Big weekend at motocross open A Grade and B Grade riders line up for the start of the Senior Lites race. Picture: Amy Paton
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Geelong rider Layla Norton builds up speed. Picture: Amy Paton

Geelong rider Aaron Murphy at his highest point. Picture: Amy Paton

The start of the A grade and B grade Senior Lites race. Picture: Amy Paton

Horsham rider Bailey Thomas jumps the highest part of the course. Picture: Amy Paton

Horsham rider Cory Watts gives a wave as he speeds by. Picture: Amy Paton

Geelong rider Peter Kearney followed by Blue Rock MCC rider Hayden Joyce. Picture: Amy Paton

Bendigo rider Toby Frisch. Picture: Amy Paton

Bacchus Marsh rider Jordan Brown. Picture: Amy Paton

A rider passes over a peak in the course. Picture: Amy Paton

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A police image compiled from descriptions of a serial rapist operating in Hamilton in 2007. Photo: Supplied A woman who was raped by Hamilton’s serial rapist revisits the scene near the main street. Photo: Iain McGregor/Fairfax NZ
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The press conference about the 2007 serial rapist case will be held at the Hamilton Central Police Station. Photo: Bruce Mercer/Fairfax NZ

Police have linked a man found dead in Perth with the rape of at least three women in New Zealand in 2007.

Details of the breakthrough were revealed by Detective Inspector Chris Page during a press conference in Hamilton on Wednesday.

The offender left New Zealand in 2008 at the age of 28, Page said. He had been working as a bouncer at a Hamilton bar. He was identified through DNA lodged through Interpol in 2015, which was matched to the body found in Perth.

It is only the DNA evidence that relates the man to the investigation into the 2007 serial rapist case, which Hamilton police dubbed Operation Phil. Page said that in May 2013, the same man was arrested in Australia for a non-sexual minor offence.  It was at that point DNA was taken.

The man died in non-suspicious circumstances in July 2013 – weeks after his DNA was taken – and police would not be releasing his name. However, they did say the Operation Phil file would be closed.

Operation Phil was investigating the rapes in 2007 of three women in Hamilton in as many months, all tied to the same offender.

On Wednesday morning, one of the three victims said a detective had informed her the suspect had been found dead by his own hand in Australia.

She spoke out six months after the 2007 attack in an effort to shed new light on the police investigation.

The then 43-year-old from Hamilton said the attack left her traumatised.

She was the third of the man’s alleged victims but unlike the first two, was not coaxed into a car by the young man.

Instead she said she was approached as she sat in the central business district in the early hours of a Saturday morning.

She had been drinking at home and had gone to a 24-hour cafe in the city to buy food and cigarettes when the man sat down beside her in Victoria Street.

“I said to him, do you know where to get any tinnies from? He said, yeah, come with me. He wasn’t scary looking or anything. I wasn’t worried at the time.”

The man, who was in his 20s with shoulder-length blond hair, led the woman behind a building on the river side of the street, where he suddenly demanded she get on her knees.

After sexually violating and raping the woman, he smacked her in the head and punched her in the face.

When the offender finally fled, the woman found a couple who helped her call police from a pay-phone.

In January 2008, he said police had been working through a process of elimination from a list of more than 1000 names since the attacks began in April 2007.

Family background inquiries had gone as far afield as Australia, he said, but no single suspect was believed to have fled across the Tasman.

“I’m confident we will get this guy . . .” he said then, “but it’s going to take time.”

– Stuff.co.nz

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has returned almost all the money. Photo: Lai Seng SinNajib got nearly $1bn ‘personal donation’ from Saudis
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Bangkok: Saudi Arabia says it will investigate a claim by Malaysia’s Attorney-General that embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak returned US$620 million ($881 million) to Saudi’s royal family from his personal bank account in 2013.

The failure of Saudi authorities to immediately confirm the transfer has deepened mystery about US$700 million that was transferred into Mr Najib’s personal bank account.

Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi said the money was an entirely legal “personal donation” from the Saudi family which asked for nothing in return.

But amid a furore over the escalating scandal that has engulfed Mr Najib his critics said it was implausible the money came as a personal donation.

A spokesperson for the Saudi Foreign Ministry said no further comment would be made at the moment about the claim by Mr Apandi, who said on Tuesday he had ordered the country’s anti-corruption commission to close an investigation into the money transfers.

Saudi Arabia King Abdullah died a year ago.

Mr Najib on Wednesday ignored a barrage of criticism for failing to explain key questions about the money, saying only in a statement the controversy “has been an unnecessary distraction for the country.”

“Now that the matter has been comprehensively put to rest, it is time to unite move on,” he said.

However opposition politicians are demanding to know what happened to US$61 million that, according to Mr Apandi, was not sent back to the Saudi Royal family from Mr Najib’s account.

They also want to know who specifically donated the money, why it was donated and why it took more than six months for the government to say where the money came from.

The Wall Street Journal has reported the money flowed to Mr Najib’s account through an anonymous British Virgin Islands company and a Swiss private bank account wholly owned by an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund that is intertwined with Malaysia’s heavily indebted sovereign fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, which Mr Najib established in 2009 and still oversees through chairmanship of an advisory committee.

The closest Mr Najib has come to explaining the money came in a statement issued hours after Mr Apandi’s announcement.

“I appreciate that political funding is a topic of concern to many people,” Mr Najib said, adding that opposition MPs had blocked party funding reform proposals he had initiated in 2010.

“I have instructed them to be put forward again for discussion,” he said.

Authorities in the United States and several other countries are continuing to investigate the money transfers and links to the 1Malaysia fund that is struggling to pay US$11 billion in debts and is selling off assets.

Mr Apandi’s announcement, which was greeted with widespread scepticism and derision, has intensified pressure on Mr Najib to resign, including from within the ranks of his long-ruling United Malays National Organisation.

Leading opposition MP Rafizi Ramli said the announcement had only made the situation “more ridiculous” and described the prime minister as a “clown”.

“This can only happen in fairytales,” he said.

National Human Rights Society president Ambiga Sreenevasan said Malaysians were entitled to know the reasons why Mr Apandi has shut down the investigation.

“So far as I can see, the explanation given is not enough because at the end any explanation must make sense and this doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Veteran newspaper editor and commentator A Kadir Jasin said Mr Najib may be safe from prosecution now “but despite the Attorney-General closing the case, the court of public opinion will continue to try him.”

“As for all of us, we have to do some serious soul searching if we care for this country and its future,” he said.

As well asserting that Mr Najib had received the money from the Saudi family, Mr Apandi said there was “no evidence” that the prime minister “had any knowledge” of about US$10 million that was transferred into his accounts from a company owned by the Finance Ministry known as SRC, which handles the savings of Malaysian government employees.

Mr Najib was “of the belief” that any of the money he spent had come from the Saudi royal family, Mr Apandi said.

Mr Apandi was appointed Attorney-General by Mr Najib when the incumbent attorney-general abruptly stepped down after the scandal broke last year.

In October Mr Apandi rejected the recommendations of Malaysia’s central bank to begin criminal proceedings against 1Malaysia Development Berhad for allegedly breaking foreign-exchange laws, saying there was insufficient evidence.

The fund is facing an auditor general’s probe into its affairs.

-With agencies

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Game-changer: Canberra United goalkeeper Lydia Williams is obstructed by Sydney FC striker Kyah Simon. Photo: SuppliedIt is “little consolation” for Canberra United, but Football Federation Australia referees boss Ben Wilson says referee Casey Reibelt got it wrong in allowing Sydney FC’s deciding goal in the W-League semi-final to stand and she will not officiate this weekend’s decider.
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Wilson said Reibelt “wasn’t in the best position”, while additional assistant referee Katie Patterson made a “judgment error” when they allowed Jasmyne Spencer’s goal to stand at McKellar Park on Sunday.

Instead the referee should have awarded a free-kick to United because Sydney forward Kyah Simon had fouled Lydia Williams when the United goalkeeper attempted to catch a cross.

The ball spilled free and Spencer pounced to score the only goal of the semi, sending Sydney through to the W-League decider against Melbourne City.

Wilson said the officials would get coached to try and ensure the error did not happen again.

He said the FFA had brought in two additional assistant referees for the semis – on top of the usual three on-field officials – to specifically be “an extra pair of eyes for critical decisions in and around the penalty area”, such as what happened at the weekend.

Wilson said the result would stand regardless of the error.

“In short the refereeing team made an error … the referee probably wasn’t in the best position to see the contact between the two players, so the coaching for her was she could’ve got into a better position,” he told Fairfax Media on Wednesday.

“We have these additional assistant referees for the first time in the W-League semi-finals and there was one in a good position, but she just made a judgment error and didn’t think the contact was sufficient for it to be a foul.

“So she advised the referee through the communication system that there was no foul and the referee took her advice.

“It’s little consolation I’d imagine to be told the referee made a mistake.”

The FFA announced on Wednesday Kate Jacewicz would take charge of the W-League grand final, with Reibelt not listed in her team of assistants.

“We couldn’t really consider match officials that were involved in a match-changing error in a semi-final to show up in a grand final,” Wilson said.

“That would probably be galling for Canberra United players to see that on TV.

“That’s not the only thing that comes into consideration, but it’s one of the considerations.”

Canberra chief executive Heather Reid wrote to the FFA seeking clarification about the incident.

She said it was “no consolation” the FFA had confirmed what “99 per cent” of people who saw the incident thought.

Reid felt Reibelt possibly should not have been allowed to take charge of the game in the first place.

She said while United had chances to equalise, they had been forced to change their game plan as a result of going behind.

“That’s the cruel nature of sport, whether it’s soccer, basketball, league, it’s unfortunate that it happened and I’m sure the FFA will be looking at their processes and procedures to make sure that these sort of things don’t happen again,” Reid said.

“The other thing is that perhaps we’d seen this particular referee too many times this season and a different referee might have been better for us because there were other incidents that we’ve had with her so there’s a little bit of history.”

Reid said United would also talk to Wilson about the treatment winger Ashleigh Sykes received during the game.

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Semi-final bound: Andy Murray celebrates his hard-fought quarter-final win over David Ferrer. Photo: Cameron Spencer Tough encounter: Andy Murray is congratulated by David Ferrer after their quarter-final battle. Photo: Vincent Thian
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The narrative of the tournament has been one of little surprise. Yes Rafa departed early but his body issues ensured that were was no blindsiding in that.

Novak won, a few precocious gits acted like precocious gits, Serena beat Maria. Again. And now Andy Murray is in another semi-final.

If this sounds familiar it is because it is the sixth time the Scot has made the semi-finals at the Australian Open. Four times already he has made the final, too, so if the tournament sticks to this wrinkle-free narrative Murray will play Djokovic in the final. And lose.

Murray has now beaten David Ferrer in their past six matches. All of them were close, each set narrowly decided, but ultimately Murray won. This is how it is meant to be in seeded tournaments, but there is always space for the unexpected.

Ferrer offered nothing unexpected, which is not to say he might not have won. It would have been unexpected if he was wiped. It was a match that went to expectations: it was tight; it ebbed; it flowed; there was little discernible difference between them; Ferrer won a set, was in absolutely every set; and then lost.

Murray won the first set in relative ease, which created a first for Ferrer – he was the only man in the last eight not to have dropped a set in reaching the quarter-finals – but was broken immediately in the second. The set and then the match became a wrestle.

Murray aced to save one set point, which meant the game ended up going to a tie break that the Spaniard won.

Murray was frustrated with his own game, bleating to his box about his forehand in particular and looking challengingly at his coach Amelie Maursemo as if to ask what was she going to do about it.

After dropping a set it was like he calmed and lifted his game. He broke Ferrer’s serve early then, inexplicably given it was hosing down in Geelong and the idea it might rain here was well anticipated, organisers decided now was the time to close the roof and not three games earlier during the set break.

“I found it easier to return [after the roof closed]. It was a bit windy early … that helped me a little bit on the return,” Murray said. “But I think it was good to good to have a break, we played some brutal rallies in that second set.

“It’s tough. In those situations ideally I would have played the next game and held serve after the break … but I like to play indoors, I grew up in Scotland and the weather is not quite like here so I like it.” The game resumed and it was those half moments that differentiated them. Like the low running passing shot from the back corner of the court to help ensure he held his serve in the fourth set after breaking Ferrer.

The greatest twist this day delivered was not in the play of this match but in its consequence. By Murray winning, after Johanna Konta won on centre court before him, it ensured that two Brits (OK one is from Scotland and the other lived here for half her life) have reached the semi-finals of a major for the first time since 1977.

Murray has now made the semi-finals here for the sixth time (and the 18th time in all grand slams). He has also has made the final here four times before without taking the title. Now getting there and beating Roger or Novak would be a wrinkle in the narrative.

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LAST week a police van pulled up at the front of my house. I panicked slightly and raced out tosee what may be wrong. In the front of the van was my dog Joe who had wandered off. They let him out, smiled and said we thought we would pick him up as we did not want theowner not knowing where he was and go looking for him in case he waspicked up by the ranger. Thank you very much officers, you were wonderful.
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Gavin Wolfgram, RedheadHAPPY AustraliaDay fellow contributors, readers andHeraldstaff. Let’s celebrate the fact we live in thebest country in the world. Disagree? Then tell me where is better. OK, we’re not perfect but lifewould be bloody boring if we were. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie and proud of it.

Dave McTaggart,EdgeworthTHE Jets will continue to struggle, until a new ownerwho knows football, is found. A successfulclub starts with the administration and we really lack in that department. Showing somerespect to our best player, would be a good start. The capitulation on Sunday had a bad vibeabout. The body language of some players did not look good to me. FFA needs to get the sale of theclub into top gear.

Daryl Frost,EleebanaJOHN Sorensen (“Time to lower sights”Letters, 27/1) alludes to an oxymoron inrelation to the Jets. I think a classic oxymoron is the term “professional sport”.

Bruce Brown,Marks PointIF I was Scott Miller, I’d be resigning as Jets coach before he’s used as ascapegoat. It takes more than a coach to make a team, the teamneeds good players and after their 6-1 thrashing. Maybe a recruitment drive would be a goodidea.

Wayne Ridley,GatesheadHOW must it feel to have a worse send-off record than Muscat. Well, Jets management you did buy him.

Percy Cooper,Fern Bay6-1 down. At home. This is still not the team Newcastle Jets’ fans deserve. Still waiting.

Daryll Hadfield,RedheadGOOD grief.That loop de looping plane has now been loop de looping over us.Thanks for thegreat show.

Jennifer Bailey,Hamilton SouthI HAVE another “notbad idea”that Peter Mason (“Service at servos”Herald,27/1 ) might like to casta thought at: Those poor men without hope on Hunter Street could start shining shoes.

David Wilson,Bar BeachMESSAGEBOARDBELMONT View Club will be meeting at Central Charlestown Leagues Club onWednesday, February 17, from 10.30am.New members welcome. Phone 4945 5870.

TODAY’S TEXTYOU are tempted in the same way that everyone else is tempted. But God can be trusted not to let you be tempted too much, and he will showyou how to escape from your temptations.

1 Corinthians 10:13


They both live in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, but Sam Frost has yet to introduce her best friend Lisa Hyde to her boyfriend Sasha Mielczarek. Photo: Network Ten Hyde supported Sam Frost after Blake Garvey (left) dumped her, but she has yet to meet Sasha Mielczarek (right). Photo: Network Ten
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Derek Zoolander thinks Kanye West’s Yeezy fashion collection is a copy of Derelict

Lisa Hyde and Sam Frost were inseparable after Blake Garvey dumped them on The Bachelor Australia, called off his engagement with the latter and ran off to Thailand with second runner-up, Louise Pillidge.

Rarely seen without each other during that time, the reality TV show best friends appeared in mourning together on The Project as they spoke for the first time about the controversial Perth auctioneer, shared snaps of each other on Instagram gushing about their “love” for one another and were regulars on the red carpet at Sydney soirees. But they say there are three types of friends: for life, for a reason and for a season, and Hyde and Frost’s relationship seems to have only lasted for Network Ten’s The Bachelor Australia season two.

Despite both Hyde, 28, and Frost, 26, living in close proximity in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, Hyde has yet to meet Frost’s new beau Sasha Mielczarek, 30, who she chose on her second reality TV show outing, The Bachelorette Australia, last year.

Speaking from the purple carpet of Zoolander No. 2’s Sydney premiere, Hyde said: “I haven’t personally met him [Mielczarek], ya … We’ve just been too busy, you know, it has been hard catching up and obviously we’ve got lots of different things going on, so it was tough.”

Like the public, the Queenslander said she keeps up-to-date on Frost’s love life “in the media”, but that doesn’t include her daily 2DayFM breakfast show with Rove McManus as Hyde doesn’t tune in.

“It’s been a bit difficult, I don’t really get up that early,” she laughed.

Frost and McManus could do with the extra number in Hyde as radio results in December showed the new duo barely shifted the ratings numbers, recording a statistically insignificant uptick​, but they are still settling down and marking their territory in the early slot.    Do I really need a caption? I’m pretty sure everyone knows how much I love this woman #sydneybound @lisa_m_hydeA photo posted by Sam Frost (@fro01) on Oct 14, 2014 at 10:49pm PDT   A photo posted by Sam Frost (@fro01) on Sep 19, 2014 at 12:34am PDT

There are also those who say Frost doesn’t deserve to host the coveted broadcast show because she has little experience in radio, but Hyde said “she is doing the best she can.”

“I’ve heard a few episodes and she is doing great. It’s a tough gig, the morning show in Sydney … She’s gone into a role that she has never done before so the people that are criticising her need to put themselves in her shoes and see how they go.”

Hyde, who is currently busy working on her sunglasses collection Shevoke, was joined at the Ben Stiller event by her boyfriend travel presenter and model, Tyson Mayr. After appearing on the Australian version of I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here last year, he offered some advice for this year’s contestants.

“Eat as much food as you can because you will be very, very hungry in there.

“They will offer you one big meal before you head into the the jungle and eat as much as you can … overeat.”

The handsome pair were dressed to kill at the movie premiere, despite having just come from the beach and then an Australia Day boat party earlier in the afternoon.   Finishing Aus day at the @zoolander premier with this cutie #hashtagzoolander2 || attire @elliattA photo posted by Lisa Hyde (@lisa_m_hyde) on Jan 26, 2016 at 1:34am PST

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Waiting game: Perth Scorchers fast bowler Jason Behrendorff is having scans on his troublesome back this week. Photo: Matt BedfordPerth Scorchers and Western Australia quick Jason Behrendorff is having scans on his back this week to determine if he will bowl again this summer.
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Behrendorff has been plagued by swelling in the area where he had stress fractures a year ago which resulted in him missing almost two months of cricket last November and December.

It was initially reported Behrendorff would be out for four months following the Scorchers’ Big Bash League semi-final loss to the Melbourne Stars last Friday, but a WACA spokesman said the Canberra product was having scans this week with results to determine how the rest of his summer would proceed.

Behrendorff modified his action this summer in an attempt to prevent the stress fractures from recurring.

WA play their next Sheffield Shield game against NSW in New Zealand next Wednesday.

“He did change his action prior to the Big Bash and there’s degrees of movement that sports science has determined is the optimal levels for bowlers to operate within and his new action is within those levels,” the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Tasmania have beaten the ACT Comets by an innings and 69 runs at Bellerive on Wednesday.

Needing 243 to make Tasmania bat again, the Comets were bowled out for 174 with Matthew Condon top scoring with 53.

Tasmania medium pacer Hamish Kingston, who has made four Shield appearances, took 5-80 and Cameron Wheatley claimed 4-23.

Comets coach Aiden Blizzard said while the result was not what they wanted it was a good learning opportunity for the young side.

Blizzard has just returned from winning the BBL title with the Sydney Thunder and has been using Thunder coach Paddy Upton’s coaching philosophy, which puts a lot of the onus back on the players to improve themselves.

He was especially pleased with the efforts of 17-year-old quick Joe Slater on debut.

“Not ideal, but some pretty good learning experiences for a lot of them – batting on Bellerive, being an international cricket oval, against a pretty much first-class cricket team,” Blizzard said.

“We’ve said a few times we’d love to win every game, but it’s more about the development of these young individuals.

“We’d love for every single one of them to take the next step to be contracted, whether that be a rookie or a senior contract, within the state system.”

The Comets play NSW at Manuka Oval from February 8-11.

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Frontbencher Jamie Briggs said work took him away from home 165 nights last year. Photo: Andrew Meares Mr Briggs, pictured the day after Tony Abbott lost the prime ministership, injured his knee at a party hosted by the former leader on the night he was dumped as PM. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Former minister Jamie Briggs says he has paid a heavy price for the Hong Kong incident that saw him resign from the ministry and has expressed regret over his consumption of alcohol to deal with the stress of work.

Mr Briggs, forced to resign in December after a female public servant complained about inappropriate behaviour, said he needed to learn from his mistakes.

“I shouldn’t have been in that situation, I should have been more careful, I should have been more disciplined,” he told local Adelaide Hills newspaper The Courier.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staffer at the centre of the controversy complained that, on a night out during an official visit in November, he told her she had “piercing eyes” and kissed her on the neck, although Mr Briggs said it was her cheek.

A photo of the public servant later ended up in newspapers, as well some of her private details and text messages exchanged with Mr Briggs’ chief of staff Stuart Eaton.

Mr Briggs admitted to sharing the photo with colleagues but denied giving it to the media.

“I’m not going to get into whether the error was significant or not because, in the end, the judgment of the Prime Minister was that it was an error which breached the high standards of ministers.”

Mr Briggs said he had no choice but to resign as Minister for Cities and the Built Environment and that there’s “not really a small price” to pay for mistakes in politics.

“I needed to resign because it’s a very privileged position to be a minister in a Commonwealth government and I need to learn from the error that I made.”

The former minister said he had a work-related problem with alcohol.

“I think I’ve got to consider some of my behaviours and some of the choices I’ve made, particularly when I’ve been travelling.

“I was away 165 nights last year. I flew 150-odd times and I’ve found it really difficult.

“I probably too often used alcohol as a way to deal with that [pace and intensity of travel and work] so I think in that sense, that’s probably part of the reason for the decision.”

Mr Briggs famously injured his knee at a party hosted by Tony Abbott on the night he was dumped as prime minister in September.

While originally saying he injured it running, he later admitted that he “went to tackle [Mr Abbott], I ran at him and missed, and the rest is history”.

Mr Briggs’ wife Estee also spoke with The Courier, saying she was frustrated by the controversy surrounding the Hong Kong incident, insisting that they had a strong, happy family and marriage.

Mr Briggs – who has said he will recontest his seat of Mayo – also complained that some of the media commentary was “ridiculously over the top”.

He was almost dumped from the ministry in September after Mr Turnbull’s cabinet reshuffle, where he was handed the Cities and Built Environment portfolio. He was previously the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.

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Australian filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour on a scouting visit to Afghanistan for his new film Return To Kandahar.Movie session timesFull movies coverage
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Australian filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour wants his new film to be an answer to “Hollywood war porn” such as American Sniper, Lone Survivor and Zero Dark Thirty.

The paramedic who directed the touching Pakistan drama Son of a Lion and the documentary Paramedico is planning to head to Afghanistan to shoot Return to Kandahar, a drama about a former US marine going back as a tourist to track down the family of an unarmed civilian he killed during a raid on a village.

It was partly inspired by watching how Hollywood has been telling war stories.

“The propaganda machine is so powerful,” Gilmour says. “Writing the script, I was getting angrier and angrier about these films that certain Hollywood filmmakers have been putting out – the Kathryn Bigelows and Mark Boals of the world who are connected to the CIA in their propaganda objectives – to restripe history that is beneficial to the American objectives in that part of the world.”

He is particularly critical of American Sniper for “making a hero of someone that was essentially a killer who had killed hundreds of people, albeit in a war situation. That made me feel sick.”

Bradley Cooper in American Sniper.Photo: Keith Bernstein

Gilmour went to Pakistan’s North West Frontier to shoot Son of a Lion, a 2008 drama about a boy who wants to go to school rather than follow his fundamentalist father into the gun business, with local villagers.

“As a writer and filmmaker I’ve been a guest in Afghanistan and shared tea with men my age who have only ever known a state of war,” he says. “As a paramedic and aid worker I have treated the casualties of this conflict and others, including returned soldiers with physical and mental disabilities like PTSD.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that war is profoundly immoral and, in most cases, illogical and completely unnecessary.”

The script for Return to Kandahar has been inspired by Afghan hostage stories over generations of wars. One centres on Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier whose experience of being held captive for five years by the Taliban is being recounted in the podcast Serial and turned into a movie by The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty team of Boal and Bigelow.

“With this film I want to obliterate the ‘Islamic terrorist’ stereotype at the centre of modern war propaganda,” Gilmour says.

As well as humanising Muslims, he hopes Return To Kandahar will “demonstrate the mercy in Islam that is so commonly ignored by extremists and Islamophobes alike.”

Gilmour has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $US30,000 to supplement finance from a Pashtun philanthropist.

While keeping details quiet for security reasons, he plans to shoot in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan later this year.

“I believe very strongly in authenticity,” he says. “If I’m making a film that purports to reveal a truth about these people and a path to peace, I need to shoot on location with the very people the story is about.

“I’m not going to be dressing up Mexicans as Afghans.” Star Wars takes summer holidays box office title

Over the summer holidays, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has dominated cinemas like no movie since Avatar six years ago.

In six weeks it has taken $88.2 million and seems set to finish with more than $90 million – second on the all-time list but, without multiple repeat visits, well short of Avatar’s record $115.6 million.

By last weekend, the next biggest hit over the holidays was the comedy Daddy’s Home with $19.9 million.

On the back of a dozen Oscar nominations, The Revenant has reached a solid $13.2 million in three weeks.

While the holidays are usually a strong time for animated movies, there were decent but still somewhat disappointing takings for three this summer – The Good Dinosaur ($13.9 million), Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip ($12.6 million) and especially Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie ($7.2 million).

The hottest ticket last weekend was The Hateful Eight. Boosted by a high-profile visit by Quentin Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell, it took $2.4 million to top the box office chart, reaching $3.4 million with two weeks of 70mm screenings. Alvin’s purple patch at Slamdance

Screening at Slamdance: Teik-Kim Pok in Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites.

Australian filmmaker Platon Theodoris has been enjoying unfamiliar weather – “it’s minus three outside and there’s a metre of snow on the streets” – as Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites screens at Slamdance in Utah.

An informal co-production between Australia and Indonesia, the quirky blend of comedy, drama, road movie and magical realism tells a story about a pedantic translator (Teik-Kim Pok) who discovers a new world in his roof after a neighbour (Vashti Hughes) suspects their building has a flea infestation.

Made with funds raised privately, it was shot in Sydney, Kalgoorlie and Jakarta and is screening in a festival sometimes described as Sundance’s Director’s Fortnight.

“Slamdance is where the true spirit of independent film making thrives,” says Theodoris. “The film had a sold-out screening here on Saturday and we’ve already sold-out our second screening this Thursday.”

Alvin’s Harmonious World will have what’s described as a “bespoke” cinema release in March, including a a Melbourne premiere at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image with a Q&A on March 26, Sydney’s Golden Age on April 10 and Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres with a Q&A on April 20. The film’s web site is here.  Cleverman to debut in Berlin

Hunter Page-Lochard as Koen in Cleverman.

The Indigenous sci-film TV series Cleverman will have its world premiere as one of four Australian projects selected for the Berlin Film Festival next month.

Produced by Goalpost Pictures (The Sapphires, Holding The Man) and directed by Wayne Blair and Leah Purcell, it will screen as one of six TV series selected from around the world in a section called Berlinale Special Series.

Cleverman is based on an idea by writer Ryan Griffen, who describes it as a show about Australia’s own superheroes.

“It’s a modern story with ancient roots, about how humans treat others in a world where Aboriginal dreamtime creatures exist,” he told Screen Blog.

The cast includes Hunter Page-Lochard, Frances O’Connor, Deborah Mailman, Iain Glen and Ryan Corr.

Thrilled producer Rosemary Blight says selection of the ABC series for Berlin is “nerve-wracking and wonderful at the same time.”

Also screening at the festival is theatre director Rosemary Myers’ quirky coming-of-age film Girl Asleep in the children’s section Generation 14plus and two Australian shorts: Bryn Chainey’s Kill Your Dinner and actor-director Alice Englert’s The Boyfriend Game.

Twitter: @gmaddox

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


Ian Jacobs, Vice-Chancellor of the University of NSW. Comment: We need to scrap the ATAR as the main judge of student potential
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The Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales has called for an end to the ATAR university admissions system as it currently stands, after a Fairfax Media investigation revealed that the practice of admitting students with low marks was rampant across the sector.

UNSW’s Vice-Chancellor Ian Jacobs said NSW should move away from the ATAR as the only measurement of academic success as quickly as possible.

“We need a set of criteria that identifies the most talented students from all backgrounds, not ATAR alone,” he said.

On Tuesday, an analysis of confidential data from the University of Sydney, Macquarie, Western Sydney University and UNSW revealed that students with ATARs as low as 30 were being offered places in business, teaching and engineering degrees.

An ATAR [Australia Tertiary Admissions Rank] is given to more than 50,000 NSW high school students in December each year. It has become the uniform four-digit rank to measure a student’s ability against what universities believe is the minimum academic standard required to complete a course, as well as supply and demand for the degree.

In an opinion piece for Fairfax Media, Professor Jacobs’ deputy, Iain Martin, argues there should be radical changes to the admissions process.

“Reducing six years of education to a single ranking is simplistic, let’s have a constructive debate about what could replace the ATAR alone as a fairer, more comprehensive and contextual measure of academic potential”. The measures could include secondary school performance in specific subjects beyond the HSC relevant to a particular degree and taking a students background into account before final marks are generated.

Richard Hill, a researcher in university management at Griffith University, said that the admission of students who were barely capable of completing an essay was a “chronic” problem throughout the tertiary education industry.

“If you have a pulse you can get in,” said Professor Hill. “It’s a very serious issue at the coalface for academics who often have to teach students who are semi-literate, if you ask any academic that has become a massive concern”.

“We’ve known about diminishing standards, pressures on academics, and letting people into courses with ATARs of 30, how on earth are they getting away with this without a public inquiry?”

He said the the low quality of candidates entering universities put the future of the Australian workforce at risk, particularly in key industries such as nursing and engineering.

“Employer organisations have been saying for a long time that a lot of graduates coming out of universities aren’t equipped to go into the workforce”.

The fallout comes as Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced on Wednesday that record numbers of students had enrolled in higher education in 2016, with 1.2 million students now undertaking tertiary courses.

The 3 per cent increase in student numbers since 2014 has brought the total cost to taxpayers up to $16 billion this year on the back of un-capped student places. Since 2012 universities have been able to enrol as many students as they want.

Mr Birmingham said that although the demand-driven system has provided unprecedented access and must be protected it has come at a significantly higher cost to the taxpayer.

“Recent attrition rates show that almost 15 per cent of these Australians do not progress to their second year. Universities must take responsibility for those students they choose to enrol and ensure they have the capabilities and support to succeed” .

The president of the NSW Board of Studies, Tom Alegounarias said the university admission system needed an overhaul to provide greater clarity on the academic ability of students.

“If universities use measurements other than the ATAR then those have to be transparent and reliable. It is crucial that students know what the rules are and what the bar they have to get over is,” he said.

“If the bar changes without the students’ knowledge then those who are most disadvantaged will suffer”.

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Senator Cory Bernardi will vote against same-sex marriage no matter what the Australian public says. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Warren Entsch describes the Abetz and Bernardi stance as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘bizarre’. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Analysis: Turnbull’s moderate vision begins to fraySketch: Aiding and Abetzing the flat-earthers

Same-sex marriage reform advocates within the Turnbull government have reacted angrily to the plans of some hardline conservatives to vote “no change” in Parliament even if a future plebiscite votes “yes”.

Arrangements for the plebiscite are being worked through with a view to a final set of options within weeks.

Opponents, including Abbott loyalist Eric Abetz and conservative strongman Cory Bernardi, have begun speaking out, declaring they will not back the change, regardless of public opinion. One MP said he expected others would also vote against reform, “come what may”.

The move represents a direct challenge to the authority of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has publicly stated that the decision of voters, in a yet-to-be-finalised plebiscite, would be reflected absolutely by the government and the Parliament.

Senator Abetz has said he would not necessarily vote with the majority while Senator Bernardi revealed he would definitely not vote in favour of same-sex marriage, regardless of the public’s verdict.

Liberal National MP Warren Entsch, a leading advocate of same-sex marriage, slammed his colleagues’ stance as “bizarre” and “extraordinary”. He pointed out that Senator Abetz had been a part of the very (Abbott) cabinet that had set the plebiscite timetable, in order to forestall a faster parliamentary vote, and that he had expressed no complaints.

He said the Tasmanian backbencher would get the same opportunity to vote against marriage equality as everyone else: “in the plebiscite”.

A national vote on whether to legalise same-sex marriage after the next election, is expected to cost about $160 million. Government sources confirmed the “mechanics” of the plebiscite, including its timing, and the question to be put, could go to Cabinet as early as February or March. Mr Entsch also dismissed fears on the party’s right, that the pro-change advocates were hijacking the process, arguing any formula would be taken to the party room first.

Mr Turnbull told Parliament last year that “the consequence of a ‘yes’ vote in the plebiscite will be that same-sex marriage will be legal in Australia”.

“When the Australian people make their decision, that decision will stick,” he said in October. “It will be decisive. It will be respected by this government and by this Parliament and this nation.”

But Senator Bernardi told Fairfax Media on Wednesday: “Even if the public voted for [same-sex marriage], I wouldn’t vote for it.

“It goes against what I believe in. This is a substantial issue and, in the annals of public policy, you want to be on the record about your views.”

Senator Bernardi said he still expected Parliament would “respect the views of the Australian people” because not all parliamentarians were as passionate about the issue as he and they would be guided by the plebiscite result.

Senator Abetz, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, earlier said he would reserve his judgment following the plebiscite result.

When asked about Senator Abetz’s comments, Mr Entsch told Fairfax Media: “Given he was part of the decision-making process [on a plebiscite], I find it rather extraordinary.

“It makes you wonder why we would spend millions of dollars on a plebiscite if you’re not going to respect the result. I find it rather bizarre.

“If people make a decision either way we should respect that.

“It will be a very brave individual – either in the House of Representatives or the Senate – who seeks to challenge the views of the Australian people.”

Senator Abetz’s comments come as Mr Abbott prepares to address US anti-gay marriage group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, in New York.

Mr Turnbull has defended his right to speak at the event, saying there were “fellow members of the Coalition who have different views, and they are . . . entitled to express them”.

Mr Entsch has been working on the wording for a plebiscite question with Attorney-General George Brandis to be presented to the Coalition party room early this year.

Coalition frontbencher Steve Ciobo said it would be “passing strange” for politicians to defy the will of the Australian people.

“I think any politician, any member of Parliament, would have to think twice about snubbing their nose at the views of Australians,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.

Another conservative Liberal MP said he would expect many Coalition MPs, including himself, who oppose same-sex marriage to abstain from a vote if a plebiscite proved successful. This would respect the public’s verdict while not forcing MPs to vote against their conscience, he said.

The MP, who asked not to be named, said he was concerned about the process leading up to a plebiscite.

“I hope this isn’t just something being cooked up by Warren Entsch and George Brandis,” he said. “There needs to be broad consultation.”

Mr Entsch said “many colleagues” may have voted “no” last year but agreed to the compromise put forward by Mr Abbott. He said Mr Turnbull was doing no more or less than honouring that commitment.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said: “Eric Abetz has let the cat out of the bag, admitting the Liberals are not planning to take any notice of the expressed will of the Australian people. This absurd notion makes a complete joke of our democratic process and renders a $160 million national plebiscite totally pointless.”

Other opponents of same-sex marriage have previously vowed to vote according to the plebiscite.

“Certainly I, as somebody who has advocated for all Australians to have a say, clearly I’ll be bound by what all Australians have to say,” Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said last year.

“I don’t believe that the majority view will support [change], but if that’s not the case then, of course, I would support that.”

Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos appeared to add to the confusion telling Sky News initially that MPs “owe” it to voters to respect their will if they express one, but later stating: “My view on that is if you as a parliamentarian very strongly feel you can’t vote for something based on your conscience, in the Liberal Party we respect that.”

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


Many of Sydney’s ferry services now experience their peak loads for the week on Sundays. Photo: James AlcockTaxpayers are paying “substantial amounts” to Sydney’s main private ferry operator for extra services because locals and tourists are rushing to take advantage of a $2.50 cap on fares on Sundays.
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Demand for ferries on Sundays to destinations such as Taronga Zoo and stops along the Parramatta River has risen substantially since the $2.50 limit was introduced several years ago. In response, the state’s pricing regulator wants to increase ferry fares on Sunday to spread the demand.

Many ferry services now experience their peak loads for the week on Sundays as travellers delay their trips to take advantage of the cheaper fares.

Transport for NSW has told the state’s pricing regulator that Harbour City Ferries is receiving “substantial amounts” to provide extra services on Sundays to cope with the demand.

However, the department will not reveal how much the government is paying the private operator, citing commercial sensitivities.

The state government awarded Harbour City Ferries – a consortium of ASX-listed Broadspectrum (formerly Transfield Services) and multinational Transdev – an $800 million contract in 2012 to operate Sydney Ferries for seven years.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal believes the $2.50 cap on the cost of public transport on Sundays is “too low”, especially for ferries, and is a key reason for the spike in demand on Sundays.

“Private ferry operators are being paid substantial amounts to provide supplementary services,” the tribunal said in an information paper.

“High demand for ferry services is driving up the costs of providing public transport.”

Many passengers are also able to travel for free on weekends because they often reach their weekly travel reward. Under the existing structure, travel is free after eight trips in a week.

The tribunal’s analysis shows ferry loads on Sundays has increased significantly since the $2.50 travel cap was introduced several years ago. Ferry services to destinations such as Taronga Zoo, Manly, the eastern suburbs and along the Parramatta River now report peak loads for the week on Sundays.

Outbound ferries from central Sydney to stops in the eastern suburbs and along the Parramatta River operated at more than 100 per cent of their maximum capacity on Sundays in May last year when a count was carried out by the Bureau of Transport Statistics.

The pricing regulator wants the daily cap for Opal fares on Saturday and Sunday set at the same level in order to spread demand more evenly over the weekend. It has proposed a daily cap for travel  at weekends at $7.20 for adults, $5.40 for concession-card holders and $3.60 for children and Gold Opal holders.

However, the tribunal decided against recommending in its draft report, released just before Christmas, to exclude ferry services from the Sunday cap because it believed it would be confusing for passengers if it applied to only some modes of public transport.

A spokesman for Transport for NSW said the tribunal’s review of public transport fares needed to be looked at in its entirety.

“These are draft recommendations and I urge customers to take a close look at what’s been proposed and provide feedback before the final report is delivered to government,” he said.

The first of six new ferries the government is buying as part of the first stage of upgrading Sydney’s fleet will begin sailing late this year. They will service routes in the inner harbour from Watsons Bay in the east to Cockatoo Island in the west.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.