agriculture, and farmer Abdilahi Bataax, right, in Somaliland. (UNFAO via AP: Isak Amin)

Kenyan media showed police shooting bullets and teargas at an oncoming swarm as residents banged on buckets and hooted car horns to try to frighten the insects.

A farmers’ association in Kenya’s northern Laikipia area said it was planning aerial spraying of pesticides.

“These things are in their millions and will eat all the vegetation here,” said Peter Learpanai, a herdsman in the northern Samburu region who was flapping his jacket at a cloud of the insects that had descended on his grazing land.

“Our animals will not have anything to feed on.

“The government needs to get serious about fighting them.”



‘Many trees in space?’: Ridicule as US Space Force shows off camo uniform

United States

“Why do you need camo in space?”

It’s a question some people are asking the United States Space Force after the new military service released an image of its official uniform on social media.

The post on the Space Force’s official Twitter account attracted plenty of comments and questions from users who could not see the benefits of standard army woodland camouflage in space.

Walter Shaub, a former director of the US Office of Government Ethics asked: “Have you been to a part of space where this camouflage would blend in?”

Another person asked: “How many trees are you expecting to find in space?”, while others pointed out that the appropriate camouflage for space was black.

External Link:

@JimMFelton tweet: How many trees are you expecting to find in space?

External Link:

I know this is hard to understand, but on the left there is a picture of camouflage and on the right there is a picture of space. Study these carefully until you can see the difference.

External Link:

Really disappointed with the green. Surely a pattern like this would have given more camouflage in space.

External Link:

@d__el photo tweet: Personally, I think the camo is going to work. Not sure what all the noise is about.

There’s a reason for the camo

Amidst the Twitter onslaught, the US Space Force replied to one tweet saying the design was a cost-saving measure.

It said that Space Force members would look like their Army and Air Force counterparts who they work alongside on the ground.

External Link:

USSF is utilizing current Army/Air Force uniforms, saving costs of designing/producing a new one. Members will look like their joint counterparts they’ll be working with, on the ground.

Space Force, which officially launched in December last year, is the first new military service since the Air Force was spun off from the Army in 1947.

The service is not designed or intended to put combat troops in space, but will be the provider of forces to US Space Command — a separate organisation established last year as the overseer of the military’s space operations.

Instead of being its own military department, like the Navy, Army and Air Force, the Space Force will be administered by the Secretary of the Air Force.


President Donald Trump speaks before signing the National Defence Authorisation Act at Andrews Air Force Base. (AP: Kevin Wolf)

Last year, during a signing ceremony outside of Washington, US President Donald Trump said “space is the world’s new war-fighting domain”.

“Among grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. And we’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough, and very shortly we’ll be leading by a lot,” he said.



Hole big enough to swallow a car opens up on suburban Sunshine Coast road

Helensvale 4212

A road has partially collapsed on the Sunshine Coast in what the local council believe could have been caused by recent heavy rain.

Key points:

  • A large hole several metres wide opened up on a Sunshine Coast road after heavy rain
  • It follows flash flooding on the Gold Coast where a caravan park at Helensvale went underwater
  • One guest told the ABC the park had not warned her or her family about the rising waters

Police were called to Tingira Crescent at Sunrise Beach around 11:00pm on Saturday night to a large hole in the road and contacted the Noosa Shire Council to assess the damage.

“It’s taken out half the road, so my estimate would be roughly 10-15 metres wide and 3 to 4 metres deep,” Noosa Shire Council spokesman Ken Furdek said.

“What we have been able to ascertain is that it’s been quite a big slip that has been caused by either the heavy rain overnight and Friday night or by a burst water main.”

A specialist contractor was expected to be onsite during the week to start stabilising the site.

“A full repair of the road is likely to take some time,” he said.

“Our priority is to get that land stabilised near the unit block and once that’s done then our council crews will be on-site to repair the road.

“We encourage people to stay away from the area.”

Local resident Tracey Stevens was at a cafe down the road when she saw it.

“A car would disappear in there for sure,” she said.

“If you didn’t know it was there it would be hard to see, people are very lucky they didn’t get hurt.”

Deluge at Gold Coast caravan park

On the Gold Coast, a massive clean-up was underway at a caravan park after what locals describe as “life-threatening” flash flooding ripped through the area, forcing 400 guests to flee to higher ground.

Saturday’s deluge smashed through the Helensvale Big 4 Caravan Park during high tide on a nearby creek.


Parts of the Gold Coast received a month’s worth of rain on Friday night. (Supplied: @rnrwanderers)

The fast-rising floodwaters consumed caravans and cars and were so strong they carried away a minibus.

Tow trucks were called in to remove damaged vans.

Guest Jenny Cowman was camping with her grandchildren and said they were traumatised.

“About 4:00am my son-in-law came screaming in ‘Jenny, Jenny! Wake up quick! We have to go!'” she said.

“I thought I was having a dream.

“My daughter’s child was screaming and she saw there was water all through the camper.

“She said later to me she was not worried … but they could have drowned, they were only on little, thin air mattresses at the time, they could have rolled over. It only takes a few minutes in water.

“The kids were so scared.”


One resident told the ABC her family was not warned by the park about the rising floodwaters. (Supplied: @rnrwanderers)

Ms Cowman, who lives in Chinchilla, said it was their first family holiday with their camper trailers.

“My mum who was with us is 85 years old and she nearly had a heart attack being so scared,” she said.

“We tried to stay as calm as possible but it just kept rising.


Jenny Cowman was staying at the Big 4 Holiday Park at Helensvale when it flooded. (ABC News: Curtis Rodda)

“Apparently they have 24-hour security here and CCTV surveillance, but nothing, no-one came to warn us.”

The family lost two cars and two camper trailers and fear their damage bill will be around $100,000.

Only the cars were insured.


Movie World’s car park also flooded on Saturday. (Instagram: mickeylou15)

The park staff refused to let media in to talk to other residents or look at the damage.

No-one was injured during the flooding event and the park remains closed.


Netflix doco reveals what fans have always known — cheerleaders are tougher than footballers

United States

Cheerleaders are nothing but bimbo garnish on the sidelines of football games, right?

Wrong. Contrary to the sexist stereotype of cheerleader-as-a-sort-of-slutty-human-parsley, Netflix’s new docuseries Cheer reveals what those of us die-hard cheerleading fans have known for eons: this extreme sport demands extraordinary guts.

Super-shapely guts that must ripple hotly in eye-scorchingly sparkly uniforms, but extraordinary guts, nonetheless.

Cheer — enthused reactions to which are currently breaking the internet — follows the members of Texas’ Navarro College team as they prepare a gobstoppingly dangerous routine for a national competition in Florida.


Cheer follows the members of Texas’ Navarro College team as they prepare a gobstoppingly dangerous routine for a national competition in Florida. (Netflix)

Never seen competitive cheerleading?

Imagine a cross between human aerobatics, reverse skydiving and juggling — only instead of balls, imagine you’re hurling a bunch of your friends up to six metres into the air while also standing on a bunch of your other friends’ shoulders.

Now imagine you’re doing all this with broken ribs, a bruised spine, and tampons shoved up one or both nostrils to stop the bleeding.

All these things happen in Cheer.


Imagine you’re doing all this with broken ribs, a bruised spine, and tampons shoved up one or both nostrils to stop the bleeding. (Netflix)

Cheerleading was like nothing I’d imagined

In one episode, a young “flyer” casually ducks down to the nearest emergency room to have her ribs “popped” back into place between practices. Cheer’s director Greg Whitely describes these young women and men as the toughest athletes he’s ever filmed.

Many of them had horrific backgrounds and say cheerleading changed their lives which, weirdly enough, is a sentiment to which I can relate.


Many of those featured in the docuseries had horrific backgrounds and say cheerleading changed their lives. (Netflix)

My first contact with real-life cheerleading was back in the 1990s when I was asked to join the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs cheer squad as a gonzo journalism assignment.

My editor was expecting I’d produce a piece of feminist snark — and to be honest, so did I.

Remember that scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when a recovering cheerleader sarcastically tells another that she’ll miss the intellectual thrill of spelling out words with her arms?

That used to be my view of the genus jumpus skirtupicus. But neither the cheerleaders nor the cheerleading were anything like I’d imagined.


Emma Jane (left) first tried cheerleading in the 1990s. (Supplied:

The former were a feisty delight (not least because of their hilarious bitching about having to sit through so much “boofmeister” sports ball), while the latter was unbelievably hard.

I won’t tell you how many weeks of private lessons were required for me to nail a single, modified nano-second of a routine or how nervous I was when I eventually performed in front of 20,000 bellowing footy fans at a match.

Let’s just say I still find one-size-fits-all unitards very triggering.

It’s time to bust some myths

That day, however, really did represent a turning point in my life.

In addition to rethinking my feminism, I became increasingly fascinated by the extraordinarily sexist disconnect between the reality of competitive cheerleading (it vies with football as America’s most dangerous sport) and the bizarre things haters say about it (in Australia, cheerleaders have been routinely blamed for footballer sex scandals even when no cheerleaders were present or involved in any way at all).


Emma Jane (centre) was asked to join the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs cheer squad as a gonzo journalism assignment. (Supplied: Emma Brasier)

Why did cheerleading have so many vitriolic anti-fans? And what was up with all the cheerleader-themed porn?

(Of the 50 bestselling X-rated videos and DVDs in Australia in 2003, two were cheerleading-related titles. None of the other 48 involved women’s sport).

Like any other normal nerd-lord, I decided to spend eight years at uni doing a Masters degree and a PhD in order to find out.

Here then, are just four of the myths I am now insanely overqualified to bust.

Myth #1: Cheerleading has always been girly

Believe it or not, cheerleading actually started out as a separatist sausagefest.

Its origins stretch back to US universities in the late 1800s, when big men on campus began mustering school spirit using military chants and clever rhymes such as “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!”.


Believe it or not, cheerleading actually started out as a separatist sausagefest. (Netflix)

Trivia note: those early male “cheer leaders” were also known as “yell leaders”, “yell kings”, “yell masters” and “rooter kings”.

Other trivia note: In 1911, an editorial in the Nation observed that: “The reputation of having been a valiant ‘cheer-leader’ is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college. As a title to promotion in professional or public life, it ranks hardly second to that of having been a quarter-back.”

Given that cheerleading was also turning out to be a hot house for presidents (see Myth #3 below), can you blame upstart ladies for wanting in on the rooter kingdom?

Myth #2: Cheerleading has no secret feminist history

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a handful of girls and women tried infiltrating US collegiate cheering and all hell broke loose.

Objections included concerns that girls were incapable of performing the requisite acrobatic stunts and might develop harsh voices and unladylike, “smart alecky” conduct.

The story of women becoming cheerleaders closely paralleled the story of women becoming workers during World War II.

External Link:

As this 2018 viral video of Cheer star LaDarius shows, both smart alecky conduct and killer voguing are highly regarded

In their book Cheerleader! An American Icon, Natalie Guice Adams and Pamela Jean Bettis note that: “In both cases men left their jobs to become soldiers and inadvertently opened doors that previously had been closed to women. When men returned from the war, they fought to regain their ‘rightful’ place in the worksite and on the cheerleading squads.”

These days, the gender split of collegiate cheerleaders in the US is a neat 50/50 and — as this 2018 viral video of Cheer star LaDarius shows — both smart alecky conduct and killer voguing are highly regarded.

Myth #3: No famous people or US presidents have ever been cheerleaders

Exhibits A through Z (in no particular order) are: Halle Berry; Renee Zellweger; Paula Abdul; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Dwight D. Eisenhower; Jack Lemmon; Jerry Lewis; Shirley MacLaine; Steve Martin; Susan Sarandon; Madonna; Ronald Reagan; Rick Perry; Aaron Spelling; Reese Witherspoon; Sandra Bullock; Kirsten Dunst; Meryl Streep; Jennifer Lawrence; Kirk Douglas; Michael Douglas; Samuel L Jackson; Amy Poehler; Cameron Diaz; George W Bush; and Danielle Brooks (aka Taystee in Orange is the New Black).

I could go on but I’d need more alphabet.

External Link:

Samuel L Jackson was a former college cheerleader

Myth #4: There are always pom poms

In addition to morphing from an elite, dude-only affair into a hyper-feminised and then equal-opportunity activity, cheerleading is now split into two very different forms.

Professional cheerleading — designed from the outset as a subsidiary of ultra-commercial professional sport — is mainly all about hot girls with short skirts, high hair, and steroidal perk.


Competitive cheerleading involves high-level tumbling and stunting comparable to elite gymnastics. (Facebook: Queensland Cheer Elite)

Competitive cheerleading, on the other hand, involves high-level tumbling and stunting comparable to elite gymnastics (in 2016, cheerleading achieved the provisional status required to become an Olympic sport).

This is the type you’ll see in Cheer. For the most part, it’s a pom-pom-free zone.

Say goodbye to the tired tropes

Sadly, neither variety of cheerleading is particularly popular in Australia. Most clubs have scrapped sideline cheerleaders (they’re still widely regarded as footballer kryptonite) and the competitive stream only has a fraction of the estimated 4 million participants in the billion dollar US scene.

Cheer, however, may change this.


Emma Jane (right) admits that cheerleading was nothing like what she had expected. (Supplied: Emma Jane)

Just as the 2000 movie Bring It On is credited with kickstarting steadily growing global interest in competitive cheerleading, Australia’s next generation of athletic thrill-seekers may well discover they are cheer-curious — especially given that Insta-ready “cheer-lebrities” such as Cheer’s Gabi Butler are now a thing.

At the very least, let’s hope Cheer will be the final nail in the coffin of the tired trope of cheerleading being something other a “real” sport requiring a seriously-sized set of fallopians.

Emma Jane is a freelance writer and an associate professor in the School of the Arts & Media at UNSW.


Australia in danger of ‘sleepwalking straight into an extinction crisis’

Adelaide 5000

Ecologists have calculated that at least 6 million hectares of habitat that is home to at least 250 different threatened species has now gone up in smoke.

Key points:

  • About 70 threatened species lost more than half their habitat to recent bushfires
  • Of the 250 overall species to lose habitat, 25 are listed as critically endangered and include plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and fish
  • A panel of senior ecologists has met in Canberra with the Threatened Species Commissioner to plan the next phase in the response

Twenty-five of these species are listed as critically endangered — in other words, on the brink of extinction in the wild.

Michelle Ward from the University of Queensland says about 70 threatened species, including the fire-sensitive long-footed potoroo, lost more than half their range to recent fires.

“We used a combination of NASA satellite imagery and intersected that with the threatened-species range maps,” Ms Ward said.

While most of the threatened species hit by fire are plants, there are also a mix of threatened birds, mammals, reptiles and fish.


Threatened species habitat impacted by fire across mainland Australia. (Supplied: Michelle Ward)

James Watson, director of the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at the University of Queensland, sees the impact of the fires as particularly problematic because many of these threatened species only have small amounts of habitat left.

“We’re seeing catastrophic loss of remaining habitat for threatened species right across the southern states of Australia,” Professor Watson said.


Long-nosed potoroos have had their habitat burned by fires. (ABC News: Rachel Carbonell)

He said even before the fires Australia faced a threatened-species crisis.

“People should know that we’ve actually lost more mammals than any other nation on the planet,” he said.

The list of threatened species hit by the fire reads like a menagerie of rare and shy creatures. There’s the Hastings River mouse, spot-tailed quoll, mountain pygmy possum, southern brown bandicoot, and large-eared pied bat just to name a few.


Mountain pygmy possums are a critically endangered alpine species. (Supplied: Zoos Victoria)

The road to recovery

“The next step is to get people on the ground looking for these species, ascertaining how much, how many populations are left, how endangered they are,” Professor Watson said.

“And realising that some of these species will need urgent attention, and the need for professionals to go and grab some populations and safeguard them in zoos so that they can persist in the long term.”


Victorian wildlife officers check trees for injured animals. (ABC News: Rachel Carbonell)

Across the firegrounds, that work has already begun.

In east Gippsland, wildlife officers from Parks Victoria and the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning have been scouring burnt land for injured wildlife.

“In this area, we’re seeing koalas most frequently, that’s not to say that there aren’t other species that have been impacted,” senior Forest and Wildlife officer Lachlan Clarke said.


Wildlife officers coax a koala out of a tree in a burnt area in east Gippsland. (ABC News: Rachel Carbonell )

They use a special technique to get koalas down out of trees to check them.

Wildlife officers extend a long pole with a flag on top, called a bat, which they wave above the koala’s head.

The koala moves down the tree away from the flag, where another team member ushers it into a hessian sack.


Wildlife officers check an injured koala in the Gelantipy fireground in east Gippsland. (ABC News: Rachel Carbonell)

In some cases, the animals are healthy but stranded with no food. They’re quickly relocated to some unburnt forest.

Amid the blackened landscape, Mr Clarke spots patches of refuge for these animals.


A mother and baby koala escaped the fires with only minor injuries. (ABC News: Rachel Carbonell)

“I’m really happy to see some large, intact areas of habitat that hasn’t been burned, particularly along water features like creeks and gullies,” he said.

Animals that need treatment are taken to a special mobile unit, where Zoos Victoria veterinary staff attend to them.


Zoos Victoria vet Meg Curnick and vet nurse Ellen Richmond treat a koala injured in the fires. (ABC News: Rachel Carbonell)

Top wildlife experts head to Canberra

While rapid-response teams do what they can for injured wildlife, on Wednesday a panel of senior ecologists met in Canberra with the Threatened Species Commissioner, Sally Box, to plan the next phase in the disaster response.

“Some of the immediate actions might be things like protecting those unburned refuges where the plants and animals are still there and are vulnerable,” Dr Box said.


One of the key priorities is to identify unburnt habitat for animals and work to restore burnt habitat. (ABC News: Rachel Carbonell)

“It may be about protecting them from feral predators and herbivores. It may be that we need to protect areas that we thought before were secure and we may need to focus on those areas now. It’s a different landscape now.”

Reproductive biologist, Marissa Parrott, said Zoos Victoria was clearing space in preparation for receiving animals, while also planning for potential expansion of its captive-breeding programs.

“Every species is different, particularly when we’re bringing in a new species that needs care after a massive catastrophe like these bushfires,” Dr Parrott said.

“There’s a lot of research that we need to do to ensure that the species will come and thrive in captivity, that we can breed them appropriately and, importantly, we can get them back out into the wild where they belong.”


Fire has affected the habitat of the endangered alpine Guthega skink. (ABC News: Rachel Carbonell)

Ecologists like Professor Watson are recognising what is needed to save a species will in some ways clash with current government forestry policy.

“I think we’ve got to really re-evaluate how we think about forestry and logging in Australia,” he said.

“The science is pretty clear. Many of these fires got out of control in logged areas and logging is the very reason why many species are already endangered.

“If we want to maintain threatened species in these landscapes, we’ve got to realise that forestry does not work to save them.”


The burns on this koala’s paws had already started to heal well by the time wildlife officers checked it. (ABC News: Rachel Carbonell)

James Todd, executive director of biodiversity with the Victorian Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning, said there were some native fish in Gippsland whose entire range had burned in the fires.

He said when it rained heavily, there would be a real danger they could be caught up in a fish kill.


A badge huntsman survives in a patch of unburnt forest. (ABC News: Rachel Carbonell)

“One of the key actions that we need to look at for a range of species, including those fishes, [is] whether we need to pull those fish and other species out and salvage them until their habitat is suitable for them to return,” Mr Todd said.

“[That] means going in, literally collecting the fish and taking them to an aquarium that we’ve got set up within the department to handle that.”

None of this will be cheap.

“In the longer term, it is looking at funding and getting the right people the right money,” Mr Todd said.


The regent honeyeater’s range has contracted dramatically in the past 30 years. (Supplied: Birdlife Australia)

Funding wildlife recovery

On Tuesday, Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley announced an initial $50 million for wildlife recovery.

Described by the Government as a “down-payment”, half the money was earmarked for first responders like zoos and wildlife groups, and half to programs driven by the Threatened Species Commissioner.

Professor Watson said tackling the wildlife crisis would require a sea change in government policy.

“Right now, there is a paucity of money going towards threatened-species management in Australia at the federal level,” he said.


Professor James Watson warns an extinction crisis beckons. (Supplied: University of Queensland)

“The budgets have gone down over the last 10 years in terms of how much money is being spent on endangered species.”

But the alternative, he said, was unthinkable.

“There is no doubt that if we just tackle this problem using business-as-usual strategies, we are going to sleepwalk straight into an extinction crisis,” Professor Watson said.


$76 million funding package aimed at tackling Australian tourism’s ‘biggest challenge in living memory’


The Federal Government has announced a $76 million recovery package in response to this summer’s bushfires, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying Australian tourism is facing “its biggest challenge in living memory”.

Key points:

  • The recovery package includes funding to attract domestic and international visitors
  • While money has also been allocated for grants for “new attractions” in bushfire affected regions
  • The Australian Tourism Industry Council estimates the bushfires have cost the country “hundreds of millions” of dollars

Mr Morrison described the funding — drawn from the Government’s national bushfire recovery fund — as an “urgent injection” of funds for businesses impacted by the bushfire crisis.

The Australian Tourism Industry Council has estimated the bushfire crisis has cost the national industry “hundreds of millions” of dollars and damaged Australia’s brand internationally, with a perception “the whole country’s on fire”.

The crisis has led to the highly publicised ‘Matesong’ tourism campaign being paused in the UK as well as the United States upgrading its travel advisory for Australia to “level two” — warning Americans to “exercise increased caution”.

This week, the Australian Tourism Export Council told the Australian Financial Review cancellations by tourists from large markets such as the US, UK and China was hurting the industry and could cost the country at least $4.5 billion by the end of the year.

The Government’s package includes $20 million for marketing to domestic travellers and $25 million for a global tourism campaign to advise international visitors that Australia is “safe and open for business”, as well as $10 million towards creating new attractions in bushfire affected regions of the country.

Video: The Tourism Australia ad 'Matesong' was pulled from UK screens

(ABC News)

“Australian tourism is facing its biggest challenge in living memory,” Mr Morrison said in a statement announcing the funding package.

“One in 13 Australian jobs rely on tourism and hospitality, so our $76 million investment is an urgent injection to help all those hotels, restaurants and cafes and tour operators get back on their feet.

“This is make or break for many businesses and tourist hot spots and not just in those areas directly hit by the bushfires.

As Australia burns, is our reputation at risk?
Could the international call to arms and subsequent influx of foreign aid and donations damage our national reputation?

“This is about getting more visitors to help keep local businesses alive and protect local jobs right across the country and especially in those areas so directly devastated such as Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills, the Blue Mountains and right along the NSW Coast and East Gippsland in Victoria. “

The funding will provide grants of up to $1.5 million per project for events such as concerts and festivals — as well as permanent attractions such as art installations and tourist walks — in fire-affected regions, with the worst-impacted areas to be prioritised.

The package also includes funding to encourage international publicity for Australia’s tourism industry and spread the message that Australia’s educational and export sectors are still open for business, as well as drive attendance to the Australian Tourism Exchange.

Industry welcomes funding but warns of tough times ahead

The tourism industry broadly welcomed the Government’s announcement, but warned there was a long road ahead for businesses doing it tough.

“People are believing everything they see on social media — the country’s on fire, top to bottom, coast to coast, don’t go to Uluru because it’s on fire, Sydney airport’s on fire — crazy stuff,” Margy Osmond from the Tourism and Transport Forum said.

External Link:

The Canberra, Come Back video was made by Batemans Bay businesses.

“We have an enormous international problem, in terms of how people are now viewing us.

“We’re going to have to do another big piece of brand work, but I think that’s a bit further down the track.”

Early figures from Tourism Australia showed international bookings were down by between 20 and 30 per cent for the first fortnight of 2020, with visitors from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France and China among those choosing to stay away.

As with most of the money being announced for fire recovery, the response across the political spectrum has been welcoming.

‘This is a marathon, not a sprint’
Charities on the front line of the bushfire recovery effort are pleading with corporate Australia not to go too hard out of the blocks with big cash donations while ignoring long-term commitments.

However, the Greens argued damage to the tourism sector was another example of the Coalition’s mismanagement of the bushfire crisis.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the Coalition had repeatedly ignored warning signs about the threat of fires, and the deaths of hundreds of millions of animals was just one consequence.

“We’ve got a huge social and health crisis on our hands, with the impact of poor air quality, which won’t be known for years to come,” Senator Di Natale said.

“What we’ve seen is a catastrophe — it is unprecedented, but unprecedented doesn’t mean unforeseen.”

The threat posed by the bushfires to the country’s tourism industry has inspired Australians to launch their own community-driven campaigns to encourage people to go back to impacted areas, such as a video by Batemans Bay businesses urging Canberra residents to return to the South Coast of NSW.

The community campaigns come on top of hundreds of millions of dollars donated to charities by the public, celebrities and philanthropists.


Four new pneumonia cases sparks concern ahead of busy Chinese New Year travel period


Four more cases have been identified in a viral pneumonia outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan that has killed two people and prompted countries as far away as the United States to take precautionary measures.

Key points:

  • Chinese authorities say the latest cases bring the number of people who have contracted the illness to 45
  • But the London-based Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis says there were likely to be “substantially more cases”
  • Heath experts say it is hard to screen people for the virus as the symptoms are “quite general”

The latest cases bring the number of people who have contracted the illness to 45, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said. Five are in serious condition, two died and 15 have been discharged. The others are in stable condition.

The cause of the pneumonia has been traced to a new type of coronavirus.

Health authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, another coronavirus that started in southern China in late 2002 and spread to more than two dozen countries, killing nearly 800 people.

Though experts say the new virus does not appear to be as lethal as SARS, there is little known about its origins and how easily it can spread.

At least a half-dozen countries in Asia have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China.

The list includes Thailand and Japan, which have together reported three cases of the disease in people who had come from Wuhan. It is an unusually busy travel period as people take trips to and from China around Lunar New Year, which falls on January 25 this year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned that a wider outbreak is possible, though it has advised against any travel restrictions for China.

The US announced it would begin screening passengers at three major airports arriving on flights from Wuhan.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said it would deploy 100 people to take the temperatures and ask about symptoms of incoming passengers at the Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City’s Kennedy airports.

But Alexandra Phelan, global health legal expert at Georgetown University’s Centre for Global Health Science and Security, said such screening may be insufficient in preventing the virus from spreading as its symptoms, which include fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, are “quite general”.

“There are likely to be many individuals with matching symptoms due to an illness that is not 2019-nCoV,” Mr Phelan said, referring to the new virus.

Doctors began seeing a new type of viral pneumonia — fever, cough, difficulty breathing — in people who worked at or visited a food market in the suburbs of Wuhan late last month.

The city’s health commission confirmed a second death this week, a 69-year-old man who fell ill on December 31 and died on Wednesday.

Officials have said the pneumonia probably spread from animals to people but have not been able to rule out the possibility of human-to-human transmission, which would enable it to spread much faster.


The outbreak comes ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday when many of China’s 1.4 billion people will be travelling. (Reuters: China Daily CDIC)

No related cases have been found so far among 763 people who had close contact with those diagnosed with the virus in Wuhan. Of them, 665 have been released and 98 remain under medical observation, the Wuhan health authorities said.

A report published by the London Imperial College’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis said there were likely to be “substantially more cases” of the new coronavirus than currently announced by Wuhan authorities.

The agency estimates that there would be 1,723 cases showing related symptoms by January 12.



Xi Jinping heralds ‘new era’ of China-Myanmar relations as he courts isolated Aung San Suu Kyi


China and Myanmar have inked dozens of deals to speed up infrastructure projects in the South-East Asian nation, as Beijing seeks to cement its hold over a neighbour increasingly isolated by the West.

Key points:

  • Xi Jinping has declared a “new era” of ties between China and Myanmar
  • Both countries have been accused of genocide against Muslims, with China defending Myanmar on the global stage
  • Chinese investment in the South-East Asian nation remains contentious locally

But no major new projects were agreed during the two-day visit by President Xi Jinping, the first of any Chinese leader in 19 years.

Analysts said Myanmar was generally cautious of investments by Beijing and was also being careful ahead of elections later this year.

Reading the BRI’s fineprint
More and more countries are choosing to ink agreements with China on its trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative, but what are countries actually agreeing to when they sign on?

Still, Mr Xi and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi signed 33 agreements shoring up key projects that are part of the flagship Belt and Road Initiative, China’s vision of new trade routes described as a “21st-century silk road”.

They agreed to hasten the implementation of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor, a giant infrastructure scheme worth billions of dollars, with agreements on railways linking south-western China to the Indian Ocean, a deep sea-port in conflict-riven Rakhine state, a special economic zone on the border and a new city project in the commercial capital of Yangon.

Video: China attempts global dominance with One Belt One Road project

(ABC News)

“While a large number of different agreements have been signed, there is no Big Bang here,” said Richard Horsey, a Yangon-based analyst with the International Crisis Group.

“The overall impression is that Myanmar is being cautious about Chinese investment, especially ahead of elections planned later in the year.

“China will be hoping that this is an incremental step towards realising its mega-infrastructure goals and that further progress can be locked in over the coming months.”


Xi Jinping received a warm reception on his two-day state visit to Myanmar.
(AP: Aung Shine Oo)

‘Derailed’ by the West

At a welcoming ceremony, Mr Xi hailed a “new era” of relations between the countries.

“We are drawing a future road map that will bring to life bilateral relations based on brotherly and sisterly closeness in order to overcome hardships together and provide assistance to each other,” Xi said.

Ms Suu Kyi called China “a great country playing an important role in the international affairs and the world economy” but urged for economic projects that avoid environmental degradation and benefit locals.


Myanmar’s military has been accused of genocide against the Rohingya. (ABC News: Liam Cochrane)

What happened to Aung San Suu Kyi?
A few short years ago, Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi was an international human rights icon. This week, she returns to Europe to defend her country against accusations of genocide.

Mr Xi also met leaders from political parties in ethnic areas riven with civil conflict where Chinese infrastructure projects are underway.

Sai Kyaw Nyunt, joint-secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, one of the ethnic politicians invited to meet Mr Xi, said it was only a handshake.

“Our country is very small and powerless,” he said, “So they treat us that way.”

The two countries have historically had a fraught relationship, but have moved closer since 2017, when Myanmar was internationally condemned for its treatment of minority Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.


A woman waits for aid in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (Reuters: Cathal McNaughton)

More than 730,000 Rohingya were forced to flee western Myanmar after a military crackdown that the United Nations has said was executed with “genocidal intent”.

China has defended the country on the global stage and is viewed as the biggest obstacle to the prosecution of its leaders at an international war crimes tribunal.

‘A prison for the Rohingyas’
A disappearing island, cyclone season and Rohingya refugees with nowhere else to go. What could go wrong?

Beijing itself has come under fire for its treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, deemed by some observers a “cultural genocide”.

An article in Chinese state media ahead of the state visit said Myanmar had been “derailed” by its engagement with the West and only China was willing to “pull Myanmar from the sludge”.

“But after some turbulence, Myanmar realised there were double standards in the approach Western countries had taken on human rights issues and began to turn to China for diplomatic and economic help,” the article in the Global Times said.

Video: Uyghurs dancing in defiance of 'cultural genocide'

(ABC News)



Fan ‘saved life’ of former yellow Wiggle Greg Page after heart attack

Sydney 2000

A nurse who has been a fan of the Wiggles since she was a child has “saved the life” of founding member Greg Page after he suffered a heart attack during the group’s bushfire relief concert in Sydney.

Key points:

  • Page was performing a reunion show with his original Wiggles bandmates when he suffered a heart attack
  • He received first aid on-site by a nurse in the audience as well as two Wiggles crew members, before undergoing a procedure at Westmead Hospital
  • Page first retired from the Wiggles in 2006 due to orthostatic intolerance, which causes fatigue and blackouts

Former yellow Wiggle Page required CPR and a defibrillator after he had a heart attack and went into cardiac arrest as he left the stage at the end of the show.

He could be seen falling to the ground as he walked off stage at a Sydney reunion concert for bushfire aid on Friday night.

Nurse Grace Jones performed CPR on Page with the help of Wiggles drummer Steve Pace and staff member Kimmy Antonelli.

She then used a defibrillator supplied on-site at the Castle Hill RSL, where the incident occurred in front of a crowd of hundreds along with thousands more watching via live stream.

External Link:

@TheWiggles tweet: We've visited Greg this morning & he wanted to thank everyone for their well wishes. He's so grateful for the messages of love & support from around the world. Greg's main concern was that the show tonight should go on. Let's do it for Greg whilst raising much needed funds

“I took charge,” Ms Jones said on Saturday morning. “I didn’t mean to, but I did.

“I think I was the only one there who had any first aid training, so I just started to do what I do at work.”

Chief Inspector at NSW Ambulance Brian Parsell said the quick response “saved Greg’s life”.

“When I was on stage and Greg was stabilised I asked who the person who used the defib was and Grace anxiously stepped forward,” he said.

Video: Chief Inspector at NSW Ambulance Brian Parsell said the bravery and courage of nurse Grace Jones saved Page's life.

(ABC News)

“I told her she needed to be congratulated because she had saved the man’s life.

“She did an extraordinary job and it was only through her efforts and those who also performed CPR, that Greg is alive.”

Page was performing with original Wiggles bandmates Field, Murray Cook and Jeff Fatt, with all proceeds from the show and livestream going towards the Red Cross Appeal and WIRES.


Wiggles members look where Greg Page collapsed to the side of the stage during their bushfire relief concert at Castle Hill RSL. (Supplied:

After a brief moment of confusion, Cook came back out to announce Page’s condition.

“Greg’s not feeling real well. I think he’s going to be OK. He’s not feeling real well,” Cook told the live audience.

“He’s going to be alright. We’ve got some medical attention.”

An encore performance of Hot Potato was carried out without Page.

Mr Parsell said Page suffered a coronary occlusion, a blockage of one of the major blood vessels to the heart.

“He has had a heart attack which then led to a cardiac arrest,” he said.

“He had been on stage for an hour, and you can imagine having been to a concert with my own children, it is an energetic concert.


Greg Page performing on stage at the Castle Hill RSL for bushfire relief. (Supplied:

“We performed an ECG and that identified that he had a blockage of one of the major primary vessels. We transmitted that ECG through to Westmead Hospital.

“We had the cardiology team already on the way in, out of bed and coming into the hospital so that we could reopen that blocked vessel.”

He said Page was likely to make a full recovery.

“The timeline, from the time he collapsed and the time that vessel was reopened is very short,” he said.

“So chances are he will make a fantastic recovery.”

When asked if she had a message for Page, Ms Jones said: “I hope your chest is not too sore.”

“I’ve been a Wiggles fan since I was five or six,” she said.

“I didn’t go to the concert expecting to do that, so it all feels a bit surreal.

“I do stuff like that every day at work but I have never had to do it with that equipment.”

External Link:

@RFScommissioner tweet: Thoughts, prayers & best wishes with wonderful Yellow Wiggle Greg Page following his heart attack last night during the Wiggles bushfire relief concert. Like so many, we had every VHS tape & knew every song thanks to our girls growing up with Greg, Murray, Jeff & Anthony. #NSWRFS

Mr Parsell credited Ms Jones for her “courage” in stepping forward.

“Of all the people that were in the crowd, for Grace to come forward and offer her services to help and have the courage to use a defibrillator is an extraordinary story of survival, and we should be very thankful,” he said.

Second show to go on tonight with Page’s blessing

The 18+ concert on Friday night was the first of two planned with the original Wiggles line-up, with another scheduled for tonight.

External Link:

Tweet: @TheWiggles As has been reported, our friend Greg Page suffered a cardiac arrest at the end of the bushfire relief performance and was taken to hospital. He has had a procedure and is now recovering in hospital. We appreciate your kind messages and concern.

On Twitter, The Wiggles confirmed tonight’s show would go on, with a substitute yellow Wiggle, with Page’s blessing.

Donations for bushfire relief are approaching the $200 million mark from major companies and celebrities, but it is unknown yet how much the Wiggles fundraiser added to that tally.

Before walking off stage, Page farewelled the audience: “Thanks for coming to support all those wonderful people doing all that great work for everyone.”

‘He said to me: ‘Did I finish the show?’

Wiggles manager Paul Field told ABC News he was able to visit Page at 3:00am in hospital.

“He was very groggy obviously,” Field said.

“He couldn’t remember anything about how it happened.

“Being a performer, he said, ‘Did I finish the show?’

“I said, ‘Yes mate, you finished the show.'”

Field was emotional while talking about last night’s emergency.

Video: Wiggles' manager breaks down describing Greg collapsing

(ABC News)

“It was an awful experience for him and all those around him,” he said.

“His mum and dad were there. It was quite traumatic to witness. But he was lucky to have those people who jumped in and did CPR.

“It was very touch-and-go and those people who did CPR on him saved his life.”

Field said Page was likely to be in hospital for “some days”.

He added Page was “adamant” Saturday night’s scheduled show should go ahead.

“He said, ‘so many more people are doing it tough’.”

External Link:

@sophgordon tweet: This man PUT HIS HEALTH AT RISK to perform a reunion concert to raise money for bushfire relief, and that is why the Yellow Wiggle has and always will be my favorite. Greg Page, you are a king.

Messages of goodwill to Page

Following the news, fans flooded The Wiggles’ social media pages with messages of goodwill.

“Someone needs to tell me Greg Page is okay [because] I think I speak for all Australians when we say this is NOT how we are starting 2020,” Liz Saunders wrote on Twitter.

Others expressed their sadness that Page suffered ill health while performing for charity.

“Greg and all the Wiggles are just so awesome and we were thrilled at the announcement of this bushfire relief gig,” Janine Shearer said on Facebook.


Founding Wiggles member Greg Page (far right) collapses on stage at the Castle Hill RSL. (Supplied:

“The news of Greg’s collapse is just devastating … sending massive positive healing vibes to our favourite yellow Wiggle of all time.”

Page formed The Wiggles with Field, Cook and Fatt in 1991.

He retired due to illness in 2006 and was diagnosed with orthostatic intolerance, which causes fatigue and blackouts.

But he returned to his role as the Yellow Wiggle in early 2012.

Page, Cook, and Fatt retired together later that year, paving the way for the current iteration of Wiggles — Field, Emma Watkins, Lachlan Gillespie and Simon Pryce.

Major bushfire donors Donor/sAmountAndrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation$70mPaul Ramsay Foundation$30mSeven Group Holdings and Australian Capital Equity$10mNews Corp and Murdoch Family$9mCrown and The Packer Family$5mNAB$5mLeonardo DiCaprio via Earth Alliance$4.3mMurdoch family$4mColes$4mAFL$2.5mBHP$2mWesfarmers$1.7m+Tabcorp$1.5m+Westpac$1.5m+Woolworths$1.5mMicky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation$1.5mAustralian NBA stars$1m+Commonwealth Bank$1m+South32$1m+Boeing$1m+Chevron$1m+Petbarn Foundation$1m+ANZ$1mBlueScope$1mJeff Bezos/Amazon$1mShell Australia$1mJBS$1mRio Tinto$1mQantas$1mOrica$1mPratt Foundation$1mRio Tinto$1mJohn and Pauline Gandel$1mElton John$1mChris Hemsworth$1mFortescue$1mKylie Jenner$1mHains family via Portland House Foundation$1mThe Perich Group $1mMacquarie$1mLa Trobe Financial$1mLion$1mAuction for Shane Warne’s baggy green cap (purchased by the Commonwealth Bank)$1mHolden$1mJames Gorman $1mMetallica$750kLewis Hamilton$725kJP Morgan$725kBP$635k+ASX$520k+PwC$500k+Scentre Group$500k+Suncorp$500k+Stockland$500k+McDonald’s$500k+Mirvac$500k+Woodside$500kJustin Hemmes$500kKylie and Dannii Minogue$500kNicole Kidman and Keith Urban$500kLendlease$500kPink$500kBette Midler$500kBrambles$500kNick Cave and Warren Ellis$500k
*Table does not include fundraisers, such as Celeste Barber’s efforts to raise tens of millions, or pledges conditional on future events, such as Nick Kyrgios’ commitment to donate $200 for every ace he hits.


Australians celebrate ‘most welcome and beautiful sounds’ of rain


People in Queensland and New South Wales have enthusiastically celebrated the return of rainfall to their towns and cities, dancing and jumping as rain fell on regions hit by drought and bushfires.

More than 100 millimetres of rain fell across parts of drought-stricken Queensland on Friday, with children filmed celebrating the rainfall and dogs shown dashing through puddles in Quilpie, while station workers jumped for joy in the mud as rain fell in Meandarra.

External Link:

Welcome rain in Queensland (ABC News)

Bowenville farmer Kim Bremner said although some in his area had not received a lot of rain, there may be enough to stop people carting water for a while.

“It’s really been a godsend at this time of the year,” Mr Bremner said.

“We’ve had no rain virtually since March last year.”

In New South Wales, farmer Bryce Chapman yelled with delight as he filmed himself welcoming rainfall west of Karuah.

Video showed water flowing through Halls Creek near Bingara in northern NSW for the first time in five years, as cattle grazier Dan Landers used the heavy rain in Glen Innes to do some impromptu wakeboarding.

External Link:

Rain falls in New South Wales (ABC News)

The rainfall across the state brings some relief to areas hit by recent bushfires and drought, with more rain expected this weekend.

On the Central Coast, Australian Reptile Park Director Tim Faulkner said staff had recently been preparing for bushfires — but spent Friday closed, trying to protect animals and buildings from flash flooding.

“This is incredible. Just last week, we were having daily meetings to discuss the imminent threat of bushfires,” Mr Faulkner said.

“We haven’t seen flooding like this at the park for over 15 years.”

The wet weather hasn’t just been welcomed in the regions.

Sydney’s Centennial Parklands posted photos to Twitter on Friday showing the transformation of Busbys Pond after Sydney copped a drenching this week.

External Link:

twitter: centennial parklands

The rain on Friday morning inspired Sydneysiders to do their own celebrating.

External Link:

Kylie Abigail: The heavy rain outside the window is one of the most welcome and beautiful sounds. #NSWbushfires #sydneyrain

External Link:

Annie Parker: It’s an excellent day for a celebratory rain paddle!! #sydneyrain

Falls continued on Friday night, with puddles forming around the city’s tourist landmark.

External Link: Sydney is soaking up some much needed rain today! ☔ Even when the sky breaks open, our city looks just as beautiful as ever

Earlier in the week, Cunnamulla man Fred Wharton captured his nephews Joshua and Jamaine playing in the mud after an extended dry period for the region which included temperatures as high as 46 degrees Celsius.

Video: Children in Cunnamulla make the most of the downpour after receiving more than 30mm in some areas

(ABC News)

An estimated 33mm of rain fell on the town on Wednesday, to the delight of the youngsters.

“It’s the best rain I’ve seen here for a while,” Mr Wharton said.

“There were two little bursts of it, the first one seems to be the heaviest of it and then there was a follow-up little storm after that.

“Next minute I hear the young fella’s outside screaming, went outside and here they are running up and down in the water — they just loved it.”

Other children celebrated the long-awaited rainfall in similar style across Queensland and New South Wales on Wednesday, with children filmed playing in the mud in Winton and others filmed playing in the rain in Springsure.

Video: Kids playing in the rain across Queensland on Wednesday

(ABC News)

The Bureau of Meteorology predicts showers will be concentrated over the north and east of New South Wales on Saturday and Sunday, while wet weather in Queensland is expected to ease by the end of the weekend.

Video: Children play in the rain in Dalton, NSW earlier in the week

(ABC News)


‘Bloody nuts’: Kagiso Rabada’s Test suspension after wicket celebration prompts mixed response

South Africa

South Africa paceman Kagiso Rabada has been suspended for a Test after an overzealous celebration of a dismissal in the third Test against England.

Key points:

  • Kagiso Rabada ran down the pitch and screamed right next to Joe Root after bowling out the England captain
  • Rabada was fined 15 per cent of his match fee for the level-one offence, but an accumulation of offences means he is suspended
  • The offences include two in the same Test of Australia’s ill-fated 2018 tour of South Africa

Rabada ran down the pitch and let out a prolonged scream about a metre away from Joe Root after removing the England captain’s off stump on day one of the Test in Port Elizabeth.

The Proteas star was found to have breached article 2.5 of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) code of conduct, relating to “using language, actions or gestures which disparage or which could provoke an aggressive reaction from a batter upon his or her dismissal during an international match”.

External Link:

Kagiso Rabada screams right next to Joe Root

Rabada was fined 15 per cent of his match fee by the ICC for the level-one offence, but because it was his fourth violation of the code of conduct in the past 24 months, he will now miss the fourth Test in Johannesburg.

The offences date back to February 2018, when he gave India batsman Shikhar Dhawan a send-off during a one-day international.

The next month he copped two whacks from the ICC during the ill-fated Test series against Australia, after giving aggressive send-offs to Steve Smith, including a light bump of shoulders, and David Warner in the second Test.


This exchange with Steve Smith in 2018 drew demerits from the ICC, but it was far from the worst thing that happened in the series. (Reuters: Mike Hutchings)

That run of offences came on the back of a suspension for a Test in July 2017, which was also due to an accumulation of four demerit points, that time in the space of five months.

In commentary of the current series, former England skipper Michael Atherton said Rabada was “a slow learner, because he’s done it before”.

“But I don’t have a problem with that celebration … it’s a little overzealous and it’s a little close to Joe Root, but is that worthy of a demerit point and subsequent ban? I don’t think so,” Atherton said.


Rabada’s celebration does not look like much until you see where he was standing. (Reuters: Siphiwe Sibeko)

“You’ve got to allow players some leeway. It’s baking hot, he’s charging in and he’s not swearing at the opposition, he’s not abusing the opposition.”

One of the West Indies’ greatest fast bowlers, Michael Holding, agreed that the system was unfortunately set up, but that Rabada should have been smarter.

“You’ve got to understand the conditions under which you’re playing,” Holding said.

External Link:

@MichaelVaughan: Rabada getting a 1 game ban for celebrating taking the Wicket of the opponents best player is absolutely bonkers … Over rates & slow play nothing gets done … Celebrate a wicked and you are banned … The World is bloody nuts

“If you’re driving on the road and the speed limit is 30 miles per hour, whether it’s in a school zone or you’re on the highway and you think ‘oh this is too slow’, you still have to abide by the speed limit.

“If you want to go over the speed limit, go, but if you get caught don’t complain. It’s as simple as that.

“You know the playing conditions under which the ICC have put down their code of conduct; do not abuse it.”


Ukrainian Prime Minister resigns after recordings caught him mocking President Zelenskiy


Ukraine’s Prime Minister submitted his resignation on Friday, days after he was caught on tape saying the country’s President knows nothing about the economy.

Key points:

  • The PM said he wrote the resignation letter “to dispel any doubts about our respect and trust for the President”
  • He was caught on tape saying the country’s President knows nothing about the economy
  • The Parliament must now vote on whether to accept his resignation

In a Facebook post, Oleksiy Honcharuk said that he had given his resignation to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“I took this post to implement the President’s program. He is an example of transparency and decency to me,” he said.

“However, in order to dispel any doubts about our respect and trust for the President, I have written a resignation letter and submitted it to the President for introduction to Parliament,” Honcharuk’s statement read.

Earlier this week, an audio recording surfaced in which Mr Honcharuk appeared to make disparaging comments about Mr Zelenskiy’s understanding of economics.

Mr Honcharuk said that the recording was a compilation of “fragments of recorded government meetings” and blamed unidentified “influential groups” for making it look like he doesn’t respect the President.

“It is not true,” the Prime Minister insisted.

On Thursday, politicians from the opposition party Opposition Platform-For Life demanded Mr Honcharuk’s resignation.

They said he and his cabinet discredit Ukraine’s President and exacerbate the economic crisis in the country.


Volodymyr Zelenskiy was criticized for a vague campaign platform and never holding public office but voters appeared to cast aside those concerns. (AP: Emilio Morenatti)

Members of the ruling Servant of the People party said there were no grounds for Honcharuk to resign.

Ukraine’s Parliament must now vote on whether to accept the Prime Minister’s resignation.

Mr Zelenskiy has mainly only ever worked as an entertainer since he was a teenager.

However, he is best known for his role in the popular 2015 Ukrainian television series Servant of the People, in which he plays a high-school teacher who becomes president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral.

There have also been concerns that Mr Zelenskiy has ties to controversial oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky.



Chinese birth rate falls to its lowest in 70 years


China’s birth rate last year fell to its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China more than 70 years ago, posing a long-term challenge for a government concerned by an ageing population.

Key points:

  • The number of babies born in China in 2019 dropped by about 580,000 to 14.65 million
  • The abolition of the One Child Policy has failed to lift the country’s birth rate
  • China’s population grew to 1.4 billion

The country’s birth rate in 2019 stood at 10.48 per thousand — the lowest since 1949 — data released by the National Bureau of Statistics of China showed on Friday.

The number of babies born in 2019 dropped by about 580,000 to 14.65 million.

The abolishment of the One-Child Policy at the end of 2015 has not provided much of a tangible boost to the country’s birth rate.

From 2017 to 2018, total births fell by nearly 2 million.

The One Child Policy — introduced in 1979 — was aimed to control the population explosion in the decades after the Communist Party came into power in 1949, when Chairman Mao Zedong encouraged large families and condemned birth control to boost manpower.

But many young couples in China are reluctant to have children because they cannot afford to pay for healthcare and education alongside expensive housing.

Concerns for ageing population

The One-Child Policy is also regarded as one of the driving forces behind the country’s ageing population.

China’s overall population totalled 1.4 billion as of the end of 2019, the data from the bureau showed, inching up from 1.39 billion a year earlier.


China’s elderly population is expected to reach 400 million by the end of 2035. (ABC News: Bill Birtles)

But the country’s population is approaching what Chinese government scholars predict to be a peak of 1.44 billion in 2029, which is anticipated to be followed by “unstoppable” population decline.

Figures published by the China Association of Social Security in 2018 showed China’s elderly population is expected to reach 400 million by the end of 2035.

The US-China trade deal is more of a ceasefire
Questions remain as to how Donald Trump’s US-China trade deal will affect the global economy.

This rapid ageing is creating policy challenges for China’s leaders as they promise to guarantee healthcare and pension payments amid a slowing economy.

Figures from the bureau showed the world’s second-largest economy grew 6.1 per cent last year amid a bruising trade war with the US, down from 6.6 per cent in 2018.

Though still strong by global standards, and within the Government’s target range, it was the weakest expansion since 1990.

This week the US and China signed phase one of a new trade deal, defusing an 18-month conflict between the world’s two largest economies.

Meanwhile, as China’s birth rate falls, divorce rates in the country are hitting record highs.

In the first three quarters of 2019, about 3.1 million couples filed for divorce — compared with 7.1 million couples getting married — according to data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs.



Thailand finds second case of new Chinese virus, authorities confident spread can be contained


Thailand has found a second case of a new Chinese coronavirus, authorities said on Friday as they ramped up checks on Chinese visitors, nearly a million of whom are expected for Lunar New Year holidays next week.

Key points:

  • Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause infections, from the common cold to SARS
  • Thailand’s Health Minister said, “We’re fully alert”.
  • Japan has also reported one case of the infection

The latest patient is from China’s central city of Wuhan, which has reported 41 cases of pneumonia potentially linked to the new type of virus, with two deaths, as hospitals worldwide scramble to guard against any spread.

The 74-year-old woman, quarantined since arriving in Thailand on Monday, was found to be infected, health officials said.

“We’re very confident that we can control the spread of this kind of disease,” Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters, adding that the situation was under control and there was no outbreak in Thailand. “We’re fully alert.”

The two Chinese patients were now safe but needed to go through a few more procedures before Thai authorities could let them return home, he added.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Thailand, which is on high alert ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays, said on Monday it had found a 61-year-old Chinese woman carrying a strain of the coronavirus, the first time it was detected outside China.

Japan reported its first case of the infection on Thursday after a Japanese man returned from visiting Wuhan, known for its picturesque lakes.


The origin of the virus has been traced to the Chinese city of Wuhan. (Reuters: China Daily CDIC)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the virus could spread and warned hospitals about it.

Thai health officials have stepped up monitoring at four airports receiving daily flights from Wuhan — Suvarnabhumi, Don Muang, Chiang Mai and Phuket — and others that receive charter flights from the Chinese city.

Since January 3, Thailand has screened 13,624 passengers.

Health officials also asked Thai AirAsia and China Southern Airlines, which run direct daily flights from Wuhan, to halt boarding by those suffering from high fever and respiratory symptoms and reschedule their flights.



Teenage woman charged with possessing child abuse material after US tip-off

Adelaide 5000

A young woman from South Australia’s south-east has been charged with possessing child abuse material, after a tip-off was provided to local police by US authorities.

Key points:

  • A 19-year-old woman has been charged with possessing child abuse material
  • Authorities seized electronic devices from her home
  • The woman has been bailed to appear in court in March

The 19-year-old woman was arrested on Thursday by the South Australia Joint Anti-Child Exploitation Team after investigators conducted a search of the family home.

An investigation was launched in June 2019 after a tip-off from the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about a person allegedly uploading a video on social media of a child being sexually abused.

Investigators seized electronic devices when they searched the teenager’s home and allegedly uncovered stored child abuse material.

She has been bailed and is expected to face Naracoorte Magistrate’s Court on March 27.

Police said the maximum penalty for the offence was 15 years in prison.

AFP Acting Commander South Australia Gail McClure said while it was rare for a woman to be charged with this type of offence, it was a reminder that there was no single profile of a child sex offender.

“This case highlights the importance of the AFP’s strong partnerships, both locally and overseas, to prevent the spread of child abuse material,” she said.

“To anyone thinking of accessing or sharing child exploitation material, this is not a victimless crime.

“Each of those images represents a real child being abused and that is heartbreaking.

“The AFP and its partners are dedicated to working together to keep children safe and pursue offenders who exploit children.”


Australian marathon legend Rob de Castella says these ‘ludicrous’ shoes should be banned


The shoe that Nike developed to help Eliud Kipchoge break the mythical two-hour barrier for the marathon in Vienna last year should be banned, Australian marathon legend Rob de Castella says.

Key points:

  • Rob de Castella says running in Nike’s Vaporfly shoes is akin to ‘running with springs on your feet’
  • Eliud Kipchoge broke the two-hour marathon barrier wearing the shoes in Vienna
  • Athletes say they will be ‘shocked’ if the shoes are banned, despite reports suggesting they will be

The 62-year-old former world champion told the Sydney Morning Herald Nike’s high-tech Vaporfly shoe goes against the “spirit” of athletics.

“The concept of running with springs on your feet is just ludicrous,” de Castella said.

“It definitely needs to be addressed. “I’m not for technology where it is providing an unfair or unnatural advantage.”


Robert de Castella says the shoes offer an unnatural advantage. (ABC News, File)

The IAAF, athletics’ international governing body, is understood to be likely to ban the shoes and issue a limit on the depth of a shoe’s midsole, according to a report in the UK Times.

However, The Guardian’s Sean Ingle reported that the World Athletics working group was still deliberating over how to deal with the shoes.

World 24-hour running record holder Camille Herron, a Nike-sponsored athlete, added to the debate on Twitter, saying that no rules had been broken by Nike.

“I don’t believe it,” Herron wrote in response to a tweet saying the shoes would be banned.

External Link:

runcamile tweet: I don’t believe it. This is not what David Katz, who wrote the current IAAF shoe rule, discussed a month ago at the USATF meeting.

“This is not what [IAAF technical committee member] David Katz, who wrote the current IAAF shoe rule, discussed a month ago at the USATF [United States of America Track and Field] meeting.”

Shoes can be banned by the IAAF if found to confer an “unfair assistance or advantage” to those wearing them, or if they are not “readily available” to other athletes.

In a subsequent tweet, Herron said she did not believe there would be any change ahead of the Olympics and she would be “shocked” if the shoes were banned.

“The World Athletics rules don’t define what ‘unfair advantage or assistance’ is, so you can’t ban a shoe simply because it’s better,” she said.

“Also, the shoes are ‘reasonably available’. No rules violated. Other companies are welcome to innovate too and many have over the years.”

‘Road racing shoes have evolved drastically’

De Castella, who set the Oceania record for the marathon with a time of 2:07.51 in the 1986 Boston Marathon — a record that still stands, said despite the fact that shoes had evolved, artificial assistance should not be provided to the runner.


Shoes have developed significantly since de Castella’s record-setting days. (Wikicommons)

“Road racing shoes have evolved drastically, but it never got to the point [where] there was an artificial performance enhancement,” he said.

She claimed a world record. Few believe it
At a time when women weren’t even allowed to compete in marathons, Adrienne Beames cracked a time barrier many thought impossible. Five decades on, debate rages over whether it was all a fantasy.

Kipchoge, in the face of growing criticism about the use of the shoe during his record-breaking marathon attempt, told the UK’s Telegraph: “Technology is growing and we can’t deny it, we must go with technology.”

The development of shoes to aid athletic performance is nothing new.

Nike was established by Bill Bowerman in the 1960s to help give athletes at the University of Oregon, where Bowerman was coach of the track team, an edge by developing trainers with a lighter outsole.

However, in the quest for faster and faster times, Nike has pushed the boundaries with its new Vaporfly.

The shoes include multiple carbon fibre plates separated by foam in the midsole, that Nike claims will improve running performances by as much as 4 per cent.


Eliud Kipchoge’s support team urges him on as he approaches the finish line in Vienna. (Reuters: Lisi Niesner)

The four fastest official times in history have been set by athletes wearing the shoes since Kipchoge set his world record of 2:01:39 in September 2018.

Seven of the top 10 men’s marathon runners of all time, all wearing the shoes, have set their best times in the last year.

Women’s world record holder Brigid Kosgei — who broke Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year-old mark last year — was also wearing the same footwear.

Echoes of super-suits controversy

The argument is similar to the controversy that ripped through swimming during the super-suit era.

The suits, made of polyurethane as opposed to textiles, were used by swimmers who proceeded to smash world records.

Over 100 world records were broken in 2008 alone, with some labelling the trend a form of technological doping.

The arms-race between swimming equipment providers came to a head at the 2009 world championships in Rome, when Michael Phelps was dethroned as 200-metre freestyle champion and world record holder by German Paul Biedermann.


Paul Biedermann is no longer allowed to wear his non-textile suit. (Reuters: Stefano Rellandini)

It was Phelps’s first significant defeat in four years of competition and was acknowledged, even by Biedermann, as being a result of the respective suits they were wearing.

“I hope there will be a time when I can beat Michael Phelps without these suits. I hope next year. I hope it’s really soon,” Biedermann told ESPN after that race.

Phelps, meanwhile, prayed for a return to “when swimming is back to swimming”.

He got his wish, when swimming’s international governing body FINA banned the super-suits after the 2009 world championships.


Widow accepts bravery award at her volunteer firefighter husband’s funeral

Sydney 2000

The wife of a volunteer firefighter who was killed when a fire tornado flipped his truck near the NSW-Victoria border has received a bravery award on his behalf at his funeral in Holbrook.

Key points:

  • Samuel McPaul has been remembered as a “hero” who brought positive energy to those around him
  • His wife, Megan, is expecting to give birth to their first child in May
  • The Prime Minister, New South Wales Premier and Rural Fire Service chief are among the mourners

Hundreds of mourners were told of Samuel McPaul’s selfless and compassionate nature, with one friend saying that Mr McPaul’s unborn child would grow up hearing stories about the “amazing man” who was their father.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons were among those to attend the 28-year-old’s funeral, which was held at the Holbrook Sports Stadium.

Mr McPaul died after a “freakish weather event” flipped his truck while he was fighting the Green Valley blaze in Jingellic, 70 kilometres east of Albury on December 30.

Video: Speakers at the funeral paid tribute to Mr McPaul's dedication to helping others.

(ABC News)

Before the service, uniformed firefighters carried in his helmet, and his firefighting colleagues formed a guard of honour afterwards for Mr McPaul’s family to walk through as they left.

Opening the service, senior chaplain Ian Spall described Mr McPaul as a creative spirit who was “always looking for a better way to do things”.

“A very honest person — sometimes he had no filter,” he said.

“He was generous and his kindness was infectious.


International firefighters joined local emergency services workers to pay their respects to Mr McPaul. (Twitter: NSW RFS)

“The basketball court was where he loved to be.

“Some young people have his face on their screen savers in this community, those who played basketball with him. That’s a beautiful thing.”

Friends recall ‘magical’ wedding

Mr McPaul had been married to his wife Megan for 18 months and their first child is due in May.

His friend Jennifer Hyde said he was an only child who had a passion for reading and developed an affinity for animals at an early age.

He studied animal science at Charles Sturt University, which is where he met his wife-to-be Meg.

“Sam also had a passion for custom cars so decided to become a mechanic,” Ms Hyde said.

“Sam always did things faster and better than everyone or so he thought.”


Mr McPaul’s wife, Megan, is expecting their first child in May. (Twitter: NSW RFS)

Another friend, Rebekah Hargreaves, said that whenever Mr McPaul spoke about Meg, he beamed.

“The day he married Meg was the most magical day we have witnessed,” she said.

“Together, Sam and Meg made sure every moment was perfect. It’s an event we’ll treasure forever.”

“The day before Sam was tragically taken from us, he and Meg shared ultrasound photos with us, which showed Bub with long lanky legs. He said: ‘Yep, that’s my kid alright!’

“You have touched the lives of so many in your short life. Your final act of bravery has touched the lives of so many in this country.

“But we know you will forever be watching over us. You will always be our hero and we love you so much.”


Dozens of RFS career firefighters, volunteer firefighters and basketball players formed a guard of honour for Samuel McPaul. (ABC NEWS: Rosie King)

Basketball teammate, Michael McPherson, said Mr McPaul spent so much time at the stadium some might think he almost lived there.

“It was hard to feel down when you were around Sam because he’s such a positive person,” he said.

Jarrod Anderson, an emergency services colleague, said Mr McPaul would give you the shirt off his back if he thought he could help in any way and never expected anything in return.


The funeral service was held at the basketball court in Holbrook where Mr McPaul loved to play. (ABC News: Mikaela Ortolan)

“His heart is even bigger than his smile,” Mr Anderson said.

“Sam will be missed more than he ever could have realised.

“Sam’s Bub is going to grow up hearing many stories about their dad and know how special they are to have such an amazing man as their father.”


Samuel McPaul’s wife Megan is due with their first child in May. (Facebook: Supplied)

Fire chief mourns ‘remarkable young man’

Mr Fitzsimmons told those gathered that Mr McPaul loved and wanted to contribute to his community and was diligent as a firefighter after joining the RFS in 2016.

“He was very close to his colleagues and would lend a hand to anyone who needed it,” he said.

“The message from the family to the other firefighters who were there that terrible night is ‘don’t doubt your judgment’.

“Meg wanted me to say thank you for your part, your role for staying there and not letting go until Sam was safely and respectfully removed.

“Please take those words with you, they’re heartfelt and sincere.”


RFS helicopters staged a flyover at the funeral. (ABC News: Rosie King)

Mr Fitzsimmons awarded Mr McPaul’s wife Megan a bravery award on his behalf.

“We pass on our respect and admiration for a wonderful father-to-be and wonderful husband,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.

“He paid the ultimate price for making a difference to his community.

“Sam was a remarkable young man who lost his life as a hero.

“Thank you for sharing Sam with us at the Rural Fire Service.

“If we don’t have the support of partners, we don’t have the volunteers who make up our Rural Fire Service.”


Prime Minister Scott Morrison attended the funeral along with other political leaders and senior emergency services staff. (ABC News: Erin Somerville)

Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears In Heaven’ played as the family laid a floral tribute before a long line of RFS career firefighters, volunteers and basketball players formed an honour guard for Mr McPaul.

A fire truck with lights flashing then led the hearse away from the sports centre while a number of RFS helicopters flew overhead.

On the day Mr McPaul died, he and two others had been mustering cattle caught in a paddock on flat ground.

Several other firefighters were injured and a second vehicle was also blown over in the same weather event.

He is among three NSW firefighters killed this fire season and another three people who were working to fight fires have been killed in Victoria.


Spike in animal surrenders as financial pressures mount for Darwin dog owners

Darwin 0800

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, 30 pet owners took their animals to a shelter in an industrial area in Darwin, trying to give them up.

Key points:

  • PAWS Darwin has been overwhelmed by the number of people wanting to surrender their pets
  • The shelter says people are surrendering their pets due to financial difficulty
  • It currently has 100 animals and is at capacity

“One person rocked up at I don’t know, 3:00pm and said I’m getting on a plane at 5:30pm, I need to leave my dog here,” said the operations manager at PAWS Darwin, Lisa Hansen.

The “crazily busy” festive season capped off a period where Ms Hansen, who’s been at PAWS for 15 years, says she’s increasingly seen people giving up their animals because they’re struggling financially.

“I think we’ve probably heard about every excuse,” she said.

“Losing their income has played a bigger role this year than I’ve ever noticed before.


Lisa Hansen says the shelter has been at capacity for the last month. (ABC News: Emilie Gramenz)

“There’s a lot more people saying, ‘hey, we need help’ … it’s just hard when you don’t have enough to feed the kids or feed yourself or do what you need to do, sometimes it can be hard to look after your pets as well.

“Obviously you can’t blame people for that.”

PAWS has 100 animals currently being fostered and Ms Hansen says their shelter has been at capacity for the last month — but the community has been generous in its support over Christmas.

“We haven’t had to buy a spot of food thanks to the people of Darwin. We can’t do that many animals without the people in Darwin.”

‘Really concerning’ trend

The Litchfield Council, which covers a large swathe of Darwin’s rural area, recently impounded 23 dogs in seven days — more than they’d usually round up in a fortnight.

“We only had three dogs that were de-sexed out of the 23, and we only had 5 that were registered to owners,” said Litchfield Council infrastructure and operations director Nadine Nilon.


Ms Hansen says she “can’t blame” people who give up their pets because they are struggling, but wants all the animals in her shelter to find homes. (ABC News: Emilie Gramenz)

“That’s really concerning that only eight [people] had done anything about looking after their dogs and being responsible dog owners.”

Litchfield Council does provide vouchers towards the cost of de-sexing to ease the financial burden.

“We’ve got about 60 left at the moment, where people can come and get a voucher for $100 off their de-sexing costs,” said Ms Nilon.

Darwin City Council had five dogs surrendered after Christmas.


Hanson joins Labor, Greens’ call for Senate investigation into McKenzie’s sports grants program


There is growing support for a Senate inquiry into the Government’s handling of a $100 million pre-election sports grants program cash splash, with One Nation leader Pauline Hanson backing the push from Labor and the Greens.

Key points:

  • The Greens and Labor want the Senate to investigate the sports grants program
  • An audit accused the Government of bias in how some grants were awarded
  • Pauline Hanson says the grants were used as a “slush fund” to win the federal election

Those parties want the Parliament to investigate Cabinet minister Bridget McKenzie and the Federal Government following a scathing audit of a sports grants program, which accused the Coalition of bias in its distribution of funds.

An Auditor-General’s report found hundreds of applicants recommended by government agency Sport Australia were rejected by then-sports minister Senator McKenzie in favour of clubs in electorates the Coalition wanted to win in last year’s federal election.

“The audit has proven that they have used pork barrelling as a slush fund,” Senator Hanson told the ABC.

Senator McKenzie has dismissed calls from political opponents and clubs that missed out on funding for her to stand down.

She insists she followed the rules and all clubs that received funding were eligible for the money.

Video: Bridget McKenzie dismisses calls for her to resign following a scathing audit of sports grants.

(ABC News)

Senator Hanson has been in a long-running dispute with Senator McKenzie over the minister’s handling of the dairy industry, having become the Agriculture Minister after May’s federal election win.

“If it’s going to prove that they’ve used that money, taxpayers’ dollars, to feather their own nest and further themselves [then] yes I do [support the inquiry],” the One Nation leader said.

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Senator McKenzie’s position on the frontbench was untenable.

Political pork-barrelling
Australia has a long, not so proud and not particularly creative history of political pork-barrelling, but this time it’s different, writes David Speers.

“This is outrageous behaviour by a Government that really believes that it has a right to do whatever it likes, whenever it likes, wherever it likes,” he said.

“The truth is that her position is untenable as a minister.”

The Parliament is currently on its summer break, with politicians returning to Canberra for the first sitting of the year in February.

That will be the first opportunity for the Opposition and crossbench to seek to set up the inquiry into the Government’s management of the sports grants.

“Australians expect transparency and accountability from those in power,” Greens senator Janet Rice said on Thursday.

“Senator McKenzie’s decision-making process was completely unsporting, with clubs in safe seats hampered in their chances of winning a grant.

“We will pursue this in Senate Estimates and will consider seeking the support of the Senate for an inquiry.”

Video: Lisa Miller said the funding was used for "political self-interest purposes".

(ABC News)


Too privileged, too bogan: How ‘postcode prejudice’ affects rich and poor


It’s the street everyone avoids. The place you’re warned against, or make jokes about. The rough suburb.

Postcode prejudice is rife across Australia — it might be Sunshine in Melbourne, the western suburbs of Sydney or Logan, south of Brisbane — and it leads to us making judgments about people based on where they live.

Those judgments are often rooted in classism, says Rebecca Wickes, a criminology expert and the director of the Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre.

“I think class is a fundamental fault line that runs through stigma,” she tells ABC RN’s Life Matters.


Class, made recognisable through concentrations of public housing, “is a fundamental fault line that runs through stigma.” (Getty: kokkai)

That stigma has a real impact on people, who might feel a deep sense of personal shame, or even hide their address on a resume.

“There’s a perception that if you put the postcode of a poor neighbourhood on your job application that might affect your chances of getting the job,” says Ilan Wiesel, senior lecturer in urban geography at Melbourne University.

For richer, for poorer

Dr Wickes says postcode stigma particularly affects disadvantaged people and minority groups — a consequence of “structural decisions and policies that encourage particular groups of people to live in particular kinds of places”.

But there’s a flip side, too.

Dr Wiesel says residents of very affluent suburbs — like Melbourne’s Toorak, Sydney’s Mosman or Perth’s Cottesloe — can face stigma too.


Residents of Sydney’s harbourside suburbs might have it good, but they too face stigma. (Getty: vale_t)

“Stigma is about stereotypes and preconceptions, and we have preconceptions about wealthy neighbourhoods as much as we have about poor neighbourhoods,” Dr Wiesel says.

And he says those preconceptions seem to change, depending on a person’s sex.

Dr Wiesel says many older men say living in affluent suburbs is “a sign of their own success, their business success, their professional success”.

Not so for women he has interviewed from the same areas.

Class Act
Australia has a class system, and it has real consequences in people’s lives. Explore the full RN series.

“They’ll say, ‘I’m from the eastern suburbs’ or ‘I’m from the northern suburbs’, avoiding actually saying Toorak or Mosman,” he says.

“They felt they were being judged as privileged; that it wasn’t a sign of their own success but rather their father’s success or their husband’s success; that they have inherited that privilege.

“And there was negative stigma associated with it, that they are self-entitled.”

While Dr Wiesel says any stigma can have a real impact on people’s lives, it’s important to acknowledge that negative stigma in affluent areas coincides with “a lot of privileges that you earn by living in those neighbourhoods in terms of access to facilities [and] the networks that you have around you”.

Whereas in poorer neighbourhoods, he says, that negative stigma compounds “many other forms of disadvantage”.

‘I was told to avoid the west side of the river’

When Nic Healey arrived in Dubbo earlier this year he was warned by numerous people about where not to rent a house.


Nic Healy, who presents radio for ABC Western Plains, “totally ignored” warnings about living in West Dubbo. (Supplied: Nic Healy)

“I was told to avoid the west side of the river, West Dubbo,” says Nic, who presents breakfast radio for ABC Western Plains.

“People said it was a bit rough — the phrase I heard a couple of times was ‘Wild West Dubbo’.”

But the best rental he could find was in West Dubbo, so he “totally ignored” the warnings, first renting and more recently buying into the area.

“You could not get a more friendly area and I’m a bit stunned that it still has a bit of a rep,” he says.

Which is not to say he believes suburb warnings are never warranted.

Nic says he was “an inner-westie in Sydney for ages”, living in Surry Hills in the 1990s “when people were telling me … it’s nothing but junkies and slums”.

“It’s where I saw my first dead body, so they weren’t entirely wrong,” he adds.

He was also “mugged a couple of times” in Redfern, back when that was “regarded as a very rough area of Sydney”.

“So sometimes these warnings do have an actual meaning to them,” he says.

But, Nic argues that “every town, wherever you are, is going to have some areas that are doing less well than other areas”.

The important question, he says, is whether that makes an area a place to avoid, or whether “that should be the area where we’re concentrating resources and empathy”.

He believes how you answer that question will “depend on how you see the world around you and how want to change that world around you”.

Changing the narrative – or running with the stigma

So can a community reinvent its image, or band together and change the narrative?

Dr Wickes believes to achieve that would require “a lot of funding” and “a lot of goodwill from people who have access to the means to be able to make change”.

But it is possible.

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About a decade ago, the Mayor of Logan, south of Brisbane, set out to change the area’s reputation.

Dr Wickes says he “made an absolute policy change to have a more socially inclusive area” and to be more economically inclusive — an idea marketed to all residents.

“That was really backed up with a set of policies and practices that were geared towards creating socially and economically inclusive spaces for the residents of Logan,” Dr Wickes says.

And it’s had an impact.

“I think that you could find some evidence to say that over time Logan’s stigma has decreased and it is seen as an area where there are affordable homes, where there is access to employment, and that that diversity is actually a good thing, not a bad thing in that area,” she says.

There’s also the option of taking your suburb’s stigma and running with it.

That’s what residents of the Wollongong suburb of Albion Park did after it was included on a list of the 10 “most bogan suburbs” in Australia.


Claim the Ugg boot, claim the stigma. (Getty: southerlycourse)

Instead of rejecting the label, residents appropriated it, and proposed to their local council that a giant Ugg boot statue be erected in the centre of town in celebration of their bogan-ness.

“I think it’s a good example of how you can actually take the stigma and turn it over its head really,” Dr Wiesel says.

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Outback nurse killed in APY Lands was already victim of assault on the job, inquest told

Fregon 872

South Australian outback nurse Gayle Woodford, who was raped and murdered in the APY Lands, was assaulted by a different criminal in the same remote community two years before her death, an inquest has heard.

Key points:

  • Dudley Davey was jailed for life with a 32-year non-parole period
  • Nganampa Health Clinic closed one clinic in the APY Lands after an attack
  • The inquest was told hiring a security guard would cost $2.6 million

The 56-year-old mother was employed by the Nganampa Health Council (NHC) as a nurse and was working in the APY Lands community of Fregon when she was murdered by convicted rapist Dudley Davey in March 2016.

She was on-call alone on the night she was raped and killed after responding to Davey, who was seeking medical assistance.

Davey was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 32 years.

The inquest is expected to probe the overall safety of on-call remote area nurses, the police presence in remote communities and Davey’s release from prison prior to the attack.

On Thursday, the inquest was told Mrs Woodford was attacked while working in Fregon by a different serial criminal in 2014.

David Busuttil — who was NHC’s health services manager when Mrs Woodford was killed — has been in the witness box over two days.

Former NHC manager quizzed over nurse safety

He was questioned about the prior attack on Mrs Woodford and another three alleged attacks on nurses across the APY Lands.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Ahura Kalali, asked Mr Busuttil: “Do you agree it’s an extremely frightening position to be in as a nurse?”

Mr Busuttil replied: “Yes”.

The counsel assisting also asked: “Wasn’t it foreseeable to you, prior to Mrs Woodford’s death, a nurse could be harmed or sexually assaulted?”

Mr Busuttil agreed with that suggestion.


Former NHC health services manager David Busuttil leaves the Coroner’s Court. (ABC News: Claire Campbell)

The inquest has previously heard that senior APY Lands police had warned NHC management not to allow nurses to work alone after another nurse was attacked in a different community — which the ABC has chosen not to name for legal reasons.

That community’s clinic was closed down following the attack.

But Mr Busuttil told the inquest he could not recall the specific meeting with police where they advised him and other NHC staff not to allow nurses to work alone, but he said officers “did say something like that”.

“I don’t recall doing anything specific with [the advice],” he said.

The inquest has also previously heard that Fregon was akin to the “Wild West” and without a police presence, had become “lawless”.

On Thursday afternoon, NHC medical director Dr Paul Torzillo told the inquest that having nurses work in pairs across remote APY Lands communities would “triple the nursing budget”.

“We’re funded by the taxpayer through the Commonwealth, it’s something that wouldn’t be possible,” he said.


Gayle and Keith Woodford before the murder in March 2016. (Supplied: Keith Woodford)

He said hiring security guards for nurses would also be costly.

“The primary reason that was not implemented was that it would never be funded,” he said.

“Two people fly in, fly out in six communities — it’s $2.6 million … if you’re adding travel costs, that’s $3.5 million.

“Nobody else in the sector was doing it.”

He said other health service providers across the Northern Territory and Central Australia did not provide security guards for staff.

But when Dr Torzillo was questioned about whether any “official costings” had been completed in relation to security guards, he responded: “I’m reasonably confident there weren’t [any]”.

Dr Torzillo told the inquest he had done “some costings” recently as part of his statement to the coroner.

The inquest continues.


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