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Phillipines charges clan with murder, rebellion

The Philippines said Sunday that leaders of a clan detained after martial law was imposed in their southern stronghold would be charged with rebellion, as more buried weapons were found.


The rebellion charges are separate to murder cases being prepared against them over last month’s election-linked massacre of 57 people in their home province of Maguindanao, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said.

“We did not see them plotting against the government, we saw the deed done. They have usurped power from the government there,” Devanadera told DZBB radio.

“This is not ordinary chaos taking place in one area, this has an armed component. And there is removal of allegiance from the republic of the Philippines by the leaders of this group.”

President Gloria Arroyo imposed martial law in Maguindanao late on Friday in an effort to rein in the Ampatuan family, a Muslim clan that has ruled the province for most of this decade with the backing of private armies.

The clan patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Snr, governor of Maguindanao since 2001, had installed many of his relatives into senior provincial posts.

Explaining the martial law move, the government said large numbers of heavily armed gunmen loyal to the Ampatuans had threatened to attack security forces and civilians if the clan chiefs were taken into custody.

One clan member previously charged

Ampatuan Snr and other clan members are accused of being involved in the November 23 massacre of a rival politician’s relatives, as well as journalists and other civilians.

One of Ampatuan’s sons, Andal Ampatuan Jnr, has already been charged with 25 counts of murder over the massacre. Police last week filed indictments recommending the clan chief and other relatives also be charged.

Police allege Ampatuan Jnr and 100 gunmen shot dead the occupants of a convoy that included female relatives of his rival for the post of governor in next year’s elections, as well as about 30 journalists.

After martial law was imposed, thousands of soldiers and police poured into the provincial capital Shariff Aguak and other Maguindanao towns to bring the Ampatuans into custody, as well as their militiamen and weapons.

Ampatuan Snr was among five clan members detained on Saturday.

A total of 32 people were picked up during Saturday’s raids, including 20 militiamen found in a warehouse belonging to Ampatuan Jnr.

Raids uncover weapons

The government alleged the Ampatuans had illegally amassed a stunning array of military hardware that it was prepared to use in the rebellion, and raids on Sunday continued to uncover hidden weapons.

About 40 firearms, including M16 assault rifles, were found on a property believed to be owned by Ampatuan Snr, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Michael Samson told AFP at the site.

The weapons were buried on a grassy area about a kilometre (half a mile) from a police station on the outskirts of Shariff Aguak.

On Saturday, security forces retrieved 340,000 rounds of ammunition, several assault rifles and a home-made armoured car at the warehouse owned by Ampatuan Jnr where the miltiamen were detained.

The biggest reported discovery came on Thursday when the military found what it said were enough weapons and ammunitions to arm two battalions, or 1,000 soldiers, buried in a vacant lot near the Ampatuans’ compound of homes.

Violence waged since 1970s

Muslim rebels fighting for an independent homeland have been waging a rebellion on Maguindanao and other parts of Mindanao island since the late 1970s. The conflict has claimed more than 150,000 lives, the military says.

Arroyo’s government has used Muslim clans such as the Ampatuans to rule these areas, and allowed them to build up their own armies as part of a controversial containment strategy against the insurgents.

However the government now insists it did not know the extent to which the Ampatuans had built up its own militia and weapons.

Andal Ampatuan Snr and Jnr, plus another senior clan member, were expelled from Arroyo’s ruling coalition a few days after the massacre.



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Nadal beats Federer in Madrid final

Nadal, who will reclaim the world number two ranking on Monday, clinched a record-breaking 18th career Masters title, beating Federer 6-4 7-6.


The win also made him the first man to claim three major clay titles prior to the start of Roland Garros.

Federer beat Nadal in last year’s final before going on to claim the French Open and Wimbledon crowns and snatching back the world number one ranking from the Spaniard.

Nadal now heads to Paris with all guns blazing as he bids to wipe out last year’s fourth-round loss to Soderling and resume his trophy chase.

Sunday’s eagerly-anticipated match in a packed and rowdy Magic Box arena graced by Spanish Queen Sofia was their first meeting since the 2009 title match.

Home win ‘a dream’ for Nadal

It sets Nadal up for a run at regaining his Roland Garros crown when the grand slam starts next Sunday.

Nadal brought the partisan crowd to their feet when he took the first set and the noise reached ear-splitting levels as their hero fought back from 4-2 down before throwing himself face down on the clay.

“Winning here at home is a dream,” said Nadal, who took titles over recent weeks in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would win all three of these big events,” added the Spaniard, unbeaten this clay season with 15 consecutive victories.

Nadal, now with 39 titles to his name, leads Federer 14-7 in career meetings, winning ten of their last 12.

Missed chances for Federer

He now stands 28-2 in claycourt finals, his two losses coming at the hands of Federer, including Madrid a year ago.

Federer missed out on chances repeatedly in the final, which lasted just over two hours, converting on only one of seven break points in an hour-long opening set.

In the second, the world number one twice recovered from a break down and once into the tiebreaker, took a 4-2 lead.

But four consecutive unforced errors meant a wasted effort, with Nadal claiming victory on his second of three match points, a Federer mis-hit.

“It’s been a wonderful event for me,” said the Swiss. “I’m sorry I couldn’t defend the title. Rafa’s had an incredible clay season, he was supreme today.

“I’m looking forward to Paris, I’m happy with my claycourt game, I know I’m not Spanish but I tried to play some clay court tennis here.”



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Jetstar denies flights help Burma junta

Jetstar denies its flights into Burma are assisting the military junta and its human rights abuses.


ACTU President Sharan Burrow says international companies are withdrawing services from Burma and those businesses that stay know they are abetting human and trade union rights abuses, including child labour and forced labour.

Burma Campaign Australia says the airline’s payments to fly into the country add to the estimated $US2.8 billion ($A3.23 billion) in “blood money” to the dictatorship.

Campaign spokeswoman Zetty Brake says Jetstar’s payments to fly into the country could be used to fund more than 700 soldiers a year, Fairfax newspapers report.

“Sadly doing business in Burma only helps keep the Burmese junta in power, providing it with the critical funds and resources it needs to maintain its brutal rule,” she said in a statement.

Airline fees ‘lining regime’s pockets’

Jetstar chief executive Bruce Buchanan denies the accusation, saying Jetstar is happy to end the schedule if it thinks it’s harming the Burmese people in any way.

“Whenever we look at it and talk to the (aid) agencies that are in there, they say it’s a good thing. We are giving people access to get out and get education, aid agencies to get in there, and people reconnecting with friends and family,” he said.

Mr Buchanan told Fairfax he received a letter from the ACTU last week and has yet to reply, saying he’s disappointed the matter is now in the public domain.

Ms Burrow told Fairfax it’s a “myth” that ordinary Burmese can fly into and out of the country, and rejected the airline’s suggestion its fees to Burmese aviation authorities do not end up in the regime’s pockets.

She’ll join Burmese democracy activists in Sydney today for the beginning of a campaign to pressure Australian companies into withdrawing from Burma.



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Climate change ‘unquestionably’ linked to humans

Global warming exists and is unquestionably due to human activity, the French Academy of Science said in a report published Thursday and written by 120 scientists from France and abroad.


“Several independent indicators show an increase in global warming from 1975 to 2003. This increase is mainly due to the increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide,” the academy said in conclusion to the report.

“The increase in carbon dioxide, and to a lesser degree other greenhouse gases, is unquestionably due to human activity,” said the report, adopted unanimously by academy members.

The report contradicts France’s former education minister Claude Allegre, a geochemist, who published a book called “The Climatic Deception” which claimed that carbon dioxide was not linked to climate change.

The report was commissioned in April by Minister for Research Valerie Pecresse in response to hundreds of environmental scientists who complained that Allegre in particular was disparaging their work.

Allegre is a member of the Academy of Sciences and also signed off on the report.

“He has the right to evolve,” the academy’s president Jean Salencon said. Pecresse said: “The debate is over.”

But Allegre told AFP that the document was a compromise and “I have not evolved, I still say the same thing, that the exact role of carbon dioxide in the environment has not been shown.”

“Of course it’s a compromise, but it’s a satisfactory compromise because what I defend, that is the uncertainty in our knowledge about climate change, is explicitly mentioned, the word uncertainty appears 12 times,” he said.

In his book, Allegre questioned the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and criticised worldwide mobilisation around “a myth without foundation.”

He disagreed with linking climate change and an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and said clouds or solar activity had more of an influence.

The IPCC, established to sift through scientific research and produce the most authoritative report possible on climate change for world leaders, has been hit by a raft of criticisms and the UN has said it needs a major overhaul.

Glaring errors were revealed in the panel’s landmark 2007 Fourth Assessment Report — notably that Himalayan glaciers which provide water to a billion people in Asia could be lost by 2035, a claim traced to a magazine article.

The Academy’s report said that “solar activity, which has dropped slightly on average since 1975, cannot be dominant in warming observed during this period” even if the mechanisms involved “are not yet well understood.”

“Major uncertainties remain on how to model clouds, the evolution of marine ice and the polar caps, the connection between the oceans and the atmosphere, the biosphere’s evolution and the carbon cycle,” the report said.

Allegre wrote that it was impossible to predict the climate’s long-term evolution, but the Academy said that “climate evolution predictions of 30 to 50 years are little affected by uncertainties on modelling slow evolution processes.”

“These predictions are particularly useful in responding to society’s current concerns, worsened by the predictable population growth.”

The IPCC’s deputy head, Frenchman Jean Jouzel, welcomed the report.

“Even if in this text lots of space is given to the arguments put forward by climate change sceptics, I note that the document clearly reaffirms the IPCC’s broad conclusions,” he told AFP.

“Clearly sceptics will find some things to make their case. It says that not all is clear about the sun’s role. The debate is never over,” he said.

The report was the result of written contributions as well as closed-door discussions held at the Academy on September 20 and subsequent exchanges, the Academy said.



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Red wine packed with antidiabetes compounds

Red wine is a potent source of antidiabetic compounds – but they might not get past your gut.


The finding is sure to enliven the ongoing debate over the drink’s health benefits.

Alois Jungbauer and colleagues at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria, tested 10 reds and two whites to find out how strongly the wines bound to a protein called PPAR-gamma, which is targeted by the antidiabetic drug rosiglitazone. (This drug is marketed under the brand name Avandia and, while still available in the US, has been withdrawn in Europe because of fears over side effects.)

PPAR-gamma is a type of protein called a receptor. Among other things, it regulates the uptake of glucose in fat cells. Rosiglitazone targets PPAR-gamma in fat cells to make them more sensitive to insulin and improve the uptake of glucose. It is used as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, a condition where people either do not make enough insulin to keep their body’s glucose levels down, or become resistant to normal insulin levels.

Several studies have shown that moderate consumption of red wine can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. So Jungbauer and colleagues determined the wines’ binding affinity for PPAR-gamma and compared the results with the effects of rosiglitazone. They found that the white wines had low binding affinities, but all the reds bound readily: the tendency of 100 millilitres of red wine – about half a glass – to bind to PPAR-gamma is up to four times as strong as the same tendency in the daily dose of rosiglitazone.

Red and green

“It’s incredible. It’s a really high activity,” says Jungbauer. “At first we were worried it was an artefact, but then we identified the compounds responsible in the wine.”

The flavonoid epicatechin gallate – which is also present in green tea – had the highest binding affinity, followed by the polyphenol ellagic acid, which comes from the oak barrels the wine is kept in. The researchers think that some of the antidiabetic activity of red wine could be due to these compounds activating PPAR-gamma.

But Jungbauer warns that these compounds don’t make red wine a magic bullet. The compounds in a glass of wine may have other antidiabetic effects and in any case, not all of the compounds will be absorbed and available to the body to use. “Wine also contains ethanol, which will add to your calories,” he says.

Véronique Cheynier, research director at the department of oenology at the University of Montpellier 1, France, says that most polyphenols do not pass through the digestive tract unchanged and may not be absorbed at all.

True temperance

The next step for Jungbauer and his team will be to measure the metabolic effects of the wine compounds on healthy people.

Jungbauer stresses that moderate consumption is the key to health benefits from wine. “It is important to limit the intake of wine. Obesity is one of the major problems of our society,” he says.

Paras Mishra of the University of Louisville, Kentucky, who was not involved in the study, warns that drinking too much wine “could be bad even in diabetes”.



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‘Mystery missile’ has conspiracies firing

The US military said Tuesday it has detected no launch of a foreign military missile off the coast of California and offered assurances that whatever happened there posed no threat to the United States.


KCBS television caught on camera what appeared to be a missile vapor trail as it arced into the evening sky west of Los Angeles, sparking reports of a possible missile launch.

“At this time, we can confirm that there is no threat to our nation and from all indications this was not a launch by a foreign military,” the US Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Command said in a statement.

The Pentagon, however, said it had no explanation for the sighting and was trying to get to the bottom of it.

“While there is nothing at this time that leads the Department of Defense (DoD) to believe this is a missile launch, the department and other US government agencies with expertise in aviation and space continue to look into the condensation trail (CONTRAIL) seen and reported off the coast of southern California on Monday evening,” Pentagon spokesman David Lapan said in a statement.

“All DoD entities with rocket and missile programs reported no launches, scheduled or inadvertent, during the time period in the area of the reported contrail,” he added.

Lapan said Federal Aviation Administration “radar replays” from a large area west of Los Angeles “did not reveal any fast-moving, unidentified targets,” adding that the FAA also did not receive reports of any unusual sightings from pilots in the arae.

ContrailScience.com, a website that debunks conspiracy theories linked to contrails, suggested the sighting was an optical illusion.

It said an approaching aircraft can leave a horizontal vapor trail that looks like a missile shooting vertically from the ground or sea.

What creates the illusion that it is rising from the ground is that the end of the plume is hidden by the curvature of the earth.

Ordinarily, a missile test would involve closure of air space and notifications to mariners of when to stay clear of the area, but none were known to have been made in this case, Lapan said earlier.

He said it was “implausible” that a military exercise would have been conducted so near Los Angeles’ busy international airport.

“That’s why at this point the operative term is, unexplained,” Lapan added.



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Comment: Good news, flyers: ‘flight mode’ is safe during take-off and landing

By Hamza Bendemra

Earlier this year, the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) put together a panel of aviation experts to look at whether personal electronic devices (PEDs) could be used on planes without compromising safety.


The results are in: the committee is recommending that electronic devices – such as tablets, e-readers and other PEDs – be allowed during all phases of flight (including take-off and landing).

The FAA asked the Advisory and Rulemaking Committee to investigate this particular issue after growing public scepticism about limitations, and increased public pressure to allow passengers to use their electronic devices during all phases of flight.

When applicable, passengers will have to switch their devices to airplane/flight mode. Passengers will hence be allowed to listen to music, watch a movie, play games or read an e-book on their e-reader or tablet – as long as the data was downloaded and saved on the device before take-off.

As the committee’s report points out, many new generation aircraft have the appropriate shielding to prevent any interference from PEDs that may be on board.

The FAA is widely expected to follow through with the committee’s recommendations and will likely begin implementation next year. Other regulatory agencies, such as Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), are expected to follow FAA’s lead on the issue.

Lukas (Vermeer)

No talking on mobile phones

The committee is maintaining restrictions on devices capable of connecting to a mobile phone network and/or with data communication capability. Hence, mobile phones are not expected to be allowed to be used during take-offs and landings any time soon. They will be required to be put on “flight mode”.

A mobile phone searching for a network tower emits much higher energy radio waves and is therefore more likely to cause electromagnetic interference (EMI). Another concern is that a plane flying with several hundreds of phones attempting to connect to a nearby tower would cause unnecessary strain on the mobile phone network.

However, some airlines are already offering products that allows their passengers to make phone calls on their flight. Emirates has been pushing for this technology for several years. It relies on pio-cell technology which is basically an on-board antenna which relays calls to towers on the ground. The system is controlled by the flight crew.

What’s taken so long?

Felipe Luchi’s ‘Jailhouses’. (陈从峰)

Pressure on the FAA sharply increased over the past few years as electronic device use skyrocketed and airline passengers became increasingly dependent on them.

As Brazilian illustrator Felipe Luchi so perfectly illustrated in his artwork, we are becoming increasingly dependent on our mobile devices.

The decision to allow the use of electronic devices on planes may seem self-evident to some, but the committee was rigorous. The committee was set to release its recommendation months ago but asked for an extension as there was a large amount of data to review and evaluate.

Public perception that a small device like a mobile phone could not possibly interfere with a plane’s electronics is at the core of the issue – as shown by the parody below.

Parody on PEDs ban on planes (bit of swearing in it, too).

 A recently conducted survey showed that 30% of passengers admitted to not turning off their mobile phone when flying – but how many of them are actual aviation safety experts? Does knowing how to use an iPhone give someone the expertise to assess whether it can take interfere with a plane’s electronics?

Evidence-based policy is – as the term suggests – based on evidence. As is usually the case with research, it is extremely difficult to come up with a black-and-white answer. Research outcomes are made up of shades of grey: assessing likelihood, risk and so on.

As pointed out in a previous piece for The Conversation, interference allegedly due to phone calls during flight has been reported – but the lift of the ban on electronic devices such as e-readers and tablets is certainly most welcome.

Hamza Bendemra does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.



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Comment: Climate talks could succeed, if Australia toughens targets

By Ian McGregor, University of Technology, Sydney

Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Rajendra Pachauri, said last week that on climate, “We have five minutes before midnight”.


He argues that governments have historically avoided taking responsibility for global warming.

In the more than 20 years since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was negotiated, global greenhouse gas emissions have increased by more than 30%. What hope is there for the rapid reduction of global emissions that is needed to have a high probability of limiting warming to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels?

This warming represents a level that most climate scientists accept as significantly less likely to result in dangerous climate change. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report that has just been released confirms we are on a dangerous path. So what are the prospects for the urgently needed rapid change of direction?

Climate change is a global problem that needs a global agreement. Virtually every country on the planet has signed and ratified the UN Framework Convention which seeks to avoid dangerous climate change. The latest stage in these international climate change negotiations was launched in Durban in 2011 and is due to conclude in Paris at the end of 2015.

Is the Paris Climate Summit likely to be more successful than the failed Copenhagen Climate Summit of 2009?

The short answer is yes. The world has learnt some lessons from the failure of Copenhagen. But it is far from clear whether the outcome from Paris will be strong enough to prevent, with a reasonable degree of certainty, dangerous climate change.

An effective global climate change agreement in Paris will need to address the equity issue, ensuring each country contributes on an equitable basis to both reducing emissions and providing finance. These responsibilities will need to be based on the country’s respective capacity and historic responsibility for emissions.

Countries will have to make specific commitments during 2014 so that these can be assessed and further negotiated well in advance of the final Paris meeting. This was missing in lead up to Copenhagen. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has called a Summit of World Leaders for September 2014 – and challenged them to bring bold pledges.

The Paris agreement also needs to provide a dynamic framework that recognises that these commitments are not static and that countries need to increase their commitment levels as they develop.

Australia has an emissions reduction target of 5% by 2020 (with a 15-25% conditional target), which both major political parties have committed to. For Paris to succeed, we will need to do much better than that.

Australia’s per capita emission levels are more than double European Union levels and the EU has already committed to a 20% reduction by 2020 with a conditional commitment to raise this to 30%.

And developed countries, like Australia, need to show it is possible to reduce emissions whilst continuing economic growth. In the last year Australia proved this with the carbon price and policies to support renewable energy resulting in a 7% reduction in electricity emissions, whilst employment and wealth continued to increase.

It will be a blow to Australia’s influence in the international negotiations if it continues its current approach of resiling from effective climate action. If the Coalition were to commit immediately to the 15% target, and negotiate with a broad range of stakeholders on effective policies to reach this goal, and future higher ones, this would be a positive step towards an international agreement. It would also increase Australia’s influence on the world stage.

This latest round of climate negotiations was launched from the EU working closely with AOSIS (Association of Small Island States) and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) at the 2011 Durban meeting. This progressive alliance needs to be nurtured and reinforced by the EU in order to achieve success in Paris.

The US and China are the two largest emitting nations and are therefore critical to a successful outcome in Paris. There have been positive developments in 2013 as they have had bi-lateral talks focused on climate change, with positive outcomes for HFCs – greenhouse gases that are covered by the Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion.

It is, however, too early to tell whether this will have a positive effect on the overall climate negotiations.

The climate science as reiterated in the most recent IPCC report is clear: we are overheating the planet. The scale of global political change required to stabilise the climate is extremely challenging and needs to be a focus of all governments across the world in order to achieve a fair and effective climate agreement in Paris in 2015.

Read more coverage of the IPCC report here.

Dr Ian McGregor receives funding for his research from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He is a member of the Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre where he undertakes research on on global climate change politics. He organised a recent research seminar at the Centre where Julie-Anne Richards, formerly Global Policy Coordinator of Climate Action Network (CAN) International presented on the global climate change policy process and parts of her presentation have helped to inform this article. Julie-Anne is currently studying for a Master’s degree at the University of Sydney.



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Shocking fat ad warns of sugary drink risks

A new health campaign has been launched today by the Cancer Council, warning Australians over the health impacts of sugary drinks.


The ad, featured on YouTube, shows a man drinking a can of fat, saying that’s representative of what will happen if the extra kilojoules consumed through the drinks are not burnt off.

The Cancer Council says there are 16 packets of sugar in a regular 600ml soft drink, and one soft drink per day can lead to putting on five kilograms in a year.  


Leading public experts and community organisations gathered for a forum in Melbourne today to discuss the health risks associated with high consumption of sugary drinks and to discuss policy options to reduce consumption.   

According to research by the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research at Deakin University, children who consume more than 250 ml of sugary drink per day are 26 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese.

Craig Sinclair, Chair of Cancer Council Australia Public Health Committee, says with nearly 25 per cent of children and more than 60 per cent of adults in Austraia overweight or obese, it is vital that we start to investigate ways to reduce kilojoules in diets.

“We have reached a point where sugary drinks are considered an everyday staple, as opposed to an occasion treat.

“Promotion by beverage companies through new media and traditional channel is relentless and it’s easier to find a bottle of soft drink than a water tap. We need to change the status quo,” he said. 

Cancer Council Australia, Diabetes Australia and National Heart Foundation (Victoria) recommended a series of measures to tackle this health crisis: restrictions on marketing sugary drinks to children and reducing availability in children’s settings; an investigation into tax options and reducing availability in workplaces.

Diabetes Australia says obesity is a major cause of a range or chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, and sugar-sweetened drinks are known to be a major contributor to the problem.

The ad has been licensed from the New York Department of Health and tailored for an Australian audience.



There are 16 packets of sugar in a regular 600ml soft drink. You wouldn’t eat that amount of sugar, then why would you drink it? – See more at: 南宁桑拿网,www.cancersa.org.au/cut-my-risk/i-want-to-cut-my-risk/rethink-sugary-drink#sthash.IHUfSdjP.dpuf



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High Court rules on indigenous sentences

The High Court has dismissed an appeal from an indigenous man who sought to have an extended jail sentence overturned on the grounds it hadn’t taken into account his disadvantaged background as an Aboriginal person.


West Australian man Ernest Munda had pleaded guilty to the 2010 manslaughter of his partner.

The pair had been drinking at a pub and he had smoked cannabis before he assaulted her at home, punching her and repeatedly ramming her head into a wall.

The next morning, they had sex and Munda left the house briefly.

When he returned his partner wasn’t breathing and she was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.

He was initially sentenced to more than five years’ jail but WA prosecutors appealed the sentence as too lenient.

The WA Court of Appeal re-sentenced Munda to almost eight years in jail.

Munda appealed the decision in the High Court, with his lawyers arguing the appeal court had failed to giver proper regard to his ancestry and personal circumstances.

Submissions outlined Munda’s history living in indigenous communities and his struggles with alcohol abuse since the age of 16.

But a majority of the High Court judges on Wednesday upheld the WA court’s findings the original sentence was “manifestly inadequate”.

“While it was relevant to take into consideration an offender’s circumstances of severe social disadvantage, the High Court held that the same sentencing principles must be applied in every case irrespective of an offender’s identity or … membership of an ethnic or other group,” the court said in a statement.

The High Court made the same statement about sentencing principles in its ruling on another case, that of NSW man William David Bugmy.

But it upheld Bugmy’s appeal of an increased sentence, finding the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal had not addressed the question of whether the original sentence was manifestly inadequate.

Bugmy was initially sentenced to a non-parole period of four years in jail for assaulting a prison officer.

The prosecution appealed this and he was re-sentenced to a non-parole period of five years. It was this extended sentence Bugmy appealed in the High Court.



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Bartra making a strong case for centre back slot

A graduate of the La Liga club’s famed youth academy, 22-year-old Bartra’s chances have been limited since he joined the first-team squad last season but he was deployed alongside Gerard Pique in place of the injured Javier Mascherano for the Group H clash in Glasgow.


Barca spent the close season trying to sign another centre back as a long-term replacement for captain Carles Puyol, who is poised to make his comeback after knee surgery, but Bartra’s polished display in Scotland suggested he may be the answer.

He coped efficiently with Celtic’s most dangerous threat, combative Greece international Giorgios Samaras, and did not commit a single foul during the match, even striding forward in the second half and unleashing a powerful long-range drive that forced a sharp save from Fraser Forster.

His eye for goal will help his case for a regular place in Martino’s side and he scored from Lionel Messi’s assist in this month’s 4-1 win at home to Real Sociedad in La Liga.

“He played an impeccable match,” Martino said at a news conference.

“He was up against their most difficult player (Samaras) and he did a very good job,” added the Argentine.

Although Barca were unable to extend their lead against a team who played the final half an hour with 10 men – Celtic captain Scott Brown was dismissed for kicking out at Neymar – there was general satisfaction with their showing.

The Catalan club, bidding for a third European crown in six years after triumphs in 2009 and 2011, top the group on six points from two matches, two ahead of AC Milan after the Italians were held to a 1-1 draw at Ajax Amsterdam.

They have also made a fine start to their La Liga title defence, amassing a maximum 21 points from their opening seven games to top the table along with Atletico Madrid.


A battling Celtic twice threatened the Barca goal after losing their captain when Victor Valdes produced a brilliant reaction save to deny James Forrest and Charlie Mulgrew headed narrowly wide from the resulting corner.

“It was a pretty complete performance and we played with a lot of consistency,” said Martino, who is making his debut in Europe’s elite club competition this season.

“Apart from the Valdes save we had almost no problems,” he added.

Barca’s next outing is a La Liga game at home to Real Valladolid on Saturday when they will again be without injured World Player of the Year Messi.

The Argentine, who netted a hat-trick in the 4-0 win at home to Ajax on matchday one, should be back for the home and away games against Milan on October 22 and November 6 respectively.

(Editing by John O’Brien)



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Giant marsupial fossil found on Vic beach

A fossilised giant wombat-like skeleton as large as a small car has been found on a Victorian beach by a local beachgoer.


It is believed to be the Diprotodon, the largest marsupial ever to have lived, and may be as old as 200,000 years and have weighed up to 1000kg.

Museum Victoria senior paleontologist Erich Fitzgerald said it was an exciting discovery because of its potential to shed new light on the extinct species.

“What we know is that it appears to be the most complete and best preserved discovery of this species in Victoria and one of the more complete found in Australia,” Dr Fitzgerald told AAP on Wednesday.

“We may be able to get a lot more information about the animal’s appearance and also potentially about its lifestyle from this particular specimen, given how much of it we actually have.”

The skeleton was discovered earlier this year on a beach in Mornington Peninsula National Park by a Sorrento local who noticed bones eroding out of a rock.

“It was found by completely by chance. The person did exactly the right thing and contacted Parks Victoria,” Dr Fitzgerald said.

The discovery came as a surprise to paleontologists as the area had never revealed any significant fossils.

“The ones that had been found have not been very complete,” Dr Fitzgerald said.

“It suggests further exploration may lead to additional discoveries.”

The job of removing the specimen from the site is ongoing and it may be months before researchers know for sure how much of it is preserved and intact.

The species was widespread across Australia when the first indigenous people arrived but became extinct about 25,000 years ago.



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Nalbandian retirement a ‘loss’: del Potro

Former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro on Wednesday paid tribute to fellow Argentine David Nalbandian after the one-time top-three player announced his retirement from tennis due to injury.


“Everyone knows Nalbandian was a really great player – he won so may good tournaments,” world number seven del Potro told reporters in Tokyo, after reaching the quarter-finals of the Japan Open. “We have lost a really talented played from the tour.”

Nalbandian, who had a heated rivalry with Australian Lleyton Hewitt after the pair contested the 2002 Wimbledon final and several Davis Cup matches in the 2000s, hung up his racquet because of a persistent right shoulder problem.

The gritty 31-year-old, winner of 11 ATP Tour titles, had slipped to 231st in the world rankings after another injury-hit season.

“On his day he could beat anyone,” del Potro said of Nalbandian, who also reached the 2002 Wimbledon final where he lost to Lleyton Hewitt.

“I remember when he reached the final at Wimbledon,” added the 25-year-old del Potro. “I was very young at the time. There were also a lot of big Davis Cup wins and important matches he won, like when he beat Federer at the Masters Cup in Shanghai.

Nalbandian had called the decision “difficult” when he made the announcement earlier on Wednesday.

“It is a sad day but my shoulder simply can’t cope any more at the highest level,” he said.

He will play a final exhibition match against Rafa Nadal on November 23 in Buenos Aires.

Nalbandian, who reached his career-high three in the world in 2006, also inspired Argentina to three Davis Cup finals, although they lost all of them.

He once told French newspaper L’Equipe a few years ago that he would also like to compete in the Rally World Championship.

Nalbandian began the year in promising fashion, reaching the final in Sao Paulo where he lost to Nadal, but then his shoulder problem returned and an operation did not improve the situation.



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Record $33m on offer at Aust Open tennis

Australian Open organisers expect all of the world’s top 100 men and women to play in January’s tennis grand slam, chasing a record prizemoney pool of $33 million.


Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley, who is also the Open’s tournament director, said it would be a boost to have reigning US and French Open champion Rafael Nadal back, after he missed this year’s event through illness and injury.

Nadal could next week regain the No.1 ranking from Novak Djokovic, who has won the Australian Open for the past three years.

“We’re very pleased as things stand today that we’re expecting all the top 100 men and all the top 100 women,” Tiley said at Wednesday’s launch of the 2014 tournament.

“It’s great, we’ve got our defending champions Novak and Victoria (Azarenka) and having them back, they’ve done extremely well here.

“Novak’s dominated this event over the past five years.

“But Nadal missed it last year. Having Rafa back, he’s excited and wants to come back and play.”

Prizemoney increases from $30 million last year.

US greats and former Open champions Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras will attend as guests, with Sampras to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first of his two Australian Open titles.

But Tiley confirmed Bernard Tomic’s father John, still serving a 12-month ban from the tour, after being found guilty of assaulting his son’s then-hitting partner Thomas Drouet in Madrid in May, won’t be allowed inside Melbourne Park.

Tiley said the Australian Open and lead-up events were obligated to abide by the ban, but they remained supportive of the Tomic family.

“We talk to them,” he said.

“He’s Australian and at the end of the day it’s about Bernard and it’s about his opportunity.

“He played Davis Cup for us and did a great job.

“It’s unfortunate, the situation, but it is what it is, the ruling, and we uphold that.”

Tiley said Tomic Sr wouldn’t be given dispensation to attend, even if his son made it deep into the event.

Melbourne Park’s third main showcase court, Margaret Court Arena, will be in use, but a retractable roof being built over it remains under construction and will stay open throughout the event.



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Microsoft hands user data to Aust govt

Microsoft handed Australian government agents personal information about more than a thousand users in the first half of 2013, a transparency report reveals.


Between January and June, authorities made 1219 requests for access to data relating to 1462 accounts.

Microsoft granted 1050 (86 per cent) of those requests – handing over information such as email addresses, names, locations and internet protocol (IP) addresses.

However, the company did not disclose user-generated “content data” – which includes emails, documents and photographs.

Six requests did not meet legal requirements and were rejected, while the company was unable to find the requested data in 163 cases.

The report is the second Microsoft has released on government data requests.

The first revealed the company received 2238 requests from Australian authorities last year.

Globally, 64 governments made 37,000 requests concerning 67,000 accounts. More than 70 per cent came from the US, UK, France, Germany and Turkey.

Microsoft provided information 80 per cent of the time but only one in fifty requests led the company to release sensitive “content data”.

The requests usually relate to criminal investigations but some involve “imminent emergencies” such as suicide threats.

The company sought to reassure users, stating on its website that fewer than one in every 10,000 users were affected by law enforcement requests during the reporting period.

Microsoft was unable to confirm the number of active Australian users.

“We place a premium on respecting and protecting the privacy of our users,” the company said in the report.

“At the same time, Microsoft recognises that law enforcement plays a critically important role in keeping our users and our technology safe and free from abuse or exploitation.”

Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo! have all released similar reports in recent months.

Transparency has emerged as a sensitive issue this year in the wake of leaks by former US government contractor Edward Snowden, which revealed that nine companies had turned over user data to the US National Security Agency.

Last month, Yahoo! released its first global transparency report, which revealed it had received 704 requests from Australian agents in the first six months of 2013, regarding 799 accounts or users.

The company granted full access to “content data” in response to 11 requests – handing over information such as the content of emails, uploaded files and Yahoo address, calendar and notepad entries.

It handed over “non-content data” in response to 305 of the requests, rejected 242 and found no data in 146.

Facebook’s first transparency report, released in August, reported the social networking site received 546 requests regarding 601 Australian-held accounts in the first six months of 2013.

It granted information in response to 64 per cent of the requests.

In the same month, Twitter revealed it received 58 information requests from Australian authorities in the first half of the year, compared to fewer than ten in the second half of 2012. The microblogging site responded with information in a quarter of cases.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) recently confirmed to AAP that it made requests for data from Facebook but would not disclose the number or their nature.



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Greens request WA Senate recount

Australian Greens Leader Senator Christine today confirmed the party had requested a recount after senator Scott Ludlam lost his West Australian Senate seat to the Palmer United Party (PUP).


After a tight count involving complicated preference votes, three Liberal senators, two Labor senators and Zhenya Wang from PUP were declared winners.

Scrutineers have identified the result may have come down to a 14-vote margin.

thanks to everyone who went through this wait with us. checking for recount possibility; meantime your support means a lot #ausvotes

— Scott Ludlam (@SenatorLudlam) October 2, 2013

Ms Milne said The Greens had lodged a recount request with the Australian Electoral Commission.

“The entire Party Room is devastated at the thought of Scott leaving the Senate next year,” she said.

“It would be particularly hard given how close the result was.

“Scott is widely respected in the Parliament and in the community for his passion, his wealth of knowledge and his calm and reasoned demeanour. And I know between now and when the Senate changes over Scott will be fiercely advocating for digital rights, keeping uranium in the ground, keeping the carbon price and getting big solar up and running in WA.”

Senator Ludlam has thanked the 124,000 people who voted Green in WA, and the Western Australian and national campaign teams for their work during the election campaign.

“In particular, I acknowledge Senator Christine Milne for her dedicated and tenacious leadership: the role of the Greens has never been more crucial than now,” Senator Ludlam said.

David Johnston, Michaelia Cash and Linda Reynolds will represent the Liberals, David Johnston and Louise Pratt will represent Labor, and Mr Wang will be the PUP’s latest parliamentary representative.

confirming we will shortly be lodging a formal request for a recount of elements of the WA senate vote #ausvotes

— Scott Ludlam (@SenatorLudlam) October 2, 2013

AEC says a Senate recount has never been done before. Greens can’t simply ask for one cos of close result. Has to be a procedural issue

— Andrew Tillett (@andrewtillett) October 2, 2013

“Everyone is going to have a close look at the numbers and see if there is cause for a recount,” he told ABC radio.

“But it appears they (PUP) have been elected on roughly half the vote of the Greens, and that is the sort of result our voting system throws up from time to time.

“(Losing) is still sinking in, but I would love to keep working on the things I have been working on – and if you think politicians do a crap job, then you should just try it.” Senator Ludlam said there was an urgent need for electoral reform.

“It is an elegant system being expertly gamed and manipulated,” he said. “The whole purpose of an electoral system is to accurately as possible reflect the voting will of the Australian people. It has let us down in this instance.”

The Australian Sports Party, which was in the running, also lost out on preference votes.