Gallen, Lewis unsure on NRL future: coach

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has revealed the NRL club is yet to enter discussions with off-contract veterans Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis because neither knows if they’re playing on next year.

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Gallen, 34, has already announced this year’s State of Origin series will be his last, however he has not decided whether he will continue on for the Sharks for one more season.

“Gal doesn’t even know if he wants to play again next year,” Flanagan said on Friday.

The NSW captain has focused his energy on coming back from a knee injury, as well as one final campaign for the Blues, which begins on June 1.

“Once Origin’s finished – which is eight weeks away, maybe more – we’ll sit down, see where Gal’s head’s at, see where his body’s at and make a decision then.”

The Sharks’ skipper is also eyeing off winning back his Kangaroos jumper, having not pulled on the green and gold since the mid-year Test in 2014 due to his ban over the Cronulla supplements saga.

He also missed last year’s annual Anzac fixture due to injury, however Flanagan said he was impressed with Gallen’s output since returning two weeks ago from a knee problem.

“The last couple of weeks, I thought Gal’s been outstanding,” he said.

“He’s simplified his game. He’s running metres are outstanding. I’ve been giving him a spell but he can play 80 minutes if he has to, so that’s a massive bonus for any team.

“His defence has been outstanding and he set up a try on the weekend so Gal’s back to his best.”

Gallen is one of a number of Sharks to come off the books at the end of the season, joining first-team regulars Lewis, Jayson Bukuya, Michael Ennis, Chris Heighington and Sam Tagataese as free agents.

Lewis returns from a week’s suspension on Sunday to take on former club Penrith.

“Luke’s doing a good job,” Flanagan said.

“It’s only round eight, Luke’s got to make sure he’s playing good footy and he wants to play again next year. At this stage, he’s undecided.

“He probably wants to go around again but all those things will sort themselves out.”

Aust to mark centenary of first Anzac Day

A century ago Australia marked the first Anzac Day with big crowds across the nation and overseas remembering those who fought and died on Gallipoli.

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In Sydney up to 60,000 gathered to mark the occasion, among them many wounded veterans but not the prime minister Billy Hughes who spent seven months of 1916 in London.

There were similar commemorations across the nation, joining private grief with the government’s desire to recruit more soldiers for the ongoing war effort.

In Egypt soldiers of the new 4th and 5th Division, soon to deploy into the bloodbath of the Western Front, marked the occasion with a commemorative service in the morning and sports in the afternoon.

But all were surpassed by events in London where 2000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through cheering crowds to a service at Westminster Abbey, attended by King George and Queen Mary, generals and politicians and Prime Minister Hughes.

All of this was well before the now familiar dawn service. That started in 1929, reputedly after a group of veterans heading home from a pre-Anzac Day night out encountered an elderly woman laying flowers on the unfinished Sydney cenotaph.

They stayed with her until the sun rose, concluding that was such a worthwhile experience they would return and do it again the next year.

There were times in the ’60s and ’70s when it was thought Anzac Day might fade away completely but it’s now stronger than ever, fortified by a new generation of veterans from more recent conflicts.

For the Gallipoli centenary last year an estimated 120,000 braved the cool Canberra weather to attend the dawn service outside the Australian War Memorial. Police estimated half as many but still a record turnout.

A year on from the centenary, it’s not anticipated as many will attend this Monday morning.

Similar dawn services will be held across Australia, followed later in the day by services at which veterans, including the diminishing number of those who fought in World War II and those who served in more recent conflicts, will march.

In Canberra Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will attend the national service at the war memorial.

On Gallipoli there’ll be the traditional dawn service, though it’s not expected to be on the same scale as last year’s centenary event. The Lone Pine service, traditionally held later in the morning, has been replaced by a wreath-laying ceremony on the afternoon of the previous day.

In Iraq Australian and New Zealand troops – engaged in training Iraqi forces to fight the Islamic State group – will mark the 101st anniversary of Gallipoli with a dawn service.

There’ll be similar commemorations at Australian bases in Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Tedesco ready for Test football: Taylor

Mal Meninga has indicated he won’t pick him, but Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor believes fullback James Tedesco is ready for Test football.

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Tedesco is the NRL’s most potent player over the opening seven rounds, topping the charts with eight tries and having already set up another five.

He’s also broken the line eight times, and according to Fox Sports Stats, has put another six players in gaps to break through.

And while Australia coach Meninga this week pointed to a lack of representative and finals experience as a reason young stars like Tedesco are unlikely to be picked for next month’s mid-year Test against New Zealand, Taylor believes the chance wouldn’t hurt anyone.

“Absolutely,” Taylor said when quizzed on whether Tedesco would cope at Test football.

“I think Teddy is ready to handle any representative that he gets called on to play, whether that be for Australia, NSW, he’s ready for it.

“He’s one of the better players in the game in my opinion and he’s only going to get better. We’re lucky to have him.”

The Tigers custodian has the first of two last chances to impress Meninga against the Australia coach’s former club, Canberra, on Saturday.

It is also the same club the 23-year-old fullback backflipped on a three-year deal on in 2014, angering Canberra fans and officials alike.

More important for Taylor this weekend though is finding a way for the Tigers snap a five-game losing streak and bounce back from two tight defeats.

“That’s gone, that one is over now.

“We’ve got to look forward to a really tough game in Canberra against a team that have been really disappointing by their own accounts.”

60 Minutes payment ‘of interest’: Turnbull

Nine Network could come under the spotlight of the corporate regulator after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said its 60 Minutes team was “most unwise” in pursuing a story on a child recovery operation in Lebanon.

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Asked on Friday about the possibility money may have changed hands, Mr Turnbull said it was “of interest”.

“I’ve got no doubt it will be of interest to various regulatory agencies,” he told Sydney radio 2SM, raising the possibility the Australian Securities and Investments Commission could become involved.

A two-man child recovery team being held in a Beirut prison has presented as evidence to a judge a document purporting to show Nine paid $A69,000 to Child Abduction Recovery International for the ultimately botched operation.

With the 60 Minutes team of journalist Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Benjamin Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment released on bail after facing abduction charges and back on Australian soil after two weeks in a Beirut jail, the network is facing questions over the payment.

Dated January 22, 2016, the “payment detail report” generated by ANZ notes a $69,000 fee drawn from the television network’s account for an “investigation into my missing child”.

The document presented in court on Thursday appears to support claims by the head of the CARI team, dual Australian-British man Adam Whittington, that he was paid directly by Nine to travel to Beirut and take the children of Australian Sally Faulkner from their Lebanese father.

“This is the first instalment of two payments that were given to my client by Channel 9,” Mr Whittington’s lawyer, Joe Karam, told AAP in Beirut.

Nine has declined to comment on claims it paid CARI directly and has since launched an internal investigation into the story and the legal nightmare four of its staff are facing.

Whittington and his British colleague Craig Michael appeared before Judge Rami Abdullah on Thursday in Beirut.

They were arrested after snatching Ms Faulkner’s two children, Lahela, five, and Noah, three, off a Beirut street as they were walking with their Lebanese grandmother.

The payment document “proves to you that my client is not the one who created all this”, Mr Karam said outside court.

“Sally wanted this, proposed this, Channel 9 had the opportunity of financing this and if it was a successful plan they would have the best scoop.”

Mr Karam also said it demonstrated Nine instructed Whittington “to move forward with this plan and with this operation related to the missing children”.

“Adam is very angry with Channel 9. He feels he has been left behind by them.”

Mr Elamine dropped personal kidnap charges against Ms Faulkner, Brown and her crew, paving the way for them to be released on bail after they were also arrested on April 6.

But so far he says he’s not yet prepared to drop charges against Mr Whittington and Mr Michael.

Mr Karam did ask for bail for the two men but the judge returned them to their cells.

The Australian Federal Police say the matter has yet to be referred.

“We’ve seen the media reporting but we haven’t received a referral in relation to that matter and our understanding is the Lebanese authorities still have an active investigation,” Acting Deputy Commissioner of Operations Ian McCartney said on Friday.

Mr McCartney also told a Senate inquiry on foreign bribery it might be difficult to investigate because the events did not happen in Australia, although he didn’t rule it out.

“In terms of factual information that’s been put on the table, that hasn’t occurred,” he said during the hearing in Sydney.

“We’ll look at the circumstances of each case.”

Santos turns corner as revenue lifts

Energy giant Santos looks to have turned a corner, as spending and cost cuts offset weak oil prices to deliver a quarterly revenue increase.

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Sales revenue rose one per cent to $835 million in the three months to March, as production increased by 11 per cent to 15.6 million barrels of oil or equivalent (mmboe).

Prices plunged 28 per cent to an average of $51.26 a barrel in the quarter, compared to a year earlier, but Santos slashed its capital expenditure in the period by 59 per cent and reduced production costs by 13 per cent.

Chief executive Kevin Gallagher said the company was focused on developing a business that is self-sustaining in a low oil price environment.

“The company’s first quarter results reflect solid production and a commitment to drive costs down and improve efficiencies across the business,” he said.

“We will continue to look for opportunities to lift productivity and reduce costs.”

Santos said March quarter sales volumes were up 40 per cent on the corresponding quarter as the first train of Gladstone LNG shipped 16 cargoes in the quarter.

It reaffirmed its annual production guidance of 57 to 63 mmboe.

The company made a loss of $2.7 billion in 2015 due to a slump in oil prices, but prices have recently improved.

Fat Prophets analyst David Lennox said Santos’ quarterly result was in line with the company’s aims after restructuring late last year.

“I can’t fault it,” Mr Lennox said.

“They’ve done a lot of good work to turn it around.

“Production’s up, sales are up but if the oil price had increased 28 per cent instead, this company would have been swimming along.”

Mr Lennox expects the company to produce some reasonably good numbers over the next 12 months.

CMC Markets analyst Ric Spooner said Santos would begin reaping further benefits when GLNG’s second train came online.

Shares in the company dropped one cent to $4.62.

Child brides tolerated in Nordic asylum centers despite bans: report

Authorities have in some cases let girls stay with their partners, believing it is less traumatic for them than forced separation after fleeing wars in nations such as Afghanistan or Syria.

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Some girls have also passed themselves off as adults.

Both these issues have caused unease in Scandinavia, where critics say that the authorities risk complicity in child abuse.

Of 31,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Norway in the past year or so, 10 of those aged under 16 — the minimum local age for sex or marriage — were married and four had children, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) said.

Of the 10 “some live in adult asylum centers, some in their own rooms and some with their partners,” it said in emailed replies to Reuters questions.

“Minors seeking asylum are in a difficult situation where they have left their homeland, family and friends, and the partner they have traveled with can be the only person they know and trust in Norway,” said Heidi Vibeke Pedersen, a senior UDI official.

A subsequent tightening of rules means such couples arriving now are separated, she said, and child protection authorities were reviewing all cases from 2015.

Some child protection agencies say any bride aged under 18 should be placed in a special center for children.

“To place them with their partner in facilities rigged for adults is not acceptable,” said Camilla Kayed, of the Ombudsman for Children Norway, an official watchdog for children’s rights.

Council of Europe

She said there were no clear European rules for separating child brides and that Oslo had “unfortunately not ratified” conventions by the Council of Europe mapping out ways to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse.

And similar problems have occurred elsewhere.

In February, Danish Integration Minister Inger Stojberg said that she would “stop housing child brides in asylum centers” after a review found dozens of cases of girls living with older men.

Couples younger than 18 would not be allowed to live together without “exceptional reasons”, said Sarah Andersen, spokeswoman for the Integration Ministry.

“There will never be exceptions in cases where one side is below the age of 15,” she said.

In Denmark, 15 is the minimum age for sex and for marrying with a special permit. Denmark took in 20,000 asylum seekers last year.

In January, after reports by Swedish Radio, authorities said that at least 70 girls under 18 were married in asylum centers run by municipalities including Stockholm and Malmo.

“This is worrying,” Sweden’s Ombudsman for Children Fredrik Malmberg wrote in a blog, urging better child protection.

“We know that children fleeing are very vulnerable both for human trafficking and to become targets of forced marriage.”

In Sweden, the lowest age for sex is 15 and marriage 18.

PLAN, a non-governmental organization which helps children in developing nations, believes there are 15 million child marriages every year and says developed nations should never approve.

“If the girl is aged under 16, the minimum age for sexual intercourse in Norway, the child bride refugee should be separated from her husband even if they have children together and even if they say they want to stay together,” said Kjell Erik Oie, head of PLAN Norway.

Poor parents in developing nations sometimes marry off their daughters when times get hard to reduce food and other bills.

In the north Norwegian county of Finnmark, authorities are investigating circumstances surrounding a Syrian girl, now aged 16 who already has one child and is pregnant again, police lawyer Jens Herstad said.

“We still have to hear the husband’s account,” he said.

Tree clearing threatens future of clean, green agriculture

Queensland’s tree clearing laws aren’t working.

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Therefore there is nothing extreme nor drastic about fixing them. 

Since the former Newman government weakened controls over land clearing in 2012, over 560,000 hectares of forest and woodland is known to have been cleared, an area nearly twice that of the Australian Capital Territory. 

In fact, failing to reverse the return to broad-scale clearing in Queensland risks damaging Australia’s international reputation as leading exporters of safe, clean and green food. 

Yet even as the Palaszczuk government attempts to reinstate provisions in the Vegetation Management Act to end mass-clearing and return to a system of appropriate land management, a barrage of misinformation threatens to mislead the public and delay progress. As independent MP Billy Gordon said in a media release on Tuesday, the distortion and fear mongering is irresponsible and unhelpful.  

In the two years between 2012 and 2014, land clearing in Queensland has generated over 60 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, led to the bulldozing of 200,000 hectares of known threatened species habitat, increased soil loss and pollution of streams and increased pressure on to the already damaged Great Barrier Reef.

In truth, it would be extreme negligence to allow this to continue and damage Australia’s international reputation.

Although it has taken over 12 months for the Palaszczuk government to introduce the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill to Parliament, its urgency should not be understated. The Bill restores provisions that were previously accepted by the agricultural sector in 2006.

In 2009, the Bligh government moved to regulate, not ban, clearing of high value regrowth in endangered ecosystems, threatened species habitat on steep slopes and along waterways. At the time Agforce welcomed the changes, saying; “the new legislation balances productive land management while maintaining biodiversity values.”

The end of broad-scale land clearing was a settlement arrived at after extensive community consultation and with a generous $130 million assistance package for the agricultural sector.

With more consultation and another $2 million provided to industry to adapt, these modest improvements were widely accepted.

But in 2015, over 112,000 hectares of tropical woodland and forest was slated for clearing under the guise of so-called ‘high value agriculture’ with nearly half already destroyed. This occurred almost exclusively on two properties in Queensland’s Gulf country and on Cape York Peninsula.

An independent review of one property’s application by the Palaszczuk Government found that approval was not justified as there was too little information to meet even the weakened criteria of the Newman Government.

The recently introduced reinstatement Bill, currently before a Parliamentary Committee, will close the loophole for so-called high value agriculture that currently allows broad-scale clearing. Further, high value regrowth will again be regulated unless already exempt.

Agricultural projects have always had the ability to apply to the Coordinator General for coordinated project status, providing an exemption to Beattie-Bligh era laws and those proposed for reinstatement under Palaszczuk. 

These modest measures are simply reinstating necessary baseline checks for the appropriateness of land clearing in Queensland at a time when such industrial scale clearing of the places we all love were running out of control. Claims by Hinchinbrook MP Andrew Cripps and others that the agricultural sector will come to a screaming halt are simply political scare-mongering and damaging to the sector.

There is no correlation between agricultural production and Queensland’s vegetation laws. Further, there is growing international consumer demand for deforestation-free products and a number of major suppliers have committed to eliminating deforestation from their supply chains by 2020.

The reinstatement of Queensland’s vegetation management laws cannot come fast enough.

Without it we are doomed to repeat the mistakes made in southern Australia where unregulated land clearing delivered a crisis of salinity, soil loss, river degradation and species extinctions leaving taxpayers with a $10 billion repair bill.  And our brand as a clean, green and safe home for agriculture could be left in tatters.

Andrew Picone is the Northern Australia Program Officer for the Australian Conservation Foundation. Martin Taylor is the Protected Areas and Conservation Science Manager for WWF-Australia.

More gas exploration needed: ACCC

Governments need to reconsider bans on gas exploration if Australia’s east coast gas market is to have certainty of supply and become more competitive, the competition watchdog says.

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In a report released on Friday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said moratoriums and restrictions in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania are impeding onshore gas exploration and development, while a threat is posed by a fracking ban under consideration in the Northern Territory.

The ACCC said it recognises environmental and social considerations behind the bans and restrictions but proposals for gas exploration and development should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

“These reviews should take account of a range of considerations including the costs and benefits to the domestic gas market, and to industrial users in particular, as well as environmental and social concerns,” the ACCC said in its report.

“The greater the level and diversity of supply, located close to demand centres, the more dynamic and competitive the east coast gas market will be.”

The ACCC said gas production in the east coast gas market is currently forecast to meet domestic demand and existing LNG export commitments until at least 2025, but this requires the development of reserves in projects that are currently undeveloped.

“Without further and extensive investment in currently undeveloped gas reserves, there may be significant unfulfilled demand on the east coast,” the watchdog said.

Peak industry association, the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), said there were too many hurdles hindering gas reserves from being brought to market in full and on time.

“Replacing blanket bans with smart, effective regulation of onshore gas development will help over the medium term and should be a priority for the states and territories,” Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said.

The ACCC said that the introduction of LNG, a fall in oil prices leading to a downturn in exploration and new development, and regulatory uncertainty had made the gas market increasingly complex and the future supply outlook uncertain.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said some suppliers had taken advantage of the uncertainty and potential shortfalls to increase prices and implement more restrictive non-price terms and conditions.

The ACCC has also asked the federal government to overhaul regulations for gas pipelines, saying rules covering east coast gas markets are ineffective.

The ACCC said a number of pipeline operators are engaging in monopoly pricing, resulting in higher gas prices, the costs of which will ultimately be borne by consumers.

A more competitive market would help restrain wholesale gas prices, and in turn, increases in residential bills.

Australia’s largest gas pipeline operator, APA Group,slammed the ACCC report, saying the challenges of developing new gas supplies “have been obvious for a number of years”.

“It is a perverse approach for the ACCC to consider that more regulation of the pipeline industry will contribute to solving this issue,” APA managing director Mick McCormack said.

The federal government ordered the inquiry in 2014 to investigate whether insufficient competition in the wholesale gas market was driving up prices.

Wendy Whiteley testifies in forgery trial

When Wendy Whiteley first saw a Lavender Bay artwork said to have been painted by her celebrated ex-husband, she didn’t tell the man who owned it she thought it was a fake.

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It was April 2008 and she’d been invited to morning tea at the multimillion-dollar Mosman home of Sydney Swans chairman Andrew Pridham.

“It was this first thing you saw as you went into the entrance,” Wendy Whiteley told an art fraud trial in the Victorian Supreme Court on Friday.

She thought to herself “it’s not right” but didn’t say anything to Mr Pridham.

“It’s a big deal to tell someone ‘you’ve got a huge fake on the wall’,” Ms Whiteley said.

Mr Pridham had bought Blue Lavender Bay for $2.5 million, while another allegedly fake Brett Whiteley painting, Orange Lavender Bay, sold for $1.1 million.

Art restorer Mohamed Aman Siddique is accused of creating the two Lavender Bay paintings, and a third painting, that are the centre of the art fraud trial.

Siddique and art dealer Peter Gant have pleaded not guilty to charges of obtaining and attempting to obtain financial advantage by deception by selling fake Whiteley paintings for millions.

Ms Whiteley says the Blue and Orange Lavender Bay paintings are inconsistent with her former husband’s work.

She said there are telling signs that Orange Lavender Bay, which she was invited to inspect in 2009, was not painted by her former husband.

“The lack of spontaneity, the lack of wit, the lack of spirit – the lack of everything,” Ms Whiteley told the court.

“It looked as though, as though it had been traced and knitted together badly.”

Defence counsel for Gant, Trevor Wraight QC, said it was possible Ms Whiteley was unfamiliar with some of her husband’s work because they had lived apart between 1987 and 1988 while Ms Whiteley underwent rehab for heroin addiction in London.

“I don’t know everything that Brett did, but I certainly know what he didn’t do,” she said.

Mr Wraight also said that some art commentators believed that not all of Mr Whiteley’s paintings of the view from the couple’s family home at Lavender Bay were necessarily “good paintings”.

“They’re all pretty good, actually, the ones that Brett did,” Ms Whiteley said.

Earlier on Friday, painting conservator Vanessa Kowalski testified that infrared photos of the Lavender Bay paintings showed drawings and sketches underneath the paint.

Ms Whiteley says her former husband was famous for his “free calligraphic line” and “had an attitude to his work that was Zen”.

“He didn’t under-draw,” she said.

“He was very conscious of not wanting to labour anything.”

The trial will resume on Tuesday.

Temple & Webster boss resigns

Shares in Temple & Webster have plunged more than 30 per cent after the loss-making online furniture retailer cut its full year profit forecast again and its boss resigned.

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Co-founder Brian Shanahan has resigned immediately as chief executive and managing director.

This follows the resignation of the company’s chief financial officer Deborah Kelly last month.

The company’s other co-founder and chief operating officer Mark Coulter will step in as interim CEO.

The furniture and homewares retailer is also ending its 长沙桑拿,zizo长沙桑拿按摩论坛,长沙夜网, platform to focus on building Temple & Webster into a household name.

As a result, the company has lowered its revenue guidance to range between $60 million to $62 million as it migrates the ZIZO business into Temple & Webster.

Temple & Webster’s shares more than halved on February 25, wiping around $45 million off the company’s market value, after it warned it would miss its annual revenue and earnings forecasts.

It had forecast annual revenue to fall about 10 per cent below the $76.2 million forecast in its prospectus and for its $8.5 million underlying loss to possibly blow out by up to $5.5 million.

The company’s chair Carol Schwartz said she was sad to see Mr Shanahan go but reassured investors that management had a turnaround plan.

“The board would like to thank Brian for building Temple & Webster from an idea into the largest online retailer in its category within five years,” Ms Schwartz said in a statement on Friday.

“Brian has worked incredibly hard and with an amazing passion to deliver this feat, and will be missed.”

She said the good news was that Mr Shanahan’s replacement provided continuity in leadership.

“Mark and the management team have been working hard on this revised plan and are already in the process of executing it,” she said.

Temple & Webster’s share price closed 7.5 cents, or 31.25 per cent, lower at 16.5 cents on Friday.