Qld govt keeps Mason Lee report secret

Queensland’s opposition has accused the Labor government of a cover-up after it withheld a full report into the death of Sunshine Coast toddler Mason Jet Lee for at least another year.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Monday announced the report into Mason’s June 2016 death would only be released publicly after charges against his mother and her former partner had been dealt with.

It came as Queensland Family and Child Commissioner Cheryl Vardon handed down her report into the “post-death” reaction to the 22-month-old’s death, which recommended an overhaul of the way such cases are reviewed by government departments.

In an unprecedented move, the government sought the advice of Director of Public Prosecutions Michael Byrne QC who advised cabinet not to release the more comprehensive Child Death Case Review Panel’s report.

Mr Byrne told cabinet if the contents of the report were made public, it could prejudice the manslaughter and child cruelty trials of Mason’s mother Anne Maree Lee, stepfather William O’Sullivan and teenager Ryan Robert Hodson.

Ms Palaszczuk defended cabinet’s decision and promised to release the panel’s report once the court cases were finalised.

“I will make no comment that will jeopardise justice for Mason. The community wants justice, I want justice,” the premier said.

But the Liberal National Party took aim, with child safety spokesperson Ros Bates alleging a cover-up which “stinks to high heaven”.

“The premier announced last year that she would release all of the findings into Mason Jet Lee’s death. What we see now is a report that tells you nothing,” Ms Bates said.

“The Palaszczuk Labor government has had 10 months to come up with solutions about what happened to Mason Lee and yet today, we are seeing a cover-up.”

Ms Bates pledged to release the report in full if the LNP were elected to government before the court matters are finalised.

The election is scheduled before May next year, which is likely to occur before all three of the accused go to trial.

Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls also criticised the timing of the decision, saying the government cynically wedged it between Cyclone Debbie and Easter.

Mason was found dead in his Caboolture home in June 2016, suffering from horrific injuries, and it was determined he died from a ruptured bowel.

Three Child Safety staff were stood down in November last year over the case, and another nine are facing disciplinary action following a departmental review.

While not making specific comment about any pre-death findings, Ms Vardon said she was “concerned and upset” by what had happened to Mason.

‘In the lead-up to his death he had many eyes on him, but no one truly saw him, or did enough to protect him,” she said.

The government announced it would implement several of Ms Vardon’s recommendations, including $40.8 million over four years to provide more frontline staff to work with families, as well as better co-ordination of health and child protection systems.

No ‘silver bullet’ for housing affordability: Morrison

Scott Morrison has laid out Australia’s housing affordability problems, ranging from young people trying to raise a deposit to older people using their superannuation lump sum to pay off the mortgage.

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The treasurer also used a pre-budget speech in Melbourne to discuss shortages in the rental and community housing markets.

He reiterated a national affordable housing agreement with the states wasn’t working and “just shovelling money out the door” won’t solve the problem.

“Obviously there’s not a single national housing market and affordability is not impacting all Australians the same way or at the same time,” he told an audience at an Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute address in Melbourne.

“However, it is worth remembering Sydney and Melbourne are home to forty per cent of Australians and the significant housing challenges faced in Sydney and Melbourne do have national implications.”

Housing affordability is expected to be a key plank of the May 9 federal budget.

Mr Morrison admits there’s no single or easy solution and blamed previous governments for avoiding the issue.

“Failure to confront these issues in the past can be traced back to the problems we face today,” he said.

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Obstacles to housing supply had to be removed. These include planning delays and regulation, infrastructure and services, development costs, taxes and charges and access to sites, including government land.

He’s also made clear the federal government won’t be touching negative gearing, after describing it as a “structural component” of Australia’s housing market.

“Disrupting negative gearing would not come without a cost, especially to renters, let alone the wider economic impacts,” he said.

“Proponents of disruptive negative gearing changes have ignored this fact.”

But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the government was being “pig-headed” because Labor got in first with it plan to reform negative gearing tax concessions.

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“They would rather play politics and stamp their foot than help young Australians get into their first home,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

However, the Property Council of Australia agreed with the treasurer that it was better to use “a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer” to boost housing affordability.

“It’s why we believe there is scope, as part of broader tax reform, to reduce the capital gains tax discount to 40 per cent (from 50 per cent) in the May budget,” PCA chief of housing and policy Glenn Byres said in a statement.

Industry super fund Cbus CEO David Atkin said funds could play a role in investing to help improve the supply of affordable housing.

But said letting first home buyers dip into their retirement savings for a house deposit was not the answer and “should be ruled immediately”.

Mr Morrison declined to comment on reports the government could provide incentives for older people to downsize to free up housing stock.

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Marcus Leonard at tax consultants BDO said the stamp duty cost of changing residences was now so high it discouraged people from moving.

“While the best option would be to remove stamp duty completely from residential housing, the provision of stamp duty concessions for older persons when they downsize their houses may have some effect in providing some more supply to the system,” he told AAP.

The Treasurer also indicated foreign investors who bought units but kept them empty and out of the market had not escaped his attention.

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‘Disgust, dismay’ as official Kokoda commemoration goes MIA

The prime minister Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday visited Kokoda and laid a wreath at the Bomana war cemetery outside Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, and there will be a ceremony held in Canberra in November.

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Kokoda is considered Australia’s most significant battle of the war in the Pacific, in which the Japanese were for the first time defeated on land.

Veteran George Palmer points to his figure in one of the most famous Kokoda campaign photographs by Damien Parer: of Australian soldiers trudging through the mud.

“I’m the second one, there, now of the six of us there are two still alive, myself and Arnold Forrester, who lives in Townsville,” he said.

The 95-year-old veteran of the 39th Battalion is now fighting another battle, to preserve the memory of Kokoda, and is upset the official Australian commemoration will not be held in PNG.

“It’s wrong, just wrong. You must never forget the sacrifices my mates made,” he said.

Kokoda was fought between July and November 1942 on what was then Australian soil, the territory of Papua.

Historian Patrick Lindsay, the chair of the Kokoda Track Foundation (KTF), said he has been asking the government since last year about when the PNG commemoration would be held.

“I’m dismayed and disgusted,” he said.

“It’s the second time we’ve done this to these diggers, they didn’t get the credit they deserved at the time and after the war.”

Kokoda tour operators say they have also been awaiting confirmation since last year and feel they will now have to take up the commemorative task.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull arrives via an Australian Army helicopter to the Isurava Memorial to lay a wreath at the Kokoda Track, April 8, 2017. (AAP)FAIRFAX POOL

“Yeah, it is disappointing,” said Frank Taylor, who has been running tours to PNG for three decades and is head of the Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KOTA).

“If the historical linkages are failing a little, as perhaps you could argue is being demonstrated with no offshore (Kokoda commemoration in PNG), it looks like a lot of that will pass on to the operators.”

More than 600 Australians died in the Kokoda campaign and there were thousands more casualties in brutal jungle warfare and on the beachheads, including an untold number of Papua New Guineans.

More than 10,000 Japanese and hundreds of US soldiers were also killed.

The 75th anniversary is expected to be the last time the few surviving veterans will see a major commemoration.

“Seventy-five years ago Australia was unprepared to defend itself,” the prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Saturday at the Bomana War Cemetery wreath-laying ceremony.

“All of our best soldiers, best trained soldiers were abroad. Militia men, reservists, were sent here to the Kokoda track.

“These men with very little training, rose to the occasion and kept Australia free, in the most horrific conditions.”

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The Governor General is expected in PNG for the only other Australian commemoration – on Anzac Day.

“It’s at least it’s an honour, and the PM should do that, but the real people who should be involved in the commemoration are the surviving veterans and the families of the diggers who laid down their lives there,” said Mr Lindsay

The Department of Veterans Affairs told SBS, “the Australian Government will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the New Guinea Campaign in World War Two with a national commemoration in Canberra on 2 November 2017, including a Last Post service at the Australian War Memorial”.

“For the health and safety of the veterans, the Australian Government made the decision to not continue veterans’ missions after the 70th anniversary.

“Commemorations in Papua New Guinea are a matter for the Papuan (sic) Government, or in some cases services are organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs Post.”

One hundred years on from the World War I Gallipoli campaign, it is still officially commemorated in Turkey by the Australian government, long after the last veteran has passed

“If we could do that, and we did for the 75th of Gallipoli, why aren’t we doing it for Kokoda?” said Mr Lindsay.

PNG will mark Kododa on November 3, for the so-called “fuzzy wuzzy angels” who served alongside the veterans like George Palmer.

Cardinal George Pell to face child sex abuse charges

Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s finance chief, has repeatedly denied the allegations that date back to his time as a Ballarat priest and Melbourne archbishop.

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Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton says a summons has been served on Dr Pell’s legal representatives in Melbourne.

Deputy Commissioner Patton stressed that Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else would be in an investigation of this nature.

“Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in respect to historical sexual offences and there are multiple complainants relating to those charges. During the course of the investigation in relation to Cardinal Pell there has been a lot of reporting in the media and a lot of speculation of the process that has been involved in this investigation and also the charging. So for clarity I want to be perfectly clear: the process and the procedures that have been followed in the charging of Cardinal Pell have been the same that have been applied in a whole range of historical sex offences whenever we investigate them.”

He says Cardinal Pell was charged on summons due to advice that was received and sought from the Office of Public Prosecutions but that the final decision to charge Cardinal Pell was made by Victoria Police.

Deputy Commissioner Patton says Cardinal Pell has a right to due process.

“It is important to note that none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have obviously been tested in any court yet. Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process and so therefore it is important that the process is allowed to run its natural course. Preserving the integrity of that process is essential to us all and so for Victoria Police, it is important that it is allowed to go through unhindered and allowed to see natural justice is afforded to all the parties involved, including Cardinal Pell and the complainants in this matter.”

Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied the allegations that date back to his time as a Ballarat priest and Melbourne archbishop.

The allegations were repeated in a book published in May, which Cardinal Pell’s office in Rome labelled “an exercise in character assassination”.

Melbourne University Press has confirmed it is removing author Louise Milligan’s book from sale after Victoria Police charged Cardinal Pell.

In July last year, Cardinal Pell denied sex-abuse allegations made against him, adding he would cooperate with any civil action against him.

“I deny them absolutely. I’ve got no intention of adding to the discomfort or the harm of the people who made the allegations, but they’re not true. I’m like any other Australian: I’m entitled to a fair go. Untested allegations should be put through the proper procedures. I’m quite prepared to cooperate with appropriate civil … uh, appropriate procedures. I won’t cooperate with trial by the media. I think it’s unjust and inappropriate. Thank you very much.”

It is so far unclear what the charges are against Cardinal Pell and his lawyers have applied to have the details of the charges suppressed.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney says Cardinal Pell strenuously denies all allegations and will return to Australia as soon as possible to clear his name following advice and approval by his doctors, who will also advise him on his travel arrangements.

He says he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously.

Victoria Police say Cardinal Pell will appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18 for a filing hearing.

 

 

 

 

US announces plan to sell arms to Taiwan

The United States plans to sell Taiwan $US1.

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42 billion ($A1.85 billion) in arms, the first such sale under the administration of Donald Trump and a move sure to anger China, whose help the president has been seeking to rein in North Korea.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has told reporters the administration had told Congress of the seven proposed sales on Thursday.

“It’s now valued about $1.42 billion,” she said.

The State Department said the package included technical support for early warning radar, high Speed anti-radiation missiles, torpedoes and missile components.

Nauert said the sales showed US “support for Taiwan’s ability to maintain a sufficient self-defence capability,” but there was no change to the United States’ long-standing “one China” policy.

The sale, which requires congressional approval, would be the first to Taiwan under Trump and the first since a $US1.83 billion sale that former President Barack Obama announced in December 2015, to China’s dismay.

The previous package included two Navy frigates in addition to anti-tank missiles and amphibious attack vehicles.

US officials said in March the administration was crafting a big arms sale to Taiwan, but such talk died down as Trump sought to persuade Beijing to do more to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, an increasing threat to the United States.

Earlier on Thursday, China responded angrily and said it had protested to Washington after a US Senate committee approved a bill calling for the resumption of port visits to Taiwan by the US Navy for the first time since the United States adopted a one-China policy in 1979.

Meet Australia’s 16 year old CEO

School holidays are usually a time for students to relax or catch up on studies.

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But for Ali Kitinas she also has a business to run.

“It can be a little bit of a challenge at times to find the right balance, but I think that, really, happens with anything. My work hours are kind of in the evening, and so, often, I get really excited about something and I want to keep working but I know that I have to wake up for school the next day. And I also want to make sure I have some quality of life as well, and that I do get to be a teenager.”

The 16-year-old Sydney girl makes and sells body-scrub powder with the help of two humanitarian groups.

One raises money to rehabilitate women in Rwanda and child soldiers, while the other funds medical services for a group of children in India.

Ms Kitinas says she decided to start her business after visiting the Indian city of Kolkata.

“A lot of these girls were my age that needed the services of the hospital. I had already been making coffee scrubs and body scrubs as gifts for people, and I saw that as a great collaboration, where I could be making body scrubs that are sustainable and using recycled coffee grinds and then have a bigger purpose.”

Ms Kitinas’s entrepreneurial skills recently led to her participating in an international mentoring program alongside the founder of the Virgin empire, Richard Branson.

Upon returning home, she became the youngest person to ever participate in the annual CEO Sleepout.

Under the initiative by the charity group Saint Vincent de Paul, some of the country’s most successful business leaders sleep on the streets to raise awareness about homelessness.

It is an issue close to Ali Kitinas’s heart — particularly after discovering her mother Lynne lived on the streets when she was a teenager.

“Sleeping in a cardboard box, staying over at friends, sleeping in church halls … It was cold. It was scary. There was a lot of violence. There were a lot of incidents where kids were taken advantage of. They are human beings, they have an identity, and, the longer that you’re in the despair situation, the harder it is to get out of that.”

Saint Vincent de Paul’s New South Wales chief executive, Jack de Groot, says more than 105,000 Australians sleep in such situations every night.

He says more than 2-and-a-half million are living below the poverty line.

A major factor, he says, is a lack of action by state governments to address Australia’s ongoing housing-affordability crisis.

“People still can spend in excess of five, and sometimes 10, years on the public-housing waitlists. So, we have a real crisis. The Commonwealth can put funding arrangements forward to the states, but we know, in different states, there is not enough public, social or affordable housing being made available.”

So far, Ali Kitinas and her fellow chief executives have raised more than $5 million for Saint Vincent de Paul this year, giving some short-term relief to those less fortunate.

 

 

 

Cardinal Pell vows to fight historical sexual assault charges

Cardinal George Pell has vowed to return to Australia to fight historical sexual assault allegations, saying: “I’m innocent of these charges – they are false”.

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Speaking from the Vatican after Victoria Police announced Cardinal Pell would be summonsed on multiple charges, Australia’s most senior Catholic said he was the victim of a “relentless character assassination”.

He revealed he has been granted a leave of absence by Pope Francis from his duties within the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy to return to Australia in an attempt to clear his name.

“These matters have been under investigation now for two years. There have been leaks to the media. There’s been relentless character assassination,” Cardinal Pell said.

“For more than a month (there have been) claims that a decision about whether to lay charges was imminent. I’m looking forward to having my day in court. I’m innocent of these charges – they are false.

“The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me. I’ve kept Pope Francis – the Holy Father – regularly informed during these long months and I have spoken to him on a number of occasions in the last week, most recently a day or so ago.

“We talked about the need to take leave and clear my name. I am very grateful to the Holy Father for giving me this leave to return to Australia. I’ve spoken to my lawyers about when this will be necessary and I’ve spoken to my doctors about the best way to achieve this.

“All along I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations. News of these charges strengthens my resolve and court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return here back to Rome to work.”

Earlier Victoria Police confirmed Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges for historical sexual assault offences. The charges relate to multiple claims and multiple complainants.

In a statement the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said Cardinal Pell “strenuously denied all allegations”.

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‘Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else’

The charges were served on Cardinal Pell’s legal representatives in Melbourne and lodged at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday.

Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton stressed that none of the allegations had been tested in court yet. Cardinal Pell is due to face a Melbourne court on July 18.

“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process and so therefore, it is important that the process is allowed to run its natural course.”

Commissioner Patton said Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as any other defendant in the process.

“During the course of the investigation in relation to Cardinal Pell, there has been a lot of reporting in the media and speculation about the process that has been involved in the investigation and also the charging.

“I want to be perfectly clear, the process and procedures that are being followed in the charging of Cardinal Pell have been the same that have been applied in a whole range of historical sex offences whenever we investigate them.”

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No extradition treaty with the Vatican

Cardinal Pell is currently at the Vatican overseeing its finances within the Secretariat for the Economy.

Australia does not have an extradition treaty with the Vatican, potentially complicating matters.

It is so far unclear just which allegations Cardinal Pell has been charged with.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Patton did not detail the abuse allegations at his press conference earlier on Thursday.

“I am not in a position to provide further details on the charges,” he said, adding that Victoria Police would not be providing further comment.

Church abuse victims welcome court case

Victims’ rights group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the outcome of the Victoria Police investigation is an important development.

“SNAP, the Survivors Network, wants to thank the Victoria Police, who took the time to listen to those who came forward with allegations,” the group said in a statement.

The group said it looked forward to seeing Pope Francis’ response as the head of the Catholic Church.

The Blue Knot Foundation, which represents Australian adults who experienced childhood trauma, said the charges against Cardinal Pell were a powerful message to victims of abuse.

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“It upholds that no one is above the law, no matter how high their office, qualifications, or standing,” spokeswoman Dr Pam Stavropoulos said.

“As well as the impacts of the abuse itself, countless survivors of child sexual abuse have struggled with the silence and disbelief of society that adults and respected public figures can be perpetrators of the criminal act of sexual abuse of children.

“The charging of George Pell is an enormously important step for community awareness which has been hard fought for and which cannot now be lost.”

Victorian Minister: We can’t pre-judge any individual case

Victorian government minister Martin Foley said Cardinal George Pell deserves the presumption of innocence.

“We know that the Catholic Church in particular has a sorry record and needs to overcome this,” he said.

“We can’t pre-judge any individual case. We need to make sure that anyone facing charges is given the presumption of innocence.”

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher has said Cardinal Pell, who has co-operated with multiple police, parliamentary and royal commission investigations, is the victim of relentless character attacks.

Last year, three members of Victoria Police travelled to Rome and interviewed Cardinal Pell regarding allegations of sexual assault.

Abbott told to ‘stop rewriting history’

Former prime minister Tony Abbott’s coalition colleagues are urging him to stop trying to rewrite history and be a team player after he sparked another outbreak of internal coalition infighting.

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International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells reprimanded Mr Abbott after he released an alternative election manifesto and criticised the Turnbull government’s submarines program.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells – once considered an ally of Mr Abbott’s – seized on his claim earlier in June that the Paris Climate Agreement targets he devised as prime minister were “aspirational”.

“The renewable energy target came in under Tony, Paris was signed under Tony, he gave these commitments,” she told ABC Radio on Friday.

“To actually now say it was an aspiration when clearly his words, the documentation and everything clearly demonstrate it was an iron-clad commitment. You can’t rewrite history.”

As a backbencher, Mr Abbott was entitled to air his opinions, but as a former prime minister he carried a certain responsibility.

“If now he says that he was wrong when he was prime minister, well that’s a matter for him, but he had the opportunity to do a lot of things,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells said.

“But I would urge Tony not to try and rewrite history, because all it’s doing is damaging his credibility.”

Defence Minister Marise Payne, a moderate and Turnbull backer, also took a swipe at Mr Abbott, insisting there was no “I” in “team”.

“You’re either on it or you’re off it,” she told ABC radio.

“We all need to be on it to make sure Australia is governed by the coalition.”

Senator Payne rebuked Mr Abbott’s call for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, insisting he had never raised the matter with her.

“We want to ensure that we have sovereign capability over this extraordinarily important strategic military capability,” she said.

“To lease that, or to trade that out to another entity as has been suggested, I think would be very, very deleterious to our own sovereign capability.”

US rolls out travel ban, but who will be hit?

Delayed by legal challenges until the Supreme Court partially backed Trump this week, the ban comes into effect at 8 pm Thursday Eastern time (0000 GMT Friday), putting tight restrictions on the issuance of visas to travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

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Immigrant rights groups and Democrats in Congress blasted a relatively narrow definition of who could continue to come based on “close family relationships.”

But the Trump administration insisted the ban was necessary to protect the country from terror threats.

“As recent events have shown, we are living in a very dangerous time, and the US government needs every available tool to prevent terrorists from entering the country and committing acts of bloodshed and violence,” a senior administration official told reporters.

Officials stressed that anyone with a valid visa issued before the ban begins would still be admitted, promising to avoid the airport chaos that accompanied the original travel ban announcement in January.

All authorized refugees booked for travel before July 6 will also be admitted.

“We expect business as usual at the ports of entry starting at 8 pm tonight,” said a second administration official. “Our people are well prepared for this.”

‘The world is watching’ 

Nevertheless, immigration activists and lawyers said they would be at airports to support any arrivals unfairly denied entry.

“The world is watching the United States of America, and what they are saying is, we thought that it was the country for opportunity and justice for all, but it does not seem that way,” said Murad Awawdeh of the New York Immigration Coalition, speaking at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The ban imposes a 90-day halt on travelers from the six countries, and a 120-day ban on refugee entries, while the government reviews its vetting procedures.

But questions remain over the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to allow exemptions for anyone having a “bona fide relationship” in the United States.

According to guidelines issued in a State Department cable to embassies, that exemption will include people with “close family relationships” in the United States, defined to include parents, spouses, children, sons- and daughters-in-law, siblings and step- and half-siblings.

But “close family” does not include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-laws and sisters-in-law, fiances and any other “extended” family members, the guidelines say.

People with formal relationships with a US entity, who have for instance been offered a job or been accepted to study or lecture at a university, will also qualify for visas during the ban. But a hotel reservation, even if already paid for, does not qualify.

And the order stresses that non-profit groups cannot establish relationships with hopeful travelers or refugees just to allow them to skirt the ban.

Redefining ‘family’ 

Democratic legislator Bennie Thompson blasted the government for a “lack of preparation and transparency” in putting into place the ban.

“Just hours before the president’s unconstitutional and misguided travel ban takes partial effect tonight, administration officials briefing Congress were unwilling or unable to provide meaningful answers about how they determined whom the ban would affect,” said Thompson, the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Lawyers and advocates both for and against the travel ban say they expect a flood of legal challenges after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Rama Issa, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said the government is redefining what a family is.

“I was raised by my grandparents, so the idea of grandparents not being part of a family is very foreign to me,” she said at Kennedy International, preparing to help arrivals after the ban takes effect.

“I’m engaged to get married. I have family who lives in Syria today — not only my father, but my aunts and uncles who I would love to be at this wedding, and unfortunately are not going to be able to be here.”

Russian jury finds five guilty of Boris Nemtsov murder

Former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, was gunned down just metres from the Kremlin as he walked home with his girlfriend late on the evening of February 27, 2015.

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The brazen murder in central Moscow was the most high-profile political killing in Russia since Putin rose to power some 17 years ago, but Nemtsov’s family insists authorities refused to probe people close to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who they suspect ordered the hit.

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The 12-person jury ruled on its third day of deliberations that defendants Zaur Dadayev, Shadid and Anzor Gubashev, Temirlan Eskerkhanov and Khamzat Bakhayev – all ethnic Chechens from Russia’s volatile North Caucasus – carried out the hit as a gang for some $250,000.

Dadayev – a former officer in an interior ministry battalion in Chechnya – was found guilty of firing the four fatal shots.

The Gubashev brothers, Eskerkhanov and Bakhayev were found guilty of being accomplices.

The jury’s decision was reached by majority vote after they first failed to reach unanimous decisions on the long list of charges against the defendants at the end of ten months of hearings.

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The suspects have always denied they were involved in the killing and several retracted initial confessions they said were made under torture.

They are now facing lengthy jail terms, with the judge set to deliver sentencing after prosecutors set out their demands next week.

Real masterminds untouched?

While the rulings provide some answers over the killing, Nemtsov’s family is adamant that those who ordered the charismatic politician’s death have not been identified.

Nemtsov’s daughter Zhanna Nemtsova wrote that the case remained “unsolved” even though she agreed that all of the accused, with the exception of Bakhayev, were involved.

“This was not a complete investigation but only an imitation,” she posted on Facebook.

“In two years… they could not find the organiser and mastermind of the murder,” her lawyer Vadim Prokhorov said. “It’s a complete fiasco.”

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Nemtsov’s allies say the evidence clearly shows that those close to Kremlin-loyal Chechen strongman Kadyrov – or Kadyrov himself – were actually behind the assassination.

The Chechen leader – who rules his conflict-scarred region with an iron fist – has denied all involvement and defended some of the accused.

Nemtsov’s family tried and failed to get Kadyrov and some of his top lieutenants, including Dadayev’s commander Ruslan Geremeev, questioned.

Investigators only named Geremeev’s driver Ruslan Mukhudinov as an organiser and said he offered the suspects 15 million rubles (about $250,000 or 220,000 euros at current rates) for the murder.

Mukhudinov has since fled and investigators said after the verdict that the case against him was still ongoing.

No real motive has ever been offered by authorities as to why the hit on Nemtsov was ordered.

Echoes of Politkovskaya

Once one of Russia’s most popular politicians, liberal reformer Nemtsov was at one stage seen as a possible successor to former president Boris Yeltsin.

After initially backing Putin when he came to power, Nemtsov soon became one of his fiercest critics. But as the ex-KGB officer cracked down on dissent, Russia’s opposition – and Nemtsov along with it – became increasingly marginal figures.

At the time of his death aged 55, Nemtsov was probing official Russian involvement in the bloody conflict in east Ukraine. Some supporters insist he was killed to stop his political activities.

The Kremlin called his shooting a “provocation” and spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was for investigators to decide now if the case is at an end.

The murder and subsequent trial have strong echoes of a string of earlier high-profile assassinations that Kremlin critics say have been left unsolved, including the 2006 shooting of anti-Putin journalist Anna Politkovskaya in her Moscow apartment building.

Eventually five men – including four members of the same Chechen family – were found guilty of the murder, but over a decade later Politkovskaya’s family and former colleagues remain convinced the masterminds have not been brought to justice.

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South32 NSW coal mine suspended again

South32 has again suspended operations at its Appin underground coal mine in NSW over concerns of a build-up of methane gas levels.

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The diversified miner says it had withdrawn the mine’s workforce on Wednesday as a precautionary measure and notified the NSW department of planning and environment authorities.

While the company said it had not breached gas limits at the site, the regulator had issued a prohibition notice for the mine.

The regulator also had expressed broader concern about recent events at the Illawarra Metallurgical Coal operation – when gas limits had been exceeded – as well as its operating practices, South 32 said in a statement on Friday.

The company said it was working with the regulator to address these issues.

Operations are continuing at the Illawarra Metallurgical Coal unit’s other mine, Dendrobium.

Ongoing problems at the Appin mine has prompted South32 to repeatedly lower the Illawarra unit’s production guidance.

Production was disrupted in September 2016 due to roofing problems at one of the longwalls, and again in November and May when methane gas levels forced temporary suspensions of operations.

The miner on Friday said that having already achieved production of 7.05 million tonnes by June 28, it did not expect the unit’s most recent full-year production guidance to be affected by the latest incident.

The company in May lowered its forecast for full-year production to 7.1 million tonnes.

South32 will detail production guidance for the 2018 financial year when it releases its full-year results in August.

Turnbull’s year since the federal election

WINS AND LOSSES ONE YEAR SINCE THE FEDERAL ELECTION

JULY 2016:

* The coalition scrapes back into power with a one-seat majority with 50.

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4 per cent of the two-party vote.

* Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces royal commission into the Northern Territory’s youth detention system after revelations of abuse.

AUGUST

* The coalition concedes defeat in the Queensland seat of Herbert confirming its one-seat majority.

* An angry Turnbull suggests heads will roll after ordering a review into how cyber attacks disrupted the 2016 Census.

SEPTEMBER

* Government suffers an embarrassing defeat after MPs leave parliament early, losing control of the lower house and a series of votes following a Labor stunt.

NOVEMBER

* Government grilled over who knew what and when, amid revelations former crossbench senator Bob Day breached the constitution in a financial agreement with the commonwealth.

* Proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite is defeated in the Senate.

* Government faces allegations it made a deal with the Western Australian government to run dead on a High Court case in a move that would have dudded taxpayers out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

* Government finally restores the building industry watchdog, passing the two bills it used to trigger the July 2 double-dissolution election.

DECEMBER

* Government finally passes its controversial backpacker tax, following an eleventh-hour compromise deal with the Greens, ending 18 months of uncertainty.

JANUARY 2017

* Turnbull forced to reshuffle his cabinet after an expenses scandal forces the resignation of health minister Sussan Ley.

FEBRUARY

* PM forced to hose down reports he was berated by Donald Trump over a refugee swap deal.

* Outspoken coalition backbencher Cory Bernardi quits the Liberals to start his own Australian Conservatives Party, angering the government.

* Parliament votes to scrap the life gold travel pass for retired federal MPs and to establish an expenses watchdog to hold politicians to account in the wake of the Ley scandal.

MARCH

* Major overhaul of the child care system clears parliament with crossbench support.

* Controversial changes to race-hate speech laws are killed off in the Senate.

* Turnbull gets a partial win on his centrepiece economic policy, securing a tax cut to businesses with turnovers under $50 million after failing to get the Senate on board for a $50 billion plan to cut taxes for all businesses.

APRIL

* The 457 visa program for skilled migrants abolished.

* Turnbull unveils plans to make it harder to become an Australian citizen.

MAY

* Treasurer Scott Morrison hands down his second budget, announcing a gradual thaw of the Medicare rebate freeze that almost cost Turnbull the election.

JUNE

* Australian government debt hits half a trillion dollars for the first time.

* New levy to raise $6bn from the nation’s biggest banks clears parliament.

* Turnbull responds to Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s review of the energy market with new rules to restrict gas exports and a plan to scrap a process that allows power companies to hike prices.

* Major school funding overhaul, aka Gonski 2.0, clears parliament with crossbench support.

* Newspoll shows that while Turnbull maintains lead over Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as preferred PM, support for the coalition has dropped more than three percentage points since the election.

US warns China over Hong Kong freedoms

The State Department said the success of Hong Kong, which was given a large degree of autonomy when British colonial rule ended in 1997, was due to its unique status.

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“The United States… admires the city’s outstanding achievements, which are the result of its high degree of autonomy, its economic and personal freedoms, and its respect for rule of law,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

But while Washington valued its “excellent cooperation” with Hong Kong’s government it “remains concerned about any infringements of civil liberties in Hong Kong, including intrusions on press freedoms,” Nauert added in a statement.

Recent incidents in Hong Kong — including the disappearance of five publishers who were known for salacious titles about the Chinese leadership — have sparked fears that Beijing is choking the city’s freedoms.

Last year, the city’s High Court disqualified two democratically elected pro-independence lawmakers from taking their seats after they added expletives and used derogatory terms for China when taking their oaths.

The court’s move was preempted by an earlier intervention from Beijing which said they should not be allowed to join parliament.

Mass protests in Hong Kong in 2014 demanding more democratic reform failed to wring any concessions from the authorities, leading to an increase in calls for self-determination or even full independence.

High-profile pro-democracy campaigners including Joshua Wong and young legislator Nathan Law were arrested Wednesday night after staging a protest outside a Hong Kong convention center that will host some of the anniversary events this weekend.

The State Department said the US “support(s) the further development of Hong Kong’s democratic systems, including the implementation of universal suffrage in accordance with the Basic Law” — a reference to its de facto constitution.

Hong Kong was handed back to China by colonial ruler Britain in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula designed to protect its freedoms and way of life.