Brussels attacks a ‘failure of intelligence’: Belgian terrorism expert

A Brussels-based terrorism and security expert has told SBS News the attacks in the Belgian city were the result of a “failure of intelligence”.

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Speaking from Belgium, Thomas Renard, a terrorism expert at the Egmont Institute, a Brussels-based think-tank, said there had clearly been a “major failure” in the country’s security services.

“To put it bluntly, when there is an attack, something went wrong and this is quite clear,” he told SBS News.

“Now the question is, what went wrong, and we don’t know yet. Obviously at this stage it’s too early to tell.”

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He said the fault could be down to a multitude of factors including a breakdown in interagency communication and co-operation, security authorities underestimating the threat posed by people of interest or whether too much emphasis had been put into the hunt for the Paris attackers, including Salah Abdeslam.

A US government official told Reuters the attacks showed Belgium had not “upped their game” in national security, despite being home to more returned Syrian fighters than any other European country.

However Mr Renard said it was quite difficult to completely defend against attacks like that seen at the airport, where explosives were hidden in bags and under coats.

“How do you prevent this kind of people from walking into a metro station or walking in an airport hall way?” he said.

“Unless you live in a war zone where you have these kinds of security checks before entering the airport or before entering buildings – I don’t think that that in any of our democratic societies, citizens will accept these measures for more than one day.”

Since the attacks there have been harsh criticisms of the security at Brussels airport, but Mr Renard said these were “misplaced”.

“If you go to Brussels, you’ll find exactly the same kind of preventive measures that you will encounter in any international airport,” he said.

“Since last November when the threat level was raised to the highest level … military personnel have been patrolling the airport on a daily basis.

“In Belgium we did not have military on the streets for a long, long time so it’s just clear that this threat has been taken seriously.

“In absolute numbers, although not a lot of military personnel were actually in the airport, there were about 500 army personnel permanently in the street, now they’re raising that number to 750. It doesn’t seem much, but for a country like Belgium, it’s actually quite a lot.”

However others are not so sure Belgium is on top of the security threat to the country.

The former head of the Belgian intelligence service, Alain Winants, told Reuters Belgium had been slow to adopt modern surveillance techniques and equipment, such as phone tapping.

He said police had even had to deny they let Abdeslam, who has since been arrested and is in custody in Bruges, slip through their fingers due to a law banning house raids at night.

Reuters reported the country had 193 local police forces, and in Brussels along there were 19 autonomous mayors – all part of a bureaucracy that hindered information sharing.

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There were concerns not enough is being done to prevent disaffected young people from finding acceptance in the notorious Molenbeek area – a neighbourhood that has become synonymous with Islamic militants and radicalisation, Reuters reported.

Mr Renard said while some security measures had already been taken, there was “always room for improvement”.

“I think that the way to solve the problem is to increase the resources and the powers of our intelligence and security services on the one hand, and improve our prevention force and deradicalisation programs. I think these are the real priorities here,” he said.

He said these attacks would most likely result in an investigation into how the attacks were able to be carried out.

“Not only will a lot of people raise questions about this, but I think they will criticise,” Mr Renard said.

“In this case, there is certainly going to be an investigation on the investigation.

“First we will need to leave time and space for the police investigation, but once that is done, I am rather confident that there will be a parliamentary investigation or something similar and if they discover that there’s been a major issue related to lack of cooperation and coordination at the political level at the level or security of Belgium services, then in that case one may envisage a reform of their functioning.”

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With Reuters.

Russian court sentences Ukrainian pilot to 22 years in jail

A Russian court sentenced Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko to 22 years in jail on Tuesday after finding her guilty of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists during the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said his country would never recognise the verdict of what he called a “kangaroo court” and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to send Savchenko back home to Ukraine.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has subsided since a fragile ceasefire was agreed, but Savchenko’s trial showed the depth of bitterness that remains. Savchenko, 34, is a national hero in Ukraine but many in Russia see her as a Ukrainian nationalist with the blood of civilians on her hands.

The sentence is likely to prompt protests from the European Union, which has called for Savchenko’s release.

Savchenko, who was elected a member of the Ukrainian parliament while awaiting trial, was defiant as the verdict was read out. She climbed onto a bench and sang the Ukrainian national anthem at the top of her voice.

Savchenko, who wore a T-shirt bearing the Ukrainian trident, a state symbol, has denied having anything to do with the deaths of the journalists.

Poroshenko said after the verdict: “Ukraine will never – I repeat, never – recognise either the kangaroo court of Nadezhda Savchenko, nor its so-called sentencing.”

He said Putin had promised him some months ago that he would return Savchenko to Ukraine once the trial was over.

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“The time has come to fulfil that promise,” Poroshenko said in a statement. “In turn, I am prepared to hand over to Russia the two Russian servicemen captured on our territory for taking part in armed aggression against Ukraine.”

Russian officials have previously signalled they would be willing to consider a prisoner exchange.

Only Putin can decide whether Russia will trade Savchenko with Kiev, the Interfax news agency quoted Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, as saying on Tuesday.

Singing protest 

At the hearing in southern Russian, judge Leonid Stepanenko, between shouted interruptions by Savchenko, dismissed her lawyers’ arguments that she could not have been involved in killing the journalists.

“The evidence provided by the prosecution side is trustworthy and completely disproves the theory of the defence about Savchenko’s innocence,” the judge said.

He said the court had decided “to select as the final punishment for Savchenko 22 years of confinement of liberty with a fine of 30,000 roubles (US$442).”

The sentence was one year less than the term prosecutors had sought.

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Asked by the judge if she understood the sentence, Savchenko stood on a bench in the cage where she was being kept and began singing the Ukrainian national anthem. Her supporters in the courtroom joined the singing and tried to unfurl a blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag, before security staff bundled them out.

Savchenko, who had taken leave from her job as a military pilot to volunteer with Ukraine’s ground forces fighting against the separatists in eastern Ukraine, was captured by pro-Moscowrebels there in June 2014.

She was handed over to Russia where she was charged with directing mortar fire which killed the two Russian journalists who were covering the conflict.

She has repeatedly gone on hunger strike, and says she is the victim of a show trial aimed at humiliating Ukraine.

During the trial, angry Ukrainians have pelted the Russian embassy in Kiev with eggs over her plight, while Russians have picketed the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow demanding justice for the dead journalists.

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Minute’s silence for Brussels victims

People across Brussels have held a minute’s silence to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attacks on the international airport and a subway station in the Belgian capital.

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King Philippe, the premier and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attended a memorial event at the commission’s headquarters.

Top Belgian and EU officials marked the occasion near the Maelbeek subway station, located close to European Union offices.

More than 1000 people gathered around an improvised shrine with candles and street paintings outside the Brussels bourse.

Television and radio broadcasters had announced they would participate in the minute’s silence, which was also marked in other parts of the country.

Belgian police have identified a prime suspect in Tuesday’s blasts and two suspected suicide bombers, linking them directly to Islamic State militants behind last November’s Paris attacks, Belgian media reported on Wednesday.

Najim Laachraoui, 25, is believed to be the man seen on CCTV pushing a baggage trolley alongside the bombers and then running out of the Brussels airport terminal.

Earlier some media reported that he had been captured in the Brussels borough of Anderlecht, but they later said the person detained was not Laachraoui.

Police and prosecutors refused immediate comment but the federal prosecutor was due to hold a news conference at 1200 GMT (2300 AEDT).

The death toll in the attacks on the Belgian capital, home to the European Union and NATO, rose to at least 31 with about 260 wounded, Health Minister Maggie De Block said on VRT television.

It could rise further because some of the bomb victims at Maelbeek metro station were blown to pieces and victims are hard to identify.

One of the suspects seen on CCTV pushing baggage trolleys at Brussels airport just before the explosions was identified as Brahim El Bakraoui, public broadcaster RTBF reported. It said his brother, Khalid, blew himself up on the metro train.

Both had criminal records for armed robbery but had not previously been linked by investigators to Islamist militants.

Laachraoui is wanted in connection with the Paris attacks.

His DNA was found on at least two explosives belts used in those attacks and at a Brussels hideout used last week by prime Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested last Friday after a shoot-out with police.

RTBF said Khalid El Bakraoui had rented under a false name the apartment in the city’s Forest borough, where police hunting Abdeslam killed a gunman in a raid last week. He is also believed to have rented a safe house in the southern Belgian city of Charleroi used to mount last November’s Paris attacks.

The Syrian-based Islamist group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks, four days after Abdeslam’s arrest in Brussels, warning of “black days” for those fighting it in Syria and Iraq. Belgian warplanes have joined the coalition in the Middle East, but Brussels has long been a centre of Islamist militancy.

The attacks sent shockwaves across Europe and around the world, with authorities racing to review security at airports and on public transport, and rekindled debate about European security cooperation and police methods.

Prime Minister Charles Michel cancelled a trip to China and convened his inner cabinet to discuss security.

Police searched an apartment in the northern Brussels borough of Schaerbeek late into the night, finding another bomb, an Islamic State flag and bomb-making chemicals.

Local media said authorities had followed a tip from a taxi driver who may have driven the bombers to the airport.

An unused explosive device was later found at the airport and a man wearing a light-coloured jacket and a hat, believed to be Laachraoui, was seen running away from the terminal after the explosions.

The suspects were photographed pushing bags on trolleys, and witnesses said many of the airport dead and wounded were hit mostly in the legs, possibly indicating blasts at floor level.

The two men in dark clothes wore gloves on their left hands only. One security expert speculated they might have concealed detonators. The man in the hat was not wearing gloves.

Life began to return to normal in Brussels on Wednesday, with some public transport working and cars returning to the European district, but the metro system remained closed and the airport was still shut to travellers.

Brussels airport will remain closed on Thursday, chief executive Arnaud Feist said.

Migration issues compounding at borders in Europe

Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are not accepting refugees despite a European Union agreement to help ease the burden on Italy and Greece.

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Across Europe, the flood of migrants and refugees continues to raise challenges for political leaders, communities and aid groups alike.

Last year, in the northern French town of Calais, authorities demolished a makeshift camp known as The Jungle.

The residents were transferred to various reception centres across France, where they were supposed to be prepared for seeking asylum.

But now, with little movement, hundreds have returned to Calais, hoping instead to cross the English Channel to their desired destination of Britain, and it is fuelling more tension.

French charities have accused police of using excessive force against migrants and refugees and preventing aid groups from distributing meals.

A volunteer for the Calais-based Refugee Community Kitchen, Jacob Strauss, says the closure of The Jungle has presented major obstacles.

“It made distribution of food a lot more difficult. Obviously, it’s the best for everyone if they have the stability of the place where they can live and an area that they can inhabit. Now, they don’t have that. We have to find spaces to meet them and feed them. We’ve had lots of problems with the local authorities, who have made it very clear they don’t want us to use public spaces for this.”

Further east on Hungary’s southern border, it is a different dilemma for migrants and refugees behind razor wire.

About 7,000 are stuck in limbo because of new laws keeping them in detention camps until their asylum requests are processed.

The so-called “container” camps are heavily fortified, and people can only leave towards the country they have come from — Serbia.

Refugee ambassador Tomas Bocek says, even inside, residents can only move around to different sectors if they need to see a doctor.

“This is … let’s say they call it ‘camps,’ but I would say that, according to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, this is rather a deprivation of liberty. And we have had recent cases already that said it. When you have deprivation of liberty, in order not to have arbitrary detention, you have to meet certain conditions. And these conditions, unfortunately, are not met here because the Hungarian authorities don’t consider this settlement as detention.”

Mr Bocek says those inside are dispirited.

“You know, they don’t understand why they are there, why they are in a closed camp — or they call it ‘prison’ — why they ended up in this prison, how they call it. And the question that everybody asked me is, ‘So, when will we get out?'”

Hungary’s hard line on migrants and refugees, along with Poland’s and the Czech Republic’s, has prompted the European Commission to launch legal action.

The commission accuses them of failing to meet their European Union obligations.

Fewer than 21,000 people have been relocated from Italy and Greece, a small fraction of the 160,000 the plan was supposed to involve.

Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos says the refusal by the three countries is not fair on other member states that are shouldering the burden.

“I sincerely hope that these member states can still reconsider their position and contribute fairly. I remind you that the decision that was made in Luxembourg one year and a half ago is a decision that we took all together, and it is mandatory. So, time was consumed, and time has expired. Let’s hope that not only reason, but also the European spirit, will prevail.”

Facing possible financial penalties, the three countries have defended their stance, citing security concerns after a series of major attacks in Western Europe over the past two years.

Their governments are also hoping that confronting the EU powers in Brussels will win them credit from eurosceptic voters back home.

With a lengthy legal and political fight likely, those seeking refuge are set to keep on waiting.

 

 

Death toll rising in huge London tower fire

Police have confirmed at least 12 people died in the fire and another 68 have been hospitalised.

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But they have little idea how many could remain unaccounted for.

The day after an inferno described by firefighters as “unprecedented,” the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in London has been reduced to a charred, smoking shell.

Windows are blasted out, and debris is strewn around the blackened building.

London’s Metropolitan Police commander, Stuart Cundy, in citing the early death toll, made it clear the news was probably going to get worse.

“Sadly, I can confirm that there are now 12 people that have died, that we know of. This is going to be a long and complex recovery operation. And I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will, sadly, increase beyond those 12.”

But facing hazardous recovery conditions, the police commander said he could not guess just how much it was likely to rise.

“In cases like this, it’s very, very challenging to put a number on how many people are unaccounted for. Our priority is clearly those who we know would have been resident within Grenfell Tower, but, indeed, there might have been others who were staying with family or friends.”

More than 250 firefighters, using 40 appliances — including drones — tackled the blaze.

The London Fire Brigade’s director of safety and assurances, Steve Apter, says emergency crews did manage to battle the force of the fire to get to the top floor.

“They were hampered for some time by a fractured gas main, which was really difficult and challenging for the utilities to be able to isolate. That obviously, as you can imagine, created quite a significant hazard. Once that was isolated, the crews were able to progress. Conditions in the tower — and you can see for yourselves — the fire’s been burning for some time. The integrity of the building is a significant issue for us as a hazard.”

This witness has described the desperation of those in the building during the blaze.

“It was quite high up, like, just above the middle, and she was screaming, ‘I’ve got a baby. Please, help me get out. I can’t get out. I’m trapped. I need to save my baby.’ I did see a few people jump. People were jumping.”

A resident who did escape has told Sky News the fire started in his neighbour’s fourth-floor flat.

(Man:) “It’s by chance that we had a knock, and the guy who knocked just so happens to be the guy whose (apartment) was the cause of the whole thing. He explained to us as he came down, after we were outside the building, he explained to us that it was due to his fridge, which exploded.”

(Reporter:) “On the fourth floor.”

(Man:) “On the fourth floor.”

The tragedy has forced British prime minister Theresa May to delay her announcement on a deal to form a minority government in Britain.

She has praised the reaction of people in the area.

“The response of people living nearby, who’ve provided help, compassion and support, has, I think, once again shown the fantastic spirit of London. Earlier today, I ordered a cross-government meeting to ensure that every assistance was being given to manage the emergency-service response, and that group will meet again tomorrow.”

Local council leader Nick Paget-Brown has confirmed the tower recently underwent a multi-million-dollar refurbishment.

“To improve the hot-water system, to improve the heating, to improve insulation, put in new windows, new external cladding, to improve the quality of life for people who were living there. Now, clearly, when you do that, there are difficulties, problems, complaints, logistics to resolve, and it is undoubtedly the case that the council received some complaints about the way the work was being conducted.”

Some of the concerns of residents raised related to fire safety.

It is not the first fatal blaze in recent years to hit the apartment-tower blocks that pepper London’s skyline.

In 2009, six residents were killed in the borough of Camberwell, and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn says a review called for more resources for local authorities.

“And the government has that review. I believe we need to ask questions about what facilities and resources have been given to every local authority that has tower blocks within the area. And, frankly, most do.”

With inquiries into the fire already announced, there will be more questions about the aluminium cladding used in building renovations.

Fairfax Media reports the cladding used in the refit is the same product blamed for fuelling nearly a dozen high-rise fires globally in the past decade, including one in Melbourne.

 

 

South Australia in race to power up summer

South Australia is in a “race against time” to get new generation in place for summer, as a report names SA and Victoria as the states most at risk of power supply shortfalls over the next two years.

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The Australian Energy Market Operator says an average summer in 2017/18 would present a low risk of problems for Australia’s power network.

But it says the network remains susceptible to extreme conditions, particularly if limitations on generation or transmission, or low solar and wind conditions, coincide with periods of peak demand.

In its Energy Supply Outlook, the operator says SA and Victoria are most at risk of shortfalls in such conditions, which could result in people losing power through load shedding.

The outlook says all regions will meet the power reliability standard over the next two years but SA, in particular, is “considered most at risk” of dropping below and must meet a range of conditions not to do so.

“Existing generation capacity must be available and operating, Pelican Point Power Station must return to full service,” the report said.

“And the new battery storage and diesel generation contracted for by the government must be available as planned.”

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said “it’s a massive challenge” to get new generation running by summer but it was clear it was “absolutely necessary”.

“It is a race against time,” he told reporters in Adelaide on Thursday.

“We’re working day and night on this.”

AEMO chief executive Audrey Zibelman said the operator’s latest analysis showed the power system was changing.

“There will be challenges that will need to be managed proactively on days of extreme conditions to maintain secure, reliable and affordable energy to Australian consumers,” she said in a statement on Thursday.

Ms Zibelman said the operator was working closely with governments and market participants to improve capacity in the system, so it could better cope with extreme situations.

Initiatives already under way to boost capacity included ensuring there was enough generation fuel available, facilitating new generation and storage, and performing generation and transmission maintenance before the summer.

Human immune system matures in the womb

Research shows the human immune system develops much earlier than previously thought.

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International scientists have discovered the fetal immune system is active by the second trimester of pregnancy.

The new understanding may help reveal some causes of miscarriage, say immunologists.

Principal investigator Florent Ginhoux and colleagues at the Singapore Immunology Network studied tissues from 96 fetuses from the second trimester of pregnancy – ranging from 14 to 22 weeks of gestation – collected from clinically indicated terminations of pregnancies.

The study published in journal Nature showed that the human fetus had functional dendritic cells – crucial to immunity – at 13 weeks gestation.

However the cells’ response to foreign proteins differ to adults.

“Similar to adult dendritic cells, fetal dendritic cells migrate to lymph nodes and respond to toll-like receptor ligation; however, they differ markedly in their response to allogeneic antigens,” the authors wrote.

That is, they suppress or dampen an immune reaction to cells from the mother.

“Our results reveal a previously unappreciated role of dendritic cells within the developing fetus and indicate that they mediate homeostatic immune-suppressive responses during gestation,” wrote the authors.

The result challenged the assumption that the human fetus is unable to mount an immune response.

A developing fetus is constantly exposed to foreign proteins and cells, which are transferred from the mother through the placenta.

Fully understanding that development could reveal the reasons for some miscarriages, as well as explain conditions such as pre-eclampsia, which is associated with abnormal immune responses to pregnancy, says immunologist Mike McCune at the University of California.

“It’s important for us to understand the function of the human fetal immune system so that we can treat fetuses that are not doing well,” he told Nature长沙桑拿按摩论坛,.

Johnston’s new three-year deal with Souths

South Sydney have fended off interest from rival clubs to retain speedster Alex Johnston on a three-year extension which will keep him at Redfern until the end of 2020.

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The former Australian representative had been linked with a move to St George Illawarra as a possible replacement for Cronulla-bound Josh Dugan.

However, the Rabbitohs won the race to retain the 22-year-old outside back – the club’s top try-scorer for three years running.

“I’m really happy to have the contract sorted out and to know I will be a Rabbitoh for at least the next three years is a great thing,” Johnston said.

“In the end, it was the best decision for me to stay and to build on what we’ve established since 2014 when I made my debut.

“It’s always a privilege to pull on that South Sydney jersey and I’m glad that I know I will be doing that for at least the next three years.”

Johnston shapes as an important part of coach Michael Maguire’s plans for the 2018 season, with uncertainty looming about Greg Inglis’ place in the side.

Inglis is recovering from a season-ending knee injury and is tipped to move to centre to better preserve his body in the twilight of his career.

Johnston is a potential option for the No.1 jersey along with playmaking utility Cody Walker.

“Alex is establishing himself as one of the leading outside backs in the competition and one of his greatest attributes is his willingness to learn,” Maguire said.

“His work on the wing is right up there with some of the best wingers in the game.

“He’s a South Sydney junior who has proven himself to be a potent try-scorer.”

Johnston has 57 tries from 74 NRL games since debuting against Brisbane in round eight in 2014.

South Sydney have fended off interest from rivals to retain high-scoring utility back Alex Johnston for a further three NRL seasons.

The 22-year-old will remain at Redfern until at least the end of 2020.

Johnston has scored 57 tries in the first 74 games of his NRL career and been the Rabbitohs’ leading try-scorer every season since making his first grade debut in April 2014.

Qld MP criticised for use of privilege

Senior members of the Queensland government have slammed an independent MP who attacked the Ipswich City Council under the protection of parliamentary privilege.

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A document tabled by Cairns member Rob Pyne on Wednesday flagged former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale’s alleged links with developers and possible conflicts of interest involving councillors and staff.

By making the allegations in parliament, Mr Pyne is protected from a possible defamation action.

His actions drew strong criticism on Thursday from Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Treasurer Curtis Pitt and Attorney General Yvette D’Ath.

“If you put forward those sorts of allegations with the protection of privilege you need to make sure you can substantiate those allegations, because, privilege or not, it does reflect on individuals,” Ms D’Ath said.

Mr Pitt said parliamentary privilege gave members the opportunity to raise matters of serious significance to the public, a measure that should only be used where claims were supported by clear evidence.

“I haven’t seen anything that says there was a great deal of credible evidence behind that, but that is a question for Mr Pyne,” he said.

Ms Palaszczuk encouraged Mr Pyne to make his allegations to the Crime and Corruption Commission, which is currently investigating the 2016 Ipswich, Moreton Bay, Logan and Gold Cold council elections.

Mr Pisasale served as mayor for 13 years prior to his resignation earlier this month, citing ill health, a day after the CCC raided his offices.

His resignation came after he was found with a bag carrying $50,000 in cash at Melbourne Airport, which his friend and barrister Sam Di Carlo said was for his client.

Acting Ipswich Mayor Paul Tully challenged Mr Pyne to repeat the accusations outside out of parliament, name his source and to either apologise or resign.

“I will be making a complaint to the Speaker asking him to apologise to the people he has defamed,” Mr Tully said.

Mr Pyne’s tabled document makes dozens of accusations against Mr Pisasale, Mr Tully and others, including the running of several development companies owned by the Ipswich City Council.

“The boards of these companies are made up of Mayor Paul Pisasale, Cr Paul Tully, Cr Andrew Antoniolli, CEO Jim Lindsay and the CFO,” the document says.

“It is unknown if they take directors fees, meeting allowances and expenses, etc but it is known that they have travelled overseas extensively under the guise of these companies travelling first class and sometimes hiring private jets.”

He went on to claim under parliamentary privilege that council planners feel unable to refuse development applications put forward by the companies.

Mr Pyne was elected as a Labor MP at the 2015 election but quit the party last year to sit on the crossbench.

‘Jobs and growth’ more than a slogan: PM

Malcolm Turnbull insists the jobless rate falling to a four-year low shows the coalition’s “jobs and growth” election mantra was not just a slogan.

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“I tell you what … it’s an outcome,” a clearly buoyant prime minister told parliament on Thursday.

New figures on Thursday showed 42,000 people joined the workforce in May, four times as many expected by economists.

The 52,100 new full-time jobs were partly offset by a 10,100 drop in part-time workers.

As a result, the unemployment rate dropped from 5.7 per cent in April to 5.5 per cent – its lowest level since February 2013.

The unemployment rate has fallen from 5.9 per cent in two months.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash also noted a slight pick-up in the participation rate.

“What that says is Australians are putting their hands up and saying ‘I am looking for work, I’m ready willing and able,” she told reporters.

Labor employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor welcomed the fall in unemployment but noted there were still more people out of work than when the coalition came to power in 2013.

There are also still many people considered as underemployed.

“(A total of) 1.1 million Australians are desperately looking for more work and cannot find it,” Mr O’Connor told reporters

“That’s why people are struggling to make ends meet.”

The underemployment rate at 8.8 per cent was only a shade below the record 8.9 per cent set in February.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has recorded 140,000 people having found a job in the past three months.

“While there has been some doubts about the accuracy of the ABS employment data in recent months we think that the fact that we have had three very solid outcomes is a good sign that conditions have firmed,” Commonwealth Bank economist Kristina Clifton said.

A separate report found manufacturers are capping off an improved performance this financial year but rising energy costs are taking their toll.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry-Westpac survey of industrial trends for the June quarter showed its composite index rising a further 1.8 points to an above par 65, extending the rebound from a dip to 55.1 a year ago and just prior to the federal election.

Westpac senior economist Andrew Hanlan said state infrastructure spending, stronger world growth, spill-overs from mining and agriculture and a low Australian dollar have all helped to buoy the sector.

Even so, there were some negatives, including rising energy costs.

ACCI boss James Pearson said the Finkel review offers a blueprint for Australia’s energy future.

“Now we need politicians of all sides to set aside ideological baggage and reach an agreement that provides certainty for the future,” he said.

London Bridge trio final moments revealed

The final moments of pedestrians mown down by terrorists in the London Bridge attack have been revealed at the inquests into their deaths.

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A white van ploughed into people on the bridge before three killers carrying out a frenzied knife attack in Borough Market, leaving eight dead and dozens injured.

Christine Archibald, 30, Xavier Thomas, 45, and Alexandre Pigeard, 26, died in the attack on June 3, Southwark Coroner’s Court was told.

Senior coroner Andrew Harris opened and adjourned inquests on Wednesday for the three victims.

He thanked the police for their work in “difficult and distressing circumstances” and offered his condolences to the families for their “sudden and shocking loss”.

“A white van travelled south on London Bridge. That van would seem to have been deliberately targeting pedestrians as it travelled towards Borough Market,” Detective Chief Inspector Simon Moring said.

“The occupants of that van are known to have alighted and were stabbing members of the public.”

Canadian Archibald, who lived in The Hague, Holland, died in her fiance Tyler Ferguson’s arms after being struck by the van on London Bridge.

The social worker was killed by multiple, severe blunt crush injuries, the inquest was told.

French national Thomas’s body was recovered from the river near Limehouse in east London, downstream of London Bridge, three days after the attack.

He was visiting London for the weekend with his girlfriend, Christine Delcros, who was struck and seriously injured in the attack.

He was last seen by her on the bridge and police are still investigating how he ended up in the water.

Thomas, a business events and travel manager living in Paris, was identified by his dental records and his cause of death was given as immersion.

Fellow Frenchman Pigeard was knifed moments later in the nearby Boro Bistro, where he worked as a waiter.

He was found in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, on Montague Close, with stab wounds to his neck and chest.

Pigeard was born in Paris, had been in London for around two years and lived in Southwark.

His cause of death was given as a haemorrhage caused by knife wounds.

Armed police killed ringleader Khuram Butt, 27, Rachid Redouane, 30, and Youssef Zaghba, 22, just eight minutes after the first emergency call was made.

A hearing took place on Tuesday into the deaths of Australians Sara Zelenak, 21, and Kirsty Boden, 28, along with Sebastien Belanger, 36, James McMullan, 32, and Ignacio Echeverria, 39.

A grim account of their injuries was read out, detailing where they had been found and how they were identified.

The inquest proceedings were suspended so the vast police operation was not hampered by his investigation.

Manus detainees in limbo despite compo win

More than 800 men still detained on Manus Island are frustrated and angry that they remain in limbo despite getting a share of $70 million in compensation, a lawyer says.

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The Australian government and operators of the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre have settled a class action by 1905 current and former detainees for $70 million, plus about $20 million in costs.

A lawyer involved in a separate legal action in Papua New Guinea that may now be withdrawn says the settlement does not change the pressing issue of what happens to the detainees when the Manus centre closes in October.

Greg Toop says the men are in effect still in limbo about their future.

“They really are getting frustrated and angry about things,” Mr Toop told AAP on Thursday.

“A lot of them haven’t got anywhere to go.”

Mr Toop and PNG lawyer Ben Lomai are considering withdrawing their false imprisonment claim against the PNG government so that their clients, who number up to 1000, can receive compensation through the settled Slater and Gordon class action.

Mr Toop said what happens to the approximately 830 men who remain on Manus must still be addressed.

“The money itself is only part of the solution,” he said.

He believed the PNG government genuinely wanted to find a solution, but its hands were tied to a certain extent because the Australian government maintains detainees in Manus and Nauru will not be settled in Australia.

Mr Toop said the United Nations refugee agency must become actively involved.

“They have to start interviewing the detainees and they have to start offering some kind of tangible alternative where they could be resettled.”

Up to 1250 of the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru are expected to be offered resettlement under Australia’s deal with the United States.

About 70 of the Manus detainees have undergone medical examinations and up to 400 have been interviewed as part of the vetting process, Mr Toop said.

“We’re hoping, of course, that will progress as an alternative but it won’t take everybody, and they’re the issues which we need to look at.”

Most of the detainees will not accept resettlement in PNG, he said.

Mr Toop and Mr Lomai had estimated their clients could receive as much as $150 million for false imprisonment after the PNG Supreme Court ruled their detention was illegal.

Most of the $70 million compensation deal is for false imprisonment and tied to the length of time spent in detention, although the class action also claimed damages for physical and psychological injuries linked to the conditions on Manus.

Mr Toop said while the settlement was not in the same range they had predicted, it was a significant amount and the detainees were happy with the outcome.

“The overwhelming view was that, if you like, the guilty party was the Australian government.

“To get that settlement against the Australian government has more impact in their eyes than what we can do with respect to the PNG government.”

The case is due back in the PNG Supreme Court on Monday.

Creditors to meet on Ten’s future

Creditors of the embattled Ten Network will meet for the first time with administrators in Sydney within a fortnight as takeover rumblings continue around the broadcaster.

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Speculation has centred on billionaire shareholders Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon as possible buyers of Ten if it goes into liquidation, while a new analyst report has slashed the broadcaster’s fair value estimate to zero.

Creditors of Ten will meet at the Sofitel Hotel in Sydney on Monday, June 26, to discuss the network’s future.

Ten went into voluntary administration on Wednesday after Mr Murdoch and Mr Gordon, who respectively hold 7.7 per cent and 15 per cent of Ten, declined to extend their current guarantee on the network’s $200m debt facility to a new, $250m facility needed by December.

Letters released on the ASX show Mr Murdoch and Mr Gordon, who own their Ten stakes through their respective private investment companies Illyria and Birketu, have now combined their voting power and are working together on a plan to restructure or repay Ten’s debt.

In the event of a default by Ten, Birketu and Illyria risk “significant liability”, a June 9 letter from Birketu to Illyria director Siobhan McKenna says.

The letter, which predates the voluntary administration, states Birketu and Illyria “have agreed to work together exclusively to facilitate the potential formulation, negotiation and implementation of a restructure proposal”.

With the fall of Ten renewing the focus on Australian media ownership laws, the Birketu letter states “for the avoidance of doubt,” that there is no proposal from Birketu or Illyria to make a takeover bid for Ten.

Speculation remains, however, that Mr Gordon or Mr Murdoch may be bidders for Ten if it goes into liquidation, while the administrator is investigating options for refinancing or a sale of the business.

With shares in Ten suspended from official quotation, following a trading halt on Tuesday, Morningstar senior equity analyst Brian Han said the voluntary administration had cut his estimate of Ten’s fair value to zero.

Mr Han said Morningstar’s previous fair value estimate of 30 cents, which already incorporated a 50 per cent probability that the group would fail to refinance, had been “obliterated” by the arrival of administrators.

“It is now clear that we have been too optimistic even with that assessment,” Mr Han said in a note, Thursday.

“The development obliterated our previous view that improving ratings and revenue share trends may have given Ten a chance of convincing the lender/guarantors to extend the credit lifeline.”

Mr Han added that Ten’s current shareholders are now unlikely to recoup any remaining investments in the group.

Despite Ten claiming on Wednesday it had identified savings and other items that would add $50 million to earnings in 2017/18 and more than $80 million in 2018/19, the broadcaster was unable to convince the facility lender roll over the loan without any guarantor support.

Administrator KordaMentha has promised business as usual at Channel Ten while it canvasses refinance or sale options.

“The administrators are confident that the network is an attractive asset which will find a buyer or will be recapitalised,” KordaMentha partner, Mark Korda said on Wednesday.

Ten shares are suspended from the ASX and were at 16 cents before entering a trading halt on Tuesday.