Senate to decide asylum fate

Three Liberal Party backbenchers – Petro Georgiou, Russell Broadbent and Judi Moylan – defied Prime Minister John Howard and crossed the floor in the House of Representatives to vote against the hardline policy.


The Liberal Party colleague Bruce Baird abstained from the vote as did National Party MP John Forrest, who subsequently quit his position as the chief Nationals whip because of his decision.

The defiance from the government backbenchers was ultimately fruitless and the bill passed 78 to 62.

But it sets the stage for the Senate debate next week, when at least three crucial votes remain in doubt.

Senate position unclear

Liberal Party senator Judith Troeth openly opposes the government’s plan to send all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat offshore for processing.

She has not committed to crossing the floor, or abstaining, but sat in the public gallery of the House of Representatives to watch her fellow dissidents oppose the bill.

Senator Troeth needs the support of just one coalition colleague or Senator Fielding to tie the vote and have the bill thrown out.

National Party senator Barnaby Joyce has also refused to rule out crossing the floor.

Prime Minister John Howard has held discussions with Senator Fielding, but both were silent on the details of their discussion.

Senator Fielding says he will not sell the government his vote on the bill in exchange for promises on other legislation and policies. “Family First does not do deals,” he told reporters.

He holds a crucial position in the upper house where the government has a majority of one, but he was elected with just 1.9 percent of the primary vote in Victoria on the back of preferences from Labor, the coalition, and minor parties.

He says he has not yet decided how he will vote ahead of a meeting with representatives of the Papuan community, which he will attend with his wife.

He was also given an audience with Indonesian ambassador Mohammad Hamzah Thayeb.

Indonesia has been pushing hard to have the new legislation brought in because of the influx to Australia of asylum seekers from the Indonesian province of West Papua.

The government’s policy shift in April followed a diplomatic row with Indonesia when Australia granted 42 Papuans asylum.

Ceasefire swings into force

It’s the first step in a process that includes the deployment of a 15 thousand strong UN force.


But just before the truce took effect Israeli warplanes struck a Hezbollah stronghold in eastern Lebanon and a Palestinian refugee camp killing one person.

The truce, follows a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to hostilities, which was passed unanimously on Friday after weeks of diplomatic wrangling.

However, it is a fragile ceasefire with the Israeli army saying it will continue to maintain an air and sea blockade of Lebanon until there is a system to prevent weapons reaching Hezbollah guerrillas.

Israel has also said its troops would return fire if they came under attack.

Just hours after the ceasefire the first casualty – a Hezbollah fighter was killed in southern Lebanon in clashes with Israeli troops.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese government, although approving the ceasefire resolution, has postponed indefinitely a meeting on disarming Hezbollah.

Hours earlier

Just hours before the ceasefire Israel launched an 11th hour bid to crush Hezbollah with waves of deadly air strikes while Shiite fighters unleashed a barrage of rockets.

More than 30 Lebanese civilians were killed as warplanes kept up their deadly bombing while five Israeli soldiers were also killed in action.

UN-Lebanese force

Mark Malloch Brown, the UN’s Deputy Secretary General, said it might take a month before a joint UN-Lebanese force was fully in place.

“It’s going to be weeks, not days and may even, before you hit the full total, be a month or so,” he told the BBC.

Israel meanwhile has urged the world to apply the UN resolution firmly, warning that Hezbollah must be dismantled and the Lebanese army quickly deployed in the south.


Israeli air strikes continued until minutes before the truce began.

In one of the deadliest raids over the weekend, at least 10 people were killed and 20 wounded by Israeli air strikes that hit eight buildings and a mosque in Beirut’s southern suburbs, emergency services said.

Israel’s army estimates it’s killed 530 Hezbollah guerrillas during one month of fighting in Lebanon and has released the names of 180 whose deaths it says have been verified.

However, Hezbollah has acknowledged only a few dozen dead during the conflict.

Peace activist’s son killed

Meanwhile the Israeli army said that Uri Grossman, the son of prominent Israeli author David Grossman, was among the 24 Israeli soldiers killed in combat on Saturday, just days after his father urged his government to reach a truce.

It was the highest single-day toll since the war began on July 12.

UN resolution

The UN resolution, unanimously adopted Friday by the Security Council, calls for a full cessation of hostilities and the deployment of a 15,000-strong international force in southern Lebanon.

Morocco, Indonesia, Italy, Turkey, Spain and Malaysia have already agreed to send troops to bolster the UN force there but Australia is still to make a decision on whether to take part.

The UN resolution also calls for the release of the two captive Israeli soldiers whose seizure on July 12 triggered the conflict, and for a solution to the issue of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.

While approving the resolution, the Lebanese cabinet expressed reservations that it did not go far enough in condemning the large-scale Israeli destruction and that it failed to address the issue of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa farms.

September election for Qld

Mr Beattie, who has been premier since 1998, said he would have preferred to wait until February to hold the election, but that the pending retirement of an MP due to ill-health meant his government would have had to face either a by-election or call a statewide poll.


He said he had chosen the latter because it was in the best interests of the state, not the interests of his party, “The timing of this general election couldn’t be worse for the government.”

The Labor government holds a 16 seat majority in Queensland’s 89 seat parliament, but it has battled controversies recently, including a crisis in the public hospital system and the dwindling supply of water.

An opinion poll published last weekend gave the Nationals-Liberal coalition a two percentage point lead over Labor on primary votes. Labor has lost three seats in by- elections over the last 12 months.


Mr Beattie said he would he would remain leader of the Labor party only if he won this election.

“I will remain as leader of the party as long as my party wants me to… If we lost, I wouldn’t remain as leader,” he told a news conference.

Mr Beattie also took a swipe at his opposition – the National and Liberal parties, saying its leadership is weak. “If you look at the alternatives, they do not have the unity to provide any certainty and they will not be able to deliver their policies because they will be fighting one another.

“You all know, because you have covered the elections, they actually hate one another more than they hate us,” he told reporters at the conference.

Coalition leaders

Meanwhile, Queensland’s coalition leaders have refused to spell out who would become premier if Labor is ousted at the poll if the Liberals take more seats than the Nationals.

The National Party is the traditional senior party of the coalition in Queensland – they currently have 16 MPs to the Liberals seven.

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg confirmed that if the Nationals remained dominant, he would be premier in a coalition government but when asked would not go into detail about what would happen if more Liberals than Nationals were elected.

“Internal working issues between two parties are always matters that are internal working issues,” Mr Springborg told reporters.

Liberal leader Dr Bruce Flegg, who took the leadership only last week declared that the coalition’s position was clear.

“Lawrence is the leader of the coalition and the alternative premier,” Dr Flegg said.

Mr Springborg said the election was about leadership, “Leadership is about running on your record – it’s not about running away from your record.”

“This government is running away from its record on health .. water and roads.”

The coalition has also promised to deliver four new dams within 12 months if it wins the election, using state owned land to speed up the process, instead of the Beattie government’s proposed two new dams which are being held up by environmental concerns.

Tributes for Vietnam veterans

Today is the 40th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan in which 108 Australian soldiers fought a Viet Cong force that outnumbered them 10 to one.


The battle, in torrential rain in a rubber plantation south east of Saigon, left 18 Australians dead and 24 wounded.

August 18 is now Australia’s annual Vietnam Veterans Day.

‘Best characteristics of soldiers’

Mr Jeffrey, himself a veteran of the war, told a service at the Australian War Memorial that Long Tan displayed the best characteristics of Australian soldiers.

“This epic struggle reinforced traits for which Australian soldiers have become world-renowned – courage and determination, mateship and teamwork, leadership and tenacity, compassion and humour,” he said.

“It further reinforced our international reputation as a skilled exponent of the profession of arms.”

‘Inadequate recognition’

In parliament yesterday, Prime Minister John Howard said Australia had “collectively failed” to give adequate recognition to the 50,000 Australians who fought in the unpopular war.

Later today, at the main Vietnam Veterans Day commemorative service at the Vietnam War Memorial in Canberra, Mr Howard drew parallels between Long Tan and the western front battle of Fromelles 90 years ago which claimed 5,500 Australian casualties.

Mr Howard told the service he recognised the psychological strain suffered by many Vietnam veterans from an unpopular war.

Earlier, former defence force chief Peter Cosgrove told the Nine network that Australian society had failed to address the feelings of isolation and alienation suffered by thousands of Vietnam veterans.

General Cosgrove, who was a platoon commander in Vietnam, says the failure of society to recognise the psychological effects of the veterans’ public vilification for fighting an unpopular war had to be addressed.

‘Country’s shame’

Mr Jeffrey said it was “to our country’s shame” that it did not recognise its Vietnam veterans until the national welcome home parade in 1987.

“We honour those who did not return and those who returned hurt in body or mind,” he said. “None should ever be forgotten. None will be forgotten, nor indeed will the families and loved ones who supported us.”

The Governor-General told the hundreds of veterans who attended the war memorial they should be proud of their service.

“Be proud of what you achieved and hold your heads high in the knowledge that you were the equal of the very best that ever went away to serve our nation, from the Boer War to the present day, and that you did indeed make a difference,” Mr Jeffrey said.

“Let us never forget.”

Stem cell comments draw ire

Health Minister Tony Abbott, a strong opponent of so-called therapeutic cloning, yesterday accused scientists of peddling false hope to sufferers of chronic diseases without offering convincing evidence.


They were some of Mr Abbott’s strongest comments on the issue as MPs head towards a conscience vote on overturning the four-year-old ban on therapeutic cloning – the creation of embryos to produce stem cells.

West Australian Liberal MP Mal Washer, a former GP, said Mr Abbott had done himself a disservice.

“There’s a lot of inaccuracies, misinformation and the usual hysteria you get generated against something that’s pretty simple,” Dr Washer told ABC radio.

“I think if you don’t have a reasonable argument, you tend to run to the irrational and hysteria and the scare tactics.”

Mr Washer also described Mr Abbott’s warning of the creation of possible human-animal hybrids as “sensationalist”.

Meanwhile Professor Ian Frazer, who was named 2006 Australian of the Year for developing a vaccine for cervical cancer, said while he advocated an overturning of the ban, the health minister was entitled to his opinion.

Professor Frazer told Southern Cross Broadcasting: “I think that one of the problems with scientists is that you spend a lot of time basically peddling hope because once you know the thing works you don’t bother to go out there to try and promote it any more, you get out there and use it,” he said.

“While we’re still trying to find out what stem cells can be used for then clearly we have to go out there and talk about the potential of the research work, otherwise we won’t get any funding.”

Abbott entitled to view: Howard

Prime Minister John Howard has refused to condemn Mr Abbott’s comments, insisting he had the right to express his views, telling ABC radio: “It is right to have a free vote and Tony Abbott should not be restricted in what he says just because he’s the health minister”.

“What happens in these debates is that you do tend to look at them through the prism of your own prejudices and you do tend to see a strong expression of the opposite view as being ill-tempered and that moderate views are those that accord with your own,” he said.

“That’s the nature of these debates, but I’m quite sure the Liberal Party, in it’s normal, mature fashion, will have an open debate on this and there’ll be a range of views, they’ll be put passionately.”

Accusations of facts being distorted would happen on both sides of the argument, Mr Howard said.

Mr Howard said he had yet to make up his mind on the issue and acknowledged concerns about Mr Abbott’s views.

Cabinet rejected an expert committee’s recommendation to overturn the ban on therapeutic cloning in June, but Mr Howard bowed to backbench pressure and promised his MPs a conscience vote a week ago.

Two senators are preparing private members’ bills that aim to end the ban on therapeutic cloning – Democrat Natasha Stott Despoja and Liberal Kay Patterson, a former health minister.

Ford fans will follow drivers: V8 boss

Ford drivers may lose their factory backing but they can still expect plenty of fan support, V8 Supercars boss James Warburton says.


There were fears of a fan backlash after Ford confirmed they would not support the category from 2016 just days before the season finale in Sydney.

While saddened by the news, Warburton believed Ford fans would simply follow drivers in the wake of the manufacturer’s withdrawal.

He said leading Ford driver Mark Winterbottom – who sits second in the championship standings – was a classic example of someone Blue Oval fans would support regardless of the car he drove.

“You’ve got to remember the drivers, they are the stars – they’ve got big personalities,” he told Fox Sports.

“Mark Winterbottom has an enormous amount of fans.

“People love Frosty.

“So what will he drive in the future? I imagine the fans would go with that.”

The writing was on the wall for Ford’s withdrawal after the manufacturer revealed plans in 2013 to close its Australian plants by October 2016 and cease production of its Falcon.

Still, Blue Oval fans vented their spleen on social media once the news became official on Monday.

Ford Performance Racing (FPR) is the only factory-backed team while the manufacturer also assists Dick Johnson Racing (DJR) on a parts supply agreement.

Six Ford Falcons will contest the 2015 season – FPR’s four entries plus single vehicles from Super Black Racing and DJR Team Penske featuring two-time series champion Marcos Ambrose.

“It would be nice to know if it was about how we performed on track but unfortunately it is a business decision away from the track that has made them head down this route,” CEO of FPR – winner of the last two Bathurst 1000 races – Tim Edwards said.

It is believed Ford’s financial support will be so minimal next year that FPR may revert back to their legal name – Prodrive Racing Australia.

“The motoring industry is going through a pretty traumatic time, and you have to move with the times,” Warburton said.

“Ford’s market share is not great. It’s the lowest sales year they have ever had on record.

“I don’t think this will help their sales. It certainly won’t from the V8 Supercars’ point of view.”

V8 Supercars hope to soon reveal new rules for the 2017 season that they hope will encourage support from other manufacturers, potentially opening up the category to two-door cars and engines other than V8s.

“There are two or three in particular we would encourage to come into the sport and that’s where our focus has got to be,” Warburton said.

HK protest founders urge retreat

The three original founders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy movement have tearfully announced they would “surrender” by turning themselves in to police and urged protesters still on the streets to retreat.


The announcement came on Tuesday after hundreds of pro-democracy protesters clashed with police late on Sunday, leaving dozens injured in one of the worst nights of violence since rallies began over two months ago.

“As we prepare to surrender, we three urge the students to retreat – to put down deep roots in the community and transform the movement,” said Occupy Central leader Benny Tai.

Tai said the trio would surrender to police on Wednesday in a commitment to the rule of law and “the principle of peace and love”.

“Surrendering is not an act of cowardice, it is the courage to act on a promise. To surrender is not to fail, it is a silent denunciation of a heartless government,” Tai said.

He praised the bravery of frontline occupiers and criticised the police as “out of control”, saying it was time for protesters to leave “this dangerous place”.

Academics Tai and Chan Kin-man, and Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming founded the Occupy Central civil disobedience group in early 2013 to push for political reforms, but have increasingly taken a back seat as more radical student groups came to the fore.

It was not immediately clear how they would respond to Tai’s appeal.

Teenage poster-child of the movement Joshua Wong and two other student leaders went on hunger strike late on Monday in a last-ditch attempt to force the government’s hand.

“Our young people have used their bodies to withstand the blows of police batons, their blood and broken bones have brought us the deepest sorrow,” Tai said.

“We respect the students’ and citizens’ determination to fight for democracy, and we are furious at the government’s heartless indifference.”

While there is no specific warrant out for the founders’ arrest, Hong Kong and Chinese authorities have consistently slammed the protests as illegal.

Tai said he did not know how police would respond to their surrender, but the three were prepared for any consequences.

He said the Occupy movement would now take a different direction to promote the civil disobedience movement, including through education and a new social charter.

Student-led demonstrators are demanding free leadership elections for the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Their main protest camp blocks a long stretch of a multi-lane highway in Admiralty district in central Hong Kong.

China’s communist authorities insist that candidates for the 2017 vote must be vetted by a loyalist committee, which the protesters say will ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.

“We are hoping that after the hunger strike we have a chance to speak with government officials openly – then there will be a chance to solve this Hong Kong problem,” 18-year-old Wong told reporters.

The city’s embattled leader Leung Chun-ying – whose resignation is demanded by protesters – urged the students on Tuesday to look after themselves.

“I hope the students that are participating in the hunger strike can take care of their health, especially when the weather is getting colder,” he told reporters

Talks between demonstrators and the Hong Kong government in October ended in an impasse, with protest leaders saying authorities had little to offer.

Three student leaders were denied permission to board a flight to Beijing last month where they hoped to bring their demands for free elections to Chinese authorities.

Violent clashes broke out Sunday night in a fresh escalation of tensions, with officers firing pepper spray at angry students trying to surround government headquarters.

A court has approved an injunction to clear part of the Admiralty site, but an appeal against it was being heard Tuesday.

“At this point, we won’t decide on whether to retreat or not,” Wong said on Tuesday.

Twitter to make it easier to report abuse

Twitter is trying to make it easier for victims and witnesses to report online harassment.


The short messaging service says new tools will roll out to users over the coming weeks. They are available now for a small group of Twitter’s 284 million members.

Among changes, the updates streamline the process for reporting abuse, especially on mobile devices.

Twitter says it also made “behind-the-scenes improvements” that speed up response times to reported tweets and accounts.

Recently, an online campaign dubbed GamerGate has led to the harassment of women in the video game industry for criticising the lack of diversity and how women are portrayed in gaming.

“We are nowhere near being done making changes in this area,” wrote Shreyas Doshi, director of product management and user safety, in a blog post.

“In the coming months, you can expect to see additional user controls, further improvements to reporting and new enforcement procedures for abusive accounts.”

That said, it is unlikely that the improvements will put an end to harassment on Twitter.

While users can block accounts, and Twitter can delete them, there is nothing stopping bullies from setting up new accounts under different names.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly three-quarters of American adults who use the internet have witnessed online harassment.

Forty per cent have experienced it themselves.

The types of harassment ranged from name-calling to physical threats, sexual harassment and stalking.

Half of those who were harassed said they didn’t know the person who had most recently attacked them.

Hughes family bracing for tough day

Phillip Hughes’ manager says his family are bracing for a tough day.


The young cricketer will be farewelled in his home town of Macksville, on the NSW mid-north coast, on Wednesday at a funeral to be attended by thousands of people, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

“Today is going to be a really tough day for the family, there is no doubt about that,” James Henderson told the Nine Network.

“The cricket community … will put their arms around the family and help them through.”

Mr Henderson said Hughes was a “no fuss sort of guy”.

However, the level of public warmth toward him said a lot about the person he was.

“For the family and the extended family and the community here in Macksville and the cricket community who did know him, he was a special, special person,” Mr Henderson said.

Organisers had kept about 80 per cent of the seats at the funeral open for Macksville residents.

The small town is expected to shut down for the service starting at 2pm at the Macksville Recreation Centre, which is expected to cram in 700 people.

Thousands are expected to pay tribute to the 25-year-old batsman by watching the funeral from overflow areas at a nearby sports field.

Hughes died last week, aged 25, after being hit in the head by a bouncer in a Sheffield Shield match in Sydney.

While the focus will be on Macksville, the funeral will be broadcast to the public at the SCG, Melbourne’s Federation Square, the Gabba and Brisbane’s Southbank, the WACA, the Adelaide Oval and Bellerive Oval and on national television networks.

“There is not one Australian today who can’t join the family here in Macksville,” Mr Henderson said.

Concordia skipper admits showing off

Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino has told a court that he was showing off when he steered the cruise ship onto rocks off the Italian island of Giglio.


But he denied that the person he was most trying to impress was a blonde Moldovan dancer nearly 20 years his junior who was with him on the bridge at the time of the January 2012 disaster, which left 32 passengers and crew dead.

Testifying on Tuesday for the first time in his trial for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship, Schettino presented himself as a captain who had been badly briefed by his crew about the disastrous route the 115,000-tonne vessel was fixed on when he returned to the bridge after dinner.

On the sidelines of the hearing, prosecutor Francesco Verusio revealed he was planning to request a 20-year prison term for the captain.

Schettino, 54, told the court that it was normal “commercial” practice to navigate close to the coast to impress passengers.

On this occasion, he also wanted to “salute” a retired colleague living on Giglio and the ship’s head waiter, who came from the island.

“I was trying to catch three pigeons with one bean,” Schettino, said, using an Italian expression that translates as “killing three birds with one stone”.

The captain denied taking a reckless risk to impress Domnica Cemortan, with whom he had just dined.

An employee of Costa, the Moldovan dancer was on the ship as an unauthorised passenger.

Schettino’s reputation as “Captain Coward” is largely based on his conduct after the crash.

Only 29 minutes after he had given the order to passengers and crew to evacuate, Schettino himself left the vessel with hundreds of those onboard still unaccounted for.