Better to assess first than act: inquest

The first high-ranking police officer to take charge at the Lindt Cafe siege has told an inquest it was important to assess the situation before entering the building.

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NSW police Assistant Commissioner Michael Fuller was in command from 9.50am to 12.10pm on the morning of the siege, on December 15, 2014, and has told the coronial inquest into the matter that he initially ordered a “contain and negotiate” response.

“There was no active shooter,” Mr Fuller said on Tuesday while describing the incident’s early moments.

At this stage police were uncertain about how many captives were inside and would not have stormed the building unless hostage taker Man Haron Monis had started shooting, he said.

“There was no information to suggest there is any immediate threat in that environment to any of the hostages,” he said.

“There was an enormous amount we needed to know.”

Mr Fuller said he had dealt with countless sieges in the past, usually about one a month resulting from botched crimes or troubled domestic situations.

“Contain and negotiate has been a resolution where no one has lost their lives,” he said.

While in charge Mr Fuller was able to assemble and dispatch teams to deal with three bomb threats Monis had made.

Nothing was found at Circular Quay, the Seven Network headquarters or at George Street – the locations at which Monis had said there were explosives stashed.

But, Mr Fuller said, police were still uncertain whether Monis had a bomb in his backpack.

“He had a real firearm, he’s taken hostages, he’s gone to these lengths, it’s not unreasonable to think that he has an explosive device on him,” he said.

The siege reached its deadly conclusion after 17 hours when officers stormed the Martin Place building following Monis’s point blank murder of Tori Johnson.

Monis was gunned down and barrister Katrina Dawson also died after being hit by shrapnel from police rounds, fired as they entered the cafe.

Mr Fuller will continue evidence on Tuesday afternoon.

US journalist barred from entering Turkey

An American reporter living and working in Turkey has been barred from re-entering the country and forced to fly home in the latest incident in which a foreign journalist has been denied entry or accreditation.

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Freelance correspondent David Lepeska, who wrote for the Guardian, Al Jazeera, Foreign Affairs and others, told Reuters on Monday that immigration officers at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport informed him an “entry ban” had been placed on his visa.

It was not immediately clear why Lepeska, 42, had been denied entry but he is the latest journalist to be stopped at the border, heightening international concern about Turkey’s record on press freedom.

A senior Turkish government official told Reuters that Lepeska did not have a press card or a press visa and was not employed by a media company.

“Individuals who go through the proper legal channels do not face similar problems,” the official said, adding that the case was not a matter of press freedom but of legal procedure.

After waiting for clearance for 20 hours, Lepeska was given the option of either returning to Italy, from where he had arrived, or flying to the United States, he said in a statement.

Lepeska’s ban comes amid heightened sensitivity towards coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis and security operations against Kurdish militants.

A German public television journalist and a Russian news agency representative were both turned away this month, and Turkish media reports quoted a Greek photographer working for a German newspaper as saying he was refused entry at Istanbul airport on Saturday.

On Sunday, a prominent Dutch journalist who has criticised President Tayyip Erdogan was briefly detained.

In February, Norway’s Aftenpost said Turkey had refused to accredit its correspondent. Der Spiegel of Germany withdrew its correspondent in March when his accreditation was denied.

NATO member and European Union hopeful Turkey ranks 151st out of 180 nations in Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Foreign media outlets in Turkey have generally been spared the pressure faced by some local press, which have seen journalists prosecuted, as well as newspapers seized or closed in recent months and broadcasters taken off air.

The government has repeatedly denied muzzling the press, saying that no media workers are prosecuted for their journalistic work and that such cases are part of efforts to weed out support for illegal militant groups.

Grattan Institute dismisses government’s negative gearing claims

When the Turnbull government argues that tax offsets allowed though negative gearing are best international practice, it’s not actually true.

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According to the Grattan Institute, overseas best practice does not allow losses from negatively geared assets to offset salary income.

Head of the think tank John Daley says Australia’s version of negative gearing, along with the 50 per cent capital gains tax discount, costs the public purse $11 billion a year.

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In a new analysis released on Monday, the institute makes proposals to halve that cost – a phased winding back of the CGT discount and negative gearing over a 10-year period, raising $5.3 billion in additional revenue each year.

He said people are being overly compensated for inflation with the 50 per cent CGT discount and a reduction to 25 per cent in stages would raise $3.7 billion a year.

Limiting the losses from negative gearing to offset gains from other investments and not wages, would raise $2 billion a year in the short term, falling to $1.6 billion when the change is fully implemented.

He believes these proposed changes will improve housing affordability a little, with house prices easing by no more than two per cent.

Rents wouldn’t change much, nor would the rate of new development.

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As negative gearing stands, it substantially increases borrowing by investors – which is one of the reasons the Reserve Bank doesn’t like it very much – and it results in less owner-occupied housing and more investor housing.

“It is unclear why we would want to encourage that,” Mr Daley told AAP.

He believes Labor’s proposal to limit negative gearing to new property while allowing people already holding negatively geared properties to continue – so-called grandfathering – will just add to distortions and complexities in the tax system.

But he is pleased that one side of politics is prepared to talk about changing negative gearing.

“I am pleasantly surprised that a political party in Australia has had the courage to have a go at negative gearing,” he said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ruled out any changes to negative gearing as part of the government’s tax reform package to be released with the May 3 budget.

Forgotten victims of World War One lying in unmarked graves

As Australia marks Anzac Day, many of those who fought in what is known as the Great War, World War One, are forgotten and buried in unmarked graves around the country.

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A federal government promise to honour veterans who survived the war but died within a few years of returning to Australia was broken.

In one Queensland rural cemetery, there are thought to be at least a dozen such soldiers.

Dawn breaks over the rambling cemetery in Longreach, central-western Queensland, and yet another year passes for Australia’s forgotten war dead.

This is the last resting place of Gallipoli veteran Private Leo Daniel Dyball.

There is a sandstone edging but no headstone, no name, on his grave.

Gassed on the battlefields of France in the First World War, Private Dyball died three months after returning home in 1918.

Local historian Kaye Kuhn has spent four years researching the soldiers of the unmarked graves in Longreach.

“The dead don’t die until they’re forgotten. Well, these guys well and truly died, and they’ve been well and truly forgotten for so long. So let’s start to remember them.”

Across the cemetery are more unmarked graves.

Most are just a pile of rocks identifiable as a grave because of a rusty iron peg.

It troubles Kaye Kuhn.

“World War One is just so quiet. There’s just no recognition. They didn’t want the recognition back then, and I guess that’s how it goes. Whereas, the World War Two guys, because of the Anzac parades and there’s been more hype about it after that, their service has been acknowledged.”

Private James Patrick Clancey served in France, and his obituary in the local paper in 1923 said he died of the “effects of having been gassed whilst on active service.”

The grave peg is simply marked “C” for Catholic, plot number “505.”

Kaye Kuhn says it was a common end.

“We’ve got about 628 unmarked graves, and, of those, there’d be a couple of dozen World War One veterans.”

Across Australia, in rural graveyards, it is a similar story.

And there is also a broken promise.

After the so-called Great War, the Australian government promised ex-soldiers would receive headstones.

They did not, and the RSL back then accused the government of what it called “sordid” and “callous” indifference to the grave issue.

Today, Stewart Cameron is president of the Queensland Returned Services League.

“If we went back to the 1920s, and I was in the position I am in now, I would be probably very frustrated, because the government of the day wasn’t actually doing a lot. Well, that’s fine. Let’s move forward to today. Let’s do something.”

Some soldiers do have official graves.

The Office of Australian War Graves says memorials can still be requested from the Department of Veterans Affairs if there is enough evidence.

Stewart Cameron says the RSL now will set things right in Longreach.

“One of the requirements of the League is, where we become aware of unmarked graves of those men and women who have served their country, we have an obligation to make sure that those graves are marked accordingly.”

 

 

Prince Harry leads UK Anzac commemorations

London has marked a century of Anzac Day commemorations with Prince Harry leading tributes that began at dawn.

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He laid a wreath at Wellington Arch on Monday as the sun rose in front of gathered expatriate and visiting New Zealanders and Australians.

Thousands of people waited in the cold and dark before the start of proceedings at Hyde Park corner, which featured hymns, prayers and readings from various dignitaries.

“When we reflect on Anzac Day we imagine the Gallipoli landings, what it must have been like, at dawn on the water, in sight of that rugged shoreline – and a collectively held breath, a leaden silence about to be broken, said Alexander Downer, Australian high commissioner to the UK, addressing the crowds.

“We consider the enthusiasm, the courage, and the heroism of the Anzac troops – ordinary men fighting for God, King and empire, for their mates, for adventure, for a world without war.”

Anzac Day has been commemorated in the capital since the first anniversary of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli in 1916, when King George V attended a service at Westminster Abbey.

Since then, the services have become an important moment for thousands of New Zealanders and Australians, who honour the sacrifices of their countrymen and women in all wars.

The day’s events concluded at the historic church with a commemoration and thanksgiving service.

It was led by the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, the Dean of Westminster, and incorporated an Act of Remembrance and a reading of Kemal Ataturk’s words from Anzac Cove by the Turkish Ambassador to the UK, Abdurrahman Bilgic.

Harry sat at the front of the abbey, listening to the readings and in participating in the hymns and prayers.

Earlier he attended a ceremony at the Cenotaph, where he laid a wreath on behalf of the Queen.

Up to 400 people took part in the parade, including members of veterans’ associations, service and ex-service personnel and their families.

Crowds lined the streets to watch the ceremony which and fell silent to mark one minute of silence after the Last Post was sounded.

Schoolchildren from Australia and New Zealand read prayers at each service, and the national anthems of the UK, Australia and New Zealand were also featured.

PM rejects think-tank on negative gearing

From the prime minister down, the Turnbull government is still insisting tax breaks for property investors don’t just benefit the wealthy.

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An analysis by the Grattan Institute shows the top 10 per cent of income earners receive almost 50 per cent of the tax benefits of negative gearing.

Malcolm Turnbull was quick to dismiss the analysis, saying it was littered with factually-incorrect statements.

“Its economic analysis in many places leaves a lot to be desired,” the prime minister wrote in a blog on his website on Tuesday.

Mr Turnbull argues limiting negative gearing to newly-constructed homes – as Labor is proposing – will reduce investor demand and lower property prices.

Treasurer Scott Morrison also rejects the institute’s findings, citing figures that showed two-out-of-three Australians who used the tax break had a taxable income of $80,000 or less.

“I know it’s the popular consensus among some … that this is some big rort for big high-income earners. That’s a complete and utter myth,” he told ABC radio.

Grattan Institute chief executive John Daley says Australia’s version of negative gearing, with the 50 per cent capital gains tax discount, costs the public purse $11 billion a year.

That could be cut in half through a phased winding back of the capital gains discount and negative gearing over a 10-year period, raising $5.3 billion in additional revenue each year.

Mr Daley said people were being overly compensated for inflation with the 50 per cent CGT discount and a reduction to 25 per cent in stages would raise $3.7 billion a year.

Limiting the losses from negative gearing to offset gains from other investments and not wages, would raise $2 billion a year in the short term, falling to $1.6 billion when the change is fully implemented.

The proposed changes would improve housing affordability a little, with house prices easing by no more than two per cent and rents not changing much, Mr Daly said.

He thinks Labor’s proposal to limit negative gearing to new property while allowing people already holding negatively-geared properties to continue – so-called grandfathering – will just add to distortions and complexities in the tax system.

But he is pleased that one side of politics is prepared to talk about changing negative gearing.

“I am pleasantly surprised that a political party in Australia has had the courage to have a go at negative gearing,” he told AAP.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen can’t believe the government is still denying negative gearing benefits high-income earners.

“They are squibbing it and engaging in cheap, dirty, Tony Abbott-style scare campaigns at the expense of good policy,” he told Sky News.

The coalition has ruled out any changes to negative gearing as part of the government’s tax reform package to be released with next Tuesday’s budget.

Australian police to investigate submarine tender leak: reports

It is the second leak from within the military acquisition project which has come down to a race between bids from French, German and Japanese companies for an A$50 billion contract to build 12 submarines.

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Australia’s Federal Police confirmed in a statement to the ABC that they had been asked to investigate, the broadcaster said.

Police spokesmen were not available for comment.

The investigation follows an ABC report earlier in the week that said the Japanese bid had been “all but eliminated” from the tender process.

No official announcement on the outcome of the tender has been made.

A final decision had been expected at the end of the year but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s recent gamble on a July 2 election has sped up the process and a winner is now expected to be announced by the end of the month.

The contract is politically sensitive as it will likely have an impact on thousands of jobs in the shipbuilding industry in South Australia state. Retaining votes in key electorates in that state will be critical for the government.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries are offering to build a variant of Japan’s Soryu submarine.

Germany’s ThyssenKrupp AG’s is proposing to scale up its 2000-tonne Type 214 class submarine.

France’s state-controlled naval contractor DCNS has proposed a diesel-electric version of its 5000-tonne Barracuda nuclear-powered submarine.

America’s Raytheon Co, which built the system for Australia’s current Collins-class boats, is vying for a separate

contract for a combat system for the submarine with Lockheed Martin Corp, which supplies combat systems to the US Navy’s submarine fleet.

70 years of the International Court of Justice

Seventy years ago, the International Court of Justice began its work of resolving international disputes in a bid to help maintain global peace and security.

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It has heard some of history’s most contentious international disagreements, some involving Australia.

The atrocities and devastation that formed the aftermath of World War Two cannot be understated.

More than 60 million people were believed dead, and cities and towns had turned to rubble in the second global conflagration in just over two decades.

It was that context that spurred the establishment of the United Nations and its judicial arm, the International Court of Justice.

It was a simple idea, an international court to arbitrate international disputes.

Philippe Couvreur, a registrar for the court, is currently serving his third seven-year term.

He started his career at the court in 1982 and says a lot has changed since then.

“The typology of cases has evolved. Originally, the court was busy with land- or maritime-boundary issues. These are very important issues to prevent conflict. But as from the ’80s, it has been called upon to deal with disputes which were politically, let’s say, more important, cases concerning the use of force between states, so the activity of the court has adapted itself to the evolution of international relations.”

Between 1946 and 2000, the court issued about 70 rulings.

It does not sound like much, but consider the way the court operates.

Member states must approach the International Court of Justice themselves for it to adjudicate disputes.

In other words, states must agree to appear before it and be bound by its decisions.

It is one of main criticisms of the court and, some say, poses a challenge to its pursuit of justice.

But Mr Couvreur says it is also an important aspect.

“It’s very important states are free to choose the way they want to solve their disputes. The obligation is on the two to settle the cases peacefully, but then that the means are in free choice of states, and only if they choose the courts can the court act. Now to say that the court was not successful is certainly not correct, because, when the court is seized, it settles the dispute efficiently. Almost none of the judgments of the court in 70 years was not immediately implemented.”

Australian National University international law lecturer Kevin Boreham says more states should be encouraged to agree to the court’s jurisdiction.

“The greatest way of expanding the court’s jursdiction would be to encourage states to adhere to what’s called the court’s compulsory jurisdiction. That’s a slightly misleading term, because, in fact, it’s optional. Unfortunately, there are only 65 states which have done that, less than a third of the states which are members of the United Nations. So a strong push to get more states to agree to accept the court’s compulsory jurisdiction would mean that the court would be able to deal with a much wider range of cases.”

Recent contentious cases convening at The Hague include one between Croatia and Serbia.

Croatia contended Serbia was responsible for breaches of the Genocide Convention in Croatia between 1991 and 1995.

Serbia claimed Croatia was responsible for genocide in 1995.

The president of the International Court of Justice, Peter Tomka, said crimes had been committed by both countries’ forces during the conflict.

But he said the intent to commit genocide, by destroying a population in whole or in part, had not been proven against either country.

“The court considers that, even taken together and interpreted in light of the contemporaries over a political and military context, the passages from the Briony transcript quoted by Serbia, like the rest of the document, do not establish the existence of the specific intent ‘Dolus Specialis’ which characterises genocide.”

In 2014, Australia brought a case about whaling in the Antarctic before the court.

Australia claimed Japan was using a scientific-research program to mask a commercial-whaling venture.

The court ruled against Japan.

Justice Tomka again made the announcement.

“The court concludes that the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales, in connection with JARPA II, are not for purposes of scientific research. The Japanese priority was to maintain whaling operations without any pause, just as it had done previously by commencing JARPA in the first year after the commercial whaling moratorium had come into effect.”

Mr Boreham says the International Court of Justice has generally been a useful body for Australia in settling disputes.

“Australia has found the court a useful instrument. Having a body which can interpret and apply the rules is a vital part of an international system which goes in a predictable way through a predictable set of rules.”

The court has heard more cases in the past 20 years than it did in its first 50.

Despite some criticisms of the court, registrar Philippe Couvreur says he expects states will continue to use it to resolve international disputes peacefully.

“There is a strong confidence of states in this court as a principal organ of the UN for several reasons — the security and the predictability it offers to states, in particular. It is permanent, it is fair, it has a long jurisprudence. All those elements make that … at the end of the day, there is here a certain legal security which is attractive to states, I think.”

 

Bali prosecutors push for jail for WA man

Indonesian prosecutors are pushing for an Australian man accused of kicking and stomping on a Bali nightclub manager to be jailed for one and a half years.

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Scott Dobson from Western Australia was arrested over the alleged attack in Kuta on September 27, 2013 and has been housed in Bali’s notorious Kerobokan prison throughout his trial.

He has been charged with openly committing violence against persons or property and maltreatment – offences that carry a maximum penalty of nine years.

But on Monday prosecutors asked Denpasar District Court to sentence him to one and a half years.

While Gusti Ayu Fitria described Dobson’s refusal to “admit” what he had done as an “incriminating factor”, she said he had “behaved politely during trial and has never been punished before”.

“During the trial, there’s no justification or reason which may eliminate the defendant’s mistake and with that, the defendant must be punished in accordance to what he did,” she added.

Prosecutors claim he and his friends – who remain on police’s ‘wanted list’ – attacked Canadian manager, Kenneth Wickes, of the popular night spot Sky Garden after a dispute about their drinks bill.

Mr Wickes has said he was pushed, kicked and stomped on by Dobson.

But 53-year-old Dobson has denied this, saying he only pushed him and tried to stop others carrying out the rest of the attack.

Dobson said he later tried to “negotiate” with Mr Wickes by offering to pay around 80 million rupiah (A$7,888) towards his dental bill.

His defence team will respond to prosecutors later this week.

SWIFT bank network ‘cyber fraud incidents’

SWIFT, the global financial network that banks use to transfer billions of dollars every day, has warned its customers that it is aware of “a number of recent cyber incidents” where attackers had sent fraudulent messages over its system.

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The disclosure comes as law enforcement authorities in Bangladesh and elsewhere continued to investigate the February cyber theft of $US81 million ($A105.01 million) from a Bangladesh Bank account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. SWIFT has acknowledged that the scheme involved altering SWIFT software on the bank’s computers to hide evidence of fraudulent transfers.

“SWIFT is aware of a number of recent cyber incidents in which malicious insiders or external attackers have managed to submit SWIFT messages from financial institutions’ back-offices, PCs or workstations connected to their local interface to the SWIFT network,” the group warned customers on Monday.

The warning, which SWIFT issued in a confidential alert sent over its network on Monday, did not name any victims or disclose the value of any losses from the previously undisclosed attacks.

SWIFT confirmed to Reuters the authenticity of the notice.

Also on Monday, SWIFT released a security update to the software that banks use to access its network.

SWIFT issued that update to thwart malware that security researchers with British defence contractor BAE Systems said was probably used by hackers in the Bangladesh Bank heist.

BAE’s evidence suggested that hackers manipulated SWIFT’s Alliance Access server software, which banks use to interface with SWIFT’s messaging platform, to cover their tracks.

BAE said it could not explain how the fraudulent orders were created and pushed through the system.

But SWIFT provided some evidence about how that happened in its note to customers, saying that in most cases the modus operandi was similar.

It said the attackers obtained valid credentials for operators authorised to create and approve SWIFT messages, then submitted fraudulent messages by impersonating those people.

SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is a co-operative owned by 3000 financial institutions. Its messaging platform is used by 11,000 banks and other institutions around the world and is considered a linchpin of the global financial system.

SWIFT told customers that the security update must be installed by May 12.