PM's education legacy cops a caning

Australian Financial Review [8/6/13]:

Experts have warned that Prime Minister Julia Gillard's legacy may be a more divided and complex school funding system that leaves some disadvantaged children worse off.

Legislation that is likely to pass the Senate ahead of the September election will lock Catholic and independent schools into a new needs-based funding model, alongside all schools in NSW and the ACT.

But unless the federal government can secure more deals with premiers, state schools in the rest of the country will continue to operate under existing arrangements.

That means no extra funding for those schools and the possibility of lower rates of growth - or indexation - of annual grants.

While the Gillard government has accused premiers of risking extra support for students, the manoeuvre could also backfire for Labor, University of Melbourne professor Stephen Lamb said.

"We've already go a very divided system and this may actually intensify it," he said.

"The whole idea of Gonski was to deal with disadvantage. But this is in grave danger and I can really see disadvantaged schools in some states are not going to be any better off and may be wrose off relative to the non-government schools."


Radford College principal Phillip Heath, said: "At the start of all this process we were promised that we would have simple, transparent, cohenerent funding model. I've seen nothing so far to make me feel calm about that."


Indonesian President welcomes Greenpeace activists

Jakarta Post [8/6/13]:

For years, Greenpeace has been viewed with suspicion by Indonesian officials and some local hard-line groups who accused the international environmental group of being a “foreign agent” trying to wreak havoc in the country.

But on Friday, it was President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono himself who came to meet and greet Greenpeace activists aboard their iconic sailing vessel, the Rainbow Warrior, which was moored at Tanjung Priok Port in North Jakarta.

The President called Greenpeace a “partner” in the country’s efforts to protect the environment.

“[Please do] criticize Indonesia over the things the country has to improve, and advise us how to maintain the environment. If Indonesia does good things, do not forget to tell the world that Indonesia has a strong commitment to protecting the environment,” Yudhoyono said, adding that he had asked Greenpeace to remain a partner of Indonesia.

Greenpeace, which has always been critical of the government, was more supportive of Yudhoyono during the meeting.

Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said he hoped that Yudhoyono’s presence on board would be a symbol of environmental protection leading to greater protection for Indonesia’s incredible natural heritage.

“The President should be congratulated on the progress his government has made on forest protection since our first meeting last year,” Naidoo said. “There is still crucial work to be done but we at Greenpeace can assure him that we will do whatever we can to support Indonesia’s commitment to zero deforestation.”

While the meeting could boost Yudhoyono’s standing as a champion of green policies, it may also help Greenpeace’s operations in the country, which have been marred by several incidents.

In 2011, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven was denied entry into Indonesia at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, even though Sauven held an official visa issued by the Indonesian Embassy in London. A few days later, immigration officials tried to deport British Greenpeace campaigner Andrew Ross Tait.

In the same year, the Jakarta administration threatened to seal the organization’s office in Kemang, South Jakarta, for allegedly violating building regulations. In mid-2012, after months of intimidation from a hard-line group as well as opposition from residents living nearby, Greenpeace finally abandoned its headquarters in Kemang and moved to Tebet, South Jakarta. The protesters accused Greenpeace Indonesia of breaching regulations by accepting donations from gambling operations.

In a meeting with Naidoo in Jakarta on June 7 last year, Yudhoyono accepted Naidoo’s invitation to visit the ship; a far cry from 2010, when the Rainbow Warrior was escorted out of Indonesian waters after the government refused to let the ship dock in Jakarta. Yudhoyono said at that time that Greenpeace was a credible organization that played a major role in seeking environmental solutions through its criticisms and effort, pointing out that both of them “shared a similar dream”.

Ipswich hospitals free of deadly bacteria

Queensland Times [8/6/13]:

Ipswich hospitals have found no trace of the deadly legionnaires disease, which caused the death of a 60-year-old man at Brisbane's Wesley Hospital this week.

The man contracted the disease through the hot-water system, but legionnaires disease has also been known to develop in air-conditioning systems.

No patients have presented at Ipswich Hospital and St Andrew's Private Hospital with legionnaires-disease symptoms, and both facilities have tested air-conditioning systems and water systems in the past three months. ...

Head of NSW DoCS charged with assault

Nine MSN [8/6/13]:

The head of the NSW Department of Family and Community Services has stepped down after being charged over a domestic violence incident.

Director-General Jim Moore has stood aside from his position without pay after he was charged with assault and intimidation.

The Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward said she supported and agreed with Mr Moore's decision to stand down.

"As this matter is before the courts, no further comment will be made," Ms Goward said in a statement.

Police confirmed they were called to a unit in Paddington last night and upon arriving at the scene allegedly heard a woman screaming for help.

Inside the apartment they located a 44-year-old woman and 52-year-old man.

Police allege the man assaulted the woman after an argument and refused to let her leave.

The man was arrested and taken to Waverly Police Station where he was charged and placed under a provision domestic violence order.

He will appear at Waverly Local Court on June 13.

Dream of mining job turns into costly nightmare

Sunshine Coast Daily [8/6/13]:

The dream of a Buderim man to work in the mines has turned out instead to be a very costly nightmare.
Aaron Hammond, 24, spent $4000 late last year to secure his haul truck licence, in the hope it would lead to a job in the booming mining industry.

Six months on, however, despite making countless inquiries for work, he is still unemployed.

"I've been applying for hundreds of jobs online, and even drove out to Chinchilla, which is a four-hour trip, and spoke to the locals out there but they said I'm wasting my time," Mr Hammond said.

"They said, 'If you haven't got a trade or any major qualification, you're basically wasting your time'.

"I'm still trying, though."

His training included the standard 11 mine induction courses and a standard 4WD course.

"I haven't got anything," he said of his job hunt, "not even an interview or any feedback."

A spokesman for the training company, Industry Partnerships of Ipswich, said demand for workers in the industry had fallen away late last year due to falling mineral prices, inflated wages within the industry and the high Australian dollar, but he assured employment opportunities again were on the rise.

"The industry went through a downturn and unfortunately, for the people who went through training then, the work dried up a bit," managing director Peter Evans said.

"There's coal in the ground that needs to come out and I have no doubt that these companies are going to need workers."

The Queensland Resources Council said employment was still high in the mining industry - with about 11,500 workers in the Coal Seam Gas industry in Gladstone alone, for example - but competition for unskilled jobs such as truck driving was high.

"Competition for mining jobs has always been strong and is now even tougher with the global economic slowdown," the spokesman said.

"Since June last year, the Federal Government estimates the Queensland coal industry has lost about 6000 jobs.

"However, the coal-seam gas industry is growing rapidly and providing some cover for those losses."

Meantime, Mr Hammond, who has experience in construction, plastering and landscaping, remains hopeful of securing a mining job.

Gas Shortages Felt Around Indonesia

Jakarta Globe [8/6/13]:

Though Ratih, a 44-year-old resident of East Jakarta, felt fortunate to find a 3-kilogram gas cylinder for her stove, she was alarmed at how much the price had gone up since she last purchased one.

“It’s difficult to find [these] cylinders … I went quite far to find one. The price is going up, though. I paid Rp 18,000 [$1.83] this time, whereas I paid Rp 15,000 last time,” she said on Saturday.

Another East Jakarta resident, Wanah, was in the same boat. Though the price of a 12-kg gas cylinder went up by Rp 20,000, she had no choice but to buy it.

“I bought a 12-kg cylinder for Rp 98,000. It used to cost Rp 78,000. It’s good that people still sell them, so I’m okay with paying more,” Wanah said.

With stocks limited and prices steadily rising, many Jakarta residents are finding it difficult to supply their stoves with gas.

Barnas, a gas vendor, remarked that he has had to raise his prices due to limited supplies. He currently sells 3-kg has cylinders for Rp 17,000 and 12-kg gas cylinders for Rp 82,000 at his shop in Jatinegara, East Jakarta.

“I only receive [cylinders] every two days now, while in the past I was supplied every day,” Barnas said.
Another vendor named Sofyan revealed that he ran out 3-kg cylinders three days ago and only has one 12-kg in stock at the moment.

Though gas is hard to come by in the capital nowadays, the shortage is also being felt outside of Jakarta.

“There has been a shortage of 3-kg and 12-kg gas cylinders for two weeks,” Budi Setiawan, the owner of a gas agent in Karawaci, Tangerang, said as quoted by “The supply is stable, but [the cylinders] come late. Consequently, when they arrive, people buy more than usual in anticipation of a shortage.”

Bandung, West Java, and Makassar, South Sulawesi, are also reportedly suffering from the same problem.

Meanwhile, Ali Mundakir, state oil and gas company Pertamina’s vice president corporate secretary, denied that there was any shortage at all.

Ali told that Pertamina supplies 330,000 3-kg cylinders to Jakarta every day, even though the capital usually consumes only 250,000 per day. Additionally, the company provides roughly 40,000 12-kg cylinders to the city per day.

“People should not listen [to the rumors] and go panic buying,” Ali said on Friday.

In response to concerns, Pertamina appointed some of its gas agents last Wednesday to operate until 10 p.m.

State Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan said that he would create a team to investigate the shortage.

“Pertamina should anticipate the gas shortage and find a solution,” Dahlan was quoted by Okezone as saying recently.

Holden issues hollow threat, Australian government likely to fold

Australian Financial Review [8/6/13]:

GM Holden has warned it could follow Ford and quit making cars in Australia if Canberra does not provide more in cash or assistance than already promised plus a new scheme when subsidies end after 2020.

As the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Industry Minister Greg Combet hosted crisis talks in Melbourne on Friday, GMH director of government affairs Matt Hobbs said circumstances had changed since $6.2 billion was committed in 2008 under what the government called its “New Car Plan for a Greener Future”.

More assistance is needed during the life of the plan to 2020, he said, and new assistance will be needed beyond that date, when the main component of the subsidy program, the Automotive Transition Scheme, ends.

“If there is no public policy with ATS-like elements to it [after 2020] we won’t be able to be a manufacturer in Australia,” Mr Hobbs said from Bangkok.

“If it zeros out, we will cease manufacturing.”

GMH chief executive Mike Devereux, Toyota Australia’s David Buttner and the head of Ford Australia, Bob Graziano, attended the talks with government ministers and union officials.

Asked after the meeting if the car makers were seeking extra funding, Mr Combet said they “discussed some of the policy settings in general terms here today. But there was a good deal of discussion about the assistance for regions affected by the Ford decision, about the way we will have a look at the impacts on the supply chain, how to get the suppliers into global supply chains in years to come and the operations of current government programs. I’ve got a lot more consultation to do with the industry.”

Mr Combet and Victorian Premier Peter Ryan said local councils and the states that don’t make cars – NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania – would be encouraged to buy more Australian-made cars.

Toyota declined to comment on GMH’s threat.

In a statement it said it wanted continued discussions on long-term industry policy, given the current plan was established before the 2009 financial crisis.

“Clearly circumstances have changed since then,” Toyota said.

Mr Hobbs made it clear that GMH was pushing for two avenues of assistance in talks with the government and Coalition, which plans to cut $500 million from the subsidies promised up to 2015. The Coalition plans a Productivity Commission inquiry to guide policy after that.

GMH’s first target is more than the $1.5 billion set aside between 2015 and 2020 under the ATS, although it says the aid could be non-financial.

“There are many ways to skin the policy cat,” Mr Hobbs said. “Money could be one of them.”


Greece: General “Black Out” in Healthcare

Greek Reporter [7/6/13]:

Greek health workers have staged a rally in the capital, Athens, to protest against the government's austerity measures in the public sector.

Doctors, nurses, hospital staff and ambulance drivers from across the country demonstrated outside the Health Ministry on Friday in protest to what they called the collapse of the country's health system following the cutbacks in funding, staff and supplies.

In a press conference, representatives of doctors and employees described the dramatic situation of the national healthcare system (ESY) and national healthcare provider (EOPYY) “falling apart” and over 1.5 million uninsured and unemployed citizens.

The president of the public hospital doctor federation (OENGE) Dimitris Varnavas explained that the drastic reduction of inoculations increased chances of outbreaks and a humanitarian crisis.

The Greek protesters were joined by health unions from France, Belgium and Portugal. The foreigners came to support the Greek workers fearing similar cutbacks would occur in their countries.

An admission from the International Monetary Fund this week that it mishandled the early stages of Greece's massive bailout will not lead to any easing up of austerity measures, the crisis-hit country's opposition leader said in an interview late Friday.


"Greece was the guinea pig for this historic change. And it was tried out with full force: Cancelling the social pact, destroying social welfare and selling off the country's entire productive capacity. Now that experiment is ready for export to the rest of Europe." ... [Opposition Leader Alexis Tsipras: WSAV - 8 6/13]

Members of Italian band 99 Posse attacked

La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno [7/6/13]:

Members of the Italian hip-hop reggae group 99 Posse said Friday that they were attacked before a concert by members of an extreme right-wing organization.

The band, which hails from Naples and is known for left-wing lyrics, was on its way to perform in Velletri, near Rome, when members were attacked.

According to singer Zulu, whose real name is Luca Persico, he and a sound engineer were attacked by a dozen people wielding belts and blunt objects, and wearing symbols he said link them to the extreme right.

The attack occurred around 10:30 pm Thursday and left the pair with bruises and cuts. They refused to call police or go to hospital, and on their website, the band apologized for cancelling their performance in Velletri.

On its website, 99 Posse said the attacks demonstrate rising levels of fascism and extremism in Europe and in Italy.

99 Posse aggrediti da una banda di neofascisti [VIDEO - 7/6/13]

'Curre curre guaglió', 99 Posse [1993]:

... Siente sti parole d'odio e pure d'ammore
Si nu scatto di manette strette ai polsi dentro a un cellulare
Fa più rumore nel tuo cuore di un comizio elettorale
Si nu bisogno soddisfatto sei sicuro non ti puoi sbagliare
Vale cchiù 'e na bella giacca c' 'o telefonino cellulare
Allora è chisto 'o mumento e tu l'he 'a superà
Ca te piace o t'allamiente e 'o mumento d'occupà ...

Italy: Disabled students mistreated

TG1 [VIDEO - 7/6/13]:

Un video choc. Schiaffi, pugni e maltrattamenti ad un alunno disabile in una a scuola di Vicenza. Due maestre agli arresti domiciliari. Il servizio di Laura Squillaci, Tg1 delle 20.00

Pakistan drone strike kills seven in North Waziristan

BBC [7/6/13]:

A suspected US drone attack has killed seven people in northwest Pakistan, officials say.

Two missiles hit a compound in a village in the North Waziristan tribal area, close to the Afghan border.

It is the first drone strike since Nawaz Sharif took over as Pakistan's prime minister and demanded an end to the attacks.

Last month President Obama announced stricter targeting rules for the drone campaign against militant suspects.

The missiles reportedly hit the remote village of Shokhel in the Shawal valley, some 100km (60 miles) southwest of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan.

The troubled border region is a known stronghold for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

It is unclear who the target of the attack was, but several militant groups have camps in the area, including the Pakistan Taliban whose deputy leader was killed in a drone strike last week, the BBC's Pakistan correspondent Orla Guerin reports.

The timing will be uncomfortable for the country's new prime minister, our correspondent adds.

Earlier this week, Mr Sharif said Pakistan's sovereignty must be respected, and that it was necessary to work out a joint strategy to stop US drone strikes.

"We must learn others' [American] concerns about us, and express our concerns about them, and find a way to resolve this issue," he told MPs in his first address after being re-elected.

"These drone strikes that rain in every day have to stop."

Mr Sharif, who was ousted in a 1999 coup, is serving an unprecedented third term as PM.

The drone issue is hugely controversial in Pakistan, where parts of the government and military have often been accused of ignoring or even condoning some of the drone strikes.

It is estimated that between 2004 and 2013, CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed up to 3,460 people.

About 890 of them were civilians and the vast majority of strikes were carried out under the Obama's administration, the research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism said.

In May, the US president said the drone strikes were part of a legitimate campaign against terrorists, describing the killings as "legal" and "just".

However, he also pledged a more transparent oversight of the programme and stricter targeting rules.

Santa Monica shooting leaves at least 6 dead

CBC [7/6/13]:

A gunman with an assault-style rifle killed at least six people in Santa Monica on Friday before police shot him to death in a gunfight in the Santa Monica College library, authorities said.

Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks told reporters the rampage began at a house in the coastal city before the gunman, dressed all in black, made his way to Santa Monica College.

Seabrooks said he killed two people in the house, which caught fire, two more people as he moved several blocks toward the campus, and then two more on campus.

He entered the library and fired on other people but didn't hit them, Seabrooks said.

Several students in the library reported hearing gunfire, and one witness said he heard a woman scream.

"The officers came in and directly engaged the suspect and he was shot and killed on the scene," Seabrooks said.

She identified the gunman as 25 to 30 years old and dressed all in black, wearing what appeared to be a ballistic jacket.

The campus was searched for a second shooter, and a man dressed entirely in black, with the words "Life is a Gamble" on the back of his sweatshirt, was seen being taken into custody by law enforcement officers. He did not appear to be wounded.

"We are not convinced 100 per cent that the suspect who was killed operated in a solo or alone capacity," Seabrooks said.

All of this unfolded about 3 miles from where President Barack Obama was attending a fundraising luncheon.

Three women with gunshot wounds were admitted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, said Dr. Marshall Morgan, the chief of emergency medicine. One died, another was in surgery, and the third was in serious condition but doing well, he said.

Three other women went to UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica with relatively minor injuries, Morgan said. One has shrapnel-type injuries and the two others had injuries not related to gunfire, he said. ...

Governance in Queensland: Privatise the profits, socialise the losses

Brisbane Times [6/6/13]:

The government is considering holding on to state-owned TAFE campuses, but outsourcing courses to the private sector, thereby upholding their promise not to privatise assets.

Treasurer Tim Nicholls was asked whether the government would consider privatising TAFE at a LNP post-budget lunch on Wednesday by industry stake holder Sarina Russo.

Education minister John-Paul Langbroek said Mr Nicholls's answer was a "clear acknowledgement" of issues discussed at Cabinet "about protecting TAFE, because it is a valuable brand, but also reforming our VET system overall".

"In other words, TAFE is the public provider, we are committed to supporting it, but just as we have said across government, we need to make sure that with the resources we have, we are getting the best outcomes in terms of jobs and training for Queenslanders," Mr Langbroek said.

"That will mean increased contestibility."

Which would mean outsourcing the courses, but retaining the classrooms.

"That has been something which has been mooted for a long time via the [Queensland skills and training] taskforce," Mr Langbroek said.

"In places where people are not choosing to use the TAFE as a TAFE, then we should encourage the private provider to come in, they pay us rent, they pay us an income, to provide courses that people want to do."

Mr Langbroek said, in that way, it was not privatisation.

"We are not selling off the TAFE," he said.

"We've been very clear via the commission of audit, we are all about providing services in the most efficient way. The opposition are trying to say on a number of issues, where it is anything we are trying to do that involves money changing hands, it is privitasation. We reject that."

Obama-Backed Trans-Pacific Partnership Expands Corporate Lawsuits Against Nations for Lost Profits

Democracy Now [VIDEO - 6/6/13]:

The Obama administration is facing increasing scrutiny for the extreme secrecy surrounding negotiations around a sweeping new trade deal that could rewrite the nation’s laws on everything from healthcare and Internet freedom to food safety and the financial markets. The latest negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were recently held behind closed doors in Lima, Peru, but the Obama administration has rejected calls to release the current text.

Even members of Congress have complained about being shut out of the negotiation process. Last year, a leaked chapter from the draft agreement outlined how the TPP would allow foreign corporations operating in the United States to appeal key regulations to an international tribunal. The body would have the power to override U.S. law and issue penalties for failure to comply with its rulings.

We discuss the TPP with two guests: Celeste Drake, a trade policy specialist with the AFL-CIO, and Jim Shultz, executive director of the Democracy Center, which has just released a new report on how corporations use trade rules to seize resources and undermine democracy.

"What is the biggest threat to the ability of corporations to go into a country and suck out the natural resources without any regard for the environment or labor standards? The threat is democracy," Shultz says.

"The threat is that citizens will be annoying and get in the way and demand that their governments take action. So what corporations need is to become more powerful than sovereign states. And the way they become more powerful is by tangling sovereign states in a web of these trade agreements." ...

Guantanamo Bay hunger strike grows; 41 now being force-fed

Washington Post [6/6/13]:

The number of hunger strikers being force-fed by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has risen to 41, with the protest showing no signs of abating more than a week after President Obama renewed his commitment to close the detention facility.

The military said in a statement Thursday that 103 detainees are on hunger strike and that 41 of them are being force-fed. The military also said four detainees who are being force-fed are being observed at the hospital.

None of the hunger strikers has a life-threatening condition, said Lt. Col. Samuel House, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

In a major national security speech May 23, Obama promised to restart the repatriation process for about 86 detainees at Guantanamo Bay who were cleared for transfer by an interagency task force.

Transfers had been stalled for more than a year because of restrictions imposed by Congress and the unwillingness of the administration to exercise waivers by certifying that transfers are in the interest of national security.

There are 166 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, a majority of whom are Yemeni nationals. Two years ago, Obama imposed his own moratorium on sending detainees to Yemen because of concerns about security there. But he said he will lift the ban.

Obama also said he will appoint senior envoys at the State and Defense departments to oversee and accelerate the process of moving detainees.

There has been no visible progress on these commitments, but administration officials have cautioned that it will take time to restart the effort to close the facility.

In the wake of Obama’s speech, some Republicans on Capitol Hill signaled that they will attempt to block the closure.

The hunger strike began in early February and grew steadily, as more and more detainees joined the protest. The initial catalyst was a decision by the guard force at Guantanamo Bay to search detainees’ Korans.

The military said that detainees have used Korans to hide contraband, and that the searches were conducted by Muslim cultural advisers, not ordinary guards. The prisoners objected and said the searches amounted to desecration.

The hunger strike quickly became a wider protest about what the detainees considered the president’s abandonment of his policy to close the facility. Both the military and civilian attorneys for the detainees, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross, said despair is widespread among the detainees because of their indefinite detention.

The Red Cross and the American Medical Association have expressed concern about the force-feeding of prisoners, saying detainees have a right to fast, even to death, if they are of clear mind. The military insists that it will do everything it can to preserve the lives of the hunger strikers.

Detainees who are force-fed are strapped to a chair twice a day and fed a liquid nutritional supplement through a tube that runs through the nose and into the stomach.

Toxic chemical spilled on Sydney lab staff

Nine MSN [7/6/13]:

Two lab workers at a Sydney nuclear facility are in hospital after toxic chemicals spilled on them.

The male workers at the Lucas Heights facility in Sydney's south were exposed to sodium cyanide on Friday about 7am (AEST).

A container holding the chemical spilled on the workers' legs, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) said in a statement.

A spokesman for the facility said the staff were not injured, but had been taken to Sutherland Hospital as a precaution.

"They're fine. They've been decontaminated. There's no injuries," he told AAP.

ANSTO said the spillage occurred in a building that's not related to the reactor.

It said a decontamination process was undertaken and an investigation into the incident would take place.

Sodium cyanide is used in the process of extracting gold from minerals.

Qld van park resident loses legal battle

Nine MSN [7/6/13]:

The sale of a Queensland caravan park in former prime minister Kevin Rudd's electorate will go ahead, after a resident lost his legal battle.

The Monte Carlo Caravan Park at Cannon Hill is among several Queensland government-owned caravan parks up for sale.

Long-term park resident Tony Krajniw launched legal action last year to suspend the sale of the park.
But he has lost his final bid in the Court of Appeal in Brisbane.

The court ruled on Friday that Mr Krajniw's case contained "unsubstantiated and scurrilous allegations of incompetence, bias, criminal misconduct, mendacity, chicanery, cronyism and nepotism."

Mr Krajniw has been ordered to pay all legal costs.

A spokesman for Housing Minister Tim Mander says the caravan park will be sold to a not-for-profit housing company.

He says sale conditions require the buyer to retain the caravan park.

Mr Rudd has campaigned against the sale, including speaking against it during a joint Queensland and federal government event that unveiled a new social housing complex in Brisbane last year.

Environment dept reviews Cairns BP spill report

ABC [7/6/13]:

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection says it has received a report from BP about an incident in Cairns, in far north Queensland, in January.

The oil company was ordered to produce a report on the damage caused by the release of 30,000 litres of water containing fluorinated firefighting foam from the Cairns depot.

Some of the contaminated water spilled into Trinity Inlet but at the time BP said it found no adverse environmental effects.

The department is assessing the company's environmental evaluation of the incident and will consider whether to take any action later this month.

Newcrest to reduce staff

ABC [7/6/13]:

Gold mining giant Newcrest is planning to close its Brisbane office and cut back some of its high-cost operations.

Australia's biggest gold miner has been under pressure from investors to follow the lead of other resources companies and cut back expansion plans in the face of steeply declining commodity prices, particularly the gold price.

The spot price of gold has fallen from its most recent peak of just below $US1,800 an ounce in October last year to around $US1,417 at 11:20am (AEST) today.

Newcrest says this fall in gold prices has not been matched by an equivalent fall in the currencies of countries in which it does most of its production, particularly Australia.

That has pushed up mining costs relative to the price it is getting for its output, hurting profitability.

In response, Newcrest says it will cut around 20 per cent of its corporate and administration costs, in part by closing its Brisbane office.

It will also cut spending on new projects, studies and exploration, as well as cutting costs at its existing mines and suspending higher-cost production. ...

Nicaragua gives Chinese firm contract to build alternative to Panama Canal

Guardian [7/6/13]:

Nicaragua has awarded a Chinese company a 100-year concession to build an alternative to the Panama Canal, in a step that looks set to have profound geopolitical ramifications.

The president of the country's national assembly, Rene Nuñez, announced the $40bn (£26bn) project, which will reinforce Beijing's growing influence on global trade and weaken US dominance over the key shipping route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The name of the company and other details have yet to be released, but the opposition congressman Luis Callejas said the government planned to grant a 100-year lease to the Chinese operator.

The national assembly will debate two bills on the project, including an outline for an environmental impact assessment, on Friday.

Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, said recently that the new channel would be built in the north of the country, through the waters of Lake Nicaragua.

The new route will be a higher-capacity alternative to the 99-year-old Panama Canal, which is currently being widened at the cost of $5.2bn.

Last year, the Nicaraguan government noted that the new canal should be able to allow passage for mega-container ships with a dead weight of up to 250,000 tonnes. This is more than double the size of the vessels that will be able to pass through the Panama Canal after its expansion, it said.

According to a bill submitted to congress last year, Nicaragua's canal will be 22 metres deep, 20 metres wide and 286 km (178 miles) long - bigger than Panama and Suez in all dimensions.

Under the initial plans for the project, the government was expected to be the majority shareholder, with construction taking 10 years and the first ship passing through the canal within six years. It is unclear if this is still the case.

Two former Colombian officials recently accused China of influencing the international court of justice to secure the territorial waters that Nicaragua needs for the project.

In an op-ed piece for the magazine Semana, Noemí Sanín, a former Colombian foreign secretary, and Miguel Ceballos, a former vice-minister of justice, said a Chinese judge had settled in Nicaragua's favour on a 13-year-old dispute over 75,000 square kilometres of sea.

They said this took place soon after Nicaraguan officials signed a memorandum of understanding last September with Wang Jing, the chairman of Xinwei Telecom and president of the newly established Hong Kong firm HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company, to build and operate the canal.

Nicaragua has accused Colombia and Costa Rica, which also has a claim on territory likely to be used by the new canal, of trying to prevent the project going ahead.

Mine to close in 2019

North West Star [6/6/13]:

Copper mining operations in Mount Isa could cease as early as 2019 staff were told by Glencore Xstrata managers yesterday.

A 2019 shutdown is two years ahead of the previously proposed date of 2021, and coupled with company's decision to halt plans for open pit operations, could spell the end of an era for Mount Isa.

When asked for comment on the issue yesterday, Mount Isa City Council mayor Tony McGrady confirmed he had discussions with Xstrata this week.

He said the first major change in operations was to phase out mining contractors, a move he believed would be a positive one for the community.

"Xstrata has taken the decision, which they have because I discussed it with them yesterday, it means that the people who are employed at Xstrata will be locals, living in Mount Isa, buying houses in Mount Isa, spending money in Mount Isa, using schools in Mount Isa, that's what it is all about," he said.

"Many of those contractors are the fly-in fly-out workers and so if Mount Isa Mines are saying that they are going to concentrate on full-time permanent employees in this city, I say three cheers to Xstrata."

Employees were also told that plans for the proposed Mount Isa Open Pit (MIOP) had been placed on hold, sparking further concerns.

A spokesperson from Mount Isa Mines confirmed that current information on the Xstrata website correctly stated that cessation of plans for the MIOP would lead to a total shutdown of copper mining operations by 2021. ...

Yemen: Houthi leader laid to rest

Yemen Times [6/6/13]:

Hundreds of thousands gathered yesterday morning in Sa’ada to attend the funeral procession of Houthi leader Hussein Badr Al-Dain Al-Houthi, who was killed by government forces in 2004 during the first war waged between Houthis, who were fighting for regional sovereignty, and the state in this northern governorate.

The remains of the man many call the spiritual leader of this Zaidi Shia group had been held by the government in Sana’a for nine years before being finally being released for burial.

Many are calling the much-delayed release of his remains a reconciliatory gesture in light of the ongoing National Dialogue Conference in Sana’a.

The teeming crowd in Sa’ada came from many different governorates to honor and celebrate the life and legacy of Al-Houthi.

This event was supposed to be attended by more than a hundred Houthi supporters from Hizbullah, Hamas and Iran, Saleh Habra a leading figure of the Houthis and their representative in the National Dialogue Conference, said.

“Preparations were made, the planes were ready but last minute the president ordered Yemen’s embassies abroad not to grant them visas,” Habra said

Still, he said, some international supporters managed to come into the country and the others will hold similar, symbolic cermonies in their own countries.

“We are very mad at the president and his instructions, it has affected our celebration and this will carry negative consequences for the dialogue,” he added.

Saba, however, did acknowledge the security support provided by the Ministry of Interior to ensure the smooth running of the event.

Al-Houthis’ supporters gathered in a remote area cleared for the occasion and chanted the group’s well-known slogan: “Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews.”

Abdulmalik Al-Houthi the current leader of the Houthis, or Ansar Allah, and the brother of the deceased Houthi leader delivered a short speech in which he thanked the supporters gathered before him.

Hussein Al-Houthi’s casket was buried 60 miles outside of the city of Sa’ada, in Maran district, in the same area where the rebel leader had been killed years before.

Mohammed Al-Abed a political analyst and member of the Houthis, said that the crowd gathered on Wednesday was a sign of the power and righteousness of the Houthis.

“His burial is a symbol for justice and freedom,” he said.

Study Claims Pesticides Decrease Male Sex Drive

Jakarta Globe [6/6/13]:

According to a recent study conducted at the Bogor Agriculture Institute (IPB), men who consume pesticide-tainted fruits and vegetables may lose their sex drive over time.

Ahmad Sulaeman, a nutritionist at the IPB, told the Jakarta Globe that eating fruits and vegetables that have been treated with certain pesticides may lead to male reproductive deficiency.

“Experiments conducted on mice showed that male mice lost their desire to mate [after they were given pesticides],” Ahmad claimed.

In the opinion of Ahmad, this research can be applied to humans.

Ahmad claimed that some pesticides, such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and Dieldrin, contain antiandrogens, or substances that tend to inhibit the production, activity or effects of male sex hormones.

“If they consume them over a period of five to 30 years, they will become what is considered demasculinized, or lose some of their masculine characteristics,” Ahmad said.

He said that parents must be very selective when eating fruits and vegetables during pregnancy because the androgenic substances could disturb the development of the baby’s reproductive organs.

Ahmad also warned of eating imported apples that have a coating of the fungicide vinclozolin, which also contains antiandrogenic substances.

“Imported products should be monitored to ensure that the residue is below the ceiling limit,” Ahmad said.

He called on the Indonesian government to monitor the use of pesticides.

“It’s better not to use pesticides. Go organic,” he said.

Argentina: Fertility Bill implies 'more rights and a better country,' CFK tweets

Buenos Aires Herald [5/6/13]:

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner celebrated the passing of the Fertility Bill via Twitter, praising her administration as a Government that provided citizens with “more rights, more inclusion and a better country.”

“This is a part of the Won Decade,” she tweeted.

“Free access to reproductive technologies is now a mandate. More rights, more inclusion, a better country. Like I said, a Won Decade,” she tweeted.

The Head of State also congratulated NGO’s and people in general who fought for this law.

“Congratulations, you’ve earned this,” she tweeted.

GOP-led Wisconsin legislature moves to push investigative journalists off campus

CJR [5/6/13]:

DETROIT, MI — At the conclusion of a marathon overnight session, Wisconsin legislators early this morning added a provision to the state budget that would expel the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit investigative journalism institute, from its offices at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

The measure also prohibits university employees “from doing any work related to the Center for Investigative Journalism as part of their duties as a UW employee.”

With the budget now cleared by the Joint Finance Committee and poised for final approval soon, journalists and educators are scrambling to preserve what is widely regarded as a successful collaborative model that both trains emerging reporters and produces high-quality investigations.

The relevant budget language—available in full on the center’s website,—was part of a package of amendments that was approved by the Republican-led committee 12-4 on party lines. The full spending plan now heads to the Assembly; it must also be passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican.

Founded in 2009, the WCIJ is a nonprofit, nonpartisan outlet whose recent projects include an exploration of frac sand mining, an investigation into hormone disrupters in water, a series on nursing home neglect, and a look at the impact of legislation on abortion access. The center—about which CJR has written enthusiastically—receives no direct university funding; its $400,000 budget is supported primarily by foundations.

But the partnership between the center and the university’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication is tight-knit. The center has access to two small offices at the school for use by its four-member professional staff and four UW reporting interns, plus a third room for summer interns.

That internship program, which has involved nearly two dozen students to date, is robust: it offers paid opportunities to do public-service journalism, several interns have won awards for their WCIJ work, and many have gone on to professional journalism careers.

The center also hosts special events on campus, and its staff members reportedly teach and guest-lecture at university courses. Though no J-school faculty work at the center, professors say the proximity and collaborations give educators a window into an alternative model of media sustainability. Together, SJMC and WCIJ won The Associated Press’s first-ever Innovator of the Year for College Students award last fall.

Lucas Graves, an assistant professor at the school (and an occasional CJR contributor), said it was too early to say what effect the legislative language might have on the internship program.

“But I really can’t stress enough what a huge asset it’s been to have a working newsroom operating independently right in the middle of the department, and what a loss it would be to see them go,” Graves added.

“They do the kind of investigative work that a lot of career journalists never get the chance to, and which has been so hard hit by the newspaper crisis. That makes them a really unique resource for training journalism students.”

Before last night, there was little sense that this peaceable partnership was in peril. Greg Downey, department chair of the journalism school, did not hear about the motion that targets the collaboration until about twelve hours before it passed, and many staff did not learn about it until this morning

“It took me by surprise,” Downey told me. “We did not know this targeted attack on the center was coming.” He said he does not know who added the legislative language, or why. “We’re still dealing with this in real time.”

Andy Hall, the center’s executive director, could not be immediately reached for comment. But he told Romenesko and the alt-weekly site City Pages, “we were blindsided.”

Solar oasis at the risk of scrapping

Whyalla News Online [5/6/13]:

Whyalla City Councillor and endorsed Labor candidate for the state seat of Giles Eddie Hughes has slammed the decision by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to terminate the funding deed for the $230 million Whyalla Solar Oasis project.

Whyalla City Councillor and endorsed Labor candidate for the state seat of Giles Eddie Hughes has slammed the decision by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to terminate the funding deed for the $230 million Whyalla Solar Oasis project.

Cr Hughes said that there had not been any consultation or discussion with Whyalla before the decision was made.

“The decision means that 15 years of hard work to establish in Whyalla a major world first concentrating solar thermal power station using Australian technology has been flushed down the drain,” Cr Hughes said.

“The clear message to Australian technology companies seeking to commercialise Australian know-how, is join the long line of companies that have departed our shores because we don’t back our own.

“And the clear message to regional industrial communities like Whyalla looking to do the right thing by the environment while diversifying its economic base is that Canberra doesn’t listen.”

Cr Hughes said that he was informed of the decision by Nicola Morris from ARENA who said that the decision had been made because the proponents had failed to meet the conditions precedent and they had failed to undertake various things that had to be done on time.

“The initial $230 million investment had the potential to become a multi-stage project generating electricity and enabling applied research and development to piggy back of the major project leading to advances in energy storage and thermo-chemical processing,” Cr Hughes said.

“UniSA had already established the Regional Sustainability Centre at its Whyalla campus linked to the Barbara Hardy Institute in anticipation of the project with the future of the centre now at risk.”

Cr Hughes said when he told Ms Morris the commonwealth had been responsible for delays throughout the granting process, she responded ARENA had not been responsible for any delays since it took over the project and ARENA was not responsible for the previous delays by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (RET).

The $230 million project was to be partly funded through a $60 million commonwealth grant under the Renewable Energy Demonstration Program.

“The original timetable for projects under the REDP grant program was for funding deeds to be signed in July 2009,” Cr Hughes said.

“The very nature of the REDP program to ‘accelerate the commercialisation and deployment of new renewable energy technologies’ required the commonwealth to be supportive and adaptable and to act in a timely fashion.

“Instead it took almost three years for the funding deed for the Whyalla project to be signed.”

Cr Hughes said following the release of the Auditor General’s report which had been critical of the administration of the REDP program last August, there was a clearer picture of the problems behind the delays.

“It is clear that this very protracted process has had significant impacts on the project and its proponents,” Cr Hughes said.

“We expected that following the release of the Auditor General’s report into REDP and RET that ARENA would have been working assiduously to ensure there were no more delays and to provide assistance given the poor previous record of the commonwealth.”

Cr Hughes said he was bemused and amazed by the claim that ARENA had not added to the delays. ...

Two killed in Afghanistan as hundreds protest over US ‘torture’

Independent [4/6/13]:

Hundreds of Afghans blocked a major motorway south of Kabul carrying freshly dug-up bodies they claimed were victims of torture by US special forces and demanding the Americans be arrested, officials said.

A spokesman for the US-led military coalition said the claims were false.

Violence erupted at the rally and two of the demonstrators were killed, but the cause of their deaths was unclear, said Mohammad Hussain Fahimi, a provincial council member in Wardak, a restive province south of Kabul.

The three bodies were dug up this morning near a former US special forces base in Nirkh district, according to Attaullah Khogyani, the provincial governor’s spokesman. Six other bodies were unearthed there in recent weeks.

Mr Khogyani said an investigation was under way but that it was too soon to say if the three were among at least nine people who villagers say disappeared into American custody.

US special forces withdrew from parts of Wardak earlier this year at the insistence of President Hamid Karzai, following alleged torture and summary execution of militant suspects there – charges US officials have firmly denied.

No requirement to test for legionella

Brisbane Times [7/6/13]:

The Wesley Hospital's hot water system had never been tested for legionella bacteria – because it is not a government requirement to do so.

“It's not something we routinely test for,” said infectious disease physician Paul Bartley.

“I can't recall it ever being done.”

Dr Bartley and UnitingCare Health executive director Richard Royle said tests on taps and pipes will come back mid next week, and the Wesley would remain closed to new admissions until then.

Three hundred and forty-five existing patients will have to continue to use bathing packs instead of showering.

A 60-year-old man died on June 2 after contracting legionnaires' disease in late May, and a 46-year-old woman remains in a serious condition with the disease.

Mr Royle admitted that the nature of the outbreak was complex, as the two victims were in different wards when they were infected, and legionella in hot water systems was comparatively rare.

“We are speaking to a number of people who have expertise in legionella, but yes, it's challenging given the conditions we're currently facing,” said Mr Royle.

Mr Royle said a routine monthly test on the air-conditioning system in May came back negative, meaning it was unlikely to be the source.

Results of an extra test will come back next week.

“We are leaving no stone unturned here,” he said.

Dr Bartley said the conditions inside a water boiler itself were too hot for legionella to survive.

“The issue is further downstream where the water cools.”

Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young said it would be unlikely that legionella would grow independently.

“It would be unusual to have two incidents happening at the same time without an original single source, so that's what we're working through at the moment,” Dr Young said.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg ordered all state hospitals to test their hot water systems for legionella, and Dr Young said Queensland Health was now investigating whether it should be mandatory.

“At the moment it is a requirement, but not a particularly specific requirement – it doesn't have a protocol attached to it saying how often to test, how much testing to do,” she said.

“That's what we're looking at, whether we should be introducing that in Queensland.”

ABC, AM [7/6/13]:

... STEPHANIE SMAIL: Staff at the Wesley Hospital were told a 60 year old man had tested positive for legionnaires' disease last Tuesday.

Professor Matthew Cooper is from the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

MATTHEW COOPER: For any hospital in Australia or any healthcare facility in Australia, legionella is a notifiable disease, which means as soon as it's detected in an air-conditioning duct or in a patient it's mandatory to report to the Government.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: The man died on Sunday but authorities weren't informed until Wednesday.

Queensland's Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has told State Parliament he's ordered an investigation into the delay. ...

Unregulated and unaccountable: how the private health care sector in India is putting women’s lives at risk [Oxfam - 6/2/13]:

New evidence revealed by Oxfam shows that women in India are being exploited and facing serious health problems, due to under-investment in healthcare by the Indian government and the proliferation of private for-profit clinics.

The international agency says that many private clinics are being driven by financial incentives to carry out dangerous and costly procedures regardless of whether or not there is any benefit to the patient.

Women, particularly from poor communities, are being left with crippling debts and health problems after being made to have unnecessary hysterectomies and Cesarean births. These are procedures that come with huge price tags and high medical risks.

In one rural district of Rajasthan, thousands of women have been deliberately misled into believing they need hysterectomies; women from the most discriminated low castes and poor economic backgrounds are being targeted because access to free government healthcare is very limited and illiteracy rates are high.

Durga Prasad Saini, an advocate for a local NGO in the area, said: “Whatever abdominal stomach problems they are coming to doctors with, the doctors make them scared that they have cancer and are going to die. They mislead them to undergo surgery even though it is not necessary and scare the women in their greed for money.”

The NGO filed an RTI (right to information) case to try to get to the bottom of the problem. Only three of the five clinics provided him with the information but the results were shocking. Nearly 70 percent of the women investigated had had their uterus taken out.

The RTI also revealed a large number of the women who had undergone the procedure were under the age of 29, with the youngest being just 18 years old. Despite the fact complaints have been made to the police and local government, no action has been taken to investigate.

38 year old Kaushalya, like most of the women in the district, works as a farm laborer. She was told she must have a hysterectomy when she visited the clinic with stomach pains. She was charged 30,000 rupees for the operation (around $540).

“I went to get medication and have a check up. Because the government hospitals are far away I went to a private clinic. They didn’t check me, they didn’t give me any medication. But they gave me an injection and performed an operation. Even though I only had a tummy ache, they took my uterus out. I still have the same stomach pain I had before. I can’t work, I can’t lift heavy things. Being a poor farmer I don’t have any money, so I had to borrow money. So far I have not even been able to pay just the interest.”

Private doctors are also over-prescribing unnecessary Cesareans, to increase the money they get from patients. Chandra Kala, a mother of two in her late twenties, was told she must have a Cesarean by a private clinic for both of her deliveries. She was charged 20,000 rupees ($360) for the delivery of her first child (who is nine) and 15,000 rupees ($270) for the second baby she delivered recently.

“I said I don’t want an operation done to me, but they said I had to have one and they charged me. We are only villagers doing farming, but I managed to borrow some money from here and there. But being a farmer now I can’t work, I can’t lift anything heavy or bend too low, I don’t feel well enough to work. I only finished off paying my debts two months ago from my first child who is now nine years old.”

Dr Satyaveer Singh, who works as chief medical officer for a government hospital near Bharatpur, said the situation was widespread. “For private doctors to do a normal delivery, what will they get? Only 5,000 or 6,000 rupees ($90–$110). But whenever they perform a Cesarean they will charge 18, 20,000 ($320–$360). And they will add a bed charge, a consultation charge, with all these included it’s about 30,000 (approx $540). Most of the women having a Cesarean face problems financially. They have to sell their assets, or lend money.”

Dr Narendra Gupta from Prayas, a partner organization working with Oxfam India, said: “Subjecting women to unethical and unnecessary hysterectomies or Cesarean sections for financial gain is a violation of human rights and most awful form of gender based violence.

“The mass hysterectomies by private clinics in Dausa is a wicked act, but such malpractice is happening in other areas as well.”

Decades of appallingly low investment in the public health sector has left India with a crumbling health system and despite efforts in recent years to strengthen it – most notably through the National Rural Health Mission – India has one of the lowest levels of government investment in health in the world. The gap left by the public health system combined with a government policy of proactively promoting the private sector has led to the proliferation of private health providers which are unregulated, unaccountable, and out of control.

Oxfam is calling for immediate action to regulate private health care providers in India and for the Indian government to prioritize the strengthening and scaling up of government health care, which is universally available to all citizens, so women in rural areas will be able to access free care.

Araddhya Mehtta, Oxfam’s global health campaigner, said: “In many poor countries we are seeing people trapped in poverty because of healthcare fees, or dying through lack of treatment because they are too poor to pay. The real solution is to make sure government health facilities are offering free, decent medical care, available to everyone.”

Oxfam is also warning international donors to be more cautious about investing in private sector healthcare. Mehtta said: “It is clear that all of the negative implications of charging people for healthcare, such as these shocking cases of exploitation, are disproportionately borne by the poorest and most vulnerable.”

In India, a recent high-level expert panel report recommended that user fees of all forms be dropped as a source of government revenue for health in favor of more investment into the public system.
Dr Singh believes if India had universal free healthcare they could reduce maternal and child mortality rates by over 30 percent and even reach the same standards of healthcare as Europe. “If each and every health facility is providing to each and every person in India, we could have European standards of healthcare within three years.”

Spin doctors working overtime to promote and defend publicly funded private hospitals

Queensland Times [7/6/13]:

Private health patients may no longer have to travel to Brisbane for cancer treatment after the opening of St Andrew's Hospital infusion centre.

The clinic opened last month with the first patients beginning treatment this week, making it the first private oncology clinic in Ipswich.

St Andrew's Hospital chief executive Chris Went said planning for the five-chair unit began mid-last year.

"This was one area of care St Andrew's was able to easily introduce that will have a real impact on our patients," she said.

"We continue to look for more opportunities to grow our facility with new services in the future for the Ipswich and West Moreton community."

She said the infusion centre would also treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

The first cancer patient to be treated was Debbie McCourt from Ipswich, who had her first appointment at the clinic yesterday.

She is pleased to avoid commuting to Brisbane.

"It means I will be closer to home and family and friends," she said.

St Andrew's begun the search for specialists to run the clinic last year and was contacted by Dr Vikram Jain and Dr Paul Vasey.

Dr Vasey said the clinic was likely to attract patients from Toowoomba as well as Ipswich.

The clinic offers oncology treatment rather than haematology for solid tumours instead of blood cancers.
Ms Went said the recently redeveloped area in the hospital brings a new and much-needed service to the facility.

"We are so excited to be able to provide cancer care which will include chemotherapy, blood transfusions and iron infusions locally for our patients and their families.

"To be able to provide this care and supplement the acute medical, surgical and obstetric care we have been delivering for the past 100 years is the next stage of St Andrew's growth strategy to provide a full range of services locally."

Mr Paul Ramsay, OA, and members of the Ramsay Board were delighted to visit the hospital on Monday to open the new centre.

The addition of the infusion clinic comes after last year's redevelopment.

Principal of Catholic school kept job despite child sex abuse allegations

West Australian [6/6/13]:

The principal of a West Australian Catholic primary school was allowed to remain in his position despite being investigated by police over allegations of child sexual abuse.

Child abuse squad detectives charged Matthew Edward Faulkner, 53, with 16 child sexual offences late last week.

It followed an investigation into a complaint by a former student at a school where Mr Faulkner was teaching in 1997.

Police say they told senior staff at the Catholic Education Office early last year that they were investigating Mr Faulkner.

The Catholic Education Office told police Mr Faulkner was immediately stood down.

However, the ABC understands he continued working at a primary school in the state's south-west.

Documents show Mr Faulkner remained principal of the school until the end of last year.

The Catholic Education Office has not responded to the ABC's requests for an interview.

Bird-scaring missiles back with a bang

Queensland Times [7/6/13]:

After creating a mystery about the origin of explosions around Ipswich, the RAAF's bird-scaring missiles are returning.

The piercing reports will resume at RAAF Amberley as testing continues to find the most effective ways of deterring birds from flying around the airfield.

Last week, a post on The QT Facebook page attracted more than 100 comments, with reports of explosions around Ipswich.

By the end of the week, the RAAF solved the mystery.

Squadron Leader Andy Weekes, executive officer of base operations, said soaring birds were a particular problem at all airfields, with a potential to cause major damage to aircraft either by collision or by ingestion into engines at critical times.

"The large paved areas around airfields, such as runways and aircraft parking areas, create thermals which are very attractive to soaring birds such as the ibis, ducks, pelicans and raptors such as kites and eagles," Squadron Leader Weekes said.

"We are continually looking for effective ways to scare the birds away from airfields at critical times when aircraft land or take off, and recently our contractor has been testing a device which emits a very loud bang when it explodes in the air," he said.

It is a small, cylinder-shaped object fired from a large pistol then propelled by a small rocket motor up to about 230m, where it explodes with a loud bang.

"We regret any concern or inconvenience caused to the public by this ongoing testing," Squadron Leader Weekes said.

He said testing would be done when weather conditions were such that large numbers of soaring birds are attracted to the airfield.

Afghanistan: Civilian casualties up by 10%

Pajhwok [6/6/13]:

HERAT CITY (PAN): The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) chief on Thursday said civilian casualties had risen nearly 10 percent in the first two months of the year, voicing her concern at the surge in violence.

Seema Samar told reporters in Herat City that 366 civilians had been killed in the first two months of the solar year, indicating 10 percent rise, compared with figures for the corresponding period in the previous year, when a total of 2176 civilians were killed.

She said her organisation was deeply concerned at the increasing civilian casualties in the conflict, calling on the warring parties to stay away from civilians.

She was addressing a gathering marking the 11th anniversary of AIHRC’s creation. Samar asked the government to ensure that women were given greater representation in next year’s elections and civil society activists were protected.

She said the government was required to prepare the ground for bringing peace to the country and should make efforts at achieving freedom of press.

The AIHRC chief believed next year would bring relief to the Afghans because the influence of warlords would end.

Later, Governor Duad Shah Saba urged the AIHRC chief to expose the faces of those involved in violations of human rights in Afghanistan and do efforts to bring them to justice.

Low turtle numbers off Cape York a worry

NIRS [6/6/13]:

There are concerns about the low number of turtles travelling to Raine Island off the tip of far north Queensland’s Cape York in recent years.

Until recently, more than a hundred thousand turtles came to the island each nesting season to lay their eggs, but in the past few years, that number has plunged to around twenty thousand and only a small proportion of the eggs are producing hatchlings.

A spokesperson for the state Environment Department says a loss of sand may be to blame.

Horace Nona from the Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation says traditional owners are getting more involved in helping to conserve the island.

Meriam elder Douglas Passi says it’s sad to see a large number of turtles dying from causes such as exhaustion, falling off ledges and getting stuck in crevices.

Remote communities to suffer from climate change: Study

NIRS [6/6/13]:

A new study says remote communities are more likely to be affected by climate change than any other sector of the population.

It’s found that communities in the Kimberley and Cape York are at severe risk of being affected by more extreme weather events in coming years.

Lead researcher from the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation, Digby Race, says further studies that will assist these communities to adapt.

Fishing vessel went aground near Lady Elliot Island

Gladstone Observer [6/6/13]:

Maritime Safety Queensland is investigating after a fishing trawler ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef near Lady Elliot Island at 3.30am on Thursday.

Gladstone Water Police did not attended, but a spokesman said a small diesel leak was caused by the heeling of the vessel.

The trawler, named the Joseph M, was not damaged, and Gladstone Water Police said there was minimal damage to the reef.

It's believed the crew cleaned up the spilled diesel.

The area of the grounding is in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Green Zone.

A spokesman for Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said fishing vessels are allowed to travel through Green Zones but are not allowed to fish.

Coincidentally, members of GBRMPA were attending a conference on the island when the accident occurred.

Owners of the trawler arranged for a tug from Bundaberg to refloat the trawler on Thursday afternoon, and MSQ were on standby with safety equipment.

Israel leads global drone exports as demand rises

Hurriyet Daily News [7/6/13]:

In an expansive hangar in central Israel, workers toil on one of the world’s most contentious aircraft, fitting dozens of drones with advanced sensors, cameras and lasers before they are shipped to militaries worldwide to perform highly sensitive tasks.

Whereas drones are often criticized elsewhere for being morally and legally objectionable, in Israel they are a source of pride. Israel - a pioneer of drone technology - has emerged as the world’s leading exporter of the aircraft and its accessories, putting it in a strong position as the industry continues to grow.

A report produced by U.S. consulting firm Frost & Sullivan determined earlier this year that Israel is now the largest exporter of unmanned aerial systems, surmounting aerospace giants in the U.S. The report said that from 2005 to 2012, Israel exported some $4.6 billion worth of systems, including aircraft, payloads, operating systems and command and control caravans. U.S. overseas sales for the same time period were between $2 and $3 billion, the report said.

Since Israeli drone makers do not release precise sales figures, the Israeli numbers are estimates based on the number of UAVs sold and the overall value of contracts that were announced during the seven-year period. Industry experts could not confirm the report’s numbers, but said Frost & Sullivan is a respected firm and its conclusions reflected Israel’s leading spot in the field.

Israel is well-positioned for the future. Analysts see demand for military UAVs quadrupling over the next decade, driven by their success in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they have been used by Western forces to monitor and attack militants. Countries like Italy, Germany and South Africa, among others, also export their drones and dozens of others have started their own UAV programs.

Global spending on the technology is expected to jump from an estimated $6.6 billion this year to $11.4 billion in 2022, according to the Teal Group, which analyzes the aerospace industry. A fledgling civilian market is also expected to surge.

While the U.S. has faced criticism over the use of its drones in lethal missile attacks against militants, in Israel, they are being used in a growing number of operations.

Defense officials say that drones account for roughly half of the military’s flight time. Drones proved essential in Israel’s last two wars in the Gaza Strip, providing its troops eyes over its enemies in congested urban areas of the Palestinian territory, and are lauded for sparing dozens of soldiers’ lives.

They also keep watch on neighboring Syria and Lebanon.

The Palestinians claim that Israeli drones, like their U.S. counterparts, can fire missiles and have carried out dozens of airstrikes that have killed civilians as well as militants. Israel does not say whether drones it uses can fire missiles, but foreign experts believe they can.

Exported Israeli drones, on the other hand, are believed to be used for surveillance and not thought to have attack capabilities.

“The Israeli companies are very good and very advanced and very smart at making systems that function in a tactical environment because they’ve been at war constantly,” said Michael Blades, an industry analyst who authored the Frost & Sullivan report. “It came out of necessity but they got really good at it.”

Israel first made widespread use of drones during the 1982 Lebanon war, after developing the technology following failures in the 1973 Mideast war. During that conflict, the Israeli air force suffered heavy losses, and defense officials sought a solution that would allow them to identify anti-aircraft missile batteries before sending in fighter planes. Drones that could paint a picture of the battlefield in real time were created to meet that challenge.

Since then, Israeli companies, such as Israel Aerospace Industries, Elbit Systems and Aeronautics Defense Systems, have begun producing drones, selling them at first to Israel’s military, then branching out worldwide. Israeli drones have flown in conflict zones around the world, from Afghanistan to Mali. Britain and Brazil are among the biggest clients.

“We exist because of the international market,” said Shmuel Falik, who markets drones for state-owned IAI. “We’re too big for Israel, to our delight.” IAI, considered the leading Israeli unmanned aerial system exporter by Frost & Sullivan, sells drones to 49 customers worldwide and says 80 percent of its UAV products are destined for foreign markets.

Experts said Israeli companies benefit from a strong link with Israel’s army. Beyond that, drone manufacturers employ former soldiers, granting them a deeper understanding of a soldier’s needs.

Target to axe jobs

Sydney Morning Herald [6/6/13]:

Struggling retail chain Target is primed to announce hundreds of job cuts and a possible operational restructure following its profit warning last month, as the Wesfarmers-backed business tries to dig itself out of a financial hole.

The shake-up has already begun, with the axe falling at the chain's marketing department last week, and speculation is rife that up to 200 more back-office jobs are to be carved out of the company.

It comes at a bad time for Geelong, where Target is based, with car maker Ford announcing last month it would close its manufacturing plants there and in Broadmeadows in 2016, costing 1200 jobs. It adds to a string of job cuts announced by Australian corporates, including ANZ, Crown, Telstra and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

Led by Stuart Machin, Target's third boss in two years, the attack on the retailer's cost base is prompted by destructive forces, including excess inventory, increasing theft from stores and a poor start to sales for the second half, exacerbated by the late start to winter.

Already floundering because of sluggish consumer sentiment and the dour economic outlook, Wesfarmers shocked investors two weeks ago with a profit downgrade for Target, flagging a potential second-half loss.
Wesfarmers chief executive Richard Goyder warned full-year earnings before interest and tax at Target would drop to between $140 million and $160 million against EBIT of $148 million in the first half. This could see second-half earnings sink to an $8 million loss or, at the upper end, a $12 million profit.

Wesfarmers also owns Kmart, supermarket chain Coles, hardware group Bunnings and Officeworks.
The dip into the red has cast Target as the problem child of Wesfarmers' retail empire, with Kmart and Bunnings thriving.

If Mr Machin cannot turn around Target, it will add to pressure on Wesfarmers to finally do away with the troubled chain. Previous options canvassed have included selling it to a private equity buyer or carving up Target stores among Wesfarmers' other retail banners, to be transformed into liquor stores - under the First Choice, Liquorland or Vintage Cellars brands - or Kmart and Officeworks outlets.

The current round of job losses is part of a wider push to reshape Target, which will see a greater emphasis on direct sourcing and squeezing the supply chain - a move that has raised earnings and profitability for Coles.

It is a strategy Mr Machin has become expert at with the executive part of the British team that helped resurrect Coles after Wesfarmers bought the underperforming supermarket business more than five years ago. Before shifting to Target in April, Mr Machin was director of Coles' store development and operations.

A spokesman for Target said the company was reviewing all aspects of the business and had taken a number of actions to turn around its performance. ''There have already been a number of team changes as part of this review and more changes are likely. However, we will work these through with the Target team and they will be kept informed of any changes that may arise.''

High-roller loses High Court bid to sue Crown Casino for $20 million loss

ABC [5/6/13]:

A high-rolling gambling addict has lost his High Court bid to sue Melbourne's Crown Casino for losses of $20 million.

Gold Coast property developer Harry Kakavas accused the casino of unconscionable conduct after it allowed him to gamble millions of dollars in 2005 and 2006 when staff at the casino knew he had a gambling addiction.

He accused the casino of scheming to ensure he came back by offering him cash incentives and giving him the use of a private jet.

The casino argued Mr Kakavas had not indicated anything other than he was financially capable of maintaining his high-roller status.

The High Court has ruled the casino did not knowingly victimise Mr Kakavas.

Almost 50 workers sacked at Jupiters, Treasury casinos in south-east Qld

ABC [5/6/13]:

The United Voice union says almost 50 workers have been sacked from casinos in Brisbane and the Gold Coast in south-east Queensland.

The union says most of the workers were game floor managers employed by Echo Entertainment at the Treasury and Jupiters casinos.

The union's Queensland secretary, Gary Bullock, says the company told him there would be a reduction in staff as part of major changes at the facilities.

In a statement, Mr Bullock blamed the decision on the Queensland Government's relaxation of gaming and liquor regulations.

Packer's $350m Sri Lanka gamble confirmed

Sydney Morning Herald [5/6/13]:

Gambling tycoon James Packer is teaming up with a Sri Lankan partner for a $350 million investment in the country's tourism industry, including a hotel with at least 400 rooms, the island nation's investment promotion minister says.

Mr Packer, who owns half of casino operator Crown, met with Sri Lankan ministers in February to discuss hotel and entertainment investment options, officials said.

Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Sri Lanka's investment promotion minister, said the proposed deal was a venture to attract investors from Australia and Singapore to promote tourism.

"This is not a casino business and we have not granted any tax concessions which are adverse to the country," Mr Abeywardena told parliament yesterday, responding to a question raised by an opposition member.

"This will be with a minimum 400-room star class hotel complex and related services including retail shopping, entertainment facilities, fine-dining restaurants, and meeting and convention facilities."

After Mr Packer's visit, Sri Lanka's parliament has sought to amend its Betting and Gaming Levy Act to increase gaming business registration fees and impose a 5 percent tax on the turnover of gaming businesses.

Mr Abeywardena said applicable tax concessions would be given to Packer's deal after parliamentary approval, similar to those granted to a $500 million investment by Shangri-La Asia Ltd.

"This is a $350 million project and there is an opportunity to create 2,600 direct jobs. It will be a joint business venture with 45 percent owned by a local entrepreneur," he said.

He did not name the local partner. Crown did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Mr Packer is ranked Australia's third-richest person with a fortune of $6 billion, according to Forbes. Last year, he cashed out of his family's publishing and broadcasting assets for about $1 billion to concentrate on his gambling business, which span casinos in Australia, Macau, Britain and the United States.

Mr Packer's Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd plans to build a $1 billion casino in the Philippines in partnership with Philippines' wealthiest man, Henry Sy.

Sri Lanka expects its economy to grow 7.5 per cent this year, fuelled by major infrastructure projects, and is targeting about $1.5 billion in foreign direct investment after missing its $2 billion target in 2012.

The country has allowed casino gambling off and on since at least the 1980s and currently has about nine properties including the Bellagio Colombo, unrelated to the Bellagio Las Vegas operated by MGM Resorts.

Tamil farmers lose title-deed lands to Sinhala colonisers in Mullaiththeevu

TamilNet [3/6/13]:

The occupying Sri Lankan military has appropriated more than one hundred acres of paddy lands owned by Tamil farmers at Koozhaa-mu’rippu in Vedi-vaiththa-kal area of Nedungkea’ni DS division in the Mullaiththeevu district for Sinhalese being brought from the South by the Colombo government.

Vedi-vaiththa-kall is traditionally a Tamil agricultural village.

The Tamil farmers had been doing paddy cultivation till they were uprooted from the village.

They possess title deeds for about sixty acres and land development department permits for about forty acres.

Earlier, irrigation facilities had been provided to these lands from Koozhaa-mu'rippuk-ku'lam.

But, after the occupation of the country of Eezham Tamils, the ‘development’ promised by Colombo didn't reach them.

Even after their resettlement, they were not in the position of cultivating their lands due to the breach in the dam of the tank.

The Tamil farmers, who went to the their paddy fields last week to do preparation for the coming season saw Sinhalese persons from the south repairing the breached dam and clearing the paddy fields of Tamils for cultivation.

Vanni district Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian Mr.Sivaskathi Aanandan told media that Tamil farmers have approached their elected representatives and SL authorities concerned to allow them to do cultivation in their lands and to take action against those who have encroached.

Barmaid loses bid to sue over fall

West Australian [5/6/13]:

A former barmaid has lost her bid to sue a Wheatbelt pub for more than $200,000 over a serial "prankster" pubgoer who, she claimed, deliberately tripped her and left her with injuries that hindered her new career.

Lynda Jones had lodged a lawsuit against the Darkan Hotel over an alleged incident in October 2009 in which she claimed a regular patron tripped her from behind as she was playing pool, causing her to twist and fall to the ground.

The pub is now under new ownership and management.

Central to her case was her claim the pubgoer had a known habit of trying to trip staff and others, and the proprietors should have warned him about his behaviour or banned him from the hotel to prevent the risk of injury to others.

Last month, a District Court judge ruled Ms Jones' injury and distress at not being able to work as a newly-qualified aged-care worker would warrant $224,404 if a payout was legally justified.

But, crucially, the same judge found he could not be satisfied the fall was caused by the patron deliberately tripping Ms Jones as she claimed, meaning her case had to fail and no compensation should be paid.

Judge Richard Keen also found the customer's tendency was only to "pretend" to trip people, and that the hotel could not have foreseen what happened and would not have breached a duty of care.

Ms Jones said she previously warned the then-manager about "the clown of the hotel" and the risk he allegedly posed after he previously nearly tripped her during a shift.

One customer from the country pub testified that he was "sick" of the man fooling around and had seen him trip people a "fair few times". But the manager and proprietor both testified they never heard allegations the patron was a "serial tripper-upperer".

Judge Keen said evidence did not show the apparent "prankster" habitually "stalked" or made actual contact to trip people, and that even if it had been deliberate the hotel did not know of any propen- sity to do so.

Syrian army retakes crossing into Israeli-occupied Golan Heights

CNN [6/6/13]:

... The Syrian army recaptured Syria's only crossing to Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Syrian state-run TV reported Thursday. A journalist working for CNN in the area confirmed that account.

Just a few hours earlier, an opposition group said Syrian rebels had seized the Quneitra crossing after battling Syrian forces in the city.

Clashes continued after the army retook control, but at a lower intensity than before.

Quneitra is symbolically important to the Syrian regime because it represents former President Hafez al-Assad's attempt to liberate Israeli-occupied territory.

Quneitra had been captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, only to be recaptured by Syrian forces in 1973. The struggle for Quneitra continued until a disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria left the city in Syria's hands.

The fighting in Quneitra Thursday could be seen from the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan Heights.

Rebels opened fire on the Syrian forces, who responded with tank fire to try to force the rebels back. Mortars and small arms fire caused the bushes and shrubs to catch on fire.

Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said mortar shells fell on the Israeli side of the border near the Quneitra passage. He said Israel is aware of the fighting and is taking necessary precautions to prevent spillover.

Lerner said Israeli authorities have instructed farmers in the Golan Heights not to approach the border fence in the Quneitra area due to the ongoing fighting on the Syrian side.

The Golan Heights, formerly Syrian territory, was seized by Israel in 1967. The two sides signed an armistice in 1974, and United Nations forces have been stationed there since. ...

Half fight WA juvenile prison riot charges

Nine MSN [6/6/13]:

Almost half of the offenders charged with criminal damage over a destructive riot at Perth's Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre have pleaded not guilty.

More than 70 young offenders had to be transferred from the facility to the adult Hakea Prison, both in the southern suburb of Canning Vale, after inmates went on a rampage on January 21, trashing about 100 cells.

Police revealed last month 30 juveniles and five 18-year-olds had been charged with criminal damage.

On Thursday, they said 17 offenders had pleaded guilty, while 18 remained in the judicial system with pending court dates.

One of the adult offenders was charged with two counts of assaulting a police officer and has pleaded guilty to one of those charges but is awaiting trial for the other.

Assaults on police officers are subject to WA's mandatory sentencing laws.

Banksia Hill is being repaired and a full reopening is scheduled for the end of this month.

The family of one of the offenders recently lost a Supreme Court challenge to the transfer, with Chief Justice Wayne Martin ruling it legal.

Obama meets with Bahrain's crown prince

Jakarta Post [6/6/13]:

The White House says President Barack Obama has met with the crown prince of Bahrain to discuss security issues and ties between the U.S. and the Persian Gulf nation.

The White House says Obama dropped in on a meeting between Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and Obama's deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken.

The crown prince is also a deputy prime minister of Bahrain.

Obama told the Bahraini leader that the U.S. supports stability and security in Bahrain and that respecting universal human rights is the best way for the nation to achieve peace and security.

Japan nuke plant investigates leak from new tank

Jakarta Post [6/6/13]:

Workers at a tsunami-crippled Japanese nuclear plant are scrambling to find the cause of a highly radioactive water leak from a brand-new storage tank amid concerns that the problem is hampering cleanup efforts.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant suffered multiple meltdowns after the March 2011 tsunami knocked out power and is still on a fragile makeshift cooling system that produces massive amounts of highly radioactive water coming out of the wrecked reactors.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Thursday that the leak stopped after some of the water inside the faulty tank was moved to two adjacent containers, but that its cause was still unknown.

The leak occurred at one of nearly 40 steel tanks TEPCO hastily assembled last month to receive radioactive water from several underground pools that turned out to be defective and had also leaked.

A worker spotted water dripping down from a seam on the 500-ton cylindrical tank built last month, but the amount of total leakage was about 1 liter (a quarter of a gallon), according to TEPCO spokesman Masayuki Ono.

TEPCO has been hit by a series of mishaps over the last few weeks, including a rat-induced blackout, adding to concerns about the plant's ability to safely complete the decades-long process of decommissioning.

The massive radioactive water is among the most pressing issues affecting the plant's cleanup process.

Runoff from the three reactors melted in the aftermath of the March 2011 disasters and a steady inflow of groundwater seeping into the basement of their damaged buildings produce about 400 tons of contaminated water daily.

TEPCO says that about 300,000 tons of contaminated water has been stored in tanks at the plant, and that the amount will double within a few years.

Bloggers stage 24-hour "blackout" to protest new MDA licensing regime

Channel News Asia [6/6/13]:

SINGAPORE: Websites by some prominent bloggers in Singapore went offline at the stroke of midnight today on Thursday in protest of a new licensing regime for local news sites with substantial reach.

The 24-hour "internet blackout" is spearheaded by a group of 32 bloggers and socio-political websites, known as "Free My Internet".

They said the new rules which require local news websites with substantial reach, to come up with a S$50,000 bond and comply with a take-down notice within 24-hours, will limit public discourse.

Some websites went black even before midnight.

As of midnight, the group listed about 100 websites and blogs which it said have joined in the movement.

It has also started a petition calling for the withdrawal of the licensing regime. As of 12 midnight on Thursday, the petition has garnered 2,751 signatures.

On June 8, the group will be staging a protest at Singapore's Speakers' Corner.

The rules, which took effect on June 1, are part of efforts to get people to be responsible for their actions online.

Authorities have said that online news sites must also be subjected to the same kind of accountability and responsibility as "offline" news media. Authorities added that the new rules are not a clamp-down, as websites can continue as per normal because they are subjected to the same content standards as before.

Only 10 sites come under the new regime -- they mainly belong to the mainstream media.

Ireland: 82% surge in gas disconnections

Irish Examiner [6/6/13]:

The figures from the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) show that some 7,558 homes had their gas supply cut off — an increase of 82%. A total of 14,650 households had their electricity disconnected in 2012 — an increase of 1%.

The CER retail market annual report found that Bord Gáis cut off almost twice as many electricity customers last year as in 2011, rising from 1,464 to 2,934, while it cut off gas to over 5,500 customers.

The report comes just a day after a CER survey found that electricity and gas customers have reported large increases in their energy bills this year, with the average annual expenditure on both costing almost €200 more than last year.

Commenting on the disconnection rates, Fianna Fáil energy spokesman Michael Moynihan said the figures were “alarming” and questioned the role and performance of the energy regulator.

“These figures are particularly disconcerting when read beside news of the massive profits announced by the utility companies. I have continuously called for [Energy] Minister Pat Rabbitte to take more of an interest, to do his job and raise concerns with the Commissions for Energy Regulation.

“Families are struggling; one in four can’t pay their utility bills in full. This problem is getting progressively worse and the minister continues to ignore it.”

Sinn Féin’s energy spokesman Michael Colreavy said the figures were “worrying” and said metering should be available to all customers.

“Currently only customers in significant arrears can avail of the pre-pay metering system.

“Customers who are not in arrears must use private companies to install prepay meters on which they pay a charge, resulting in higher energy costs.”

Media watchdog says Nauru must protect freedom of speech

RNZI [6/6/13]:

A Pacific media watchdog says the Nauru government must allow the Nauru Broadcasting Service to fully report politics leading up to Saturday’s general elections.

The chair of the Pacific Freedom Forum, Titi Gabi, says an uninformed democracy is no kind of democracy at all.

She asks how are voters to make informed decisions on issues if they cannot access independent information to make their own judgment.

Last week, the caretaker president Sprent Dabwido declared a state of emergency leading into the poll, including restrictions on media.

He says he is not stopping politicians being interviewed by the local government-owned media, but is stopping them getting an unfair advantage.

However a former finance minister, Roland Kun, says that is not the reality.

“The reality on ground is that media has not been able to interview anyone.”

The Pacific Freedom Forum says the incoming government must put in place protections for freedom of speech, as guaranteed under the constitution, and by international agreement.

PAC to decide on Kings Forest

Tweed Shire Echo [6/6/13]:

The future of Tweed’s controversial Kings Forest Stage One development proposal will now be decided by the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) after more than 300 objections were received against it.

The Environmental Assessment report (EA) was publicly exhibited for 32 days during November and December 2011.

Of the 302 submissions received by the department, 10 were from public authorities and 292 from the general public and special interest groups. Not one was in support of the proposal.

The trigger for the involvement of PAC in the final decision is 25 objections.

PAC will conduct a public hearing on Tuesday June 18 at the South Tweed Sports Club and bookings can be made to address the Commission.

The department has recommended approval of the application, subject to conditions and ‘agreed commitments’ from the developer.

The new estate, by billionaire Bob Ell’s Leda Developments, would be the most intensive ever seen on the Tweed.

The project would ultimately contain 4,500 houses and house 10,000 people.

Stage 1 of the project application, provides for 431 dwellings across 383 residential lots as well as bulk earthworks and roadworks.

The dwellings would include townhouses, terrace houses, shop-top housing and ‘zero-lot dwellings’ (buildings that take up the entire size of the housing block) as well as some traditional detached homes.

A Tweed Council insider told Echonetdaily the finished development would ‘basically look like Robina’.
As a gesture to the high number of objectors to the proposal, additional conditions have been proposed by Department of Planning.

Tweed mayor Barry Longland told media he was reasonably pleased with the outcome.

‘Our council put in a very detailed and robust submission and they’ve included them in their assessments and that’s what will be before the PAC,’ he said yesterday.

Some of the proposed new conditions include:

- a second east-west wildlife corridor to the south of the existing corridor and adjoining (retained) existing bushland;

- rehabilitation of Blacks Creek inside the adjacent Cudgen Nature Reserve (one bank of which the developer last year admitted to having illegally bulldozed);

- dedication to [National Parks and Wildlife Service] of approximately 150ha of land as an addition to the Cudgen Nature Reserve;

- the ‘embellishment and dedication’ of 4 ha of ‘casual and structured’ open space to Tweed Shire Council; and

- a guarantee by Leda that ‘all management and maintenance activities in the environmental management plans would be undertaken ‘in perpetuity’.

Any approval would lapse after five years but could be extended at the discretion of the director-general.

An area of heathland on the site is to be provided with long-term protection and allowed to naturally regenerate.

The additional east-west wildlife corridor would have to contain koala feed trees and be specifically designed to attract native fauna.

Leda would also be required to undertake traffic, soil, bushfire and geotechnical assessments, create a sports field with a sealed public access road and give details as to how it would provide affordable housing on the site.

The Planning Assessment Commission hearing to consider the application is on Tuesday June 18 at the South Tweed Sports Club, starting at 3pm.

Anyone wishing to speak at the Commission hearing should call Stephanie Calderaro on (02) 9383 2112 before 1pm on Friday June 14.

Freeport Expected to Pay Rp 1.5 Trillion in Dividends to Indonesian Govt

Jakarta Globe [5/6/13]:

The government is targeting to receive Rp 1.5 trillion ($152.5 million) in dividend payments from gold and copper miner Freeport Indonesia this year, up from a previously expected figure of Rp 500 billion.

Imam Aprianto, secretary to the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises, said the Freeport payment will help the government meet this year’s proposed target of Rp 35.5 trillion in dividends from various companies it has stakes in.

In the original 20123 state budget, the total dividend target stood at Rp 33.5 trillion, but the government has since proposed an increase to Rp 35.5 trillion in a budget revision. The new budget is pending approval from the House of Representatives.

“We’ve already got a letter from Freeport, which says they’re committed to paying approximately Rp 1.5 trillion in dividends,” Imam said in Jakarta on Wednesday.

He added that government was optimistic in Freeport’s ability to make the payment, even though it failed to do so last year and recently experienced a tunnel collapse at the company’s Grasberg mine in Papua last month.

The mining accident killed 28 workers and forced Freeport to suspend operations of the world’s second largest copper mine, which also holds the world’s biggest gold reserves.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that Freeport Indonesia would not be able to resume output until a probe launched last month into the deadly tunnel collapse was completed in about three months time.

The Indonesian government holds 9.36 percent stake in Freeport Indonesia.

In 2009, it received Rp 2.09 trillion in dividend from Freeport, but the figure dropped to Rp 1.51 trillion in 2010 before climbing again to Rp 1.76 trillion in 2011, according to Indonesian news portal

Freeport Indonesia spokeswoman Daisy Primayanti said the company was unable to make dividend payment last year because of a “non-performing” financial situation.

“We’ve already reported this to the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises. And we won’t pay up [last year's dividend] this year,” Daisy said in a text message to the Jakarta Globe.

Philadelphia: 14th survivor pulled from rubble of collapse

San Francisco Chronicle [5/6/13]:

Searchers combing through the debris of a collapsed building and the remains of a damaged Salvation Army thrift store pulled another survivor from the rubble late Wednesday, a glimmer of hope after officials said at least six people had been killed.

Deputy Fire Chief Robert Coyne said early Thursday that 61-year-old Myra Plekam was pulled — alert and talking to her rescuers — before she was put in an ambulance and taken to a nearby hospital, where she was in critical condition.

She was the 14th survivor of the 10:45 a.m. accident.

It was a quick burst of joy and optimism among the numerous firefighters, police and others slowly and steadily digging through the debris that burst forth when a building that was being torn down collapsed with a thunderous boom Wednesday, raining bricks on the thrift store.

Earlier, a somber Mayor Michael Nutter said those who died were one man and five women but authorities still didn't know how many people had been in the store or on the sidewalk when the accident happened.

Early reports had been that one woman had died in the building collapse, but rescuers using buckets and their bare hands to move bricks and rubble kept working through the evening, removing body bags at night. Nutter said the city's emergency workers had been "diligent, determined, focused" in their rescue efforts.

"If anyone else is in that building, they will find them," he said.

City fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said the first survivor found, a woman, was pulled from the rubble of the Salvation Army thrift store two hours after the collapse when rescuers heard her voice. He said rescuers were prepared to dig through the rubble all night looking for victims and survivors.

"It's a dangerous environment for our members, firefighters, our paramedics — we're going to take our time," Ayers said.

Survivors were taken to hospitals with mostly minor injuries, and some had been treated and released by evening.

Officials from the Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration were at the scene.

The collapse involved an empty building that once housed a first-floor sandwich shop and apartments above. The thrift shop was on one side. The other side was an adult bookstore and theater that had been taken down within the last few months.

Several witnesses said they had been casting a wary eye on the demolition site and questioned how the workers were tackling the job. That raised questions about how closely the highly visible spot on Market Street, one of Philadelphia's signature boulevards, was being monitored.

Roofer Patrick Glynn said he had been watching workers take down the doomed building over the past few weeks, and he said he suspected a collapse was inevitable because of the methods the workers were using.

"For weeks they've been standing on the edge, knocking bricks off," he said. "You could just see it was ready to go at any time. I knew it was going to happen."

Glynn and Anthony Soli were working on a roof atop a nearby building when they heard what sounded like two loud bangs or explosions. They immediately ran down the scaffolding and helped pull out two women and a man.

Steve Cramer, who has been working as a window washer across the street for several days, said the demolition crew left 30 feet of a dividing wall up with no braces and it compromised the integrity of the building

"We've been calling it for the past week — it's going to fall, it's going to fall," his co-worker Dan Gillis said.

There were no existing violations on the building and the demolition company had proper permits for the work they were doing, according to Carlton Williams, of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections. ...

Komen to pull plug on S.F. walk in 2014

San Francisco Chronicle [5/6/13]:

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the breast cancer charity embroiled in a controversy last year over Planned Parenthood funding, will cancel San Francisco's three-day fundraising walk along with similar events in six other cities next year after failing to reach financial goals.

Komen, the world's largest breast cancer fundraising organization, faced backlash in 2012 after news emerged that it had ended $680,000 in grants to Planned Parenthood for breast-screening services.

All seven of California's Komen affiliates, including San Francisco's, opposed the national group's decision to cut ties with Planned Parenthood, a move critics described as a thinly veiled effort to distance itself from an organization that provides abortion services.

The decision was reversed days later and the funds were restored, but damage had already been done. Since then, many of Komen's affiliates have reported sizable drops in funding.

Susan G. Komen 3-Day officials announced via Facebook Wednesday they will not return in 2014 to San Francisco, although this year's walk will be held June 21 through 23 as planned.

Eliminating the San Francisco event in 2014, along with events in Phoenix, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Fla., and Washington, D.C., will reduce the number of cities holding the fundraiser by half. ...

Clashes as thousands of Cambodians protest Nike factory work conditions

RT [4/6/13]:

Hundreds of police intervened after around 4,000 striking staff at Nike’s factory in the Cambodian capital clashed with colleagues, who continued working. This comes after the factory’s management refused to raise monthly salaries by US$12.

Police said that at least 11 officers and eight workers were injured during the brawl in Phnom Penh. The strikers also say seven people were arrested.

The employees at the Sabrina factory are pressing for a wage increase, following the death of 1,000 people in a collapse of a garment factory building in Bangladesh this April.

According to witnesses, the striking workers, who were armed with sticks and rocks, smashed windows before being confronted by the members of the opposing labor union, who didn’t support the action.

A contingent of about 1,000 police and soldiers, with batons and shields, was required to separate the clashing sides and disperse the strikers.

"We had to break them up in order to protect the whole factory from destruction," Kheng Tito, national military police spokesman, told Reuters.

The president of the Free Trade Union (FTU) at Sabrina, Sao Sreytouch, has accused the police and factory owners of colluding "to cause chaos" and force an end to the strike, running since May 21.

He said that the striking workers, who want their salary to be raised from the equivalent of $74 dollars to $88 per month, were the only ones beaten up and detained during the brawl.

Last week, the administration of the Taiwanese-owned Sabrina factory announced that it doesn’t have the necessary funds to increase their workers’ payment by the requested $12.

US sportswear giant, Nike, is monitoring the situation at one of its five plants in Cambodia, but the company’s stance on the issue is that the pay raise is the responsibility of the Sabrina factory alone.

"It is our understanding that this factory raised its own minimum wage on May 1 and pays above the country's minimum wage," Mary Remuzzi, Nike spokeswoman, told Reuters by e-mail.

The garment industry is Cambodia's biggest export earner, employing about 500,000 people in more than 500 garment and shoe factories. Last year, the Southeast Asian state shipped more $4 billion worth of products to the US and Europe.

The protest action by the Cambodian workers is unlikely to have any effect as the issue of poor Indochinese states being exploited by Western brands must be solved on an international level, economist Richard Wolff, author of 'Democracy at work: A cure for capitalism', told RT.

“We know why the clothing giants are in places like Cambodia, Bangladesh and so on. They’re running away from the high wages that workers have successfully won in Europe, in North America and Japan and so on,” he said. “They’re running away to make more profits by paying lower wages.”

“The problem is – nothing has ever changed in that story unless and until the workers push back. And usually when they push back and make demands, the government is in the pockets of the businesses and so the lines are drawn. And we’re simply seeing in Cambodia the same sad replay. And here’s the worst of it. If the Cambodians are successful in pushing for higher wages – the way, for example, the Chinese have been in recent decades – well, then you’re going to get what? The movement of those firms out of Cambodia, making them pay for their demand for a decent life by losing their jobs. And going to yet another country that will prostrate itself in order get those jobs.”

Despite Nike expressing its concern over the Cambodian strike, Wolff believes the US company won’t move a finger to improve the conditions for its workers in the Third World.

Reports of accidents and riots in such countries like Cambodia and Bangladesh are “always responded to by shock and surprise on the part of the employer – that no one in the US believes – and then a promise to investigate, which no one in the US takes seriously and which almost inevitably has little or no consequence as we can see by the endless repetition of these sorts of incidents,” he stressed.

Wolff also said that he’s concerned that Cambodia is becoming the new Bangladesh and he expects more strikes and riots from the local low-paid workers.

“We have to understand that countries like Cambodia are in a terrible situation. They’re trying desperately to recover from poverty, from uneven development, from the horrible wars the US waged in the Indochina,” he said.

“And they’re desperate for work to come and so they make themselves an available, an attractive place for capitalists to invest in – unbelievably low wages, no enforcement of all kinds of rules. The conditions, which saw the collapse of that building in Bangladesh, are reproduced in Cambodia. And it’s only than a matter of time before the horrific conditions produce a fight back on the part of the workers, who demand something of a participation, you might say, in the economic development that would be impossible without their low wages. And that puts them on a collision course with the employers, who try to get the local government to side with them.”

US soldier Robert Bales pleads guilty to murdering 16 Afghan civilians

ABC [6/6/13]:

A US soldier has pleaded guilty to the premeditated murder of 16 Afghan civilians under a deal with military prosecutors to avoid the death penalty.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a decorated veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was accused of roaming off his Army post in the Afghan province of Kandahar last March and gunning down unarmed villagers, mostly women and children, in attacks on their family compounds.

Prosecutors said he set fire to many of his victims.

The shootings marked the worst case of civilian slaughter blamed on a rogue US soldier since the Vietnam War, and further strained US-Afghan relations after more than a decade of conflict.

Bales, wearing a military dress uniform, stood beside his lawyer, Emma Scanlan, as she entered guilty pleas on his behalf to 16 counts of premeditated murder, six counts of attempted murder and seven counts of assault, as well as to alcohol and drug charges.

She entered a plea of not guilty to obstruction charges accusing Bales of damaging a laptop computer and burning the bodies of some of his Afghan victims in an attempt to impede the investigation.

Bales's wife was seated behind him in the courtroom benches at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Washington.

Army prosecutors have said Bales acted alone and with chilling premeditation when, armed with a pistol, a rifle and a grenade launcher, he left his post twice during the night to attack civilians.

He is alleged to have returned to base in the middle of the rampage to tell a fellow soldier: "I just shot up some people."

Defence attorneys have argued that Bales, the father of two from Lake Tapps, Washington, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury even before his deployment to Afghanistan.

During a nine-day pre-trial hearing in November, witnesses testified that Bales had been angered by a bomb blast near his outpost that severed a fellow soldier's leg days before the shootings.

Ms Scanlan said last week that Bales had agreed to plead guilty to the murder charges against him in return for military prosecutors agreeing not to seek the death penalty.

The plea agreement is subject to final approval by the presiding judge, Army Colonel Jeffery Nance, who must first determine whether Bales has provided a complete account of the events, understands his plea and accepts the consequences of his acts.

A court-martial jury will decide in a sentencing phase set for August whether a life term for Bales's crimes will include the possibility of parole, according to Ms Scanlan.

Bales requested in court that one-third of the jury panel consist of enlisted military personnel, as opposed to officers.

Bechtel hits back as locals question workforce claims

Gladstone Observer [6/6/13]:

Gladstone workers have again questioned Bechtel's commitment to maintaining a local workforce, with claims that skilled and experienced local tradies are being shut out of work.

One fitter and turner, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Observer that he applied for work with the construction giant more than 12 months ago.

"I've lived in Gladstone for 10 years, and I've got 43 years experience," he said.

He said he knew of half a dozen other tradesmen in the same situation.

"These are experienced blokes, who've worked in all sorts of industries - they could all put a LNG plant together."

"My son works out on Curtis Island, so I've got no issue with Bechtel, but you've got to ask why so many locals aren't getting jobs when they're looking for people interstate," he said.

"I stop in to buy my newspaper early in the morning, and I see lots of people with Bechtel uniforms, and you know they're not local."


World’s biggest coal company turns to solar – to save energy costs

Renew Economy [5/6/13]:

The world’s largest coal mining company – Coal India – is looking to innovative solution to reduce its own energy bills: it’s installing solar energy.

The company, which is listed but government controlled, and which accounts for more than 80 per cent of coal production in India, is installing a 2MW plant at its Sampalbur coal plant in Odisha. It plans to install solar at its operations across the country, including at its mining research arm, the Central Mine Planning and Design Institut.

Officials told local media DNA that the installation of solar PV at mines and staff housing areas is aimed at reducing Coal India’s own energy bills.

But the most striking aspect of the decision is the company’s own recognition that fossil fuels are depleting, and that solar is approaching grid parity.

“India has an abundance of sunshine and the trend of depletion of fossil fuels is compelling energy planners to examine the feasibility of using renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, and so on,” Coal India’s bid document said.

Another state-owned coal company, Neyvili Corp, as well as Oil India, are also venturing into the solar market, Neyvili is building a 10MW solar PV plant with an option to upgrade to a 25MW facility.

Across India, around 2.3GW of solar is expected to be installed by 2016, with more expected as distributed solar provides cheaper options that sourcing electricity from the grid.

Person dies at Daunia Mine

Daily Mercury [4/6/13]:

A person has died at a mine site near Moranbah this morning.

A Queensland police spokesman said the death was due to natural causes.

The death occurred at BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance Daunia Mine.

West Papuans given Aboriginal passports

Intercontinental Cry [1/6/13]:

A historical ceremony was held outside the Victorian Trades Hall on June 1 for the issuing of “Original Nations” passports and West Papuan visas in conjunction with the Freedom Flotilla from Lake Eyre to West Papua.

In solidarity with the passport ceremony in Melbourne, a peaceful rally was also held in Manokwari, West Papua.

The “freedom flotilla” convoy, which will travel through central and northern Australia and leave from Cairns, aims to highlight the abuse of human rights and land rights occurring in West Papua.

Indonesia invaded the western half of the island of New Guinea in May 1963. Since then over 500,000 West Papuan deaths and disappearances have been unaccounted for as a result of violence and poverty inflicted by the military occupation.

West Papuan leaders together with traditional owners of the Kulan, Gunnai and Arabunna Aboriginal nations, which once shared the same continent, have initiated this peaceful action to draw international attention to the situation in West Papua and take a stand against the Indonesian military and the governments and multinational corporations that are complicit in the crimes against humanity taking place there.

“For as long as these human rights abuses occur, the Australian and Indonesian government are complicit in genocide,” says Robert Thorpe, an elder of the Gunnai nation.

Jacob Rumbiak, the foreign minister of the Federated Republic of West Papuan government in exile said:

“This mission will reunite our Indigenous family link, which was broken by geological evolution and colonial boundaries.”

Uncle Kevin Buzzacott, an elder of the Arabunna nation said: “This was one land; we still are one people, one soul.”

The Freedom Flotilla is being crowd-funded, and has received support from environmental and human rights activists, politicians, musicians, unions and West Papuans inside and outside West Papua.