Somali survivors tell of bloody siege

Somali survivors have described harrowing scenes of the night-long siege of a popular Mogadishu restaurant by al-Shabab Islamic extremists that was ended by security forces.

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At least 17 people, including foreigners, were dead, police and an ambulance driver said. Survivors of the attack were led by soldiers from the Pizza House restaurant building.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility as the restaurant was under siege.

Soldiers surrounded the restaurant building and fired guns mounted on the backs of vehicles. Troops entered the ground floor while the insurgent snipers held positions upstairs.

All five attackers were killed and after dawn the soldiers secured the building, said senior Somali police office Captain Mohamed Hussein.

Survivors recounted harrowing stories of hiding under tables, as armed attackers continued firing in the restaurant and hunted for patrons. Attackers moved from room to room, looking for people, said a survivor.

“I never thought I would have the chance to see the sun again. They were killing people on sight,” Saida Hussein, a university student, told The Associated Press. She said she survived the attack by hiding behind a large table downstairs.

Another survivor, Aden Karie, was wounded by an attacker who spotted him moving behind a curtain in the dark room.

“He shot at me twice and one bullet struck me on the leg,” said Karie as he was taken to an awaiting ambulance.

The roofs were blown off the restaurant and nearby buildings from the powerful blasts.

The bodies of five girls thought to have been killed by the militants were found in the restaurant, police said. Inside the building, the body of a Syrian man who worked as a chef at restaurant lay near the rubble of a blood-spattered and bullet-marked wall.

The attack began Wednesday evening a car bomb exploded at the gate to the restaurant and gunmen posing as military forces stormed into the establishment.

Courts cannot be immune from criticism: PM

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it’s “very unusual” for three of his senior ministers to be hauled before a court for criticising Victorian judges, and added that he supports of their right as “Victorian citizens” to voice concern.

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Mr Turnbull said Health Minister Greg Hunt, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar respect the independence of the judiciary but criticism of court decisions must be allowed.

“The idea that you can protect the independence of the judiciary by prohibiting criticism of the judiciary is just wrong,” Mr Turnbull told 3AW on Thursday.

“I would never imagine that public comments or criticism, whether it’s by a politician in parliament or a newspaper columnist, would influence a judge in their deliberation.”

Mr Turnbull said his ministers are “citizens of Victoria” and there is “real concern about law and order and the failure of the state government and the system to protect people”.

Lawyers for the three ministers are expected to face court on Friday to explain why they shouldn’t be referred for prosecution for saying the Victorian judiciary was being soft on terrorists.

Mr Hunt accused the Victorian court system of becoming a forum for “ideological experiments” as the Court of Appeal considered a federal prosecutor’s appeal over the sentence of a terrorist.

Liberal Democrat Senator Leyonhjelm says he thinks contempt of court “is when you do a brown eye” and not when judges or their decisions are criticised.

“Judges are not elected and these dear, little daffodils are saying ‘we shouldn’t be criticised for the way we are doing our job’,” he said in Canberra on Thursday.

Mr Sukkar told The Australian newspaper the judiciary should focus more on victims and less on terrorists’ rights, while Mr Tudge said some judges were “divorced from reality”.

Labor and the Greens have slammed the government’s decision to publicly fund the ministers in court on Friday.

“The three ministers made comments to a newspaper on a matter that had nothing to do with their respective portfolios,” shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus said.

“The cost to the public purse in deploying the Solicitor-General to the Supreme Court of Victoria tomorrow will no doubt be upwards of $10,000.”

Greens Senator Nick McKim said if the ministers are “foolish enough to try to bring the court into disrepute for base political purposes, then they should stick their hands into their own pockets.”

Government reveals revamped citizenship test

The bill was introduced to parliament today.

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If passed, it would require aspiring citizens to sit a more challenging English language exam.

Labor is undecided on the bill, but is already warning the new English test could be too hard.

Would-be citizens will need to prove they can read, write and speak English at a ‘competent’ level, if the government’s reforms pass through parliament.

The law would leave it up to the Immigration minister to decide what ‘competent’ means.

But Labor’s Tony Burke says the government has floated an increase to IELTS 6*.

And he warns many would find that far too hard.

“If you take a 6, universities start admitting people – some of them demand a 5.5. So this is harder than it is to get into some universities. So with a series of these issues, we’re setting standards that a very good number of Australians who were born here do not meet and will never meet.”

Tony Burke warns that could create an underclass of migrants who never pass the test, and spend their lives in Australia living as non-citizens.

Applicants who hold passports from English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, the US and New Zealand will not be required to sit the English test.

The bill also confirms permanent residents will need to wait four years before taking the citizenship test.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says applicants will need to sign a values statement.

“The Australian values statement includes an understanding of respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women, equality of opportunity for individuals regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background. And English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society.”

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is pressuring Labor to back the bill, despite its reservations over the English requirements.

“They’re unable to support the need to demonstrate integration into the Australian community. They’re unable to support a requirement to commit to our values and pledge allegiance to Australia.”

But Labor is yet to make up its mind on which elements of the citizenship changes it will support.

Opposition Treasury spokesman,Chris Bowen, points out the bill has only been available to read since this morning.

“The Immigration Minister’s been standing at the despatch box, bellowing about Labor voting for legislation he hadn’t introduced and we had not seen. So we’ll of course now take the opportunity to examine the legislation and take it through our normal party processes.”

 

 

Love of football central to new All Abilities league

All Abilities Soccer caters for men and women to train and compete regularly at club level,

The only essential requirement?

A love of football.

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The 16 players of the Northern Falcons All Abilities football team know what it is to struggle.

Each has an intellectual disability of some degree.

But for three hours a week on the soccer pitch there’s no stigma and no limitations, there’s only football.

Coach Anthony Risoli says whether it’s a game or a training drill these players give it their all.

“They try as hard as they can, and I set drills as I would for any other player, different age group, it doesn’t matter. They participate, they give it a go.”

In 2009 the Northern Falcons became one of the first clubs in the state to start an All Abilities football team, making the sport accessible to every player with a passion for the round ball.

Starting with six, the club now has 16 regular players and continues to grow.

Coach Risoli says many come to the club having never experienced organised sport.

“A lot of these players are first time players, first time training. Even at the age of 40 it’s the first time they’ve been able to be a part of a team and play sports.”

After years of campaigning by the Northern Falcons, an official league was launched this year with the backing of Football Federation Victoria, allowing players to test out their new skills against other All Abilities teams across the state.

Defender John Kourlinis says it was nerve-racking getting the chance to finally play a competition match in front of a crowd.

“We’ve been training all this time and now the actual match is coming, you know what I mean. And then I get a sense of fear that I’m going to embarrass myself in front of everyone.”

And while victory is the ultimate goal for most clubs, the Northern Falcons offers more than a chance at glory – it offers a chance to belong.

Player Megan Sloan says the best part of playing is being part of the club.

“All the people are willing to lend a helping hand. It’s just fun to be around other people, that have the same interests such as soccer and stuff.”

The club fields two teams in the All Abilities league, with players ranging in age, gender and disability.

Northern Falcons President Frank Pizzo says while every goal is celebrated, just wearing the guernsey [jumper, pr. GERN-zee] is victory enough.

“The fact they get to represent the club and try and win for the club, they put the guernsey on, the same guernsey everyone else wears, that’s the biggest thing for them.”

 

 

High-rise audit in Australia needed after London blaze: Xenophon

In the wake of a deadly residential tower fire in London, Australian authorities have been told an audit of high-rise buildings with cladding is needed to ensure the material is fire-retardant.

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While investigators say it’s too early to determine the cause of the blaze in which at least 12 people died, residents have blamed new aluminium composite cladding — installed to make the building more energy efficient — for aiding the fire’s rapid spread.

“We need to have an audit of all high-rise buildings which have cladding to ensure that it’s fire-retardant, meets Australian standards or if it’s not, it needs to be removed,” independent senator Nick Xenophon told Sky News on Thursday.

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Fire safety engineer Stephen Kip says he’s seeing materials being used which are non-compliant.

“What I’m seeing when I audit buildings are uses of foam-based cladding materials, polystyrene, polyethelene and sometimes polyuretheane, which are not compliant with the building code, but which are used because they’re cheap and energy efficient,” he said.

A Senate committee has been investigating the use of non-conforming building materials and is due to finalise a report by October.

“But so far the evidence we have got is very disturbing,” Senator Xenophon said.

“Firefighters say this external cladding is flammable, non-conforming; stuff that shouldn’t be on buildings and poses an enormous risk on residents and to firefighters.”

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Other building products were being imported to Australia that did not conform with local standards, the senator said.

Thousands of kilometres of electrical cables already have been recalled and banned from the market by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“There are 22,000 homes in this country where this is a potential risk of fire or electrocution because of defective cables,” Senator Xenophon said.

Insulation Australia chairman Scott Gibson fears there is a proliferation of building products used in Australia that don’t comply or conform with building standards and he fears many have been used during the recent apartment building boom in Sydney and Melbourne.

His organisation wants governments to make it compulsory for all building products to undergo strict tests by an independent body to ensure they don’t pose fire or other safety risks.

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Rebel Wilson wins tabloid defamation fight

Hollywood star Rebel Wilson has won her month-long defamation battle against Bauer Media, saying she got through the trial by thinking about “pashing” actor Liam Hemsworth.

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A six-woman jury in the case against the gossip magazine publisher unanimously found eight articles published in Woman’s Day, Australian Women’s Weekly, NW and OK magazine in May 2015 defamed the star.

Bauer was unable to prove the articles, which said the star lied about her real name, age and childhood, were substantially true or that they were unlikely to harm her.

Outside the Supreme Court of Victoria on Thursday, Wilson said she felt the “stain” had been removed from her reputation after Bauer had “so maliciously” taken her down.

“The reason I’m here is not for damages, it’s to clear my name. And the fact the jury has done that unanimously and answered every single of the 40 questions in my favour I think proves what I’ve been saying all along,” Wilson said.

“I was hoping the jury would do the right thing and send a message to these tabloids and they’ve done that so for me, it’s over in my mind.”

Wilson said she felt like she’d stood up to a “bully” who had damaged her career.

“Unfortunately, this was the only way that I could stand up to this huge media organisation was by taking them to court publicly,” she said.

“I’m a person that’s really confident in my own skin and really felt like it was the right thing to do to take this company on and prove how disgusting and disgraceful their chequebook journalism is.”

Wilson said she plans to go back to Hollywood and rebuild her career.

“I’m hoping to film a movie in New York with fellow Aussie Liam Hemsworth, who I get to pash in the movie,” she joked.

“So when I’ve been feeling really down about the stress of this court case, I’ve just been thinking about pashing him.”

Bauer Media said it would consider its options after the verdict.

The jurors deliberated for two days over their verdict, in which they were asked to consider 40 questions about the articles.

They agreed Bauer had said Wilson lied about her age, claiming to be six years younger, and had lied about her real name.

They also found Bauer had said Wilson lied about having an hallucination while sick with malaria, about her parents being dog trainers, about being related to Walt Disney and about being raised in a “bogan” and “ghetto” area of Sydney.

The first article, by Woman’s Day journalist Shari Nementzik, quoted an anonymous paid source who claimed the star had added a touch of “fantasy” to stories about her life to “make it in Hollywood”.

Wilson revealed early in the trial she believed the source was an “obsessive” and “jealous” former schoolmate who knew little about her life.

Another article, by then Australian Women’s Weekly journalist Caroline Overington, claimed the reporter was one of the people the Bridesmaids star lied to.

Ms Overington gave evidence in the trial, claiming Wilson had lied to her face and claimed to be 29 when she was in fact 35.

Wilson said after the articles were published in May 2015 she struggled to get lead roles, despite starring in the hugely successful Pitch Perfect franchise.

Justice John Dixon will decide damages at a later date.

Landmark report calls for better protection of elderly

A landmark review has called for new laws requiring aged care providers to report any allegations or suspicion of abuse or neglect to an independent body.

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The Australian Law Reform Commission also wants improved screening of aged care workers and the regulated use of restrictive practices.

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Elderly abuse is a problem advocates say is far too prevalent, with up to one in twenty senior Australians affected.

But Council on the Ageing chief executive, Ian Yates, says elder abuse is difficult to track.

“Elder abuse is fairly widespread. It is a minority, but it’s in numbers, you know, the tens of thousands a year, that are disturbing. And it’s disturbing that we don’t know about it. Elder abuse remains neglected, and it’s time that we picked up our game and did something really significant about it.”

A national plan

The recommendations tabled in parliament on Wednesday, follow an inquiry launched last year.

Central to its proposed changes is the development of a national plan, to be used as the basis for the ongoing protection of older people from abuse.

The report recognises the difficulty in documenting the prevalence of abuse nationwide, and has called for a study which the federal government has already committed.

The issue was complex and required a multi-faceted response, the report said. It also noted that older people receiving aged care, whether it’s at home or in residential facilities, may experience abuse or neglect from staff, other residents, family members or friends.

Abuse a ‘family affair’

Andrew Simpson from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers says elder abuse can be a family affair – and take the form of physical, emotional or financial abuse.

“Financial abuse is very difficult to police because often it happens at the hands of a family member or friend. People help themselves to mum or dad’s money without authority, and ultimately depriving mum and dad of their own wealth,” Mr Simpson said.

“One of the problems with older people, is often they have compromised capacity, and they don’t have social networks around them that can provide the support that they need. And so often, by the time the abuse has occured and the money has been taken, it’s too late.”

Uniform laws are “absolutely vital,” says Age Discrimination Commissioner Kay Patterson.AAP

Responding and reporting incidents

The commission recommends introducing new laws to establish a serious incident response scheme, requiring approved providers to notify an independent oversight body of an allegation or a suspicion of a serious incident.

The body would monitor and oversee the provider’s investigation and have the power to conduct its own investigation of serious incidents.

The outcome of an investigation into an incident, including findings and action taken, must also be reported.

Enhancing employment screening processes and ensuring unregistered staff are subject to a national code of conduct has also been tabled. Likewise the push for banks to introduce better financial protection for vulnerable customers.

Nationwide approach

Mr Yates has welcomed the report’s calls for consistency across states and territories.

“We very much suffer at the moment from a ‘bits and pieces’ approach. Inconsistent laws, gaps in laws, and no national framework at all.”

Age Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Kay Patterson, says that uniform laws would help reduce confusion over matters like power of attorney.

“They’re absolutely vital. And I think people who are making powers of attorney need to understand what their rights are. And I think we know as well as we should that we can put conditions on it.”

In a statement Attorney-General George Brandis welcomed the findings, saying the government has committed to a national framework, and invested $15 million dollars to protect older Australians.

Dr Patterson believes that support is crucial.

“And it really requires action from all levels of government. From businesses, like banks, from health professionals, and anybody who comes in contact with older people.”

Other recommendations:

– Allowing tribunals to resolve family disputes involving agreements to provide care in exchange for residential property.

– A national co-ordinated response to improving lawyers’ understanding of the potential for elder abuse using wills.

– Changing the code of banking practice to require banks to take ‘reasonable steps’ to identify and prevent the financial abuse of vulnerable customers.

– Requiring private guardians and private financial administrators to sign an undertaking about their obligations and responsibilities.

– The development of an elder abuse strategy by the Department of Human Services.

– Introducing adult safeguarding laws in each state and territory to help protect other vulnerable Australians from abuse.

– with AAP

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NSW buildings at risk of London-style fire

It’s feared up to 2500 buildings in NSW have highly flammable cladding installed similar to that being blamed for London’s devastating tower block fire.

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The aluminium cladding is suspected to have acted as an accelerant in the blaze that destroyed Grenfell Tower with at least 12 people confirmed dead and many more missing.

According to a report obtained by the state opposition under freedom of information laws in 2015, up to 2500 buildings were identified as using the non-compliant material, commonly known as Alucobest.

The NSW government says it began investigating the issue following the Lacrosse building fire in Melbourne’s Docklands in 2014.

However, it still has no idea how many buildings are at risk.

Councils were warned of the dangers of non-compliant cladding on high-rise buildings in August 2015, Housing Minister Anthony Roberts said on Thursday.

The department also held seminars in October 2016, along with Fire and Rescue NSW, explaining the requirements of the National Construction Code and the enforcement powers available to them.

“The government takes the issue of fire safety in residential buildings very seriously,” the minister told AAP in a statement.

“My agency will monitor the investigation into the London fire to determine whether there is any relationship with the combustible cladding matter and whether any further action should be taken on this matter in NSW and at the Commonwealth level”.

Opposition regulation spokeswoman Yasmin Catley said the government response to the issue had been “negligent and lazy”.

A spokesman for the Department of Planning and Environment has described the 1500 to 2500 figure in the 2015 report as a gross estimate, produced from development approval and Australian Bureau of Statistics data to indicate the potential of the problem.

“Neither of these data sets includes data on building materials used,” he told AAP in a statement.

Non-compliant cladding does not mean a building is inherently unsafe, he added.

The NSW government last year announced it would improve building certification laws after a review found apartment fire safety practices were ineffective.

It proposed a string of reforms, including better annual checks for existing apartment buildings and more frequent inspections of large blocks during construction.

A City of Sydney spokeswoman said the council was not aware of any buildings in the city that had non-compliant cladding.

Sharobeem blames staff for charity fraud

Former charity boss Eman Sharobeem has blamed scheming ex-colleagues for the fact public funds were used to pay for non-work related items – including her son’s liposuction and her own water bills.

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For eight days in the witness box at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, the 54-year-old has denied almost all wrongdoing in the face of accusations she rorted more than $600,000 from immigrant charities.

“I am finished,” she said in Sydney on Thursday.

“They managed to kill my soul, kill my body.”

A deflated Ms Sharobeem was reacting to news she will need to return for further questioning despite expecting her questioning, which she describes as “torture”, to conclude on Thursday.

Once an Australian of the year state finalist, Ms Sharobeem’s time as head of the Immigrant Women’s Health Service and the Non-English Speaking Housing Women’s Scheme is under heavy scrutiny.

The commission heard she paid for $3000 of her son’s liposuction bill at Westmead Hospital in March 2015 and, within hours, received reimbursement from NESH funds.

Counsel assisting Ramesh Rajalingam accused Ms Sharobeem of authorising the payment remotely.

“It didn’t happen,” she replied, her testimony punctuated by heavy sighs.

In an email, Ms Sharobeem later told board members the money related to a conference where she presented a paper – a claim disputed by Westmead Hospital.

It must have been her ex-colleagues who made the transfer, Ms Sharobeem argued, during the early stages of an attempt to frame her.

According to Ms Sharobeem’s evidence, the same colleagues reimbursed three personal water bills – each of about $190 – in 2009.

She has defended billing more than $34,000 in traffic fines back to the IWHS, defiantly claiming it was “part of her package”.

“Mistakes happen driving,” she said.

Questions have been raised about her two sons’ employment at the charities, and Ms Sharobeem also denies inflating figures on the number of participants in IWHS programs to secure grants.

She rejects allegations she fraudulently represented herself as a psychologist and treated patients after claiming to have obtained only an honorary doctorate from the American University in Cairo.

The commission saw Corrective Services NSW documents in which Ms Sharobeem was referred to as the “treating psychologist” of a young family friend.

It was also shown a copy of her CV submitted to a government department in which Ms Sharobeem included a PhD in both psychology and community management among her qualifications.

Acting Commissioner Reginald Blanch said it would be “completely misleading” to present that without being more specific.

Ms Sharobeem claims she has paid back all the wrongfully-reimbursed money and evidence before the commission suggests her transfers add up to $44,757.36.

Mr Blanch told Ms Sharobeem she will need to return in July after other witnesses have testified.

“Only for a very short time,” he reassured.

“Please stop them,” she replied.

Weekend sport preview

The US Open Golf tournament, the second major of the year, is underway just outside the mid-west city of Milwaukee on the Erin Hills Course.

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The tournament dates back to 1895 and it has built a reputation of making the world’s top players work hard to win the trophy.

Jason Day and Adam Scott headline a five-strong Australian contingent hoping to do just that.

But the former US Masters Champion Scott says it won’t be easy.

“I’d dearly love to get in contention this week and win the US Open. I think what an amazing event to win. It’s just a battle. Everyone who has won a US Open has won this incredible battle not only against the best players in the world but against some of the most incredibly difficult golf course set-ups you’ll ever see. And I’d really love to put my name on that list.”

Yachting’s 35th America’s Cup Final gets underway in the early hours of Sunday morning Australian time with the opening two races of the series in Bermuda.

Team New Zealand is looking to avenge its heartbreaking loss to Team USA of four years ago.

New Zealand beat Sweden to reach the final during the week but the American team, skippered by Australian James Spithill, is ready and waiting.

While their final opponents were battling their way past the Scandinavians, the US team has been busy fine-tuning its preparations for the final.

And Spithill admits his team must improve if it is to retain the trophy.

“We need to be faster if we’re going to win this America’s Cup and for the sailors we need to technique-wise get a little better, a little more consistent. We know we’ve been making a lot of mistakes out there, but we’re a very, very candid team so we’ll go back and we’re going to work really hard.”

The third and fourth races take place in the early hours of Monday morning.

Four years ago, Team New Zealand allowed an 8-1 series lead to slip to lose the trophy 9-8.

The inaugural Super Netball Championship comes to its climax on Saturday night in Brisbane when the Sunshine Coast Lightning takes on the Sydney Giants.

It’s fitting that two new teams created for the tournament have won the right to contest the final which will pit two English captains against each other.

Geva Mentor will lead the Lightning, while good friend and England team mate Jo Harten will lead out the Giants.

But Harten says for the season decider, their friendship will be put on hold.

“I’ve had a few text messages. I texted her last weekend, but you know you keep it all professional. We keep it all cheery and smiley and when you hit the court it’s obviously enemy number one – she’s your English teammate, but at the moment she’s the enemy.”

Cricket’s Champions Trophy will be decided at London’s Oval ground on Sunday evening.

Host England was thrashed by a resurgent Pakistan on Thursday, with Pakistan hoping to get revenge on India in the final.

Pakistan lost to India en-route to the final, but captain Sarfraz Ahmed says that defeat only served to inspire his side.

“I think we just talked after the India match, we just motivated the guys, don’t worry about the India match, this is gone. We have two matches, if we play good cricket definitely we will win this tournament, now we are in the final.”

Next week’s Rugby League State of Origin sees this weekend’s scheduled NRL matches cut to half their usual number.

The Rabbitohs and Titans are in action tonight [Fri] in the first of four matches over the weekend.

In the AFL, the top two on the ladder the Adelaide Crows and Greater Western Sydney Giants have byes.

Richmond welcomes the Sydney Swans to the MCG on Saturday while the reigning Premier Western Bulldogs take on Melbourne on Sunday afternoon in two of the big match-ups.