Stocco fugitives had no chance: police

Fugitives Gino and Mark Stocco, who had been on the run from authorities for eight years, had no chance of escaping from the NSW farm where they were eventually caught, police say.

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The Queensland father-and-son pair were tracked to an Elong Elong property in central west NSW and arrested on Wednesday by heavily armed officers who had been hiding at the property since Tuesday.

Following the Stoccos’ arrests, detectives discovered the body of a 68-year-old Italian farmer who had been missing for more than three weeks.

NSW Police say the man is known to them.

The property, called Pinevale, is still a crime scene and officers will spend Thursday combing its 385 hectares.

Police won’t confirmed whether or not any weapons or ammunition have been found.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Clint Pheeney said on Thursday the rural property was known to police.

“We confirmed that both persons were on the premises and we moved in,” Mr Pheeney told Nine Network on Thursday.

“There was no way they were ever going to get off that property.

“We were aware that both those fellows had previously worked on the property, so we conducted some covert surveillance.”

Mr Pheeney said the pair were initially non-compliant, with one of the men allegedly refusing to take his hands out of his pockets.

“We are dealing with people that we believe may be armed … because of that there was a few injuries received, but nothing serious,” he said.

Gino, 57, and Mark, 36, have been charged with an array of offences, including murder, dishonestly obtaining property by deception, police pursuit and discharging a firearm with intent to resist arrest.

Police had previously revealed intentions to charge the duo with 13 offences, including attempted murder in relation to allegations they fired shots at police in Wagga Wagga on October 16.

The pair were also wanted on warrants for property damage in Queensland dating back to 2008.

They have been refused bail to appear in Dubbo Local Court on Thursday.

Dollar rebounds on rates news

The New Zealand dollar has rebounded after the Reserve Bank left interest rates on hold and warned the currency’s recent appreciation may keep rates low.

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Traders have taken RBNZ governor Graeme Wheeler’s “watch and wait” language as a sign an immediate fall in the kiwi isn’t warranted.

The currency recently traded at 66.97 cents, recovering from a decline of more than one US cent, after the RBNZ reiterated that it has another rate cut up its sleeve and may have to maintain a lower track for rates if the currency remains strong.

The kiwi had already taken a hit when the US Federal Reserve dropped its watch on global market volatility when reviewing the federal funds rate, leaving open the chance of a hike in December. The trade-weighted index was recently at 72.65 from 72.58 before the Fed meeting, and higher than the Reserve Bank’s projected average 70 level through the September quarter.

RBNZ governor Wheeler kept the official cash rate (OCR) at 2.75 per cent, and reiterated he was likely to cut rates again to spur tepid inflation back towards the middle of his one per cent to three per cent target band, while noting the kiwi’s 5.8 per cent appreciation since the start of September could erode tradables sector activity.

ANZ Bank New Zealand senior FX strategist Sam Tuck said the central bank’s wait-and-see approach meant investors didn’t have to react immediately to the warning, and could sell the kiwi on rallies.

“They’re waiting and seeing – the kiwi should decline over all, and if it does increase or sustain at these levels, it will mean a lower projection, but that’s down the path,” Tuck said.

Thursday’s meeting by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) may reduce some demand for the kiwi after the US policymakers dropped their reference to global markets when keeping the fed funds rate between zero and 0.25 per cent, a move interpreted as keeping alive a possible hike in December.

Still, the prospect of increased money printing programmes in Europe and Japan will continue to boost the allure of the kiwi dollar on other currency cross-rates, with New Zealand’s relatively strong economic outlook and positive interest rates.

Meet the refugees the world says are not allowed to be refugees

On tiny plastic chairs in a school room in the Palestinian refugee camp Burj al-Barajneh, on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital Beirut, Amal Ammar recounts the day she left her home in Damascus, across the border in Syria.

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This could be a classroom anywhere, the walls are painted bright colours and the shouts of children playing can be heard outside, but Amal’s story is anything but ordinary. “I wasn’t at home but still, it was on our street, most of my neighbours died,” she says. “We listened to the school being bombed, the children became so scared.”

A gap in international refugee law means that second wave Palestinian refugees are treated as stateless persons rather than refugees and the distinction is important.

Amal is Palestinian Syrian. She grew up in Yarmouk, a Palestinian camp on the outskirts of Damascus before fleeing to Lebanon with her husband and three children in 2012. Among the horror of war and mass displacement in the current Syria crisis, Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) are one of the most vulnerable and forgotten groups. A gap in international refugee law means that second wave Palestinian refugees are treated as stateless persons rather than refugees and the distinction is important.

PRS are unable to register with the UNHCR and therefore have little hope of resettlement. In Australia’s intake of 12,000 Syrians, PRS will miss out because of their dubious status under international law. Instead of being registered with the UNHCR, PRS fall under the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), set up in 1949 to provide direct relief and work programs for Palestinian refugees following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. In Lebanon, PRS mostly live in the overcrowded and poverty stricken Palestinian camps.

Director of Aspire, an organisation trying to bring PRS to Australia, is Yousef Alreemawi. He started the organisation eight years ago when Palestinians from Iraq were faced with a similar situation. Yousef is now in discussions with the Federal Government to grant PRS refugee protection in Australia. “This project has so much value to me personally and to them of course on a collective level,” he says. Yousef has family members from Yarmouk who are now stranded in Lebanon and Egypt without hope for their future.

Yousef says many families have come to a point of frustration and are risking their lives on boats to get to Europe. He says his cousin Samer would have done the same if it wasn’t for him. Yousef hopes the Federal government’s focus on minorities will include the Palestinians. “There is another minority, we are a minority,” he says.

Tensions are rising in the camps and Palestinian refugees from Lebanon (PRL), many of whom have spent there whole lives in these camps, are consequently suffering. Spokesperson for UNRWA Zizette Darkazzaly, says they are struggling to provide even the basic needs for PRS and radicalisation has become an imminent risk. “The rise of extremism mixed with extreme poverty is not a good mix,” she says. 

 “These camps are overcrowded, the health situation is not good, the environment is not good, violence is there, protection issues are always there.”

Not only have PRS places increased pressure on jobs, housing and education, Darkazzaly says the psychological impact of another wave of Palestinian refugees shouldn’t be underestimated. “Instead of seeing light at the end of the tunnel they see a tunnel at the end of the light,” she says. “Instead of seeing a way out, they see another plight.” 

UNICEF’s Palestinian coordinator Nazih Yacoub, grew up in a Palestinian camp in the north of Lebanon. He says before the current Syria crisis, the conditions in the camps were already bad and the recent influx of refugees has only exacerbated the existing problems. “These camps are overcrowded, the health situation is not good, the environment is not good, violence is there, protection issues are always there,” he says.

Life in the ‘Tower of towers’

Burj al-Barajneh, where Amal and others now live, translates into “the tower of towers”. The camp has increasingly taken on the literal form of its name and as the population grows upwards so do the tiny, windowless apartments. Before the Syrian crisis, the one-square kilometre of the camp held a population of around 20,000 Palestinians. In four years, the number has surged to an estimated 35,000.

Darkazzaly says apartments now house two or more families and a rental blackmarket has emerged, pushing up housing prices. “You have PRS renting garages or tiny rooms, more than one family and paying rent,” she says.

Amal’s apartment lies deep within the labyrinth. She says life in the camp is extremely hard. “The water we drink is salty, the electricity is always cutting out, there are many difficulties,” she says. “And we don’t have any sun in our house.”

“So you have a whole generation of Palestinians that’s going to be born now without any certificate that proves their existence, any official one.”

Ufran Sufi lives in the apartment directly above Amal. She fled Syria a year ago with her husband and two children. Her family is unable to afford visa renewals and her husband works illegally, from one day to the next. Ufran’s family has been reliant on UNRWA’s rent assistance since arriving in Lebanon. In June this year UNRWA cut the rent assistance that went to 95% of PRS in Lebanon because of a lack of funding. Without the extra money Ufran says they will try to pay rent but food and clothing will be hard. “It’s on God,” she says.

Ufran’s visa situation is not unusual. Due to high costs and harsh restrictions many PRS are unable to renew their visas. The legal status of PRS in Lebanon has led to what Darkazzaly describes as a “cycle of detention”. She says movement is restricted because without a valid visa PRS are arrested at checkpoints. “Some (people) are confined to the camps, they don’t go out… because they’re afraid,” she says. This also limits a PRS’ ability to work.

Ufran is pregnant and her unborn child will be among a generation of invisible Palestinians. Without visas, Darkazzaly says, PRS can’t undertake any civil registration; deaths, marriages or divorces. “While the deaths and marriages are important what are most worrying is the births,” she says. “So you have a whole generation of Palestinians that’s going to be born now without any certificate that proves their existence, any official one.”

Sixty years in limbo with no sign of a future

A 20-minute taxi ride from Burj al-Barajneh lies the Grand Serail, an impressive palatial building dating from the Ottoman era, now home to the Prime Minister’s office and the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC). At the centre of the courtyard stands a limestone and marble fountain, the clean, expansive space starkly contrasts the crowded, grimy camp. LPDC’s Chairman Hassan Mneimneh, says the PRS have more problems and suffer more than any other group of refugees in Lebanon. “If you visited the (Palestinian) camps 30 years ago and visited them again today, you would see that nothing has changed,” he says. “Poverty and misery, the worst form of misery.”

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That poverty takes its toll and cracks in Palestinian unity are starting to show. Graffiti fills the streets of the camp from competing Palestinian political factions. Tensions are rising between PRS, PRL and Syrian refugees, the latter who are coming to live in the camps because of the lower costs. Yacoub says PRS are good business people and are taking the limited jobs that are available in the camps. Work is restricted because Palestinians in Lebanon are banned from working in many professions, including as doctors and nurses. To legally build inside the camps is also difficult. 

He says the only solution is a political one. ”Eventually the solution is to return to Palestine.”

These strict constraints have been designed to discourage Palestinians from remaining in the country. But Yacoub says the Palestinians have been in Lebanon for 60 years and they’re not going anywhere. “One of the solutions is to review the way the Government treats Palestinians,” he says. “Give us our rights and maybe conditions will improve.”

Mneimneh says the support provided to Palestinians is only just enough to keep them alive, but is insufficient to attain a good life. He says the only solution is a political one. ”Eventually the solution is to return to Palestine,” he says.

                             

Darkazzaly echoes these sentiments and says the plights of Palestinians will only continue. “This new wave of refugees proves to the world that there needs to be a just solution,” she says.  

Political deadlock on the issue of Palestine is leaving people like Amal and Ufran in extreme poverty. With sad resignation, Amal says she hopes someday her children might have a life outside the confines of the camp.

“That’s it, I feel sorrow for my children and all the children for what they have had to live through,” she says. 

Thompson to fight Gallen on instinct

The fierce trans-Tasman rivalry will extend to the boxing ring when Sydney NRL forward Paul Gallen takes on Warriors backrower Bodene Thompson.

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The pair are on the Super 8 undercard in Auckland next Tuesday night, with Cronulla skipper Gallen looking to extend his 3-0 pro record, which includes two wins inside the distance.

Gallen, 34, has been sparring with southpaws in preparation for the left-handed Thompson.

“The southpaws I’ve sparred have probably boxed a lot more,” the NSW State of Origin captain said.

“Me and Bodene are probably going to stand there and fight each other. He’s going to be fit. He’s very aggressive. I’ve got no doubt he’ll be ready for it.”

Before his pro debut in early 2014, Gallen had two Fight for Life charity bouts in Auckland, beating All Blacks Hika Elliot and Liam Messam in successive years.

Thompson, who will be making his professional boxing debut, says he will rely on instinct rather than a game plan or big weapon for the four three-minute rounds contest.

“I just fight off instinct,” he said on Thursday.

“There will be times when I have to stick in tight and there will be times I might have to go out. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Tauranga-born Thompson, who has just completed his first season with the Warriors after spells with West Tigers and Gold Coast, said he was feeling sharp after more than three weeks of boxing training.

He has been in the ring once before, when he won a charity bout on the Gold Coast four years ago.

Thompson has added motivation to beat Gallen.

“I still owe him one, because I remember a couple of years ago, he got a try on me when he dummied me from dummy half. It’s still on my back.”

Why it’s so hard to lift the tampon tax

Michael J.

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Randall, University of Leeds

The “tampon tax” is firmly back on the European agenda. In a single month, French MPs have voted against reducing the rate of value-added tax (VAT) on sanitary products from 20 per cent to 5 per cent, and British MPs have voted against an amendment to chancellor George Osborne’s finance bill to remove VAT on sanitary products.

Currently in the UK, a rate of 5 per cent is charged on sanitary productions which equates to £3 of an average £60 yearly spend. In Hungary the rate of tax is 27 per cent but the lowest permissible rate across the EU for sanitary products is 5 per cent.

What is VAT?

VAT was first introduced in the UK as a fundamental condition of joining the EU common market. Goods and services in the UK are taxable under four different VAT categories: the standard rate (20 per cent), the reduced rate (5 per cent), the zero-rate (0 per cent) and VAT exempt. The UK government in 1975 negotiated everyday essential items that were to be classified at the 0 per cent rate. This included food and children’s clothing. The negotiation was final and, crucially, did not include sanitary products.

Sanitary products were charged at the standard rate in the UK until the 2000 budget at which point the VAT rate on sanitary products was reduced to 5 per cent.

The essential legal instrument regulating VAT application across the EU contains three provisions relevant to the tampon tax. Article 98 states that member states may apply a discretionary reduced rate to goods and services, including sanitary products. Article 99 provides the reduced rates may not be less than 5 per cent. The UK’s zero-rated items status is preserved by Article 110.

A tax on gender

Although there is a cost-saving element, there is also the fact that charging VAT on an everyday essential item for women means the tax becomes a tax on gender. It is a form of discrimination based on a natural biological process authorised by a primarily male government from 40 years ago.

Campaigners highlight that exotic meats (such as kangaroo steaks) and alcoholic dessert jellies are zero-rated. In terms of VAT classification, these items are deemed to be more essential than sanitary products. Sanitary products as a consequence are classed as non-essential luxury items.

Can the government lift the tax?

A long-term solution is difficult, because the current UK government is bound by the negotiations of a previous administration that took place four decades ago. Although unpopular with campaigners, the action of MPs to vote against the amendment is understandable: the UK is required to apply EU law and are legally correct to continue to apply the 5 per cent rate at the moment.

The long-term solution from a UK perspective is to negotiate with the European Commission to produce an amendment to the directive and the other member states to authorise the change in position.

Following the House of Commons vote, the financial chief secretary to the treasury, David Gauke said he would “raise this issue with the European Commission and other member states setting out our views that it should be possible for member states to apply a zero-rate to sanitary products.” It is surprising that a request has not been made to the European Commission sooner given the campaign to reduce and remove VAT on these items dates back to the late 1990s.

What campaigners can do

There is a way for campaigners to mandate the European Commission to investigate whether it has the ability to draft an amendment irrespective of the outcome of the commission’s review. The European Citizens Initiative is a petitioning system whereby at least a million signatories across seven EU member states can participate directly in the development of EU policies.

The UK petition has far in excess of the required number of signatures to fulfil this and the existence of similar campaign groups across the EU with a significant number of signatures shows this process may be successful.

Short-term fixes

There are certain voluntary measures that both retailers and the government can do in spite of the current legal difficulties to make the best of a bad situation.

Retailers could be encouraged to follow the example of the University of East Anglia student’s union and sell sanitary products profit free in order to mitigate the financial impact of VAT to consumers. Committing to this approach may benefit in the long run, attracting new customers who may purchase other products for profit. Still, this would be a voluntary agreement and would fail to address the underlying issue of the symbolic existence of VAT and the tax paid would still be collected by the central treasury.

The government should consider waiving the income generated from VAT on sanitary products if possible. If this is the case the chancellor may be able to allocate funds raised by the tax to good causes.

In the spring and summer budgets of 2015, Osborne allocated revenue accrued from Libor fines to specified good causes. The government could negotiate with campaigners to determine a list of appropriate good causes whereby the best is made of a bad situation and the tax, although paid disproportionately by one gender, could be used to support charities that assist women.

This would mean that the tax, although unpopular, could still have a positive social impact.

Michael J.Randall does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.