Plibersek says helping women is key to aid

18Sep

Labor will fight any Abbott government move to cut foreign aid to organisations involved in family planning.

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Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek told an aid conference in Canberra on Thursday there was no better tool for development than the education of girls and women.

“No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition, promote health and increase the chances of education for the next generation,” Ms Plibersek told the Australian Council for International Development conference.

But she said former Howard government legislation, which banned Australian aid money going to organisations which delivered family planning services, had been a backward step.

She fears new Prime Minister Tony Abbott could revisit the issue given that Labor had scrapped the laws.

“Let me say this very clearly. I will fight any effort by Tony Abbott to strip aid from family planning services in developing countries,” Ms Plibersek said.

“It is good for mothers and their babies for women to have the ability to have their first child later, and for mothers to have the ability to space their family.

“It is vital for mothers and babies to increase attended births and offer proper post-natal care.”

The Abbott government has merged AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Ms Plibersek, Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, said the government now faced the prospect of losing dedicated staff with specialist skills and contacts in developing countries.

“This merger has been sudden, traumatic, and leaves unanswered questions,” she said.

Ms Plibersek said Labor believed the fundamental goal of Australia’s aid policy should be to overcome poverty and to save and improve lives.

Indonesia demands answers on spy claims

18Sep

According to an intelligence document leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, the United States has been covertly tapping Jakarta’s political elite.

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The intelligence data – first published in a report by German Magazine Der Spiegel – reveals that clandestine NSA programs are also being operated from within Australian embassies in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and East Timor, and at high commission in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby.

Codenamed ‘Stateroom’ the monitoring program reportedly intercepts telecommunications and internet traffic. The documents describe the surveillance facilities as carefully hidden, such as in the roofs of maintenance sheds, and notes that the majority of diplomatic staff are unaware they exist.

LISTEN: Monash University Indonesia expert Greg Barton speaking to World News Australia’s Kristina Kukolja

Foreign Minister Natalegawa described the alleged surveillance as ‘unacceptable’ and if proven would qualify not only as security breaches, but also as a ‘serious violation of diplomatic norms and ethics.’

The US embassy’s charge d’affaires in Jakarta Kristen Bauer was summoned by the Indonesian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday to explain the allegations but is yet to comment.  The US State Department has also declined to respond to the specific reports, saying only that reviews of its intelligence gathering will be completed by the end of the year.

In a statement released late Thursday the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Australian Ambassador Greg Moriarty on Friday to explain Australia’s involvement in the purported espionage.

University of Indonesia law professor Hikmahanto Juwana says the allegations could undermine relations between Indonesia and the US, but revelations that Australia is also involved could be more damaging.

The claims come at a time when Australia is working closely with its neighbor to deepen co-operation to combat people smuggling, and newly elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott attempts to ingratiate himself with Jakarta.

“I think it is going to be very difficult for the Indonesian government to go against the US very harshly,” says Juwana, “However this is different with Australia because Indonesia sees Australia as less powerful and I think the Indonesian government can make a big fuss about this issue.”

Juwana says Indonesia has more bargaining room with Australia than the US and if the reports are verified Indonesia could refuse to co-operate on key issues, such people smuggling and granting parole to Australians in Indonesian jails.

Parole for convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby is currently in the hands of Indonesian bureaucrats, but Juawana says it is unlikely the government will approve the request at a time when Australia’s actions could rouse public anger.

Political analyst Aleksius Jemadu from Pelita Harapan University in Jakarta says the allegations undermine Indonesia’s strategic partnerships with Australia and the US at a time of growing interdependence.

“I think it will harm the relationships because now they know that there is a big deficit of trust on the part of the US and Australian governments,” said Jemdau.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he would not make public comment on intelligence matters but stressed Australian agencies and officials have always acted in accordance with the law.

Complacent a Victoria Derby standout: Boss

18Sep

Glen Boss has all but conceded the Victoria Derby to Sydney colt Complacent.

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Boss rides maiden galloper Bring Something in Saturday’s Group One staying test for three-year-olds and rates his mount a top five chance.

But he is sure the Peter Snowden-trained Complacent, winner of the Spring Champion Stakes at Randwick, is the horse to beat.

“If I was riding Complacent tomorrow, I’d be very confident I just win the race,” Boss said.

“I’d be sleeping pretty comfortably if I was Kerrin McEvoy tonight, thinking that I could win the Derby.”

Complacent lost favouritism for the Derby (2500m) at Flemington when he drew barrier 16 on Wednesday but retains the faith of his stable and the respect of his rivals.

Spring Champion placegetter and last week’s Group Two Vase winner Savvy Nature heads TAB’s market at $4.80 while Polanski has been the big firmer from $8.50 to $5.50 equal second favourite with Complacent since drawing barrier one on Wednesday.

Boss took plenty of notice of Complacent’s Spring Champion Stakes win and was suitably impressed.

“The trip looks like it will be the least of his worries and I reckon he’ll love Flemington,” Boss said.

“He’s well found in the market but he should be because he just looks like the winner to me.”

Boss, a Victoria Derby winner on Hit The Roof in 2000, has a good opinion of Bring Something but says the Derby might be coming too soon for the Ken Keys-trained gelding who the jockey described as “a work in progress”.

Bring Something was fourth in the Bill Stutt Stakes and fifth in the Norman Robinson.

“I’m expecting my horse to run well and I think in the autumn when he furnishes you’ll see a better horse,” Boss said.

“I can’t see him winning tomorrow. I hope he does, but I can’t see it.

“I’ve got him in the top five, but outside the top three.”

Complacent is the leading chance of Darley’s three runners but Norman Robinson Stakes runner-up San Diego and Geelong Classic runner-up Tupac Amaru are also in contention.

“Complacent is a high-quality colt, a striking individual and we’ve had him pegged as the horse with the most ability of the three,” Darley’s Jason Walsh said.

“But they are all there deserving of their chance.

“We’ve got plenty of darts there with different racing styles and that gives us a good chance hopefully tomorrow.”

Hugh Bowman is hoping for his third Victoria Derby win in four years when he rides Polanski, who he partnered to win the Norman Robinson Stakes last start.

“I was lucky to get on him but I might have just got on him at the right time,” Bowman said.

Macquarie profit rises as markets recover

18Sep

Shares in Macquarie Group climbed to their highest level in four years after the investment bank’s half year profit rose by 39 per cent to $501 million.

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Macquarie has also pointed to a stronger full year result, lifted its dividend payment and decided to transfer its holding in Sydney Airport directly to its shareholders.

The shares hit a high of $53.44 on Friday, their highest value since October 2009, before closing at $53.10, up $2.06, or four per cent.

Macquarie’s net profit in the six months to September 30 was up from $361 million last year.

Chief executive Nicholas Moore said its annuity business recorded a 24 per cent increase in profit, while earnings from the capital markets business also rose significantly.

The improved performance was likely to continue into the second half of the bank’s financial year, assuming market conditions do not deteriorate significantly, he said.

“We think for the full year the group will be up on where we were last year,” Mr Moore said.

Improving share markets and corporate activity have boosted Macquarie’s performance, and it is well positioned to take advantage of the pick up in markets over the medium term, he said.

The company will pay interim dividend of $1 per share, up from 75 cents for the same time last year.

It will also distribute its holding in Sydney Airport directly to shareholders, who will receive one Sydney Airport share for every Macquarie share they own.

Morningstar analyst David Ellis said the result suggested Macquarie was rebounding after underperforming in recent years due to weakness in stock markets.

“The strong operating performance and the Sydney Airport distribution confirms our positive view and suggests Macquarie is on the way back to doing what it does best – taking full advantage of the recovery in equity and investment markets,” he said.

Mr Ellis expects Macquarie’s full year profit to grow by more than 25 per cent to almost $1.1 billion, which would be its largest annual profit since the global financial crisis.

Larkham completes Brumbies transformation

18Sep

From lanky fullback, to playmaking great, to head coach.

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Stephen Larkham’s remarkable 17-year Brumbies career has evolved once more.

Australia’s most distinguished modern day five-eighth was on Friday given the reins of the Brumbies alongside Laurie Fisher, who was made the Super Rugby club’s director of rugby in a dual coaching structure.

The appointments follow the shock resignation of South African-born World Cup-winning coach Jake White in September, who left a month after taking the side to the Super Rugby final.

Larkham started his career with the Brumbies in their inaugural season in 1996, going on to make his Test debut from the bench later that year as an outside back.

Just one year earlier he had been plucked out of reserve grade rugby in Canberra.

“I was lucky enough to get a contract,” the 39-year-old said on Friday.

“The Brumbies are a big part of my history. They’re my family, I’ve grown up in this culture.”

After flourishing into the No.10 jersey following a Rod Macqueen selection masterstroke, Larkham went on to claim more than 100 caps for both the Brumbies and the Wallabies, winning two Super Rugby titles and a World Cup along the way.

And having been the Brumbies’ backs coach for the past two seasons, it comes as no surprise he’ll have more authority over the team’s overall attacking philosophies.

“Nothing is going to change in terms of how we run the team,” Larkham said.

“Off the field, it’s going to be the same. Laurie spoke to the forwards, I spoke to the backs.”

As head coach, Larkham will now have greater input and involvement with the overall organisation of the team and play a bigger part in recruitment and weekly selections.

The style he’s expected to bring to the side was applauded by rival Super Rugby coach Michael Cheika on Friday.

“I rate Larkham very highly and I was surprised he didn’t get the job outright himself,” the NSW Waratahs coach said.

“He has great credibility, he understands the attacking game and I think we’ll see the Brumbies in his image and a little bit more expansive.”

However Larkham stressed he won’t be a one-man-band, indicating there would be plenty of input from Fisher, as well as an assistant coach yet to be appointed.

“There’s robust discussions, and you put in your arguments to one another. It’s whoever argues the best point really,” he said.

“We’re fairly logical sort of men.”

Fisher, who was Brumbies head coach from 2005-08, is a club stalwart himself, having been involved in the club for the past 15 years.

He’ll control day-to-day rugby operations with elements such as staffing, program development, talent pathways and training structures, as well as continuing to focus on the forwards, the breakdown and the tackle contest.

Fisher said the key to making the partnership work would be communication.

“Whether it’s a marriage, or whether it’s a rugby program, if you’re not talking about it, you’re going to struggle,” he said.

To which Larkham quipped: “We’ve been in the engagement, and now we’re married.”

Pistorius to face additional gun charges

17Aug

South African Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius is facing two additional gun-related charges at his trial for the murder of his girlfriend.

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The prosecution won permission to add the charges to their main case against Pistorius for the Valentine’s Day murder of Reeva Steenkamp, even though the two alleged violations are understood to have taken place before the killing.

“The prosecution received authorisation to combine or centralise all charges against Mr Pistorius,” National Prosecution Authority spokesman Nathi Mncube told AFP on Tuesday.

Pistorius’s defence team was informed of the decision on Tuesday, he said, adding that the charges were not new, without elaborating.

The double amputee, known as the “Blade Runner” for the fibreglass prosthetic legs he uses in competition, shocked the world when he admitted to killing Steenkamp, a blonde cover girl and law graduate.

He has however denied murder, saying he shot her through a locked bathroom door in his upmarket Pretoria home because he thought she was an intruder.

While Mncube was quoted later on Tuesday as stressing the “convenience” of having the cases heard together, prosecutors have hinted at a strategy that will portray Pistorius as trigger-happy and that the killing was pre-meditated.

According to local media, the sprint star once fired a shot through the sunroof of his former girlfriend Samantha Taylor’s car. He had also allegedly accidentally discharged a firearm at a Johannesburg restaurant, weeks before he killed Steenkamp.

Pistorius catapulted to fame at last year’s London Olympics as the first double-amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes.

But the killing sent shock waves around the world and since then his reckless past and love of fast cars, beautiful women and guns has emerged in the media.

One newspaper has dubbed him the “Blade Gunner”.

The trial of Pistorius, who is currently out on bail, is set for March 3 to 20 at the Pretoria High Court.

ODI final a fitting end to special series

17Aug

It’s only fitting that the record-breaking one-day series with world No.

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1 India comes down to a winner-takes-all final game, says Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.

He describes Saturday’s game 7 clash in Bangalore as “grand final day”.

What started out as a fight for the No.1 ODI ranking has surely proven beyond doubt these are the two best 50-over sides in the world.

Washouts in games four and five ended world No.2 Australia’s hopes of stealing the home side’s top ODI ranking.

But the closeness of every contest shows just how evenly matched they are.

It’s a series that has produced the second and third highest successful ODI run chases in history.

Batting records have tumbled in every game, with Australian skipper George Bailey in exquisite touch while India’s Virat Kohli has proved equally unstoppable.

Had it not been for James Faulkner’s extraordinary 30-run over off Ishant Sharma which single-handedly stole victory for Australia in Mohali, this series would likely already be decided in India’s favour.

But after six games the score is 2-2 and series honours will now be taken by the winner in Bangalore.

“It’s grand final day now, and I think it is very fitting that it comes down to a deciding match,” Haddin told AAP.

“There’s been some outstanding cricket played throughout the whole series.

“It’s obviously been very attractive to watch and there’s been some very special performances right the way through.

“To be playing for the series … it’s exciting and is exactly what this series deserves.”

The flow of runs is unlikely to slow in Bangalore, with smaller boundaries and generally placid pitches tipped to deliver another nightmare for the bowlers.

“It’s certainly a very high-scoring ground,” allrounder Shane Watson said.

“…Hopefully not (this time), for the bowlers’ sake. Otherwise there might be a few bowlers are a little despondent on the flight home.”

Watson said the one-day format was a different game these days, following significant rule changes introduced this year – notably the requirement for one more fielder to be inside the 30-yard circle.

“No doubt it provides a really big challenge for the bowlers and also George as captain to be able to try and find ways to defend a big total like we’ve been able to get,” Watson said.

“It’s certainly changed the dynamic of one-day cricket.”

Australia’s task is made even more difficult following Cricket Australia’s decision to fly fast bowler Mitchell Johnson home ahead of the Ashes.

Johnson has been the most effective bowler of the series, leading with seven wickets, and is expected to force his way into Michael Clarke’s Gabba Test lineup after terrorising the Indian middle order.

“Obviously it’s a loss and we’ll miss Mitch, but that’s cricket these days,” Haddin said.

“He’s gone home in the best interest in Australian cricket to prepare himself to hopefully bowl his way into an Ashes squad.”

Johnson will likely be replaced by fast-bowling allrounder Nathan Coulter-Nile.

While still in doubt, batsman Adam Voges’ chances of featuring have improved after he reacted well to treatment on a back injury suffered in Wednesday’s thrilling loss.

CMC boss ‘curries favour’ to keep position

17Aug

The head of Queensland’s independent corruption watchdog has been accused of acting like the government’s puppet in a bid to be reappointed.

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Crime and Misconduct Commission acting chairman Dr Ken Levy wrote an unsolicited opinion piece on Thursday backing the state government’s controversial anti-bikie laws.

Members of the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee (PCMC), which oversees the CMC, told him on Friday morning he’d compromised his independence.

“The opposition no longer has any confidence in you continuing as acting chair and I believe that your position now is untenable,” Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk told him at a committee hearing.

Independent MP Peter Wellington said the CMC chairman had used his position “to effectively become a puppet for the government”.

“I no longer have confidence in Dr Levy’s independence heading the most powerful organisation in Queensland,” he told AAP.

“I believe it’s untenable for the government to extend his appointment and it should immediately call for expressions of interest for a new chair.”

Corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald and civil libertarians also accused Dr Levy of bias and undermining the CMC’s independence.

Dr Levy defended himself, saying he’d confined comments to issues within the bounds of the CMC, which was tasked with fighting crime, including criminal bikie gangs.

When asked whether he’d consulted anyone about the article, he said: “No, it’s my composition”.

Mr Wellington said it appeared Dr Levy’s opinion piece was “all about currying favour with the government”.

A call for nominations for a permanent CMC chair is due in about two weeks.

The government’s candidate must be approved by the PCMC, but that committee could be bypassed if the government simply extends Dr Levy’s tenure as acting chairman.

When asked on Friday if he would support Dr Levy’s nomination as permanent chairman, Premier Campbell Newman said: “Of course”.

Murray not sure he’ll make Australian Open

17Aug

Wimbledon champion Andy Murray will only compete in next year’s Australian Open if he feels capable of mounting a serious challenge to win it.

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Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon for 77 years in July, but he missed the latter part of the season after undergoing surgery on his back in September.

He is now working his way back to full fitness, but says he will not cut any corners in his preparations for the Australian Open, which begins on January 13.

“I would be disappointed to miss the Australian Open because it’s a grand slam. It is a tournament all the players want to play at,” he said on Thursday.

“But when you start setting targets — especially when you are coming back from having surgery on your back; it’s a serious thing to have done — (it is important) that you don’t come back just to play a match or to the Australian Open.

“If I come back, I want to be in shape to win it. I can look at this in a lot of positive ways and if I do get myself ready for it, I will have had a long lead-up and training block, really, to get myself in the best possible shape.

“Whether I make it or not depends on how things go once I get back on the tennis court. I haven’t been on the tennis court yet, so I’m not sure.”

It is now six weeks since Murray’s operation and he says he intends to return to the court for the first time next week.

“Rehab has been going well. I haven’t hit any balls yet, but all is on track,” said the world number four.

“I’m hoping to hit a couple of balls next week, but very few and very light just to see how it is and I will start to progress from there. I have still got quite a way to go until I am 100 per cent.”

Murray was speaking at the launch of his new racquet, made by Head, at London’s Queens Club.

Surprise success for Scandidramas

17Aug

Why has the Western world fallen in love with Nordic noir thrillers?

Danish public broadcaster DR gained a reputation for quality television with the success of The Killing, a police thriller that was watched all over the globe.

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And now, the third and final season of Borgen is set to premiere in Denmark, having become one of the highest-selling television series in modern history.

But before Borgen hit record highs, the idea that the show could follow the path of unexpected global hit The Killing seemed too good to be true.

“When it started travelling I just couldn’t believe it,” says Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudson, who plays the role of Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg Christensen.

Sidse Babett Knudsen interview:

When he landeded the role of the Prime Minister’s spin doctor Kasper, actor Pilou Asbaek was certain the show wouldn’t be a global hit.

“It’s about Danish politics, with a spin doctor and a journalist. It has absolutely no international potential at all.”

Asbaek is pleased about the show’s success, but finds it difficult to deal with his newfound fame.

“One third of the population in Denmark watches the show, so I am very thankful that I got the opportunity. But I am also angry because it’s more difficult to shop alone now and buy toilet paper.”

Screened in 120 countries, both series are set in Copenhagen, but brought to life in DR’s space-age studios in a series of elaborate, purpose built sets.

The public broadcaster has now produced two critically acclaimed series, on a drama budget one eighth of the size of the BBC.

DR Head of Fiction Nadia Klovedal Reich admits she was surprised at the success of the shows, but understands why they appeal to a global audience.

“We are a little country with a small budget for drama but we also have a lot of good stories to tell in Denmark. We feel that the shows we are doing have something for the heart and for the mind…we are kind of rough and soft at the same time.”

Pilou Asbaek too has theories about the secret to Scandinavia’s success.

“I have some ideas. One of them is that Danish drama is a mixture of business life and personal life. I think that people really like that they can see people with power in their own private homes. And the other one is that there are strong female characters and I don’t know how it is in Australia, but in Denmark right now the strongest persons in the country are female.”

Pilou Asbaek interview:

“I think it’s easier to be a woman prime minister in the fictional world,” says Babett Knudson.

“In no episode do we talk about my clothes, or my handbags, or my haircut, which they do much more with female politicians than male politicians.”

The imminent third and final instalment of the political thriller will bring an end to one of Denmark’s most successful productions.

However, Kovendal Reich isn’t wasting any time looking back.

“It’s actually not [sad] because we are on our way with news shows we have all our creative energy in now…so it’s okay to say goodbye to Borgen.” 

The success of The Killing and Borgen has paved the way for Denmark’s next Nordic noir adventure: ten part series The Legacy, which is due to be released in January 2014.

Producer of The Legacy Karoline Leth admits it is a bit daunting to be working in the aftermath of such global success, but she isn’t deterred.

“I think the best thing is not to feel the pressure.” 

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