600 jobs go at Bluescope Steel

Managing director Kirby Adams said the job losses will represent about three per cent of the company’s global workforce.

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Mr Adams said he was not sure when the Port Kembla mill will close, but when it does 250 out of 350 employees will lose their jobs.

The cold pickle and cold rolling divisions at the Port Kembla steelworks will remain open, employing about 100 people.

The job losses include 250 management and staff positions, from across all operations in and 90 jobs in Taiwan, as the company will also shut down, within the next few months, its manufacturing operations there.

Management said it was undertaking the cost cutting program ahead of higher iron ore pricing coming into effect on July 1. “BlueScope Steel is making tough decisions for volatile times,” Mr Adams said.

“We are acting swiftly in response to the massive price hike in raw material costs – another 19 per cent for iron ore following last year’s 71 per cent price rise – and the dramatically reduced demand for Australian tinplate,” he added.

“We can no longer carry loss-making businesses.” Mr Adams says the tinplate business had lost A$60 million in the past two years and the size of its the available market had reduced dramatically in the past 12 months.

BlueScope says the market had changed due to a number of factors, including more imports of tin cans, Australian food companies filling cans overseas and using offshore cans, and large retail grocers replacing Australian brands with their own merchandise that also used cans made offshore.

“We are also seeing a shift where consumers are purchasing more fresh foods at the expense of canned foods.” Brian Kruger, president of BlueScope’s Australian Manufacturing Markets business said.

Government support

The federal government has responded quickly announcing an assistance package to help the redundant Port Kembla workers. Treasurer Peter Costello said he was sorry to hear about the job losses, but that the government will help the families recover.

“Each worker will have access to an individual consultant who will provide a range of specialised advice and support to help secure alternative employment,” he said.

Mr Costello said the package also includes measures to attract new investment to Port Kembla. Sacked workers will also receive an extra $450 on top of the $900 allocated to workers with a job seeker account. They also will have access to funds for relocation, if necessary.

The government will set up a taskforce to implement the package.

PM ignored letter from Hicks

Mr Howard has not responded to the letter, in which the Adelaide-born man appeals for his freedom so he can quietly return to Australia to resume a normal life.

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“He knows that he has been foolhardy in being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Mr Hicks’s Adelaide-based lawyer David McLeod said.

“He’s had four and a half years (at Guantanamo Bay) to reflect on his position.

“He’s written a letter to the prime minister indicating that, if he’s returned to Australia, he would return quietly, with dignity, and get on with the rest of his life. That is what he hopes to be able to do.”

Mr Howard, who opted not to reply to the letter, said the United States was close to deciding what to do with Mr Hicks, who has been charged with training with al Qaeda.

Mr Hicks, held by the US at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba since 2002, was to be tried by US military commission, but the US Supreme Court last week ruled such commissions were unlawful.

“They’ll be letting us know very soon what their response is,” Mr Howard told Southern Cross Broadcasting.

Meeting with Downer

Mr McLeod and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer met for an hour at Mr Downer’s office in the Adelaide Hills today, but the lawyer emerged without raised hopes.

“The chances of the government changing its mind look a little remote,” Mr McLeod said.

David Hicks pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, attempted murder and aiding the enemy at a US military commission hearing last year, but has not faced trial.

The US Supreme Court ruled last week the conspiracy charge was invalid under international law while Mr Hicks’s lawyers contest the other two charges.

“I indicated to him (Mr Downer) that, in my opinion, the charges were no longer in existence and that David Hicks was now simply a detainee,” Mr McLeod said.

But Mr Downer said the government remained firm on the view that he should be tried by the US.

“He should face a court, whether it’s a military commission, or a court martial, or a civil court. That is something the Americans are working through,” Mr Downer said.

Hicks has been detained by the US since his capture among Taliban forces in Afghanistan in December 2001.

Aust: $40 million drug bust

Five men have also been arrested in two states.

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Vacuum-sealed packets containing 350kg of the illegal tablets were found floating in plastic tubs in a shipping container, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Customs officials said in a joint statement today.

The container was x-rayed and unpacked at Port Melbourne on June 4, after it was sent from Canada via Hong Kong.

The container held 180 tubs of blue liquid dye, and Customs officials say 67 tubs contained the packets of ecstasy tablets.

The drugs were secretly switched with fakes and the load was monitored as it was delivered to an address in Clayton, in Melbourne’s south-east.

An operation involving 50 AFP agents then tracked the load as it was transferred to a residential address in Yagoona, in Sydney’s west.

Raids

AFP national manager (of) border and international network, Mike Phelan, said police conducted simultaneous raids on 11 properties across Melbourne this morning, resulting in two arrests.

There were nine raids in Sydney yesterday, resulting in another three men being arrested and charged with attempting to possess a commercial quantity of an imported border-controlled drug.

The maximum penalty for these offences is life imprisonment.

Mr Phelan said the sting had dismantled “an extremely sophisticated criminal syndicate … with strong international links”.

He said the two Melbourne men were still being interviewed but charges were expected today.

“This investigation is a significant victory in the fight to stop ambitious drug syndicates supplying Australia’s youth with a large amount of extremely harmful substances,” he said.

Customs has described the attempt to conceal the drugs as extremely unusual.

“We haven’t seen an attempt to import drugs in this fashion into Victoria before,” Customs Victorian director Jaclyne Fisher said.

“(But) Customs is alert to even the most outlandish concealment.”

The agencies said the seizure was believed to be the second largest in Victoria, and ranked amongst the largest in Australian history.

Aust troops poorly equipped

Australia has hundreds of soldiers serving overseas in dangerous locations including Iraq, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

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Stephen Gumley, head of the Defence Materiel Organisation, sayd troops currently serving overseas had “missed out” on gear they should have received.

The admission came during a briefing to defence industry suppliers in Melbourne on June 23, the details of which are published in Fairfax newspapers today, which said they had obtained a secret recording of the briefing.

“We are going to let the troops down if we don’t improve the reliability, quality and safety of our equipment,” the papers quote Dr Gumley as saying on the recording.

“Frankly, I did not do a good enough job in this area (clothing and equipment) so we failed in that and I am going to fix it.”

Dr Gumley reportedly told the briefing that investigations had revealed that defence suppliers had falsified test results.

They had also employed Asian-based manufacturers despite promising to use Australian sub-contractors and lied about their ability to meet deadlines.

This meant that troops on operational deployments “missed out” on equipment.

The Australian government has previously denied any problem with the provisioning of troops.

The defence lobby has jumped on the latest revelations. The head of the Australia Defence Association says it shows the defence force system has broken down.

Neil James says troops who are now training to replace our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are often working with poor equipment.

Kovco body bungle explained

Defence head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said an inquiry into the repatriation found there were weaknesses in Australian Defence Force policy and procedures which created conditions conducive to failure.

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He said he had accepted all 28 recommendations of the independent inquiry aimed at improving procedures to ensure, as far as possible, it can’t happen again.

Air Chief Marshal Houston said the inquiry found the mishap occurred as a direct result of fundamental errors in the repatriation process.

“Firstly the wrong body was produced by the civilian mortuary staff for identification. Secondly, the body produced was incorrectly identified as being Private Kovco,” he said.

Private Kovco, a member of Australia’s security detachment in Baghdad, died on April 21 from a single accidental gunshot from his own issue handgun.

Just how that happened is the subject of an ongoing military board of inquiry hearing.

The inquiry, conducted by Brigadier Liz Cosson and Professor Don Sheldon, found Private Kovco’s body was transported from Baghdad to Kuwait airport where it was then moved by ambulance to the civilian morgue at Al-Sabah Hospital.

That was under arrangements by a Kuwait firm sub-contracting for the firm Kenyon International, widely used for international repatriation of bodies.

The inquiry said use of a contractor was a sound and considered decision due to a lack of an integral ADF capability to repatriate bodies.

Air Chief Marshal Houston said that was attributable to absence of recent ADF experience at dealing with casualties.

On April 25, morgue staff produced a body for return to Australia. That was identified by Private Kovco’s platoon sergeant as Private Kovco.

Neither morgue staff nor the sergeant noticed a cardboard tag attached to the hand which would have correctly identified the body as that of Bosnian national Juso Sinanovic who had died of a brain haemorrhage in Baghdad.

The inquiry cited a number of contributing factors.

Mr Sinanovic’s head was bandaged and that was consistent with expectations of the gunshot wound which killed Private Kovco; the morgue was busy and poorly lit; and the sergeant believed the body had been embalmed and that changed its appearance.

Only when Mr Sinanovic’s body reached Australia on April 27 was the mistake detected. The body of Private Kovco returned two days later.

Air Chief Marshal Houston said no action would be taken against the sergeant who had suffered enough from his error.

Under new procedures, bodies of ADF casualties will be transported on military aircraft where practical and accompanied by at least two personnel.