Eels blast NRL refs over sin-binning

Parramatta coach Brad Arthur could find himself in hot water after lashing out at the NRL referees over Corey Norman’s costly sin-binning in their 32-16 loss to North Queensland.

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Arthur defied the NRL’s recent edict not to criticise the officials when he declared that fans had been robbed of an even contest in the wake of his five-eighth’s sin-binning for a professional foul on Michael Morgan.

He bemoaned the lack of consistency from the whistle-blowers and said he would ask NRL referees boss Tony Archer for a please explain.

“It’s disappointing that with 14 minutes to go that we couldn’t see two really good teams fight it out, to see who could get on top at the end,” Arthur said.

“I think everyone’s been robbed of a good game of football.”

“I just need to ask him (Archer) what the ruling is and whether it will happen continually.”

With the game in the balance, Norman clearly pulled Morgan off the ball but it wasn’t enough for the video referees to award a penalty try – a decision Cowboys coach Paul Green questioned.

The Eels believed it had turned the game after Johnathan Thurston evened the scores from the ensuing penalty and the Cowboys took the lead through Antonio Winterstein soon after.

“There hasn’t been too many of them (sin-binnings) this year,” Eels skipper Kieran Foran said.

“It’s a massive call at that stage of the game, to send a key player off for 10 minutes.

“But in saying that, we didn’t make it easy on ourselves.

“We coughed up too much ball and if you cough up too much ball against a good side like the Cowboys, they’re going to make you pay for it.”

Aus soldiers mark Anzac Day in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the oft-spoken Dari phrase “shona b shona” is ringing true for hundreds of Australian soldiers deployed to the war-torn country.

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On the eve of Anzac Day, at Camp Qargah to the southwest of Kabul, Captain Robert Best says the words, which in English mean “shoulder to shoulder”, resonate beyond Afghanistan.

The 28-year-old, from Ipswich in Queensland, is one of a handful of Australian Defence Force mentors advising the Afghan National Army.

Capt Best is mentor to three Afghan platoon commanders. In turn, they will eventually train officer cadets.

“Shona b shona,” he says.

“It’s very important. And I think no matter what nationality you are, wherever you come from … when you choose to become a member of the profession of army, you feel a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood with your fellow members of that profession.”

On Anzac Day, the 270 ADF personnel in Afghanistan will mark what is always a special and solemn occasion, but which can take on extra meaning for the troops when far from home.

Capt Best maintains that his experience pales when compared to what the original Anzacs went through at Gallipoli, but nonetheless gives a sense of what it means.

“Although what we’re doing here on operations cannot even compare to what the original Anzacs went through at Gallipoli and on the western front and in the Middle East, that sense of being away from your family and that sense of serving your country … I think it is really as close as you can get in the modern army … in appreciating what those soldiers went through.”

It will be with “incredible pride” that he and others at Camp Qargah will on Monday mark Anzac Day with a traditional dawn service.

At Camp Qargah, the Australians will be joined by Turks and British soldiers as well as the members of the same Gurkha unit that landed at Gallipoli 101 years ago.

“I think that when we’re on Charandaz Mountain on Anzac Day and we’re having that minute’s silence, I think we’ll continue to reflect on how we can use this deployment to make the place better,” Capt Best said.

Sitting in front of a picture of fallen soldier Jacob Moerland, who was killed in a bomb blast on his first tour of Afghanistan in June 2010, Capt Best added: “I think no matter where you are on Anzac Day, you always reflect on those who didn’t come home.”

Search goes on for Ohio family killer

A day after eight members of one family were found dead with gunshots to the head at four properties in rural southern Ohio, authorities continue the scramble to determine who targeted the clan and why.

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Investigators on Saturday said they had interviewed more than 30 people in hopes of finding leads in the deaths of the seven adults and 16-year-old boy whose bodies were found Friday at homes southwest of Piketon.

All were shot in the head, authorities said, and it appeared some were killed as they slept, including a mother in bed with her 4-day-old baby nearby.

The newborn and two other small children were not hurt.

Authorities said all the victims were members of the Rhoden family, but they declined to provide any more information about them.

Investigators said that none of the deaths appeared self-inflicted and that they believed at least one assailant remained at large, considered armed and dangerous.

Investigators were following up what they described as an “overwhelming” amount of tips, but no one had been arrested.

Authorities urged surviving members of the Rhoden family to take precautions and offered help, and they recommended that area residents also be wary.

Phil Fulton, the pastor of Union Hill Church up the road from where some of the victims were found, described the family as close-knit and hardworking.

He said they were previously part of his congregation, though not recently.

“We’re just doing everything we can to reach out to the family to show them love and comfort,” Fulton said.

The exact timing of the shootings remained unclear. Authorities first got word in an emergency call shortly before 8 am Friday from someone reporting blood in a home with two males possibly dead, and responding deputies were flagged down about more victims at two others homes, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said.

Two of the crime scenes are within walking distance of each other along a sparsely populated, winding road that leads into wooded hills from a rural highway. The third residence is more than a mile away, and the fourth home, where a man’s body was found later Friday, is on a different road, at least a 10-minute drive away, said the investigation’s leader, Benjamin Suver, a special agent in charge with BCI.

Coote expected to ink new deal with Cows

Lachlan Coote is expected to re-sign with North Queensland within a week after firing the NRL premiers to a 32-16 win over Parramatta.

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Coote starred with the ball and in defence on Saturday night as he issued Cowboys bosses with a reminder of his worth and made a statement about his NSW Origin credentials.

The off-contact premiership-winning No.1 is considered one of the hottest commodities on the market and has attracted interest from several southern clubs including Sydney Roosters.

However, he is expected to shun suitors as the Cowboys attempt to build a dynasty around the likes of Coote, five-eighth Michael Morgan and hooker Jake Granville.

“There’s definitely offers there,” Coote said on Fox Sports following the win over the fourth-placed Eels.

“I’m very happy that the Cows have come here to play (and tabled an offer). Hopefully by the end of next week I’ll have a decision there.”

Coote was expected to be forced out as a result of salary cap pressure but is now firming to stay in Townsville.

He has hit career-best form this year and scored one try and saved another two in a man-of-the-match performance against the Eels on Saturday night.

He is now putting pressure on West Tigers’ James Tedesco and St George Illawarra’s Josh Dugan in the race for the NSW No.1 jumper.

The 26-year-old had endured a wretched run of injury over the past four year, sitting out most of 2013 with a pectoral injury before not even taking the field in his first year in Townsville in 2014 because of a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament suffered at the Auckland Nines.

“Being able to get that whole year in last year and playing consistent footy with the run of injuries that I’ve had, it definitely helps to get that full year in,” Coote said.

Turnbull faces backlash over boat contract

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is facing a backlash from North Queensland backbenchers over a decision to award a $500 million defence ship-building contract to a West Australian company.

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The federal government has selected WA-based shipbuilder Austal over a Cairns-based consortium for the contract to build patrol boats destined for the Pacific Ocean.

Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, whose electorate includes Cairns, says he is “gutted” by the decision and has taken aim at the prime minister and defence minister Marise Payne.

He said neither he nor industry minister Josh Frydenberg or northern Australian minister Matthew Canavan had been consulted about the decision, which he only learned of through a phone call from the Cairns consortium.

“It’s clumsy and inappropriate when the local member finds out about such an important decision through a phone call from one of the proponents,” he said.

“The decision might have been made but I want transparency and some facts. I won’t take this lying down.”

He said he had been told the Perth bid was 60 per cent cheaper but said he wasn’t convinced Austal could build the boats that cheaply.

“Even if there was a cost variation, when you look at spreading opportunities around the country and particularly in Northern Australia, you look at other factors as well as price,” he said.

“Now we’ve got a situation where the Pacific Patrol Boats will be built on the Indian Ocean.”

He also questioned Austal’s ability to build steel-hulled vessels and took a shot at its aluminium Customs vessels.

“It’s my understanding that Austal’s focus has always been on aluminium vessels so this will be their first steel-hulled build,” he said.

“It’s fair to say that the Customs boats built by Austal left a lot to be desired, given that we’re now seeing a lot of these aluminium vessels undergoing repairs for cracks.”

North Queensland-based senator Ian MacDonald has also expressed his unhappiness with the decision.

“The construction of the Pacific Patrols Boats would have been a wonderful employment generator and confidence boost for the north,” he said.

“I am very disappointed to hear the decision.”

But he was pleased the government had awarded a $400 million contract for the maintenance of the boats to Cairns.

‘Jobs, jobs and jobs’ dominate voter sentiment in South Australia

The election campaign is just getting started, and South Australia could provide the government with its toughest challenge yet.

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Expected job losses in manufacturing have hit voters hard, and even Christopher Pyne’s once-safe Liberal seat could be under threat.

The Industry Minister holds Sturt by a margin of 10 per cent.

Relative newcomer Matt Loader will challenge him for Labor, but Mr Pyne could also feel the heat from minor parties.

Political analyst William Bowe, who runs the Crikey blog ‘The Poll Bludger’, said the potential impact of Independent Senator Nick Xenophon’s political party could not be discounted.

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“There’s no question that he’s going to get a big share of the vote, but the jury really is out on whether that becomes big enough to make him really competitive in the lower house,” he said.  

The Greens candidate for Sturt, Rebecca Galdies, said the party’s firm commitment to same-sex marriage will help her win hearts in the electorate.

“I’ve been out doing a lot of door-knocking in the area. One of the things that comes up quite a lot is marriage equality,” she said.

“The Greens are the only party that have been 100 per cent consistent on pushing marriage equality.”

The division of Hindmarsh, west of the CBD, has an older voter profile and many one-person households. 

Liberal Party MP Matt Williams won the seat from Labor as part of the coalition’s landslide win in 2013 but it now sits on the tiny margin of 1.9 per cent.

The smallest swing would put it back in Labor hands.

Mr Williams said his focus if re-elected would be continuing the government’s work on shipbuilding. 

“It would be making sure that we maximise Australian industry involvement in the submarines, and also the frigate program,” he said.

“Because it is one thing to build them here, it’s another thing also to make sure Australian defence industry suppliers are getting the maximum value out of it.”

Labor’s Steve Georganas, who lost the seat in 2013, now wants it back.

He’s also supporting job creation and defence projects and said the party politics that hurt Labor’s chances three years ago were a thing of the past.

“That was one of those elections where we had a fairly high swing away from Labor around the country,” he said.

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“When you look back at that era, I think there were a lot of internal politics that were taking place, and people can see through that.”

He is cautiously optimistic about his chances.

“I have never seen the party so united as it is at the moment,” he said.

“You can never be completely confident. All I can do as a candidate and former member is work as hard as I can to prove myself to the voters, and it will be the voters that’ll make that decision.”

John Spoehr of the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute at Flinders University said the loss of several key industries and the looming threat of job losses was likely to weigh heavily in the minds of voters.

“The election here in South Australia is all about jobs, jobs and jobs, particularly because of the closure of the auto industry here in Adelaide in 2017, but also with the prospect of the closure of Arrium in Whyalla, which is going to affect a really substantial proportion of the workforce,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s recent announcement 12 offshore patrol vessels will be built in the state has been welcomed across the political spectrum

Mr Spoehr said voters would also be looking out for an announcement on the $50 billion future submarines project.

“It’s very important that the right choices are made, that they are locally built, and that there are 12 subs,” he said.

“That could make a substantial different to South Australia, there are about 3000 jobs associated with that.” 

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Claims RSL failing to engage young vets

Australian soldiers who served in recent conflicts are feeling isolated from the organisation that is meant to represent them.

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The Returned and Services League – which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year – is facing criticism it is no longer relevant to the current generation of veterans who are increasingly speaking out about post-conflict issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

And while the Australian public is today much better informed about the issues, the RSL is playing catch-up, former Australian soldier John Bale said.

“A hundred years ago is a hundred years ago,” Mr Bale told AAP.

“The modern veteran is not a stooped 70, 80-year-old.

“We need to look closer to home right now at those who have recently served.”

Mr Bale is chief executive of Soldier On – one of a number of new organisations designed to support recent veterans in their efforts to settle back into everyday life.

He said the RSL has been slow to respond to younger veterans – so much so he and his fellow ex-servicemen and woman have only recently started to “warm” to the organisation.

“The RSL is going through a transition at the moment,” he said.

“What it needs to do is look at the gaps that exist.”

RSL chief executive Sam Jackman said the body’s involvement in the Invictus Games – an international sports event for serving and former serving wounded, injured and ill defence force personnel – was an example of its engagement with younger veterans.

She said sentiments that the body was more focused on pokies and alcohol than providing support to veterans were wrong.

“We don’t say, ‘come in and spend money on beer and pokies’,” Ms Jackman told AAP.

“We say, ‘come in, we will help you in any way we can’.”

She challenged people who doubted the RSL to visit one of its 150 branches across the nation to observe its work.

Ken Foster from the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia said while he did think some sections of the RSL did “need to smarten up their act a bit”, it was still highly valued.

“The general focus of the RSL has always been on the welfare of veterans,” he said.

For Mr Bale, a gradual broadening in focus at Anzac Day commemorations to include young veterans was encouraging.

“As we transition out of Afghanistan and Iraq, I think it’s really pertinent to keep that continuation going of memory around what we’re doing right now strong,” he said.

“For those who unfortunately haven’t come back in the same way and need help – you can’t help them 100 per cent if you don’t really understand what they’ve been through.”

US limits North Korea foreign minister’s travel after latest missile test

North Korea says it has successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine – a worrying development because mastering the ability to fire missiles from submerged vessels would make it harder for outsiders to detect what North Korea is doing before it launches.

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State Department spokesman John Kirby says because of the missile firing, the US has determined it necessary to limit the travel of the visiting foreign minister and his delegation to only those places necessary for them to conduct their UN functions.

Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong is in New York for a UN meeting on sustainable development.

North Korea will halt nuclear tests if US ends drills, says foreign minister

North Korea’s foreign minister says his country is ready to halt its nuclear tests if the US suspends its annual military exercises with South Korea.

Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong also defended the country’s right to maintain a nuclear deterrent and warned that North Korea won’t be cowed by  international sanctions.

And for those waiting for the North’s regime to collapse, he had  this to say: Don’t hold your breath.

Ri Su Yong, in his first interview with a  Western news organisation, held firm to Pyongyang’s longstanding

position that the US drove his country to develop nuclear weapons as an act of self-defence.

At the same time, he suggested that suspending the military exercises with Seoul could open the door to talks and reduced tensions.

“If we continue on this path of confrontation, this will lead to very catastrophic results, not only for the two countries but for the whole entire world as well,” he said, speaking in Korean through an interpreter.

“It is really crucial for the United States government to withdraw its hostile policy against the DPRK and as an expression of this stop the military exercises, war exercises, in the Korean Peninsula. Then we will respond likewise.”

He used the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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Ri, who spoke calmly and in measured words, a contrast to the often bombastic verbiage used by the North’s media, claimed the North’s proposal was “very logical.”

“Stop the nuclear war exercises in the Korean Peninsula, then we should also cease our nuclear tests,” he said, during the interview, conducted in the country’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations.

He spoke beneath portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il, North Korea’s two previous leaders – the grandfather and father of current leader Kim Jong Un.

If the exercises are halted “for some period, for some years,” he added, “new opportunities may arise for the two countries and for the whole entire world as well.”

Ri’s comments to the AP came just hours after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine in its latest show of defiance as the US-South Korea exercises wind down.

He referred to the launch in the context of current tensions caused by the military exercises.

“The escalation of this military exercise level has reached its top level. And I think it’s not bad – as the other side is going for the climax – why not us, too, to that level as well?”

It is extremely rare for top North Korean officials to give interviews to foreign media, and particularly with Western news organisations.

North Korea says missile test ‘great success’

North Korea says a submarine-launched ballistic missile test was a “great success” that gave the country “one more means for powerful nuclear attack.”

It claims the test, supervised by leader Kim Jong Un, was a “great success” that gave the country “one more means for powerful nuclear attack.”

North Korea fired one missile from a submarine off its east coast on Saturday, South Korea’s military said, amid concerns that the isolated state might conduct a nuclear test or a missile launch ahead of a rare ruling party meeting in May.

The missile flew for about 30km, a South Korean Defence Ministry official said, adding its military was trying to determine whether the launch may have been a failure for unspecified reasons.

But the North’s official news agency KCNA said an underwater test-fire of a ballistic missile was “another great success,” without disclosing the date and place of the event which was guided by leader Kim.

“It fully confirmed and reinforced the reliability of the Korean-style underwater launching system and perfectly met all technical requirements for carrying out … underwater attack operation,” KCNA said.

“The successful test-fire would help remarkably bolster the underwater operational capability of the KPA navy, he said, adding that it is now capable of hitting the heads of the South Korean puppet forces and the US imperialists anytime as it pleases,” it said, quoting Kim. KPA refers to the North’s military.

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The US Strategic Command said on Saturday it had detected and tracked a North Korean submarine missile launch but it did not pose a threat to North America.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said launches using ballistic missile technology were “a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”

France on Saturday called on the European Union to unilaterally adopt additional sanctions on North Korea if the missile launch was confirmed.

North Korea first attempted a launch of the submarine-based missile last year and was seen to be in the early stages of developing such a weapons system, which could pose a new threat to its neighbours and the United States if it is perfected.

However, a series of test launches were believed to have been failures, and its state media carried footage that appeared to have been edited to fake success, according to experts who have seen the visuals.

North Korea is banned from nuclear tests and activities that use ballistic missile technology under UN sanctions dating to 2006 and most recently adopted in March but it has pushed ahead with work to miniaturise a nuclear warhead and develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

North Korea will hold a congress of its ruling Workers’ Party in early May for the first time in 36 years, at which leader Kim is expected to formally declare the country is a strong military power and a nuclear state.

NSW Swifts set up netball blockbuster

NSW Swifts are girding themselves for a blockbuster grand final rematch with Queensland Firebirds after ending West Coast Fever’s winning start to the trans-Tasman netball season.

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The Swifts’ 63-52 win over the Fever at Perth’s HBF Arena on Sunday ensured that Saturday’s clash with defending champions the Firebirds in Brisbane features the only two unbeaten teams after four rounds.

Delighted with the way his team handled a stiff challenge from the Fever, Swifts coach Rob Wright was reluctant to talk up their chances of toppling the record-setting Firebirds at the same venue where they lost last season’s grand final thriller by just one goal.

“The Firebirds have won 17 games in-a-row now. I’m wanting to know whether they can lose at the moment,” Wright said.

“All we want to try and do is be better than we were last year because we weren’t good enough.”

Wright considered the Fever the biggest test to date for his team who had beaten the Melbourne Vixens, Waikato Magic and Adelaide Thunderbirds at home.

“It was hard to tell how we were going because the first three teams we played had all been hit by injuries,” Rob Wright said.

“I felt all of them were a little under strength so this was a real test to see where we were at…. I’m pleased to be able to get out of here with two points.”

For the much-improved Fever, it was more of the same pain at the hands of the Swifts who had beaten them at home in the last round in 2015 to book a home elimination final against them, which they also won.

But the Fever made the visitors fight hard for it.

The Fever grabbed the half-time lead 29-28 on the back of five straight goals before the Swifts scoring 11 of the next 14 goals and were on top by five heading into the fourth period.

A rare miss by national team shooter Caitlin Bassett early in the fourth quarter led to two quick goals for Swifts and from there they pulled away.

For the Swifts, shooter Caitlin Thwaites nailed 39 from 45 attempts while Susan Pettitt added 24 from 26 and captain Kimberlee Green was outstanding in the centre.

Bassett made 38 from 42 for Fever and became the first Australian player to score 4000 goals in the league. Nat Medhurst added 14 from 17.

Cash pledges ‘incremental’ IR reform

Anyone hoping for sweeping industrial law changes from the Turnbull government this election is going to be disappointed.

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Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has warned that the coalition is not going to be swinging the IR pendulum to the right.

“In all of my discussions with stakeholders, what they want to see is industrial relations policy that will bring Australians with us and … that will get through the Senate,” she told Sky News on Sunday.

“They are prepared to accept incremental, but important change.”

The last thing the coalition wants to do is to put up a policy which is destined to fail, she said.

The government will respond to the Productivity Commission’s recommendations from a review of the workplace relations system before the election, expected to be on July 2.

Senator Cash has been undertaking consultations with unions and business groups over the 69 recommendations in the commission’s final report released in December.

The proposals include bringing Sunday penalty rates in the retail and hospitality sectors into line with Saturdays.

The Fair Work Commission is soon due to hand down its response to a separate review of the rates in those industries.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Thursday told 3AW radio he would accept the findings of the commission.

But his frontbench colleague Tony Burke made it clear on Sunday the Labor Party is still against cutting penalty rates.

“We support having an independent umpire, that’s what (Mr Shorten) was referring to but beyond that we believe people deserve penalty rates,” Tony Burke told ABC TV.

The Productivity Commission also proposed the establishment of a new form of workplace contract for companies to directly negotiate with their staff.

Recent reports suggest the government is unlikely to back them.

Senator Cash spruiked the commitments to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission and set up a Registered Organisations Commission at a joint sitting of parliament, following a probable double-dissolution election.