August, 2019

Save the Children staff removed from Nauru deserve an apology, CEO says

Nine charity workers who were removed from Nauru amid now-debunked claims that they encouraged detainees to hurt themselves are suing the federal government.
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The nine Save the Children workers were ordered off the island after the Immigration Department received complaints about them.

But a government report issued on Friday exonerated the workers, prompting the chief executive of the organisation to say his staff deserved an immediate apology.

The workers were accused of encouraging self-harm among detainees on Nauru, as well as facilitating protests and making up allegations of assault – all claims that were found on Friday to be unsubstantiated.

Chief executive Paul Ronalds said the workers involved were some of the best social workers and teachers in Australia, but as a result of the Immigration Department’s actions, some of them had left the organisation and others had been redeployed to different areas.

He said they had launched legal action against the federal government. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton did not respond to requests for comment.

“We are delighted – but not surprised – they have been exonerated,” he said on Saturday. “They are some of the most highly skilled, highly professional staff in Australia and an apology is warranted.”

Mr Ronalds said that “some mud always sticks” so it was good to get the allegations cleared.

He also said the report, prepared by former integrity commissioner Philip Moss, provided “the most powerful evidence yet of the harm being done to children in detention”.

Mr Moss was asked by former immigration minister Scott Morrison to conduct a review of sexual abuse in Australian’s detention centre on Nauru last October, after Mr Morrison had removed the Save the Children staff on the advice of his department.

It had been claimed the staff had coached detainees to concoct stories to embarrass the Abbott government.

The review, which was released on Friday after news broke of the death of former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, found no evidence of any wrongdoing by the staff.

But it did find evidence of rape occurring in the Nauru centre, sexual assault of minors and guards trading marijuana for sexual favours from female detainees.

At least three women had been raped, the report found, but noted concerns that sexual assault was being under-reported because of a climate of fear and worry among victims about their future refugee status.

The new Immigration Minister, Mr Dutton, has said the government accepted all of the 19 recommendations of the review and said Nauru would work to solve the problems. He said it had no tolerance for illegal behaviour, particularly sexual assault.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott responded to questions about the review in a radio interview with 2GB saying, “Occasionally, I daresay, things happen, because in any institution you get things that occasionally aren’t perfect.”

His comments were criticised by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. “I find it appalling to have heard the Prime Minister’s comments simply brushing aside these cases of assault and harassment,” she said.

“Women being forced to strip and show their bodies for access to amenities, the trading of dope for sexual favours inside the centre and the inappropriate touching and abuse of children and yet our Prime Minister simply brushed it aside as something that goes on in our detention centres. Well it should not be going on, it should be stamped out and the women and children removed.

“It is the culture of secrecy that has allowed the abuse to breed.”

Labor immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the government’s timing of the release of the Moss review represented “an appalling low, even for this government” and that the government was more concerned about the potential for protest than about the sexual assault of minors.

“This is a government which has lost its moral compass,” he said.

“We need for the government to give the people a sense of confidence that every person within these detention facilities are safe… and to ensure that we do not see sexual assault occurring within this facility.

“This report is difficult reading for any party which has been involved in the establishment of the facility in Nauru. But Labor is not standing here saying there’s nothing to see here, which is effectively the stance of this government.”

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Prime Minister announces extra $100 million for Great Barrier Reef protection

Endangered: The Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Emma Brown (Supplied Image)The Abbott government has pledged an extra $100 million as part of a long-term plan for the Great Barrier Reef that it hopes will prevent the international embarrassment of having the precious site declared officially “in danger” by the World Heritage Committee.
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The funding, announced on Saturday, will go to landowners near the reef to come up with ideas on how to improve water quality as part of their land management practices.

It was pledged as Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt launched the government’s “Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan”, over-riding a draft version which was criticised for ignoring the effects of climate change on the important world heritage site.

The final version of the plan admits that “climate change is the most significant threat” to coral reefs worldwide but does not offer any specific strategy to tackle that threat in the Great Barrier Reef, beyond the government’s pre-existing commitment to reduce Australia’s emissions in line with international commitments through its “direct action” policy, a policy few climate scientists or economists have endorsed.

The plan also allows for the expansion of coal terminals in the area, although it bans new dredge spoil dumping in the Marine Park, but not in the wider World Heritage Area. It does not ban the dumping of  “maintenance” dredge spoil, which comes from the ongoing dredging at existing ports.

“We are utterly committed as an entire nation to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a media conference on Hamilton Island on Saturday.

“The last thing I want to do as Prime Minister is anything that would compromise the quality of this reef.”

The United Nations Heritage Committee is in the process of deciding whether or not to formally declare the reef “in danger”, an outcome the government is desperate to prevent. The committee will meet again in June, having already deferred its decision on the reef once.

In a submission to the UN committee in February, Mr Hunt called the reef the “best managed marine ecosystem in the world” and said the government was acting with “renewed vigour” to protect it.

The expansion of coal terminals at Abbot Point, near Bowen in Queensland,  has been central to the World Heritage Committee’s concerns for the reef, and this was barely mentioned in the plan released on Saturday.

When asked about coal mining in the Galilee Basin, Mr Abbott said, “it’s important we develop the economy”.

“A stronger economy and a better environment should go hand in hand.”

Poor water quality, coastal development and fishing activities are also listed as possible threats to the reef’s health, and the plan sets targets for 2018 to reduce nitrogen loads by 50 per cent, reduce sediment loads by 20 per cent and reduce pesticide loads by 60 per cent in “priority areas”.

Jon Brodie, chief research scientist at TropWater, the water quality research unit within the James Cook University, said these water quality targets were “hugely better than the draft plan that came out many months ago”.

“[The Plan] is immensely better than the draft plan, which was terrible,” he said.

“But the money that has been announced is nowhere near enough to do what is required to protect the reef.”

with Fergus Hunter

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Jockey James McDonald declares Ranvet Stakes winner Contributer the best in the land

James McDonald is the final link of a mighty chain at Godolphin but his ride on Contributer to win the Ranvet Stakes showed why he has been retained by the racing behemoth.
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With Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock advisor John Ferguson on track, McDonald gave an exhibition of his skill, talent and nous in a tactical 2000-metre weight-for-age race.

Such affairs can often be jockey’s races, but it helps if your on the best horse as well.

McDonald came back glowing after a 1¼-length victory where he had time to have a longing look back at his rivals behind him before the post.

“He is by far and away the best horse in Australia. He just proved it and will do it again and again,” McDonald told Ferguson. “The firm track wasn’t a problem at all. That was awesome.”

McDonald settled in the third pair of the seven-horse field but coming to the 800m mark he made the decisive move.

He eased Contributer back and went to the fence behind Lucia Valentina, which he had been outside of for the first half of the race.

By the 600m, Contributer was on her back and travelling. McDonald waited to unleash his powerful turn of foot, which effectively finished the race in a matter of strides.

“James [McDonald] has always been adamant that if we ride him a little bit quieter, he’ll accelerate better and I think you saw that today. It was a wonderful performance,” trainer John O’Shea said.

“I knew what he was doing [at 800m] and we have talked about that and that is what we want to do in those scenarios at Rosehill.

“That’s why James is there for us because he does those things and gets them right.”

McDonald’s patience paid off in the straight when he drove Contributer between leader Fast Dragon and Lucia Valentina at the 250m mark. He then stormed away.

The race was over inside the 100m and the margin could have been bigger. Contributer beat Japanese visitor Tosen Stardom with Lucia Valentina another 1¼ lengths back in third.

When McDonald moved Lucia Valentina it might have raised a few eyebrows in the stands, but Hugh Bowman gave his stamp of approval.

“If I was going better and holding my ground maybe it could have been interference,” he said. “But fair game, play on.”

Bowman added he was delighted with his mare. “She is going really well. She is meeting better horses than she met in the spring. I wouldn’t say we can’t beat them on our terms,” he said.

There were no excuses for those beaten by Contributer, which was made a $3.50 favourite for the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick on April 11 by the TAB after the win. O’Shea had a warning for his rivals.

“I think the key to the horse as we’ve said all along is three weeks between runs really suits him. He came here today with lovely fresh legs and raced accordingly,” he said.

“A lot of work has gone into him from John Ferguson finding him and sending out here and the team learning about him and getting the best of him. Then we got a ride like that to finish it off.”

Tommy Berry was happy with Tosen Stardom in a slowly run race that didn’t suit and is looking forward to a rematch in three weeks.

“He has had a long time between runs and is obviously going to take improvement and they went a bit slow for him and then they sprinted. But his last 100m was a bit smart,” Berry said.

“He certainly is better on the bigger track as well.”

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Winning on and off the field on Sunday is a must for Waratahs

There is no discounting the pressure on Waratahs coach Michael Cheika and his players in their Super Rugby derby against the conference-leading Brumbies at Allianz Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
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But no less will the pressure also be on their new chief executive Greg Harris, for whom last year’s Super Rugby semi-final replay will also be his first major public day on show in the job at the Waratahs’ home ground.

As Harris conceded late this week while Cheika was preparing his Super Rugby champions team to try and improve their 2-2 record: “The big thing for us is that not only do we win the football game, but actually [attract] the right number of people to the game to make it financially viable for the club.”

Harris knows the value of a strong crowd at Allianz Stadium to the coffers – last year’s 26-8 semi-final win by the Waratahs over the Brumbies before almost 40,000 was worth about $450,000.

With the home final victory against the Crusaders at ANZ Stadium in Homebush before a 61,823 crowd, the two home finals reaped $1 million-plus for the Waratahs.

“From a business perspective it is important,” said Harris, who joined the Waratahs on March 2 from the Rugby Union Players’ Association, where he was chief executive.

“If we hadn’t managed [to get] two finals last year then we would have been in a very difficult financial position. I will be buying Cheik a beer for a long while.”

To draw even the 30,000 crowd Harris hopes for on Sunday – which was tracking at about 25,000 mid-week – the game needs the lure of a potentially terrific contest.

And he has that, with a Brumbies side that leads the Australian conference, and a Waratahs outfit that has spluttered as defending champions but realises the potential price if they fall short on performance and result.

Not only could they see the growing crowd numbers they attracted last year drop for future home games, but a loss could also see this year’s tournament start to race away from them.

“Could you ask for a better clash?” Harris said. “Head to head, the different positions … it’s like a world title fight at Madison Square Garden, when you think about it.

“Like the breakaways against each other, the halves against each other, the 10s against each other … the front rows. It’s a championship event … man on man.”

NSW great Simon Poidevin echoed Harris’ billing, emphasising its position as a World Cup selection trial – especially with Cheika and Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham being the respective Wallabies head and backs coaches.

“Games like this are made for World Cup selection because they are high pressure games [between] two leading teams who will play a high-velocity game that we want to play,” Poidevin said.

“So if you want a World Cup trial five months out, this is it.”

Poidevin believes that for the Waratahs, the Brumbies rivalry has superseded that of the Reds.

“Going back a couple of years it would have been Queensland-NSW,” Poidevin said. “But the Australian side who want to put these guys away are the Brumbies.”

Poidevin still has plenty of belief in the Tahs, but their failings in key moments have frustrated.

“They are not too far off the pace,” Poidevin said.

“If they had made various passes stick in the past couple of weeks they wouldn’t have been down two games they should have won.

“It is not as though they are not trying to execute the style of game [of] last year [that] Michael wants. It’s just actually making those last bloody crucial moments stick.”

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Salvation Army retired General Eva Burrows remembered as ‘the People’s General’

General Eva Burrows. Photo: SuppliedFrom her tireless work on the streets of Melbourne to her rise as global leader of the Salvation Army, Eva Burrows has been remembered for a lifetime dedicated to the less fortunate.
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Retired General Burrows, known as “the People’s General”, died late on Friday night. She was 85 years old.

Born in Newcastle in 1929, the daughter of two Salvation Army officers, Ms Burrows joined the organisation at the age of 21 after completing a bachelor of arts degree in Brisbane.

She was then stationed around the country and overseas, taking on roles in Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, and Great Britain, and became the second woman, second Australian, and the youngest person ever to be elected head of the international charitable group.

During her leadership from 1986 to 1993, she met many world leaders and was credited with getting the organisation set up in Russia. She was also praised for her strong stand against apartheid.

But it was during her retirement years in Melbourne when her enduring warmth and spirit saw her remain an active volunteer up until her 80s at the organisation’s Bourke Street location.

Major Brendan Nottle said it was an honour to see a former world leader of the organisation become a hands-on volunteer. “She could have retired to a comfortable life, but she turned up in the city wanting to volunteer. She was amazing,” he said.

Mr Nottle recalled how the elderly Ms Burrows, one night, even showed up to serve sausages at three o’clock in the morning.

She often went out in outreach vans to meet with the homeless too, he said.

“That was the real strength of her,” he said. “While she was an international leader, she had this amazing ability to connect with some of the most vulnerable members of society.”

A public memorial is being planned as mourners leave touching tributes online.

Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett was one of the first to do so, calling her a great leader.

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