Grantham flood hurt me too: quarry owner

One of Queensland’s most influential businessmen has spoken of how he and his family have suffered, particularly at the hands of the media after the deadly 2011 Grantham flood.

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Denis Wagner and his family owned a quarry on the outskirts of Grantham when, on January 10, 2011, flooding devastated the small southeast Queensland town and claimed 12 lives.

Mr Wagner told the Grantham Floods Commission of Inquiry the quarry was one of several aspects to his family’s vast construction empire, which still included a private airport outside Toowoomba.

But he said the quarry, which was sold in 2012, had affected his family and its company Wagners both emotionally and financially.

“The allegation that had been made is that a quarry wall collapsed and caused the flood at Grantham, so I don’t believe that to be the case,” he said.

Over the course of the inquiry, including his two days of evidence this week, Mr Wagner changed his view that the quarry’s western embankment wall was a natural feature of the landscape, to conceding part of it was man-made.

Commissioner Walter Sofronoff QC asked Mr Wagner whether his original belief, which was at loggerheads with community sentiment, caused his family to become the target of “opprobrium”, or harsh criticism.

“I don’t believe so,” Mr Wagner said on Thursday. “I do believe, however, there are some terribly vindictive people in media, particularly radio media that have very little regard for the truth.”

Shock jock Alan Jones has been highly critical of Mr Wagner, while The Australian newspaper helped spark the current inquiry by commissioning an independent study that showed inconsistencies between the evidence and a broader probe in 2012 that found the quarry didn’t have an effect.

Although he and his family had suffered in the wake of the flood, Mr Wagner admitted it was nothing compared with what residents endured.

“There are some inspirational stories from the people of this region and I, and our family, have sympathy for those people that were affected,” he said.

“Particularly those who lost family and friends. It’s harrowing stuff.”

Mr Wagner’s employees will give evidence over the next few days.

He told media he wouldn’t comment publicly on the inquiry until it had finished.

Mr Sofronoff is due to hand down his findings and recommendations by August 31.

Two homes destroyed as bushfire threatens Victorian towns

Two houses have been destroyed in two days as a fire rages out-of-control in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges.

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An emergency warning has been issued to residents in central Victoria over an out-of-control bushfire threatening homes and an animal shelter.

The fire is heading towards Cobaw and Lancefield and firefighters have been unable to stop it heading towards 

“You are now in immediate danger, act now to protect yourself. Emergency Services may not be able to help you,” Emergency Management Victoria’s alert says.

There are currently 4 Emergency Warnings across the state – #Koorlong #Lancefield #NarNarGoon #Cowba #VicFires pic.twitter杭州桑拿会所,/4OKKCZTg6l

— CFA Updates (@CFA_Updates) October 6, 2015Today we’ve had over 200 fires across the state, with 64 currently going. Continue to monitor 杭州桑拿网,杭州夜生活,/RHmSwp8Ilj for updates #VicFires

— CFA Updates (@CFA_Updates) October 6, 2015

The fire, which is a controlled burn that jumped containment lines, has crossed Three Chain Road and is moving fast in a south-easterly direction from Nudist Camp Track towards Maloneys Road and Lancefield.

Spot fires and ember attacks are starting up to 2.5km ahead of the fire front.

#Thor and #SouthernBelle are being deployed to assist @CFA with #Vicfires following a request from EMV #NSWRFS pic.twitter杭州桑拿会所,/i7h55w5RnJ

— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) October 6, 2015

Animal shelter Edgar’s Mission, near Lancefield, says it has enacted an emergency evacuation plan because the fire is close.

The farm sanctuary has over 250 rescued animals.

“There is a fire in close proximity to Edgar’s Mission. Please Do NOT phone us as we are enacting our fire plan. Please do NOT come to Edgar’s Mission. Updates as we can,” the shelter posted on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon.

Smoke blowing over @edgarsmission #Lancefield #VicFires @CFA_Updates pic.twitter杭州桑拿会所,/bb01dkGvBP

— Edgar’s Mission (@edgarsmission) October 6, 2015

Meanwhile, a bushfire that threatened a Bluescope steel plant near Melbourne is being treated as suspicious.

It is the third suspicious fire in Melbourne in 24 hours, with a factory fire at Mordialloc and a fire at AFL superstar Dane Swan’s hotel in South Melbourne also being investigated.

Firefighters from 27 trucks fought the fire near the Bluescope plant in Tyabb, getting it under control mid-morning.

Our mates @NSWRFS have 1 VLAT & 1 LAT on the way, adding to our 21 aircraft working on #VicFires #weworkasone pic.twitter杭州桑拿会所,/qfxKFsfnti

— CFA Updates (@CFA_Updates) October 6, 2015

The conditions, reminiscent of a January or February heatwave, helped fan more than 100 bushfires with the worst threatening 190 homes near Lancefield, north of Melbourne.

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley says the early taste of summer is a first for Victoria.

“This is the drying period that sets up the summer in Victoria,” he said.

“We have not experienced these types of temperatures or wind speeds in the first week of October in the history of Victoria, so it has taken us to a new space.”

He said weather forecasts show no significant rain is expected in Victoria this month, and residents should prepare their properties and survival plans now.

Premier Daniel Andrews is in talks with the federal government on increasing drought assistance, and bushfire fighting capabilities could also be increased.

“If the experts say they need more money, we need more resources, we need more air power then they will get that,” he told reporters.

He said Tuesday’s bushfire weather is a prelude to a potentially dangerous fire season.

“The `15/’16 fire season is here, now. It is absolutely on us, and we need to understand that this is going to be a long, hot, dry and dangerous summer, and people need to be very clear. You have to get your fire plan in order, and you need to do it now,” he said.

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Vic constable takes own life at station

Victoria’s top police officer has described the death of a senior constable by her own hand as a tragedy and says he has commissioned a study of police suicides.

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The leading senior constable died at 3pm on Monday at the Seaford Multidisciplinary Centre.

She was aged in her 30s, had children and worked in the sexual offences area.

Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said on Tuesday front-line police do an extremely challenging job in often difficult circumstances.

“I have commissioned a study into police suicides to understand how we can better help our members deal with the challenges and stresses that come with policing,” Mr Ashton said.

The secretary of the Police Association of Victoria said police officers at Seaford found the woman.

“The ripple effect is quite large,” Ron Iddles told reporters on Tuesday.

“There will be many of her colleagues who will be devastated by the fact that they found her.”

Mr Iddles said he had been to “horrific” scenes throughout his career.

“Most of our members each day go and attend something which no other person in society would see,” Mr Iddles said.

“I think some of those things have a lasting effect.”

A survey of Victorian police found most are stressed and anxious, and 68 per cent say they have trouble sleeping.

Mr Iddles said it was time police looked after one another.

“I think in the past there has been a stigma in relation to putting your hand up and saying ‘I’m not coping’, for fear that you might lose your job,” he said.

“I think we’re past that now.”

Beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett said emergency workers need help and support.

“We are letting down the very people on whom we rely to give us emergency assistance,” Mr Kennett said.

STRESSED FORCE

* 78 per cent of 3500 police surveyed feel stressed or anxious

* 68 per cent have trouble sleeping

* 220 went on long-term sick leave in past 12 months

* Police app being developed to self-diagnose symptoms

* Australia-wide study of police suicides commissioned

SOURCE: Police Association of Victoria

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

IS the new rebellion: minister

Fighting with Islamic State has become the new way to rebel, according to the federal minister who has been talking to Muslim groups about ways to prevent youth radicalisation.

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Concetta Fierravanti-Wells says young people go off the rails for various reasons, whether because of issues at home, bullying or other factors.

The assistant minister for multicultural affairs believes disengaged young people are being preyed upon just like paedophiles prey on young people, echoing Labor leader Bill Shorten’s views.

If the first person who befriends them is a drug dealer, they will turn to drugs.

“What is very clear is that involvement, radical involvement, involvement with Daesh is now what has been termed to me a new way to rebel,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

However, it was clear others had criminal intent in wanting to become foreign fighters and rape, plunder and pillage.

“They are being induced with promises of AK-47s, drugs and women – I have heard that from people who have had dialogue with the young people.”

Senator Fierravanti-Wells believes the solution lies in working with communities and developing programs focused on tackling social issues.

She’s particularly keen on peer-to-peer work where young people receive advice from those their own age – especially from those who’ve been exposed to Islamic State and realised their error.

It comes amid concerns about youth radicalisation with the arrest of a Sydney teen from the same western Sydney school as a 15-year-old who shot and killed a NSW police worker.

The student was arrested for threatening police after posting his support for the brutal murder on social media.

NSW deputy Police commissioner Nick Kaldas has backed Senator Fierravanti-Wells, saying there was evidence to suggest that children were doing this simply as a way to rebel.

“In a sense, they’re not really religiously driven,” he told ABC television.

Mr Kaldas said many other western nations were also seeking to deal with this and no one had any ready-made answers.

“Relentless engagement is one thing. People need to be in touch with kids who are suspected of heading down this road and probably one of the most crucial things in the equation is their home life,” he said.

Mr Kaldas said this could be solved in many ways in the lounge room of the family home.

“We certainly encourage parents to sit and talk to their kids frankly and honestly about issues, to talk about values, to talk about what’s right and wrong and to try and guide them in that direction,” he said.

No wrong-doing over 2014 campaign: Andrews

The Victorian government was warned in an internal report that its use of electoral office staff in Labor’s 2014 election campaign would not “pass the pub test”.

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The practice would also not pass scrutiny by the Auditor-General, the government was told in the report, which became public on Tuesday.

But Premier Daniel Andrews insists no parliamentary entitlement rules were breached.

“The rules have been followed,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Tuesday. “That’s my answer; I’ve been very consistent about that.

“There is nothing in the documentation today, nothing at all, that indicates that the rules have not been followed.”

Labor used electorate office funds to pay 26 staff for two days a week of election campaigning.

The report, prepared for the Department of Parliamentary Services, was handed to the government on September 17.

It revealed Labor spent $1.4 million on casual staff in 2014 and says using electorate staff for political activity “will not pass the pub test”.

It would raise a red flag among the parliament’s internal auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers, a senior bureaucrat warned in the report.

“Re-allocation of staffing resources from electorate offices to party political activity, or the cashing in of partial electorate office EFT to party activities, would not survive either an internal audit or scrutiny from the Auditor-General,” the report says.

The opposition says the practice amounts to a million-dollar rort and the taxpayer funds would be repaid once Mr Andrews admits to wrongdoing.

“This report confirms everything the premier has been saying in the parliament, everything the premier has been saying to the media, is complete and utter rubbish,” Opposition Leader Matthew Guy told reporters.

The opposition has used parliamentary question time to grill Mr Andrews over the rorts claims and also targeted Sports Minister John Eren, whose electorate office is one of those involved.

Former Labor campaign staff member-turned-whistleblower Jake Finnigan says the Victorian parliament paid his wage for two days as he campaigned full-time for a Labor election win.

Two separate investigations are being conducted into the rort claims, though upper house speaker Bruce Atkinson said on Tuesday the parliamentary inquiry could be suspended while police conclude their investigation.

Sydneysiders set for heat reprieve

After an unseasonable run of sweltering spring weather, relief is in sight for Sydneysiders with a cool change expected on Wednesday.

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Temperatures soared into the high 30s over the long weekend, lodging some of the warmest on record for the start of October.

Penrith topped 38C on Tuesday, well above Sydney’s October average of 22C.

But the weather bureau says Wednesday will bring near-average conditions for this time of year, with maximum temperatures set to drop between 10 and 15 degrees in some areas.

“Tomorrow will be a significantly cooler day for Sydney,” forecaster Chris Webb told AAP.

“We’re expecting low 20s, which is average, and even over the southern inland where it’s particularly hot.”

The reprieve will take a little longer to reach northwest NSW, and the town of Bourke is expecting a Wednesday high of 38C.

Ninety per cent of the state remains on high fire danger alert with 270 NSW firefighters and 102 vehicles attending calls on Tuesday.

There are 39 bush, grass and scrub fires burning across the state, of which 19 remain uncontained, a Rural Fire Service spokesman said.

He said none of them posed a direct threat to homes but people should remain aware of local fires.

Bureau of Meteorology senior climatologist Agata Imielska said the “warm spell” is the first of many to come.

“The El Nino will be with us until the end of summer and with that, we’re expecting warmer daytime temperatures and an increased number of heat waves for spring and summer,” she said.

Showers are possible this weekend as the change brings humid air across the city.

Hunt for sister of teenage terrorist

The teenager behind the deadly attack on the NSW Police headquarters has been hailed as a “knight” of the Islamic State by supporters of the terrorist group as authorities scramble to track the movements of his sister.

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Federal and state police are understood to be investigating whether Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar’s elder sister, in her 20s, has travelled to either Syria or Iraq, after leaving Australia the day before the attack in western Sydney, and if Jabar had links with British extremists.

But police on Tuesday afternoon refused to confirm if they were investigating a report that friends of the dead student had claimed the 15-year-old met with two men about 45 minutes before the attack, after leaving a Parramatta mosque.

The developments come after a fellow student from Jabar’s Arthur Phillip High School in Parramatta was charged on Tuesday after he allegedly posted on social media that he hoped “them lil piggies get shot”, and that “merryland (sic) police station is next hope they all burn in hell”.

The 17-year-old was charged with six offences including assaulting police, resisting arrest and intimidating police.

After spending most of the day at Parramatta police station the boy and three officers left in an unmarked car, and he is expected to front a children’s court on November 9.

Claims have also emerged that Jabar’s passport had been seized before the attack on Friday, in which 58-year-old NSW police accountant Curtis Cheng was shot dead in front of the State Crime Command in Parramatta.

“Farhad Muhammad. His family had been raided several times, his mother humiliated, his passport taken …” an Islamic State supporter claimed on social media.

The Australian Federal Police, NSW Police, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Attorney-General’s Department were contacted for comment regarding claims about the passport.

“They were under constant surveillance so our brother, Farhad, took a stand and attacked a Police HQ,” the same Islamic State supporter, who AAP has chosen not to identify, posted on social media.

The person tweets in English and Arabic and appears to have connections to Britain.

“Allah accept our brother Farhad Mohammed – 15 years old. Killed one officer. Then got shot, to his shahada inshallah,” he continued.

“He struck terror right in the HEART of the disbelievers.”

While authorities, including the AFP and NSW Police, have refused to officially comment on details around the sister, a senior officer involved in the investigation has reportedly confirmed she left Australia for Turkey the day before the shooting.

“Federal police are now looking into her movements,” an officer involved in the investigation told News Corp.

“It appears she flew to Singapore then on to Istanbul. Why she was going has not been established.”

NSW Premier Mike Baird would not say on Tuesday if police had made progress in finding the sister.

“Those people that have undertaken any inciting or any encouragement to undertake such a horrendous crime, I can assure you we will track them down and they will face the full consequences of the law,” he said.

Supporters of Islamic State have praised the deadly attack, extolling Jabar on social media as a “knight” who had carried out a mission on behalf of the terrorist group.

Abu Layth At-Tamimi, who appears to be in Syria or Iraq, wrote: “Farhad Mohammed a knight of this Ummah [Islamic nation] carried out a mission to honour his deen … only 15 subhan [glorious] Allah May Allah accept you!”

Arthur Phillip High School started the new term on Tuesday with a sombre assembly that addressed Friday’s shooting.

Some students expressed disbelief while others said they were now “frightened” and “shaken”.

One student reportedly said they were “scared that there’s more kids at school that are like that”.

Record-breaker Younis overshadows Malik’s returning ton

The 37-year-old Younis clobbered Moeen Ali for six over mid-wicket early in the evening session to surpass the 8,832-run marker set by Javed Miandad, the man considered Pakistan’s greatest ever batsman.

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The few Pakistan fans in a sparse crowd in the United Arab Emirates broke the subdued atmosphere to cheer their man, while the Pakistan dressing room gave him a standing ovation for the feat achieved in his 102nd match — 22 fewer than Miandad, who played the last of his 124 Test matches in December 1993.

Younis was eventually out for 38, caught by England skipper Alastair Cook off the bowling of Stuart Broad, with Asad Shafiq (11 not out) and Malik (124 not out) unbeaten at the close.

If it was not for Younis, it would have been Malik’s day.

Returning to the side after a five-year absence, Malik hit his third Test century overall and his first since 2009.

It was a steady knock but one which contained one large moment of fortune: Broad overstepping in the first over after lunch rendered the edge to Joe Root in the gully irrelevant.

It was one of three gifts afforded to Pakistan during a day when England threatened to shoot themselves in the foot after being asked to bowl in hot conditions and on a track which offered little assistance to bowlers.

In the penultimate over of the day, Shafiq edged James Anderson to Ian Bell at second slip. It was the simplest of chances but Bell dropped it.

It wasn’t his only offence of the day.

Mohammad Hafeez breezed to 98 with some smart stroke-play, particularly against England’s debutant spinner Adil Rashid, before succumbing leg before to Ben Stokes’ last ball before tea.

However, the Pakistani opener should have been out for seven when Bell dropped him off the bowling of Anderson — who had already bizarrely dismissed Shan Masood for two with a bouncer which hit his helmet and deflected onto the stumps.

Also cursing his luck was Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq after being given out by the TV umpire for edging Anderson to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler but without any assistance from Snicko or Hotspot, which are not in used in this series.

The wicket would have been seen as reward for England, who having been plundered for 74 runs off 96 balls at the start of the evening session by Younis and Malik, tightened things up in the last hour of play.

The visitors were also boosted before a ball had been bowled, with Pakistan spinner Yasir Shah ruled out of the match with a back injury sustained in final practice on Monday.

Yasir was the fastest man to 50 Test wickets in Pakistan history and England had been ripped apart by spin during the last series in 2012.

(Reporting by David French; editing by Martyn Herman)

Fortescue in no rush to sell assets

Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group is in no rush to offload assets as it steams ahead with cost cutting and debt relief to shore up its future.

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The Pilbara iron ore miner’s debt stands at $US6.6 billion, amid softening steel demand in China, but it has given itself some breathing space by reducing costs by 24 per cent and repurchasing $US384 million of debt in the September quarter.

Chief executive Nev Power said Fortescue plans to continue cutting costs and reducing debt as the iron ore price hovers around $US55 a tonne.

“We’ve put ourselves in a position where we don’t need to do any asset sales,” Mr Power said.

“We’ve been paying down debt and accumulating cash and that allows us to assess any potential asset sales on the basis of long-term value and terms.”

In recent months, Fortescue has repeatedly dismissed reports it has been close to selling some of its infrastructure to foreign investors.

Fat Prophets resources analyst David Lennox said dramatic cost cutting and no debt repayments due until 2019 put the company in a healthier financial position.

“The saviour is the costs,” Mr Lennox said.

“You’d think now they’re pretty comfortable.”

Fortescue shares gained 13 cents, or six per cent, to $2.29.

Currency movements have also benefitted the company, which has a break-even price of around $US37 a tonne.

During the quarter, Fortescue sold its iron ore at an average realised price of $US50 per tonne.

Mr Power said demand for the company’s products remained strong in the September quarter, and the miner is confident of maintaining lower costs than Brazilian rival Vale.

He said no changes in demand are anticipated once Gina Rinehart’s $10 billion Roy Hill begins shipping iron ore in the coming weeks.

But he admits prices could still fall.

“I don’t think there’s any floor,” Mr Power said.

ANZ analysts predict the commodity will trade between $US45 to $US50 a tonne over the next two years.

Fortescue shipped almost 42 million tonnes of iron ore in the three months to September 30, and still expects to ship 165 million tonnes of iron ore in the financial year.