Kovco suicide claim ‘unlikely’

The head of the University of NSW’s school of psychiatry, Professor Philip Mitchell, said he did not believe Private Jake Kovco was suicidal when he was shot in the tiny barracks room he shared with two soldier mates in Baghdad on April 21 this year.


The inquiry has previously heard that all three men were joking around, singing along to pop songs, shortly before Pte Kovco was

shot in the right side of his head with his 9mm Browning pistol.

Both his roommates say they did not see the gun go off.

Prof Mitchell said if Pte Kovco was planning to kill himself it was unlikely he would have pulled the trigger while his mates were still in the room.

Based on evidence given by the roommates, Pte Kovco knew they were planning to go to the gym for a workout that afternoon.

“Those who suicide normally do so on their own,” Prof Mitchell told the inquiry.

“He was aware that he would have time on his own that afternoon.

“If he had been intending to shoot himself he would have waited until those soldiers left the room.

“It makes it highly, extremely unlikely to be suicide because it occurred in the presence of others.”

Prof Mitchell downplayed suggestions that a disturbing dream Pte Kovco had about shooting himself in the head a month before he died could have led him to kill himself.

In his diary, Pte Kovco provided graphic descriptions of the dream but stressed he had no intention of killing himself.

Prof Mitchell said he had read Pte Kovco’s diary and it was difficult to tell if the dream had had any impact on the circumstances surrounding the soldier’s death.

While Prof Mitchell supported a theory suggested by another leading psychiatrist at the inquiry yesterday – that Pte Kovco could have been re-enacting the dream when he was shot – he said the theory was “highly speculative”.

ACTU case: $30 wage increase

ACTU secretary Greg Combet said unions were concerned to make sure that almost two million minimum wage workers gained some reward for their effort.


“The economy has grown strongly over a long period of time now and it is always a battle to get people with no bargaining power, that is minimum wage workers, an increase that will keep their living standards at pace with inflation,” he told ABC radio.

“The federal government’s new laws have meant that minimum wage workers will experience probably something up to an 18 months freeze before they will get anything out of the so-called fair pay commission.

“What we are doing is asking for a $30 increase which when you annualise it out is around four per cent.”

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) chief executive Peter Hendy said the ACTU’s proposed $30 increase would actually be a 6.2 per cent increase.

“And that is far in excess of the inflation rate,” he told ABC radio.

He said after this week’s high four per cent inflation figure, “the last thing we want to do is build in higher inflationary expectations.”

Mr Hendy said ACCI would make its own submission to the Australian Fair Pay Commission, not opposing an increase but not advocating any particular figure.

“We will be arguing before the commission that if we can get a result that is closer to the inflation rate, that would be a better result and that would be good for unemployment,” he said.

“But 6.2 is simply way beyond what would be economically sensible and would be detrimental to employment.

“Our concern would be that it would build in a higher inflationary expectation, creating wage price spiral which would be dangerous for the economy and that has a direct employment consequence.”

Mideast fighting intensifies

Sporadic bombardments were heard around the town of Bint Jbeil, Hezbollah’s main military base near the border, where the Israeli army has met bitter resistance from Shiite militants over the past five days.


An Israeli army spokeswoman said 26 Hezbollah fighters had been killed in Bint Jbeil but declined to say whether the Israeli army had taken any fighters prisoner during battles there.

Israeli forces took up position on two hilltops overlooking Bint Jbeil where troops have been battling Hezbollah forces trying to stop their advance and bombarded the nearby village of Aitarun with 150 rockets, police said.

They added that the Israeli army was also moving the positions it set up at the southern entry to Bint Jbeil back towards the frontier village of Marun al-Ras, which it has held for several days. There was no other confirmation of the report.

As the Israeli army ploughed on with its ground incursion, the air force carried out more deadly air raids across the south and in eastern Lebanon, killing 10 people.

The air force carried out more than 27 raids at dawn in areas to the east of Tyre, which were also hit by some 300 shells fired by Israeli artillery.

Among the dead were a Lebanese couple whose bodies were retrieved from under the rubble of a house in Kfar Joz, where four civilians, including three children, were also wounded in the Israeli strikes.

Convoy hit

A Jordanian cameraman for the German television station N24 and his Lebanese driver were wounded during fighting between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon.

They were following a 50-vehicle convoy organised by the Australian Embassy in Israel and led by the Lebanese Red Cross that was transporting evacuees, including foreign nationals, trying to flee the border village of Rameish which has been caught in the crossfire.

An Israeli Defence spokesperson said Australian officials were warned three times that it was unsafe for the convoy to travel through southern Lebanon.

Israel’s security cabinet decided on Thursday to step up its military campaign against Hezbollah, a day after an international crisis meeting in Rome failed to secure a ceasefire.

After initially vowing to destroy Hezbollah, Israel is now seeking to expel the militia from a two-kilometre strip along Lebanon’s side of the border and occupy the zone until a mooted international force can take over.

Since Israel withdrew from south Lebanon after 22-years of occupation in

2000, Hezbollah is believed to have dug an extensive network of bunkers and tunnels in the area.

After bloody attacks by both Israeli forces and the Hezbollah guerrillas, eight unarmed UN military observers have been temporarily relocated from border positions in southern Lebanon as a precaution.

“We decided to relocate the observers temporarily to UNIFIL positions in southern Lebanon for safety reasons,” Milos Strugar, spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, said.

Four UN observers were killed earlier this week in an Israeli bombardment of their post, provoking international outrage although Israel denied the position was deliberately targeted.

Hezbollah fires ‘heavy’ rockets

Israeli police said an “unknown” heavy-warhead missile, capable of carrying 100kg of explosives, was among five that landed in Afula, 50km south of the border with Lebanon.

No casualties were caused in the attack.

Hezbollah said it had fired for the first time a salvo of what it called “Khaibar I” missiles “on the Zionist region of Afula, beyond Haifa”.

The strike came after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed that his guerrillas would fire rockets at Israel beyond the northern city of Haifa, after so far using only shorter-range Katyusha rockets against Israel.

The attack also came on the day the Israeli military said it would deploy

Patriot anti-missile batteries near Tel Aviv — Israel’s largest city — if

Hezbollah used long-range missiles.

Visa for Papuan asylum seeker

David Wainggai is expected to be given the visa by the end of this week after an independent tribunal overturned a decision by the Immigration Department.


Mr Wainggai is the 29-year-old son of a Papuan independence leader who died in an Indonesian jail.

The Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) has set aside the department’s decision to refuse Mr Wainggai a protection visa, referring the matter back to the department.

The decision virtually guarantees Mr Wainggai will be recognised as a refugee, with the department rarely turning down remittances from the tribunal.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has confirmed the RRT handed down the decision last night after an appeal by Mr Wainggai.

“A senior member of the Refugee Review Tribunal has yesterday set aside my department’s decision to refuse Mr Wainggai a protection visa and has remitted this matter for reconsideration with the direction that he is a person to whom Australia has protection obligations under the (UN) refugees’ convention,” she said.

“The RRT is a final, independent merits review body and I am unable to direct its members in their decision making.”

The reasons for the RRT decision are unclear, but it’s possible that the tribunal found Mr Wainggai would face persecution if he was returned to the Indonesian-controlled province of Papua.

Mr Wainggai arrived on a boat on Cape York in January. He has since been held at the immigration detention centre on remote Australian territory of Christmas Island.

An Immigration Department spokesman said a decision on Mr Wainggai’s protection visa was likely within days.

Mr Wainggai would be released into the community on Christmas Island, probably on a bridging visa.

The government denied Mr Wainggai’s application for a protection visa in late May saying that Mr Wainggai, whose mother is Japanese, had not exhausted all avenues to reside elsewhere.

The decision to grant the Papuans visas triggered outrage in Indonesia and sent relations between Canberra and Jakarta to their lowest point since East Timor’s separation in 1999.

Mel Gibson in rehab

Gibson’s drink drive arrest and alleged anti-Semitic and sexist remarks last Friday could cost him more than a few weeks of embarrassment and a place in Hollywood’s hall of shame.


The Australian-raised actor-director’s publicist, Alan Nierob, told AP that Gibson, 50, was in bad shape, adding “the guy is trying to stay alive”.

“He has entered into an ongoing program of recovery,” he said.

Gibson has battled alcoholism for three decades.

Just two years ago, Forbes magazine dubbed Gibson “the most powerful celebrity in the world” following his self-funded $A39 million film The Passion of the Christ earned close to $A1.3 billion in box office, DVD, video and merchandising sales and Gibson collected a large share of the proceeds.

But Gibson’s alleged outburst, which included a comment that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world”, has caused public outrage.

Gibson already had been accused of anti-Semitism in his movie, The Passion of the Christ. For some, his alleged drunken tirade confirmed the allegations were true.

Ari Emanuel, one of the Hollywood’s top agents, called on the entertainment industry to not “idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements”.

“People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line,” said the partner in Beverly Hills-based talent agency Endeavor.

Barbara Walters, one of America’s most respected journalists, announced on US TV today: “I don’t think I want to see any more of Mel Gibson’s movies”.

Gibson has two upcoming projects and now doubt hangs over both.

Apocalypto, a film Gibson directed that is set for release in December, is to be distributed by conservative Hollywood studio, Disney.

Gibson’s other project, a Holocaust TV miniseries about a young Dutch Jew during World War II, most likely will cause a furore if it goes ahead.

Jewish leaders have labelled the project “inappropriate”.

Caught drink driving

Gibson’s woes began at about 2.30am on Friday when Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy James Mee allegedly recorded him driving near his Malibu beachside home at 140 kph, well over the 72 kph speed limit.

A blood-alcohol test recorded a 0.12 per cent reading, exceeding California’s legal limit of 0.08.

Mee’s police report alleged Gibson launched an obscene tirade when he realised he would be arrested. Mee wrote that Gibson attempted to escape arrest by running to his car.

Mee’s report also alleged a three-quarter full 750 ml bottle of Cazadores Tequila was found in Gibson’s Lexus vehicle “within easy reach of Gibson while he had been driving”.

Speaking at his home near Malibu, deputy sheriff Mee, who is Jewish, said he did not want to ruin Gibson’s career.

“I don’t take pride in hurting Mr Gibson,” Mee told AP.

“What I had hoped out of this is that he would think twice before he gets behind the wheel of a car and was drinking.”

It was Mee’s report that included Gibson’s alleged anti-Semitic remarks. It also included the derogatory comment Gibson allegedly made to a female sergeant: “What do you think you’re looking at, sugar tits?”.

Gibson’s mug shot taken after his arrest depicts the actor, dressed in a checked collared shirt, looking into the Sheriff’s camera, a couple of hairs out of place but his famous blue eyes and a slight smirk present.

Suicide bomber claim probe

The government is taking seriously media reports that hundreds of bombers have been dispatched around the world with orders to attack countries that support Israel, such as Britain, the US and Australia.


The plot is believed to be funded in part with cash donations from two unnamed Australian-Indonesian businessman.

“I can tell you that the minister for foreign affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs are investigating what is reported in the papers today and we are treating it very, very seriously,” said Human Services Minister Joe Hockey.

But Australia had been a terror target for some time, he said. “That has no impact in so far as these people have targeted us for a long period of time,” Mr Hockey said.

“You only need to look at Bali and that was before any major escalation of the conflict in Lebanon and Israel. We are a target, we always have been a target and we will be for a very long period of time.”

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said the threat was a new one that warranted concern. “I am concerned that this has sprung up without earlier evidence of action between the (Australian and Indonesian) governments,” he said.

The Asian Muslim Youth Movement (AMYM) claims it has thousands of jihadists who are prepared to join the fight against Israel.

The Australian newspaper reports that about 200 of these supporters will be immediately sent to attack Jewish targets in countries that support Israel.

AMYM leader Suaib Bidu said his group would also be closely monitoring Australia’s reaction towards Israel’s current military occupation in southern Lebanon.

More Australians evacuated

Australian Ambassador to Lebanon, Lyndall Sachs, said the number of Australians registered with the Australian embassy in Beirut had grown to several hundred, prompting the federal government to resume its rescue operation.


Ms Sachs said they had chartered a ship to evacuate citizens who made it from southern Lebanon to Beirut during a lull in fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

But the ferry leaving about 3pm local time (2200 AEST) will probably be the last one chartered by the Australian government.

Thirty Australians who escaped from towns along the Lebanese border with Israel on Tuesday will be leaving on the ferry.

She said there were still many Australians who remained in the country’s south.

“There were a large number of people down south about whom we had very serious concerns, and we still have serious concerns about those people,” Ms Sachs told ABC radio.

“We think that we have around about 170 Australians in the south of Lebanon who have been unable to depart.”

The ferry could be the last vessel chartered by the government, as hostilities intensify in Lebanon after a 48-hour limited reprieve on Israeli air bombardments expires.

Ms Sachs said there were many Australians who had chosen to remain behind in Lebanon because they had no family or support in Australia.

“It is a very difficult and traumatic situation for these people,” she said.

“To up sticks even when it seems very difficult here, and to go back to a country where they may not necessarily have family or community support, can be quite a challenge for them.

“It’s a tough decision for these people to make and I can understand why people have deferred it until it becomes impossible for them to stay.”

Ms Sachs said the rescue operation had been difficult from the start because Australia did not have resources in the area.

“We don’t have the assets in the region that many other countries do,” she said.

“So obviously we weren’t able to gear things up as quickly as countries who do have large military assets in the region were able to do so.”

She said they were also hampered by competition for buses and boats to help evacuate the Australians from the area.

“It was the competition for the scarcest resources, really that was our biggest challenge,” she said.

“Prices skyrocketed … a bus normally costs about $US350 ($A460) to hire and we were quoted prices of up to $US10,000 ($A13,100) a bus.”

Ms Sachs, who took up the role as ambassador three-and-a-half months ago, said the Australian embassy would remain open for as long as it possibly could.

Census crosses new frontiers

The 15th national poll is a chance to quiz Australians on everything, from internet access in their home to religion.


The Census aims to take a “snapshot” of Australia every five years – collecting information on the social, economic and housing characteristics of society.

More than 13 million census forms have been handed out over the past fortnight.

The scope of the survey is vast and does not only include people in mainland Australia.

Hundreds of thousands of forms will be completed from new frontiers.

A special census collector will board Spirit of Tasmania II, which will sail across Bass Strait from Melbourne to Devonport tonight, to distribute census forms to travellers.

Researchers at Australia’s Antarctic bases will fill out their forms online.

The eCensus option will allow the researchers and IT-savvy Australians to submit their survey on the internet for the first time.

National head of the census, Paul Williams said “Testing suggests approximately 10 per cent of the population, or around 800,000 households, will complete their census form online.”

National statistician Dennis Trewin said he was happy, but a little nervous, about how the eCensus will go.

“Even though we’ve tested and re-tested our system and we’ve made sure it’s very, very secure, that is something in the back of my mind,” said Mr Trewin. “But we’re confident it will go according to plan.”

Mr Trewin is urging Australian youth in particular to make sure they are included.

“Young people may not realise that the mere fact of being counted in the Census can make a difference to their lives.”

Collectors will be returning to pick up forms over the next week and failure to take part will attract a penalty of up $110 a day until the census is completed.

Government MPs cross the floor

The MP’s who opposed the legislation were Petro Georgiou, Russell Broadbent and Judy Moylan.


A fourth dissenting Liberal MP, Bruce Baird, appears to have heeded Prime Minister John Howard’s plea to abstain from the vote rather than side with Labor.

Despite the three MP’s opposition to the bill, it passed the lower house and will now go to the Senate where it’s expected the legislation will go to a vote next week.

The government has a slim majority of one in the Senate.

Liberal senator Judith Troeth has signalled that she will follow the lead of Mr Georgiou, Mr Broadbent and Ms Moylan and cross the floor.

The legislation could also face opposition from Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce.

Family First undecided

Meanwhile Family First senator Steve Fielding has emerged from talks with Mr Howard, saying he is still undecided about how he will vote on controversial immigration laws.

Senator Fielding met with Indonesian ambassador Mohammad Hamzah Thayeb in Canberra this morning and said today he and his wife would meet with the Papuan community tomorrow to hear their views, but he still had not made up his mind about whether to support the bill when it reached the Senate.

He also insisted he would not do a deal with the government to secure his vote.

“Family First does not do deals,” Senator Fielding added.

The government drafted the new immigration legislation after Indonesia complained about Australia’s decision to grant asylum to 42 asylum seekers from the contested Papua province earlier this year.

If any two of three senators – Troeth, Joyce and Fielding – voted against the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill in the Senate, the vote would be tied and therefore lost.

This morning, Mr Howard said the government was not contemplating any further amendments to get the legislation through the Senate.

Worst Telstra result in 9 yrs

Australia’s largest telco reported a 26 per cent fall in annual net profit to $3.


181 billion, from $4.31 billion in the previous year.

Chief executive Sol Trujillo said Telstra was “taking the tough medicine” as it makes new investments and provisions as part of a three to five year plan to restructure the group and embed long term value for shareholders.

“We are executing our transformation with a sense of urgency, we have momentum, we are showing results, and the results are promising,” he said.

Revenue fell 2.6 per cent to $22.838 billion, although the company still expects that rate of decline to ease over the next four years.

“As foreshadowed in our plan, we expect revenue growth of between two per cent and 2.5 per cent compounded annually between now and 2010,” Telstra said in a statement.

Full year earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) fell 20.7 per cent to $5.497 billion although the decline was at the better end of telco’s guidance.

Mr Trujillo said EBIT is expected to grow between four to six per cent this year although EBIT excluding transformation costs would be flat to down two per cent.

Telstra incurred significant costs of $1.126 billion during the year, relating to redundancies and the restructuring program announced last year, as pressure on its margins increased.

It also pointed to an accelerating decline in its high margin PSTN or fixed line revenue.

PSTN revenue fell 6.7 per cent to $7.478 billion in the year to June 30, 2006.

But mobiles revenue rose by 6.1 per cent to $4.972 billion, broadband revenues grew 64.5 per cent to $1.191 billion and advertising and directories revenue rose 7.9 per cent to $1.711 billion.

“With our next generation networks, we are putting in place the infrastructure to reduce our reliance on our traditional fixed line revenue streams and to grow our mobiles, internet and other next generation revenues while reducing the costs of operations,” Telstra said.

Telstra maintained its final dividend at 14 cents per share, taking the total dividend for the year to 34 cents, from 40 cents in 2004/05.