Sharobeem rorted migrant women NGOs, ICAC hears

A contender for the NSW Australian of the Year awards rorted more than half a million dollars in public funds while she was in charge of two publicly funded community health organisations, a corruption inquiry has been told.

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Eman Sharobeem allegedly used the money to pay for holidays, gym memberships, jewellery, furniture and luxury goods for her family.

The accusations were among a series of damning allegations aired on the first day of an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into Sharobeem’s time as the chief executive officer of the Immigrant Women’s Health Service (IWHS) and the Non-English Speaking Housing Women’s Scheme (NESH) for more than a decade.

The ICAC would also detail evidence of how Sharobeem lied about her academic qualifications, including two PhD degrees and a masters degree, to promote her career, and treat IWHS clients.

“Ms Sharobeem does not hold a doctorate nor is she registered to practice as a psychologist. She has never completed a masters degree,” counsel assisting ICAC Ramesh Rajalingam said in his opening address on Monday.

“Ultimately it is contended that Ms Sharobeem used her false qualifications to promote herself publicly and also in applications to funding bodies to receive funds on behalf of IWHS.”

A finalist in NSW’s Local Hero category of the awards in 2015 and an Australia Day ambassador, Sharobeem also used the fake qualifications to gain appointments with the Community Relations Commission and Anti-Discrimination Board, he said.

“Jewellery was purchased, furniture, holidays and holiday club memberships were paid for, hair and beauty treatments were reimbursed to Ms Sharobeems on a regular basis, and also clothes and food,” Mr Rajalingam told the inquiry.

IWHS admin staff were allegedly pressured to grossly exaggerate the number of people who used the service from as far back as 2004 – when Sharobeem first started working with the group.

In one instance, a group referred to as ‘finance problems’ was changed from one attendee to 828, according to the annual report for 2012-2013.

The inquiry heard Sharobeem used the organisation’s funds to pay for $51,192 in renovations at her Fairfield home, which she initially bought for $660,000 and later sold for $1.3 million.

The ICAC discovered regular reimbursements from IWHS for personal expenses, including more than $41,000 on jewellery, $19,000 on hair and beauty treatments, cosmetics or dental work and $18,000 at department stores such as Myer and David Jones.

“Additionally, Ms Sharobeem used a credit card and or credit card account issued to the IWHS to make annual payments for memberships with Fitness First, Lite n Easy, and Foxtel for the benefit of either herself or family members,” Mr Rajalingam said.

The ICAC heard Sharobeem’s two sons benefited from the rorting as she regularly authorised payments to their accounts, while $18,000 in NESH funds were used to pay off a Mercedes-Benz for her husband.

Outside the inquiry and flanked by her husband and sons, Ms Sharobeem refused to comment on the allegations.

The Egyptian-born says she was child bride survivor forced into an arranged marriage to her first cousin as a teenager.

The inquiry, which is expected to run for two weeks, will hear from more than 20 witnesses including Sharobeem and her family.

Until recently, Ms Sharobeen was National Community Engagement Manager at SBS.

N Korea hints at nuke tests to boost force

North Korea has suggested it will continue its nuclear weapons tests, saying it will bolster its nuclear force “to the maximum” in a “consecutive and successive way at any moment” in the face of what it calls US aggression and hysteria.

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US President Donald Trump has said a “major, major conflict” with North Korea is possible over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, while China said last week the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control.

In a show of force, the US has sent the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula to join drills with South Korea to counter a series of threats of destruction from North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

“Now that the US is kicking up the overall racket for sanctions and pressure against the DPRK, pursuant to its new DPRK policy called ‘maximum pressure and engagement’, the DPRK will speed up at the maximum pace the measure for bolstering its nuclear deterrence,” a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement carried by its official KCNA news agency.

North Korea’s “measures for bolstering the nuclear force to the maximum will be taken in a consecutive and successive way at any moment and any place decided by its supreme leadership,” the spokesman said.

Reclusive North Korea has carried out five nuclear tests and a series of missile tests in defiance of UN Security Council and unilateral resolutions. It has been conducting such tests at an unprecedented rate and is believed to have made progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.

It test-launched a missile on Saturday which Washington and Seoul said was unsuccessful, but which nevertheless drew widespread international condemnation.

South Korea said the United States had reaffirmed it would shoulder the cost of deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system to counter the North Korean threat, days after Trump said Seoul should pay for the $US1 billion ($A1.3 billion) battery.

In a phone call on Sunday, Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, reassured his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin, that the US alliance with South Korea was its top priority in the Asia-Pacific region, the South’s presidential office said.

Trump, asked about his message to North Korea after the latest missile test, told reporters: “You’ll soon find out,” but did not elaborate on what the US response would be.

Trump stepped up his outreach to allies in Asia over the weekend to discuss the North Korean threat and make sure all are “on the same page” if action is needed, a top White House official said.

The THAAD deployment has drawn protests from China, which says the powerful radar that can penetrate its territory will undermine regional security, and from residents of the area in which it is being deployed, worried they will be a target for North Korean missiles.

Family appeal for Melbourne student missing four days

As he dropped his daughter Nashwa off at school, Khalil Kowa expected to see her home that night for dinner.

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But four days on, there’s been no sign of the 18-year-old.

“We are very concerned. We need to listen to Nashwa’s voice,” Mr Kowa told SBS News.

Her mother, Nadia Koko, hasn’t slept since her disappearance.

“I’m very very scared for her. Four days, I didn’t see her.”

In school uniform, Nashwa Kowa attended her classes at Melton Christian College in Melbourne’s north western outskirts, before signing out at 12.40pm to attend a VET fashion course as part of her studies.

But she never showed up.

Constable Katie Keating, from Victoria Police said Ms Kowa had deactivated her social media accounts and had not contacted any siblings.

“We’ve spoken with one male that we thought she might be with, and he’s confirmed that he isn’t with her. We haven’t spoken to anyone else.”

Ms Kowa was carrying a large black, red and yellow ‘Mick’s Gym’ duffle bag, with clothes in it.

She told friends she was going to Crown Casino.

Her heartbroken family, who fled Sudan as refugees, just wants to know if she is okay.

Mr Kowa said he brought his family to Australia in 2005, to give them a better life.

“We (were) travelling, very hard, we struggling, very hard, to bring the kids here to get education, to look after himself. It’s important. And it’s very hard to bring kids here, and we lose them.”

Mrs Kowa fought back tears as she appealed to her daughter.

Nashwa Kowa was last seen leaving Melton Christian College in Melbourne’s north western outskirts.supplied

“I don’t know where you are. I don’t know if you alive, or you dead, I don’t know. I have nine kids. It’s hard, very hard for me.”

Ms Kowa has gone missing once before – about three months ago, but only for 24 hours.

CCTV footage from outside Melton Christian College shows Ms Kowa leaving the school, which could help police with their investigation.

Mr Kowa had a message for his daughter.

“Please, we love you.”

“Please ring your mum, ring your sister, or ring me.”

Critical battle of Coral Sea remembered 75 years on

At a dawn service in the Queensland city of Townsville, a bugler sounds the Last Post.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull led the first of many commemorations of the World War Two Battle of the Coral Sea.

He thanked the Australian and United States servicemen and women involved in the battle.

“Over four critical days in May 1942, the fate of our island continent hung in the balance. The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first setback to the Japanese in the Pacific War. It was a turning point in the war. Our freedoms were secured by the bravery of the fighting men on those ships and the pilots who flew through everything the enemy and the weather could throw in their way.”

By that time, the Japanese had struck the US naval base at Pearl Harbour, taken the British garrison of Singapore and bombed Darwin.

As the Prime Minister recalled, their next aim was to seize Port Moresby and isolate Australia.

“The Japanese were turned back, but not without a heavy price. The mighty aircraft carrier Lexington was lost, as was the destroyer USS Sims and tanker USS Neosho. The US navy’s commitment of two of the carriers into the battle showed a total commitment to the defence of Australia. And it showed a total unity of purpose.”

Cecil Wiswell was a 17-year-old seaman on the USS Lexington when the Japanese torpedoed it.

The now 93-year-old is in Australia for the commemorations and spoke to the ABC about his survival.

“Brings back memories when I look out there on the sea. I stayed aboard the ship. I helped the doctor with patients for a while, and then I went around the ship trying to fight fire and whatnot. We stayed aboard for quite a while after the ‘Abandon ship’ was sounded, and, all of a sudden, it dropped what felt like two or three feet more. I said, ‘It’s time to leave now.’ I went to a life raft, but the life raft had so many men in it and around it that it was submerged. I said, ‘This is no place for me,’ so I lit out alone.”

The ashes of his fellow Lexington crew member Harry Fry have been scattered in the Coral Sea.

Official History project author Dr David Stevens says the battle represents a pivotal moment in Australian history.

“The Battle of the Coral Sea was very significant just for the fact that it was one of the first reverses that the Japanese suffered after their initial victories following Pearl Harbour and the attacks on Malaya and Singapore.”

And he says, within that significant battle, the Australian role was truly vital.

“The Australian role was very important in that, part of the code-breaking that was done, the Americans had moved their … the Japanese had invaded the Philippines earlier in the war, and an American code-breaking team had escaped and moved to Melbourne, where they joined up with Australian code-breakers, and they were the ones who broke the Japanese codes and were able to determine exactly where the Japanese were going to invade.”

Later this week, Malcolm Turnbull will attend a commemorative dinner in New York, where he will have his first face-to-face meeting with US president Donald Trump.

“We must be forever grateful to those who put their lives on the line and those who do so today so that we might have a free and peaceful world.”

Uni heads learn their budget fate

The Turnbull government is mounting an argument universities can afford to take a haircut as funding outpaces the cost of educating students.

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Education Minister Simon Birmingham later on Monday is expected to outline a package for next week’s federal budget that includes funding cuts and hikes in student fees.

Universities have cried poor, releasing a study a week ago that showed the sector contributing $3.9 billion to the budget bottom line over recent years.

But the government has released its own analysis showing universities have been pocketing taxpayer funds beyond the cost of teaching and research.

The average cost of delivery per student grew 9.5 per cent between 2010 and 2015, a government-commissioned Deloitte report found, while funding per student grew by 15 per cent.

Treasurer Scott Morrison says the lower delivery cost could be down to economies of scale or good management of universities.

“But it also demonstrates that it’s hard to make the argument that somehow universities are falling behind when it comes to a funding question,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

“We have seen that the costs of educating people have not risen as fast as that funding and that presents some obvious issues there to ensure that the taxpayers’ interests are best reflected in how we engage with the sector.”

The government acknowledges funding in some areas – such as dentistry and veterinary studies – doesn’t cover the cost of delivery but says the vast majority of courses could be delivered cheaper.

Universities could be hit with a 2-3 per cent efficiency dividend.

Senator Birmingham has previously indicated he thinks it not unreasonable to rebalance the proportion of student and taxpayer contributions to bring them closer to an even split.

At the moment, students pay about 40 per cent of the cost of their degree.

The minister will address a higher education and business event in Canberra on Monday evening, with the audience expected to include many vice-chancellors eager to learn about the government’s plans.

This is a marked difference from when the coalition took the sector by surprise by revealing plans in its 2014 budget to cut funding by 20 per cent and completely deregulate student fees.

Labor already has resurrected its campaign against “$100,000 degrees”, which ultimately led to the Senate rejecting the previous funding overhaul.

Opposition frontbencher Andrew Leigh acknowledged Labor in government had proposed an efficiency dividend on universities to pay for increased school funding, but said that came on the back of a large rise.

“Is a smaller cut better than a bigger cut? Sure, but that doesn’t make it good policy,” he told Sky News.