Australian troops in fierce combat with insurgents

SPECIAL forces troops had ”ripped the heart out” of a powerful insurgent group in a battle in southern Afghanistan, the commander of Australian forces in the Middle East said.The battle occurred during a five-day operation in Kandahar province, where Australian commandos and Special Air Service soldiers are taking part in what the NATO-led coalition hopes will be a decisive push against insurgent strongholds over the next few weeks.Major-General John Cantwell said the Australian troops and their Afghan counterparts had routed a group of well-trained and well-armed fighters, many of whom are believed to have trained in Pakistan.Defence will not comment on how many Australians were involved in the battle, or on how many insurgents were killed, but an Australian soldier was shot in the arm and an Afghan soldier was shot in the side.”These are definitely the bad lands, it’s an insurgent haven, it’s very tough terrain, it’s very hard to get in there and any time we send our forces in there, we know we’re in for a fight, and that’s certainly what we got on this occasion,” Major-General Cantwell told the Herald.”It stands out as one of the most significant military actions our blokes have been involved in for many years.”Major-General Cantwell said the area was important because it was close to Kandahar, an insurgent haven, and it controlled approaches to Oruzgan province, where most of Australia’s 1500 troops are stationed.Australian commandos who first arrived in the area, Shah Wali Kot, were greeted by heavy resistance, Major-General Cantwell said. The Afghan-Australian forces then learned more insurgents were massing to attack the commandos, and the SAS troops were sent in by helicopter to attack.”They were straight into the thick of a very intense gunfight as they were getting off the helicopters, and some of the helicopters sustained damage in the process,” Major-General Cantwell said.”I cannot tell you how extraordinary the feats of combat skill and courage were on display by our special forces guys from the minute they were off those helicopters. Straight into the teeth of the fight, under heavy machine-gun fire, heavy [rocket-propelled grenade] fire and heavy small arms fire.”Major-General Cantwell said the Australian troops decided not to call in an air bombardment because they were not sure if civilians were present. Instead they fought the insurgents house to house.It is believed that some of the fighters killed had been trained in Pakistan, where senior Taliban leaders fled after the coalition overthrew their government nearly a decade ago.While the Defence Minister, John Faulkner, and the Defence Force Chief, Angus Houston, have been reluctant to disclose exactly what role the Australian troops are playing in the Kandahar offensive, they have said consistently that special forces will be involved in ”shaping operations” – defined by Air Chief Marshal Houston as disrupting Taliban sanctuaries.The action last week came days after a roadside bomb in Oruzgan killed Sappers Darren Smith and Jacob Moerland, and Sapper Smith’s sniffer dog.Sapper Moerland’s funeral will be held in the town of Gayndah, in Queensland, today.
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China rides to the rescue of debt-burdened Greece

ATHENS: Greece’s debt-ridden economy has received unexpected endorsement from China as the two countries announced multibillion-dollar accords to boost co-operation in fields as diverse as shipping, tourism and telecommunications.The deals, under which Greek olive oil will be exported to China, were a welcome relief for a government smarting over the credit ratings agency Moody’s move hours earlier to downgrade the nation’s credit rating to junk.While signing the agreements, a Chinese vice-premier, Zhang Dejiang, not only praised Greece’s efforts to resolve its worst debt crisis in years but gave the euro zone’s weakest link a public vote of confidence, declaring it would soon come out of the woods.”I am convinced that Greece can overcome its current economic difficulties,” Mr Zhang said after arriving in Athens with 30 of China’s leading businessmen. ”The Chinese government will encourage Chinese businesses to come to Greece to seek investment opportunities.”Greek officials said the 14 deals amounted to the biggest single investment by China in Europe.China sees Greece as a ”perfect gateway” to the continent and Balkan peninsula, where Chinese exports have proliferated in recent years.Under the agreement, Cosco, one of the world’s largest container terminal operators, will extend its reach with the construction of up to 15 dry bulk carriers in Greece.The company took over cargo management at Piraeus, Greece’s premier dockyard, on a 35-year concession worth $US1 billion last year. The Chinese company BCEGI also signed an accord, thought to be worth about $US143 million, to develop a hotel and shopping mall complex in Piraeus.Other deals include the exchange of know-how between Huawei Technologies of China and the Greek telecoms organisation OTE, and four agreements signed by food firms to export olive oil to China.The Chinese are considering buying a stake in the loss-making railway network OSE, which the socialist government has pledged to privatise, as well as building an airport on the island of Crete, a logistics centre north of Athens, and a marine theme park, Greek officials say.China’s experience in Greece has not always been easy. Cosco’s bid to take over the administration of wharf services in Piraeus was initially met with fierce opposition from trade unions.Guardian News & Media
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Revolving door costs taxpayers millions

THREE premiers, a constant reshuffle of ministers and a change of opposition leader have cost NSW taxpayers $5.9 million in staff severance payments, says the Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat.In a scathing report, Mr Achterstraat said on average one in three government staff left their job each year, and 60 per cent of them received generous termination payments.An audit found 147 media and policy advisers, assistants and chiefs of staff had been terminated from July 2006 to December 2009, with an average payout of $40,200. Another 110 resigned.Although the redundancy packages were generally larger than those for staff in other states and the Commonwealth, all but two were within the government’s guidelines for ”special temporary employees”.Mr Achterstraat was highly critical of the payouts to two senior advisers who left with a combined total of $235,000 – $177,800 more than under the guidelines.One employee, understood to be Graeme Wedderburn, a former chief of staff to former premier Nathan Rees, was terminated after working 10 months but received $139,000 rather than the standard $35,500. Mr Wedderburn’s contract stipulated that he would be paid half of his annual salary if he was dumped.The second, who worked for seven months, received $96,000, $74,300 more than the guidelines.Mr Achterstraat said the Department of Premier and Cabinet should follow its own rules when spending taxpayer dollars. “The rules are clear on severance pay. There should be no special deals,” he said.”The severance pay guidelines are a bit like the salary cap and like a salary cap they work best if everybody knows the rules and everyone sticks to them.”The report found most terminations followed the 2007 election – despite there being no change of government – the resignation of Morris Iemma in 2008 and the rolling of Nathan Rees last year.The director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Brendan O’Reilly, rejected the recommendation that severance should be paid only according to the guidelines, saying he intended to keep his right to make exemptions ”when appropriate”.Yesterday Ms Keneally said there were now no staff on a special deal. ”Nobody in my government has those sorts of arrangements,” she said.
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Canley Vale and the great missing elevator: billed but not built

A SYDNEY primary school was billed $196,144 for a lift that was never built under the federal government’s $16.2 billion school building program.The item appears in the costings for the Building the Education Revolution project at Canley Vale Public, one of the few schools that managed to obtain a full costing of their project.The project’s managing contractor, Hansen Yuncken, confirmed the error in an email dated June 7 to the school’s principal, Cheryl McBride.Ms McBride also met representatives from the company and is concerned that her school has missed out on $196,144 as part of its $3 million allocation from the Commonwealth for classrooms and refurbishments.”I want copies of the receipts to demonstrate that the funding has or hasn’t been spent on the school and if it hasn’t we want that funding back to spend on other projects,” she said.”I am seriously worried about what is going on and the children at Canley Vale Public School deserve to have that funding spent on them as originally intended. There are many other playground and building issues on which we could spend that money at the school.”Ms McBride, who also chairs the Public School Principals’ Forum, said she found the error after a long battle to obtain the records for the building projects.”The financial papers and communication has been incredibly opaque and misleading. How many more of these are across NSW?”Under costings, Hansen Yuncken will be paid $39,421 for project management, $90,105 for site management and an incentive fee of $28,158 for the project.The BER whistleblower Craig Mayne, who has worked as a civil engineering design draughtsman, said the school had also been charged $79,885 for earthworks. ”If you allow $135 per hour for an excavator and $5000 for removal of soil, they would have had to have the excavator on site for 555 hours or 13 weeks.”A spokesman for the Department of Education and Training said any documentation that included a lift ”is an error”.
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Plane flying on one failing engine, witness says

ONE engine had stopped and the other was not operating at full power moments before a plane crashed into a Canley Vale street, killing its two occupants, an expert witness said.As investigations continued yesterday into what went wrong, a pilot with 33 years’ experience told the Herald the plane flew over him 2½⁄ minutes before it crashed.He said the aircraft was ”only 250 to 300 feet” (about 75 to 90 metres) above him at Fairfield Golf Course and he could clearly tell the right engine of the twin-engine Piper PA-31 Mojave had stopped working and the left was not operating at full capacity.The aircraft’s pilot, Andrew Wilson, reported he could not maintain height just before crashing next to Canley Vale Public School on Tuesday.”There was either a fuel problem or an electrical problem,” the pilot, who asked not to be named, said.Given the plane’s altitude when he saw it, he said Mr Wilson, 28, had no chance of making it to Bankstown Airport after turning around at Richmond.”At least if you’re up high you’ve got the chance for a pretty good glide. But even with one engine gone you’ve got a lot of distance to reach,” the pilot said. It was revealed yesterday that neither Mr Wilson or his co-passenger, in-flight nurse Kathy Sheppard, were originally supposed to be on board the plane bound for Brisbane to pick up a patient that day.A fellow pilot and friend, Mark Muscat, said Mr Wilson had not initially been rostered to work that day and the pair had arranged to meet up. Mr Wilson was also about to leave his job with Airtex Aviation and start work with an airline.Mr Wilson’s mother said that had been her son’s dream.”He’s a wonderful son … I couldn’t fault him in any way. He worked hard to achieve his goals. He always wanted to fly,” Anne Baker told Channel Seven.Ms Sheppard, who phoned her partner when the plane began encountering trouble, had swapped with another nurse only 30 minutes before take off.Her father, Noel Martin, said last night that Mr Wilson had done all he could to land the plane with his daughter, a mother of four, on board.Ms Sheppard’s daughter, Erin, yesterday posted on Facebook that she had received her pilot licence in the mail on Tuesday – the same day as the crash – but never got to ”show it off to Mum”.with Megan Levy
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Teenage sailor’s father signed reality TV deal

LOS ANGELES: The father of the rescued ocean sailor Abby Sunderland has admitted his daughter was to feature in a reality television series pitched to American networks.Laurence Sunderland told CNN’s Larry King Live on Monday he had an agreement with a Los Angeles production company to film both 16-year-old Abby and her brother Zac, also a solo ocean sailor, for an ”inspirational” reality show.Mr Sunderland said the company, Magnetic Entertainment, wanted to film Abby’s attempt to sail solo around the world.But earlier yesterday, in a separate interview, Mr Sunderland accused the company of ”assuming Abigail was going to die out there. They were relying on her dying, and so we cut the ties.”Abby Sunderland’s four-month solo voyage ended last Thursday when she sent out distress signals deep in the Southern Ocean after the mast on her yacht, Wild Eyes, snapped.She was rescued on Saturday.Ted Caloroso, an executive vice-president of Magnetic, contradicted Sunderland’s claims that the company had been unable to sell its footage.He said the company had a deal for the Sunderland story with the film and TV production company Reveille.In a CNN interview yesterday, Mr Caloroso suggested Abby or her vessel had not been ready to leave, and said Laurence Sunderland ”basically pushed her out for a sponsorship deadline”.Wild Eyes sailed out of Los Angeles on January 25, and made an unscheduled stop in the Mexican port of Cabo San Lucas 11 days later, with a further 16-day stop for more repairs in Cape Town on May 5.”Laurence didn’t figure out the proper power consumption of the vessel,” Mr Caloroso said. ”He didn’t figure out a lot of things. Her auto-pilot basically didn’t work throughout the voyage.”Mr Caloroso said he had filmed Abby Sunderland in Cabo.But at a later meeting with Reveille, a company owned by Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth, it was decided to stop filming. ”The networks didn’t want to touch it because of the very thing that happened,” Susan Hartman, a Magnetic director said. ”They were afraid she was going to die.”Mr Sunderland claimed Mr Caloroso held ”a vendetta” against him, and had wanted to take the documentary in ”an unethical direction. He was going to try to exploit me and throw me under the bus as an irresponsible parent who knew nothing about yachting and boating.”In his CNN interview, Mr Sunderland blamed ”a rogue wave” for ending his daughter’s voyage, saying the French ocean racer Isabelle Autissier got caught by a similar rogue wave.But Autissier’s mishap occurred in the southern hemisphere summer in December 1995. Abby Sunderland’s route took her through the Roaring Forties during winter.
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Whales give carbon a bum steer

SPERM whales in the Southern Ocean are doing their bit for the battle against global warming.The giant mammals help remove about 400,000 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere a year by releasing large quantities of liquid faeces into the upper layers of the ocean, Australian researchers have calculated.Trish Lavery, of Flinders University, said whale poo is rich in iron and stimulates the growth of phytoplankton – microscopic plants that soak up carbon dioxide. ”When the phytoplankton die, the trapped carbon sinks to the deep ocean.”Ms Lavery and her team have estimated that industrial culling of sperm whales has resulted in an extra 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year remaining in the atmosphere. ”It makes a compelling case for an immediate ban on whaling,” she said.Whales had previously been accused of having a large carbon footprint because they exhale a lot of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. But the study shows they more than offset these emissions by defecating.Sperm whales, of which there are an estimated 12,000 in the Southern Ocean, dive deep to consume a diet of squid and fish.The researchers calculated they release about 50 tonnes of iron near the surface in their faeces, which floats around and fertilises the iron-poor waters, increasing phytoplankton blooms.Although whales exhale about 200,000 tonnes of carbon a year, the net gain is 200,000 tonnes of carbon locked in the ocean for hundreds or thousands of years.The sperm whales in the Southern Ocean represent only about 3 per cent of the global population, and those elsewhere could also make a significant contribution to carbon removal from the atmosphere, the researchers said.So could other kinds of whales and sea creatures that feed deep in the ocean and poo in the surface layers where light is available for photosynthesis.”Seals and sealions often consume prey at depth, but whether the waste is liquid and buoyant requires further investigation,” the researchers said.Before whaling began there used to be about 10 times as many sperm whales in the Southern Ocean.
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Police media boss retrieves his scalp

IT TOOK 17 months to publicly bring down Stephen Linnell but less than two minutes for all the work that Office of Police Integrity investigators spent on their only scalp to be discarded.Mr Linnell, a former Victoria Police media director, pleaded guilty to perjury and disclosing a confidential hearing after explosive OPI hearings in November 2007 into whether police figures had tipped off the targets of a covert investigation into the murder of Shane Chartres-Abbott.Also charged after the hearings were the former Police Association secretary Paul Mullett and the former deputy commissioner Noel Ashby.Mr Mullett was not committed to trial on one charge. Two others were dropped in the Supreme Court. Mr Ashby was acquitted after the Supreme Court Justice Robert Osborn found his charges could not proceed because the OPI hearings were not conducted within the law.This left Mr Linnell – who had agreed to testify against the others – as the only scalp for the embattled office to claim.The Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, QC, told Judge Barbara Cotterell in the Victorian County Court yesterday that the appeal would take ”about 120 seconds of your time”.He called no evidence and said the appeal was not opposed, after which Judge Cotterell set aside the suspended eight-month jail sentence, $5000 fine and Mr Linnell’s conviction.”I set aside the orders of the Magistrates Court made 25th of March, 2009, and in their place I dismiss the charges,” she said.Mr Linnell smiled and left the court. He later issued a statement, in which he said he was ”obviously pleased”.”As you can imagine, it has been a difficult time for me. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my family and friends for their ongoing support and I look forward to moving on with my life and career.”Mr Mullett and Mr Ashby called for a independent judicial inquiry to reveal ”the truth” and believe yesterday’s development is not the end of the matter.Mr Mullett said Mr Linnell had ”been a victim, as we all have, in a totally improper process abused by the OPI, Simon Overland and his lieutenants”.Mr Ashby said Mr Linnell was ”guilty of being a friend” and he bore no animosity towards him.”He was guilty of being involved in what could almost be described as factionalised arrangements under Christine Nixon as chief commissioner and anyone who likes to think that there wasn’t those factions is deluding themselves.”Lawyers for Mr Mullett and Mr Ashby are assessing whether to launch civil action. The OPI would not comment yesterday.
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Obama pins his hopes on address to the nation

WASHINGTON: Barack Obama is hoping his first prime-time address from the Oval Office since his inauguration 17 months ago will persuade Americans he has the leadership nous needed to end the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.Under attack for his handling of the crisis, the President was expected to wrap up a two-day visit to the gulf with assurances he would hold the oil giant BP accountable for the spill, which he has likened to the September 11, 2001, attacks for its potential to profoundly affect US policy.Mr Obama’s address last night is part of a White House strategy to show a more muscular approach to managing the disaster.Having announced plans to force BP to tip billions of dollars into an independent fund to compensate victims of the spill, he will insist that the gulf environment and economy can be rehabilitated.Touring fouled beaches in Mississippi and Alabama on Monday, the President told devastated locals: ”I promise you this: things are going to return to normal.” The goal would be to pay legitimate claims ”justly, fairly, promptly”.The White House said it had demanded that BP capture as many as 50,000 barrels of oil a day from the leaking well by the end of this month.The administration is trying to persuade the public there has been a fully committed federal government response to the emergency since the outset.However, it has work to do: in a Gallup poll seven out of 10 respondents said Mr Obama had not been tough enough on BP, while his approval rating has slipped to 48 per cent, from 62 per cent a year ago.The symbolism of using the Oval Office for the address was deliberate, demonstrating the administration understood the gravity of the gulf spill, now in its eighth week, said a White House spokesman, Bill Burton.News that BP could be forced to pay as much as $US20 billion ($23 billion) to the fund on top of the billions of dollars it has already committed to the clean-up came as two Democrat representatives leading an investigation into the spill accused BP of cutting corners at its ill-fated Deepwater Horizon drill rig.They said it had chosen faster and cheaper drilling options, increasing ”the danger of a catastrophic well failure”.Investors reacted by slicing a further 9 per cent off BP’s share price on Monday, taking to more than $US90 billion the value wiped from the company since the rig caught fire and sank.The administration hopes to finalise details of the compensation fund this week.Mr Obama, in an interview with Politico, said just as the events of September 11, 2001, had profoundly shaped ”our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy”, so the oil disaster would shape thinking on the environment for years to come.A bill is now before the House of Representatives mapping out a shift away from emissions-heavy oil and coal to clean, renewable energy sources.However, opportunities for forging a new energy policy are likely to falter in the lead-up to critical midterm congressional elections in November, with Republicans reluctant to help deliver a legislative coup for their opponents.
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The man who is responsible for the ringing in our ears

RALPH SIMON demurs when he is called the father of the ringtone, but the bespectacled music entrepreneur certainly paved the way for pop songs to be used for incoming calls on mobile phones.In the mid-1990s, Mr Simon realised pop songs could personalise mobile phones. But his efforts to get the rights to use songs as ringtones were blocked by the American record industry, which feared it would lose control of the music.Frustrated, Mr Simon flew to Australia and approached the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), which granted his company’s request for licences to use music for phones. Armed with APRA’s approval, he returned to the US and used the Australian precedent to persuade American labels to follow suit. Since then, pop ringtones have become ubiquitous. To some, they’re also noise pollution, which suggests Mr Simon – in Sydney to talk technology as part of the Vivid Sydney festival – has a lot to answer for.”The thing is this: when we first started doing those ringtones, it became clearly evident that people under the age of 25 wanted to have something that was a personality badge … If you want AC/DC Back in Black then that tells something about you, more than if you had a Kylie Minogue hit,” he said.And far from lamenting maddening ringtones such as Crazy Frog, he sees it as a ”a key point in widening the acceptability of ringtones”.Mr Simon is carrying three mobile phones on his visit to Sydney. He has selected the sound of an old-fashioned Bakelite phone for two of them and the Clash’s London Calling for the third. But he denies the old-fashioned sound is a nostalgic choice, seeing it as pragmatism.”It’s simply a clutter breaker,” he said. On the wider issue of mobile technology, Mr Simon regards ”alternate reality” as a key area. For example, using a camera phone to take a photo of the harbour bridge and then being instantly shown via the web how to sign up to climb it.Mr Simon said Australians were among the world’s best innovators in mobile technology and also some of the keenest in adopting new ideas. At his address to the X|Media|Lab Global Media Ideas Summit at the Sydney Opera House tomorrow, he will explore how to get Australian innovations ”from the bedroom to the boardroom”.
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