Thursday, October 28, 2010

Woman in custody over ambulance blaze

A BRISBANE woman accused of setting fire to three ambulances and an ambulance station has been remanded in custody to appear in court in December.

Jodie La Spina, 23, appeared in the Cleveland Magistrates Court on Thursday charged with arson, entering with intent and unlawful use of a motor vehicle.

The Cleveland ambulance station and two ambulances were significantly damaged after being set on fire about 12.20am (AEST) on Wednesday.

A third ambulance, allegedly stolen from the station, was set on fire in nearby Ormiston.

La Spina did not apply for bail and has been remanded in custody to re-appear on December 20.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Investigation into fast food toilet explosion

A homemade explosive detonated in the men's toilet cubicle at the restaurant on High Street in Penrith.

The explosion damaged the toilet cistern and an air vent. There was nobody in the restroom at the time.

The remnants of a crudely made explosive device was found and taken away for forensic examination.

Investigators have viewed CCTV footage showing a man at the restaurant who is now wanted for questioning.

The man was last seen walking west along High Street. Police want to speak with him or anybody who might know his identity.

He is described as an 18 to 25-year-old of caucasian appearance, with shoulder-length brown hair.

He was last seen wearing a black T-shirt with a cartoon design on the front, blue denim jeans and a fawn-coloured jacket.

Anyone with information about the man's identity is being urged to contact Crime Stoppers.


Friday, October 22, 2010

One dead in Gympie plane crash

A MAN is dead after a plane crashed near Gympie about 4pm.

It is believed the plane came down on Lagoon Pocket Rd, Lagoon Pocket near Gympie Aerodrome.

"Details are sketchy at this stage," a Department of Community Services said.

"There's believed to be one person in the wreckage, deceased."

It is not known if anyone else has been injured.

A Queensland Ambulance Service spokeswoman said only one passenger was aboard the two-seater aircraft.

Ray Gresham lives about 800m from the crash site and was watching the plane moments before it crashed.

He said the pilot, a man who looked to be in his 60s, and was likely flying his own recreational plane, a three-quarter Spitfire.

"It would seem as though he spun into the ground on the final as he was coming into land," Mr Gresham said.

"I heard it on the downwind, just before he came into land.

"Only about a minute before he lost control I was actually watching him and then I walked back into the house."

Mr Gresham, who has lived at the aerodrome for 37 years, said it was only the second crash he had seen..

He said the plane did not appear too badly damaged from a distance but must have sustained considerable damage as it spun out of control.

Police are securing the scene before Recreational Aviation Australia accident investigators move in.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau senior investigator Richard Batt said the Spitfire was a popular "sport aviation aircraft" but there was "no reason to believe that they are less safe than other aircraft".

Gympie Aero Club past president Graeme Alexander believed the plane was normally kept at the Watts Bridge Memorial Airfield at Mt Beppo, near the Somerset Dam.

"It's a replica Spitfire, which is an 80 per cent scaled version of the original," he said.

"I've seen it around from time to time but I've never met the owner."

The Spitfire was a British, single-seat fighter aircraft used by Britain and its allies in World War II as a short-range high-performance interceptor aircraft.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Duo try to abduct girl in north Melbourne

The hunt is on for two men who attempted to abduct a teenage girl in broad daylight on her way to work on Monday.

The 17-year-old girl managed to struggle free when the men blocked her path with a dark coloured sedan, and tried to pull her inside.

She had been walking through parkland towards a bus stop between Lakes Drive and Fairways Boulevard in Craigieburn, on Melbourne's outer northern edge, about 11.30am (AEDT), Hume Detective Sergeant Steve Azarnikow told reporters on Tuesday.

"It is a fairly brazen attack, she's extraordinarily upset, that's what you would expect isn't it," he said.

"It could be either targeted or it could be opportunistic.

"She managed to struggle and fight them off, she suffered some minor injuries. It's an extraordinarily serious crime.

"She's had a good look at one of the offenders and we have a description."

He was of European or Middle Eastern appearance, about 30 years old, unshaven with thick eyebrows and thick, dark hair. He was wearing dark clothing.

His accomplice was described only as wearing a dark-coloured hooded top and police were also trying to find out more about the car, Det Sgt Azarnikow said.

"Someone knows these people, generally people always talk, they've told someone and I've got no doubt someone suspects who it is," he said.

"We're fairly certain that we'll apprehend these people, so if they are out there I would suggest that they hand themselves in rather than wait for us to find them.

"We're making inquiries to see if this is linked to any other series of crimes, we've got analysts looking at it as we speak."

A woman was abducted and sexually assaulted around Oakleigh, in Melbourne's south-east, on October 3.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

'Mary Mania' as Australia prepares for first saint

"MacKillop" the musical is playing to sold-out shows, extra nuns are pricing souvenirs and in one town, "MacScallops" are the must-have lunch.

Welcome to "Mary Mania", a part-religious, part-nationalist, part-media frenzy which has seized Australia ahead of the canonisation of its very first saint.

This week, Mary MacKillop adorns extensive newspaper and TV coverage, a new stamp -- her second -- and even the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where the late nun's image has been projected nightly.

"I think she would just be very amused, sitting back looking at the onslaught of merchandise -- bumper stickers, keyrings," said Edwina Huntley, museum curator at MacKillop's Sydney tomb.

"As fast as we can tag it, it's on the shelf and off again."

In recent days, MacKillop's list of honours has expanded to a park, gold coins and a second pop song (Mike Brady's "In Mary's Hands", following the Gary Pinto ballad, "Saint Mary MacKillop).

These join her electoral district, a rose, Facebook page and @stmarymackillop Twitter account, where the Sisters of St Joseph -- the order she founded -- post her musings and sayings.

On Thursday, MacKillop's website ( crashed under the sheer weight of visitors.

"It's off the wall," said Anne Walsh, deputy director of the company which designed and hosts the site. "I think everybody who hasn't gone to Rome has jumped on to the site.

"There's so many visitors on the site at the moment that we're upgrading the server."

Nationwide celebrations are planned for Sunday's canonisation, with MacKillop's former home town of Penola expecting up to 20,000 worshippers and special masses across the country.

Interest is such that the government was forced to ban unauthorised commercial use of the late nun's name, prompting an angry response from retailers.

"Are we going to have to get the government's permission to reference God, Jesus or any religious icon?" said Scott Driscoll, president of United Retail Federation.

"It's not illicit drugs we're dealing with, it's an Australian saint."

Nowhere is the excitement more visible than at MacKillop's Sydney tomb complex, where visitor numbers have trebled since the canonisation was announced in December.

Many are loath to leave without a souvenir, forcing the sisters to dedicate extra staff to put price-tags on the MacKillop mugs, brooches and rosary beads to cope with the brisk trade.

"I think people want something tangible, they want to see, feel, touch," says Sister Brigette Sipa, director of the MacKillop Place complex.

In the gift shop, MacKillop perfume sits alongside tea cosies, plates, placemats, magnets and candles, while entire shelves are crammed with her writings and DVDs such as "That Very Troublesome Woman".

Organisers of the "MacKillop" musical said they sold out twice during their Sydney performances, and were expecting more big audiences for the Melbourne run starting on October 23.

Meanwhile, extra MacKillop "miracles" have been the subject of TV documentaries this week, to add to the Vatican-sanctioned healings of two terminally ill women which cleared the way to sainthood.

Commentators say the furore risks overshadowing the vast achievements of MacKillop, who taught children in a disused Penola stable before founding a network of schools and homes for the needy.

"Perhaps it's what we've needed all along to become the nation we've never quite felt we are: a saint," wrote Sydney Morning Herald columnist David Marr.

"A navy and a federation aren't enough. A couple of world wars and a sheaf of Nobel prizes don't quite do the trick.

"Courtesy of the pope we now have a special friend in heaven: Australia's Patrick, our own Joan of Arc, our Wenceslas."

However MacKillop Place's Sipa said the saint-to-be, who knew the importance of wealthy benefactors, would have shrugged off the fuss.

"I'm sure she'd be smiling, probably with a bit of a smirk on her face, thinking 'Oh my goodness, what is all this about? Get on with the real work'," she laughs.

"I think there's probably a reason for all this hype, she would definitely see there is some reason and she would accept it."


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Australian prime minister warns of mining boom 'risk'

Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned on Tuesday against over-reliance on Asian demand for Australia's natural resources as she outlined a series of measures to try and make growth more broad-based.

Mining is Australia's biggest export sector as it rides a wave of demand from China for energy and minerals, but Gillard said an economy that becomes too dependent on any one sector "takes a big risk".

Her efforts to sell economic reforms follow a furious backlash from mining giants against her predecessor Kevin Rudd's proposed "super tax" on the sector.

"Even while demand for commodities remains strong, we face the risk of a 'patchwork economy'.

She warned against "an economy where some of the country booms while other parts go backwards, where some regions cry out for skilled labour while in others, Australians live aimless lives without skills, work or hope".

Gillard said if the demand for raw materials fell away, Australia would only remain strong if economic growth was broad based -- encompassing services, manufacturing and agriculture.

"If the emerging Asian economies continue to grow, while Europe and the US stagnate, then the gap between global demand for our mining and energy compared to our manufactured goods and our services will continue to widen," she said.

"While consumers and capital-intensive industries reap real benefits from a strong (Australian) dollar, the upward pressure on our currency makes life even harder for exporters of services and manufactured and farm goods."

The prime minister said her Labor-led coalition government would embark on a series of reforms to broaden economic growth, including cutting the company tax rate, building infrastructure and investing in skills.

"Some governments have the freedom to throw cash at those who lose from reform," she said. "It's clear mine won't be one of them."

Gillard's comments come as Treasurer Wayne Swan said Australia's mining boom would see the biggest investment in the sector for more than 160 years, despite a new heavy tax on iron ore and coal.

Addressing the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, Swan defended the new mining tax, which seeks to funnel some of the benefits of the skyrocketing price of commodities into the national coffers.

"What we know is that Australia is about to embark on its biggest mining investment boom since the 1850s Gold Rush," Swan said.

"This pushes us to pick up the pace of reform -- to make Australia an even more attractive investment destination."

The government scaled back its plans for a 40 percent levy on all minerals after concerted resistance from the mining sector -- revamping it so it only applies to iron ore and coal, and setting the rate at a lower 30 percent.

The Australian economy has been hailed as the "Wonder from Down Under" for its resilience in the face of the global slump, continuing to grow as other advanced economies went into recession.

Gillard said her government, which hopes to return to a budget surplus by mid-2013, would have to again lift the speed limit of the economy, as the global economy recovers.

"Just as our strong budget position in 2008 allowed us to navigate a difficult global challenge, so we must strengthen our budget position now to deal with the next global challenge to arise," she said.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Aussie hits 2-year high vs U.S. dollar

The Australian dollar hit its highest in more than two years against the U.S. dollar as investors turned towards the high-yielding currency and shunned the dollar on expectations of more U.S. monetary easing.

The Aussie rose as high as $0.9759 AUD=D4, its strongest since late July 2008, leaving it on course for a retest of its 2008 high of $0.9851 as traders shrugged off Tuesday's unexpected Reserve Bank of Australia decision to keep rates unchanged.

"I think people have realised that no matter what, yield differentials are key," an Australian-based trader said.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Four stabbed as brawl erupts after Miss Africa beauty pageant in Adelaide

TWO men stabbed during a brawl involving up to 100 people in the city are in a stable condition in hospital.

The violence erupted among a group of African men near the Austral Hotel in Bent St, between Rundle and Grenfell streets, just after midnight.

Two other African men were treated for "minor" stab wounds and "numerous" knives, tyre levers and wooden clubs were found in the street.

Police say the brawl was the culmination of a string of confrontations between African men since Friday night.

Dozens of interstate people had come to Adelaide for a "Miss Africa" pageant held at Norwood and many were involved in "a handful" of fights, police said.

Officers responded to a fight outside a Hindley St nightclub on Saturday morning when about 150 people were arguing, but a spokesman said he was not aware if anybody was arrested.

After last night's brawl, a Marden man, 21, and a Murray Bridge man, 19, underwent emergency surgery for serious torso wounds, while an Ingle Farm man, 19, and a Kilburn man, 20, were treated for arm or back lacerations.

Police officers who were leaving after their shift this morning from the station at the corner of Bent and Grenfell streets - about 100m away from the brawl - ran to the scene and called for back-up to quell the violence .

Their quick action prevented further injuries, Detective Chief Inspector John Gerlach said.

"It was certainly the case (that) had we not responded so quickly, there would have been further injuries," he said.

Chief-Insp Gerlach said some of those involved in the fight had been at the Austral Hotel before the brawl erupted.

"This incident occurred in the street, it did not happen in the nightclub," he said. "From what we see now, there's no doubt some people have armed themselves in the event they came together again or they might have been looking for trouble.

"We can see now in hindsight that that's probably what's occurred."

Two men underwent surgery early this morning for serious stab wounds. Another two men suffered minor stab wounds.

Police have charged a Victorian man, 20, with aggravated causing serious harm and fighting. A Kilburn man, 19, a Victorian man, 21, and a West Australian man, 22, were charged with behavioural and weapons offences.