Monday, October 24, 2011

Gillard urges action on eurozone crisis

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has urged European leaders to take decisive action to resolve the continent's debt issues, saying "these are critical days".

Addressing the Commonwealth business forum in Perth, Ms Gillard says she will be telling the G20 summit in Cannes next week that "there is no time for delay" to ensure Europe's private banks are properly capitalised.

"G20 leaders will need to strike the right balance between addressing short-term risks and pledging reforms that promote growth into the future," Ms Gillard said.

"I have written to the French president and 2011 G20 chair Nicolas Sarkozy urging decisive action in Cannes."

Her strongly worded speech was made as global pension fund adviser Towers Watson warned of the chance of a full-blown economic depression brought on by the European debt crisis.

Towers Watson head of global investment Roger Urwin says the eurozone is a fragile institution at the moment, and this is one of the factors increasing the risk of a depression.

"A series of relatively weak political responses, and what we seem to refer to all the time these days as kicking the can down the road, have led to the problems of sorting out Greece and of course the potential for this to be a contagion through to Italy and Spain," Mr Urwin said.

Ms Gillard said the G20 Action Plan will need to "outline the commitments and measures" required to achieve stronger economic growth.

She urged the cost of remittances sent home from Europe by people from the trouble and drought-ravaged Horn of Africa be lowered.

"The G20 also needs a strong development agenda, particularly in areas such as food security, infrastructure and remittances," she said.

"The crisis in the Horn of Africa reminds us of the urgency of addressing the challenge of global food security, and Australia supports a comprehensive approach.

"I will be advocating strongly for G20 leaders to commit to reducing the costs of sending remittances.

"The needs of the developing world must be central to the G20 agenda, not something peripheral or remote."

Ms Gillard urged the Commonwealth business leaders to "ensure the next phase of world growth is very different to the last".

"[There must be] greater balance and less debt; rebuilding our cities and our infrastructure; freer trade and fewer barriers."

She called for "less attention to creating exotic financial products and more to creating the goods and services that sustain real growth".


Friday, July 29, 2011

Man who raped 85-year-old woman said he did it for a thrill

A MAN who bashed and raped an 85-year-old woman at a Melbourne train station says he did it for a "thrill".

Country Court Judge Duncan Allen said 65-year-old Allan Richard Hodson's attack on the elderly woman in January was "spine chilling".

"It's hard to imagine any rape of this type - a rape of a stranger in a public place - that is a lot worse than that," Judge Allen said during Hodson's pre-sentence hearing today.

Prosecutor Chris Ryan said Hodson "chillingly" described to police his motivation for the attack.

Hodson told police, "Here's a good opportunity, I suppose, to have a bit of a thrill," Mr Ryan told the court.

Hodson also admitted to police his victim was frail.

Mr Ryan said Hodson, of Bairnsdale, had travelled to Melbourne that day for a psychiatric visit and had drunk four bottles of beer before the attack.

The pre-sentence hearing before Judge Allen is continuing.

The ABC reported that the judge had set a minimum term of eight years to be served.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Jail for Sydney black magic sex trio

A so-called holy man who cruelly manipulated two women into sex "prayer sessions" to rid themselves of black magic curses has been jailed for at least 15 years.

Noting the "extraordinary circumstances" of the case, Judge Penelope Hock on Friday told NSW District Court one victim was, in effect, brain washed and that substantial emotional harm was caused to both.

The judge set minimum terms of 15 years, 12 years and five years, respectively, for Tony Golossian, Arthur Psichogios and his wife Frances Psichogios.

The Psichogios couple hugged and kissed in the Sydney court dock before being led away by prison officers.

Golossian, 63, a Syrian-born Catholic, was regarded by some members of the Greek community as a "holy man" who could communicate with angels.

He was found guilty of 24 offences, most being sexual intercourse without consent, while his friend Arthur Psichogios, 41, was convicted of 14 similar charges.

His 38-year-old wife was found guilty of seven charges, including administering an intoxicating substance with intent to enable sexual assault.

The terrified Greek Orthodox victims were told black magic curses had been placed on them and their families involving cancer, reproductive problems and horrific fatal accidents.

They totally trusted Golossian who held "prayer sessions" in hotel rooms, where they were blindfolded and forced into sex.

Instructions were given to the women over the phone by a "demonic-sounding" voice of a man claiming to be King Rasoul and, at one stage, the voice of "Queen Snake" was heard.

Judge Hock said the first victim suffered a terrible ordeal over a four-and-a-half-year period, but even after that the men's insidious influence continued.

When she was pregnant, her husband was sent parts of a video recording of a sexual encounter she was forced to have with Psichogios.

"The sheer cruelty in disseminating images to her husband showed the lengths they were prepared to go to to destroy her life," the judge said.

"She had to endure what must have been an excruciating experience of having the video played in court during the trial."

The day after receiving the images, her husband walked out on her and has never seen the daughter she gave birth to months later.

Judge Hock said the woman had been "cruelly manipulated into bizarre behaviour because she had been, in effect, brainwashed by Golossian's threats towards her family and herself".

The second woman also was the victim of a "deliberate and calculated plan to take advantage of her vulnerable state" at the time, her cultural beliefs and the fact that her father was gravely ill.

During one so-called prayer session she had to drink an intoxicating substance but Frances Psichogios later reassured her nothing had happened when the woman revealed she believed Golossian had had sex with her.

All of the offenders maintain their innocence, meaning "their prospects for rehabilitation appear bleak at this stage", the judge said.

All three were of previous good character and the judge concluded Frances Psichogios, whose convictions related only to the second woman, was under the influence of her husband and Golossian.

She set maximum terms of 20 years, 16 years and nine years, respectively, for Golossian, Arthur Psichogios and his wife.

Throughout the sentencing, police from the Public Order and Riot Squad waited outside the court after an incident last month before the sentence hearing.

Members of Golossian's family allegedly attacked the police officer in charge of the case and his thumb was broken and his suit jacket and trousers badly ripped.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Engineer tells flood inquiry more training needed

A senior dam engineer has told the Queensland flood inquiry that experts need more training in managing severe floods.

Rob Ayre, from dam operator SunWater, is one of four flood operations engineers in Queensland who have the final say on when or whether dam water releases are made.

Today he told the public hearing engineers have never had a training exercise addressing a W4 situation - the scenario where water levels become so high that the main priority becomes releasing water to protect a dam from collapsing.

Mr Ayre was asked why there was a two-day delay in activating the top flood alert for Wivenhoe Dam in early January.

He told the hearing there is a high risk of moving to that top level because releases could needlessly inundate properties.

"We don't want to cause property damage, and if we can avoid it, we will," he said.

Mr Ayre also told the inquiry there was a lack of forethought into how staff at the Flood Operations Centre would be accommodated during the summer disaster.

The inquiry heard workers had to sleep on temporary beds in the office while managing the flood.

BOM boss evidence

Earlier today the inquiry heard evidence from Queensland's regional director of the Bureau of Meteorology, Jim Davidson, in a written submission.

Mr Davidson has responsibility for presenting forecasts and warnings to the Queensland Cabinet, local governments, dam operators and emergency authorities.

In his written submission he said the last wet season exceeded all previous records in many parts of the state.

He referred to a public warning he issued on October 4 to all Queenslanders.

"Prepare early not only for cyclones but also for floods, as we have already experienced record September rainfalls across the state," the warning said.

"Preparation is the key to safety and we encourage communities to factor in the possibility of a destructive cyclone or major flood into their pre-season planning."

Mr Davidson particularly defends the bureau's warnings on January 10, the day a deadly wall of water tore through Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley towns of Murphy's Creek and Grantham, killing more than 20 people.

The wall of water hit the Lockyer Valley towns between 2:30pm and 3:00pm.

Mr Davidson says the bureau put out a severe weather warning at 11:05am predicting heavy rain and localised flash flooding in the area and alerted the State Coordination Centre at 1:00pm.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Le Carre cold on book prize nomination

Celebrated spy novelist John le Carre has created controversy in the literary world by asking to be withdrawn from a top international book prize.

Le Carre said he was "enormously flattered" to have been named as one of 13 finalists for the Man Booker International Prize but asked to be withdrawn because he does not "compete for literary prizes".

The announcement in Sydney on Wednesday caused confusion among the judges over whether the master of intrigue could withdraw from an award he hadn't even entered.
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Authors shortlisted for the prize were chosen by the three-member judging panel and not whittled down from submissions.

"I'm enormously flattered to be named as a finalist for (the) 2011 Man Booker International Prize. However, I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn," le Carre said in a statement to the judges, released by his literary agents Curtis Brown just 45 minutes prior to the announcement.

Judging panel chair Dr Rick Gekoski, a writer, academic and rare book dealer, said le Carre would remain on the list.

"John le Carre's name will, of course, remain on the list. We are disappointed that he wants to withdraw from further consideration because we are great admirers of his work."

Fellow judges, novelist Justin Cartwright and Melbourne-born publisher, writer and critic Carmen Callil, were at odds over whether le Carre could withdraw from the prize.

"I don't think we can give him the prize if he doesn't want it," Cartwright said. To which Callil replied, "I do."

"(It) doesn't matter, it's irrelevant, because it's not a prize that you enter," Callil told AAP after the announcement.

"Did Francis Assisi have a say in whether he was made a saint?"

Australian author David Malouf is among the finalists, along with the UK's Philip Pullman, and American authors Anne Tyler and Philip Roth.

The remaining writers come from Spain, Lebanon, Italy, and for the first time China.

This is the fourth Man Booker International Prize, which was set up in 2005 and is awarded every two years.

The international prize is significantly different from the annual Man Booker Prize in that it highlights a writer's overall contribution to fiction on the world stage. Judges therefore consider a writer's body of work rather than a single novel.

The winner will be announced at the Sydney Writers' Festival on May 18, the first time the STG60,000 ($A93,356) prize has been awarded in Australia. It will be followed by an awards ceremony in London on June 28.

"The 2011 list of finalists ... is, we think, diverse, fresh and thought-provoking, and serves to remind us anew of the importance of fiction in defining both ourselves and the world in which we live. Each of these writers is a delight and any of them would make a worthy winner," Dr Gekoski said.

Callil, who has published many of the shortlisted authors, would not be drawn on her favourite to win.

"... I've learned that you don't get your own way with this prize. I'm not sure if it will be a compromise," she told AAP at the announcement.

"The three of us will have to agree on it, I would have thought."

Past winners of the prize have included Canadian author Alice Munro (2009), Nigeria's Chinua Achebe (2007) and Albania's Ismail Kadare (2005).


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Darcey Freeman didn't scream when thrown off bridge, brother tells court

A LITTLE girl who was thrown to her death from the West Gate Bridge didn't scream as she went over, her brother told a court today.

Ben Freeman, now 9, said his father stopped their car on the bridge, took his sister Darcey from the front seat and threw her over the rail.

In a taped interview played to the Supreme Court jury Ben was asked if Darcey said anything.

"She didn't even scream on her fall,'' he said.

"I didn't hear her scream on the way when she......nothing, nothing, nothing.''

Arthur Freeman, 37, of Hawthorn, has pleaded not guilty to murdering four-year-old Darcey Freeman on January 29, 2009, by throwing her from the West Gate.

She fell 58m to the water and died from drowning. It was to be her first day of school.

Opening his case yesterday defence barrister David Brustman SC told the jury it was not disputed his client killed his daughter but they would have to decide if he was "mad or bad''.

Ben Freeman said that his father carried Darcey like he was carrying a baby and threw his he from the bridge and drove off.

"I said go back and get her. And dad keeps driving along,'' he said.

"Then I said Darcey can't swim ... and then dad would just keep on driving, didn't go back to get her.

"I kept on saying it over and over again and he never did it.''

Ben said they drove to the "weird funny place'' like an airport, which the jury has heard was the Commonwealth Law Courts building in William St.

He said he was getting bored and was asked what his father was doing.

"He was sulking. He was crying in the corner,'' he said.

Witness Barry Nelson said he was driving to work over the Westgate with his wife when he saw a white Toyota Prado 4WD pull over in the emergency lane.

Mr Nelson said he saw a man with a child in his arms and watched him tip the child over the rail.

"Her hair and limbs were flying,'' he said.

Mr Nelson stopped his car and approached the man but he saw no signs of aggression or emotion.

"He was totally neutral. He may have been posting a letter. He may have been walking back to the post box to his vehicle,'' he said.

The trial is continuing before Justice Paul Coghlan.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Australia urges Europe to copy multiculture model

Australia has told European countries its model of multiculturalism is "the best in the world", weighing in on a fiery debate in Britain, France and Germany where leaders have called the project a failure.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Australia's assimilation of different cultures was "genius" because it encourages immigrants to integrate as citizens rather than behave simply as "guest workers".

"To me, multiculturalism is a bit like a marriage. It has its stresses and strains," Bowen told the conservative Sydney Institute think-tank late on Wednesday.

"We have to remind each other occasionally that we are better off with each other. It takes nurturing; it takes care.

"It is in that spirit tonight that I quite proudly proclaim that Australian multiculturalism has worked.

"That not only has Australia benefited from the immigration of those who come from diverse backgrounds, but we have also benefited from the cultures they have brought and sustained in this, their new homeland."

Bowen's strident defence comes after British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a "muscular liberalism" to force the country's diverse population to coexist more closely as a society.

Chancellor Angela Merkel last year declared that German multiculturalism has "utterly failed", while French President Nicolas Sarkozy also called his country's policies a "failure".

The debate in Europe has heated up in recent years with the onset of homegrown Islamic extremism, but Bowen said some countries had deeper-rooted problems.

"Germany has regarded immigration as an economic necessity. A requirement for guest workers has driven an economic immigration policy," he said.

"Never has a German government proposed a policy of respect for existing cultures where they do not clash with basic German values."

He added: "France's resistance to a formal policy of multiculturalism has not encouraged greater integration of immigrant societies but, on the contrary, it has bred resentment, separatism and violence."

Australia has absorbed generational waves of immigrants, from Chinese during the 1800s Gold Rush to Vietnamese, Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans and finally large numbers of Indian students in the past few years.

But immigration remains a political flashpoint with intense debate over the steady arrival of rickety boats carrying asylum-seekers from poor countries.

On Thursday, conservative opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison faced calls to resign after he reportedly urged the shadow cabinet to play on fears over Muslim migrants in its attacks on the government.

Australia has an uneasy relationship with its Islamic community. Sydney's Cronulla Beach saw riots in 2005 when mobs of whites attacked Lebanese Australians in a bid to "reclaim the beach".

Dozens of Muslim men have been jailed in Australia under strict anti-terrorism laws which also saw the wrongful imprisonment of an Indian-born doctor following failed attacks in London and Glasgow in 2007.

Bowen said it was "inevitable" that Muslim migration would be questioned "in the age of concern about terrorism inspired by extremist Islam" and condemned "values such as Sharia law or religious intolerance or violence".

"It is right for Australians to be concerned about extremism, whether Islamic or otherwise," he said.

Australia was also engulfed in controversy in 2009, when a spate of attacks and robberies targeting Indian students drew street protests in Sydney and Melbourne and accusations of racism in Indian media.

But its patchwork society remains generally harmonious, despite occasional flare-ups. Last week, TV personality Eddie McGuire was condemned for calling diverse western Sydney the "land of the falafel".


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fallen soldier's body returns home

The body of an Australian soldier who was killed in Afghanistan has been returned to his family.

Tasmanian-born Corporal Richard Atkinson, 22, was killed while on patrol in Uruzgan province last week.

Soldiers from the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment formed a guard of honour along with the Chief of Defence and the Chief of Army at a ramp ceremony at Darwin's RAAF base.

A bag-piper and drummer led the pallbearers carrying the coffin down the ramp and on to Australian soil.

Corporal Atkinson's family was at the base for the ceremony. They had requested his body be brought first to Darwin, the home of his fiance.

Two of the corporal's closest friends travelled with the body from Afghanistan.

A funeral service will be held in Tasmania.

He has been remembered as a dedicated soldier, committed to his job, friends and family.

Another Australian soldier, Sapper Robert Rose, was wounded in last week's incident.

Defence says an inquiry will be held into the incident and its findings will be made public.

Twenty-two Australian soldiers have been killed since troops were sent to Afghanistan in 2001.

Corporal Atkinson leaves behind a fiance, parents in Tasmania and a brother in Western Australia.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gillard warns of cutbacks and flood levy

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has warned that the economic impact from the flooding in Queensland could result in both spending cutbacks and a flood levy.

"This is going to require some difficult decisions, spending cutbacks and there may even a levy," Ms Gillard said on ABC's 7.30 Report.

"We are obviously working on those decisions now as we work with our Queensland colleagues to clarify the bill for infrastructure rebuilding.

"At the same time we're seeing floodwaters in Victoria. They're right in the midst of battling those floodwaters and there may well be infrastructure rebuilding that needs to be done after those floodwaters recede."

The prime minister also said there was a significant difference between the impact of the current Queensland floods and those of 1974.

"What we've got to remember is that in 1974 Queensland was a far smaller part of our national economy than it is now - around 14 per cent then, around 19 per cent now," she said.

"And Queensland contributes about 25 per cent of our exports, so a flood crisis in Queensland has major economic impacts around the nation."

Ms Gillard said the damage bill for rebuilding infrastructure would not be known until the floodwaters subside and the full impact was revealed.

She also defended the decision for a planned budget surplus in 2012-13, saying the economy would be "running hot" then and it's the right time to save for the future.

"We've got to remember our economy is strong with a large pipeline of investment coming though," Ms Gillard said.

"It's the right way to have our budget position given where our economy will be at that time.

"Let's remember, we came out of the global financial crisis strong - an economy that was running or tending to run close to full capacity - that the right thing to be doing in those circumstances is to have a budget surplus. That's why we had determined to bring the budget to surplus in 2012-13."

The prime minister also defended her decision not to scrap the national broadband network, explaining that it would be "an investment which will end up earning interest money for the taxpayers".

Ms Gillard also said that she, Treasurer Wayne Swan and Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten had been meeting with representatives from the insurance industry, asking them to show the same "spirit of generosity" in this flood crisis that they had seen from the Australian people.

"Our economy is strong and we will get through this by pulling together, the same way we got through the global financial crisis - by pulling together," she said.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2010: Queensland's wettest year on record

It's official: 2010 was Queensland's wettest year on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

In its Annual Climate Summary released today, the Bureau of Meteorology said "exceptional" weather saw the state's average rainfall nearly double that of a normal year.

Queensland also had its wettest spring on record, as well as wettest September and December, while every month from August to December ranked in their respective top 10s.

Climate services manager Jeff Fabburg said if the state had not had such a wet spring it might have been saved from the devastating floods of the past month.

"Having all that rain early, then going into the summer period – and the highest rainfall is traditionally January and February – that's topped up everything to the point where a lot of it is going into run off," he said.

The average annual rainfall across the state was 1109.73 millimetres in 2010, exceeding the previous record of 1103.77 millimetres in 1950. Records began in 1900.

The long term average, taken from 1961-1990, is 623.34 millimetres.

Australia-wide, it was the third wettest year on record, with the mean rainfall total of 690 millimetres well above the long-term average of 465 millimetres.

Some 77 recording stations around the state had record rainfall in 2010.

Some areas of the tropical east coast, between Cooktown and Yeppoon and along the southern Gulf of Carpentaria coast, recorded more than 1200 millimetres of rain above the long-term average.

The wettest place overall in Queensland last year was Bellenden Ker Top Station with more than 12 metres of rain - 12,438.4 millimetres - followed by Babinda Post Office with 6893.6 millimetres.

Temperatures for the year were unusually cool during the day, but unusually warm at night.

The Bureau said extensive cloud cover associated with the high rainfall had a marked effect on moderating temperatures.

The coldest night was at Oakey with -6 degrees on June 28, and the three hottest days were recorded at Birdsville Airport, with the peak at 45.4 degrees on January 24.

Overall, it was Australia's coolest year since 2001, but the mean temperature was still above average at 22 degrees, 0.19 degrees above the 1961 - 1990 average.

It was the eighth-warmest year on record for minimum temperatures.

Mr Fabburg said the La Nina ocean system, the main cause of widespread flooding and heavy rain in 2010, was expected to continue for at least the first quarter of 2011.

But hot, dry weather may return later in the year if an El Nino system takes over.

"What happens after the La Nina ends is the real question," he said.

"Probability wise there is a 40 per cent chance of this La Nina going into an El Nino and a 50 per cent chance of this La Nina going into another La Nina."