Storming cafe would have cost lives: siege inquest

NSW police assistant commissioner Michael Fuller was the first high-ranking officer in command at the siege at Sydney’s Martin Place on December 15, 2014.

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He is being questioned about the police response to the incident which left gunman Man Haron Monis and hostages Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson dead.

He told officers to “contain and negotiate” with Monis, saying not enough was known to order a forceful response even after a warning shot had been fired.

“My fear was any action, deliberate action, would certainly have caused a loss of life and I’m not talking about the perpetrator,” Mr Fuller told the inquest on Wednesday.

A report by UK counter terrorism experts has said police should have immediately entered the building after Monis first fired his shotgun at 2.03am.

Ten minutes and 37 seconds later, Monis forced Mr Johnson to his knees and executed him with a point-blank shot to the head.

Mr Fuller disagrees with the UK report, saying community expectations in that country were different and led to different police responses.

“Strong action by police after a warning shot would likely cause someone’s death,” he said.

Balancing the attempt to preserve life and negotiate with the perpetrator against the possibility of taking action to end a violent stand-off was difficult and seems much easier in hindsight, the court heard.

“That will forever be the challenge of responding to these situations,” Mr Fuller said.

“You would be trying to piece together a very difficult puzzle to make a very difficult decision.”

Mr Fuller was in command at the scene from 9.50am until about 12.10pm but was asked about the actions of those in command more than 12 hours later as the siege escalated to its bloody conclusion.

“I don’t think there were enough pieces of the puzzle to justify us going in,” he said.

“Based on all the information coming in we didn’t have the power to go in.”

The inquest on Tuesday heard more about the “contain and negotiate” strategy.

Describing the early moments of the siege, Mr Fuller said police were uncertain about how many captives were inside and would not have stormed the building unless Monis had started shooting.

“There was no information to suggest there is any immediate threat in that environment to any of the hostages,” he said.

“There was an enormous amount we needed to know.”

The inquest continues.

Access to talent critical for innovators

Tax concessions, export grants and a healthy dose of fortune all helped transport start-up Jayride join the top 50 innovators in the country.

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But for Vinko Grgic, Jayride’s operations officer, the business’ past and future success comes down to one thing – talent.

The four-year-old firm, which books shuttle buses and private transfers to and from airports, was listed as number 50 in venture capital firm H2 Ventures’ list of Australia and New Zealand’s top 50 tech and innovation pioneers.

Mr Grgic said the business, which employs 20 people, had enjoyed great success but could only grow further through investment in human capital from around the world.

“People are the most valuable and the most important thing in a company like this,” Mr Grgic said.

“Technology is part and parcel but you need the brains. It’s about access to people.”

The “Tech Pioneers 50” report, released on Wednesday, ranked Australian and New Zealand businesses on their capital raising efforts, sector diversity, innovation and success with consumers.

Software “unicorn” Atlassian, valued at over $6 billion in 2015, was named the leading tech pioneer, while Kiwi accounting software company Xero was ranked second and creative hub Envato came in third.

H2 Ventures founder Ben Heap, whose firm produced the report alongside investment bank Investec Australia, said the top 50 firms employed 5400 people in high-skilled roles that didn’t exist even a decade ago.

He said the companies were best placed to lead the charge into the digital economy.

“The next 10 to 20 years will be primarily driven by growth in companies like those that are on the top 50 here,” said Mr Heap.

“I don’t see any risk at all that this is a passing fad.”

Greg Symons from SocietyOne, a peer-to-peer lending service ranked number 20 on the list, said his industry needed at least another decade to “mature into something significant”.

He said his five-year-old business, which recently passed $100 million in loans, would continue to grow within Australia before branching out internationally.

“We’d like to expand at some stage, and our tech needs to be absolutely proven in its local environment,” Mr Symons said.

Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos, speaking at the launch of the report, said the federal government did not want startups and innovation “to be just a passing phase”.

“This is about building a new culture across the country as a whole,” Senator Sinodinos said.

Fish oil can enhance depression meds

Taking fish oil or vitamin D supplements can boost the effectiveness of anti-depressants for those suffering from depression.

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That’s the finding from an evidence review conducted by a team from Melbourne University and Harvard Medical School, assessing 40 clinical studies worldwide.

Researchers found that certain nutrient or plant-based supplements had a positive effect on enhancing mood when taken with anti-depressants.

It’s welcome news for sufferers who see little improvement from taking anti-depressants alone.

“This is an exciting finding because here we have a safe, evidence-based approach that could be considered a mainstream treatment,” research leader Dr Jerome Sarris said.

“Millions of people in Australia currently take anti-depressants. There’s real potential here to improve the mental health of people who have an inadequate response to them.”

He said the studies backed omega 3 fish oil for boosting treatment, while vitamin D, methylfolate (an active form of folic acid), and S-adenosylmethionine (sometimes used to treat osteoarthritis) were also proven to lift mood levels.

“We’ve realised previously that omega 3 is good for the brain health … and omega 3 was shown to be more beneficial than a placebo when combined with anti-depressants in improving depression treatment.”

However, experts don’t know the extent of the correlation between the supplement and the anti-depressant – whether it’s the interaction of the two substances that can help lift someone’s mood, or if just taking the supplement itself helps.

“Is it working together synergistically to improve the activity of it (the anti-depressant) or is it working on different chemical pathways? My understanding is that it could be a combination of both,” Dr Sarris said.

While the results are encouraging, he warned patients to run any additions to their treatment by their doctors first.

“We’re not telling people to rush out and buy buckets of supplements. Always speak to your medical professional before changing or initiating a treatment,” he said.

Sugar intake prompts call for action

Alarming new data on Australia’s sugar consumption provides good evidence for a tax on sugary drinks, health experts say.

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The average amount of ‘added or free’ sugars consumed is 60g a day, equivalent to a whopping 14 level teaspoons of white sugar.

Teenage boys aged 14-18 have the biggest intake, averaging the equivalent of 22 teaspoons a day, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

The figures don’t include sugar naturally present in fruit or milk, only sugar added to foods and drinks as well as honey and the sugar naturally present in fruit juice.

Half of all Australians aged 2 and over are exceeding the World Health Organisation’s recommendations that sugar should make up less than 10 per cent of our daily kilojoule intake.

The findings of The Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Added Sugar, 2011-12 are as high as expected, dietician Dr Rosemary Stanton told AAP.

“But it is good to have actual figures as they give us good evidence as to why we should follow the other countries that are starting to have a tax on sugar sweetened drinks,” she said.

Alexandra Jones, from The George Institute, told AAP action was needed to deal with the “consistently alarming” findings on sugar consumption.

A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages was a good start as it targeted a product with no nutritional benefit, which was aggressively marketed especially to youth.

“Diet is by far the biggest killer of Australians now, diet-related diseases, so this is really an opportunity for us to step up on that,” she said.

The groups most likely to exceed the WHO recommendation were children and young people aged 9-18 with close to three-quarters of them usually deriving 10 per cent or more of their energy from free sugars.

“The highest consumption of free sugars was among males aged 14-18 years who averaged 22 teaspoons per day, while the top 10 per cent of male teenagers have at least 38 teaspoons of free sugars per day,” said Louise Gates from the ABS.

Dr Stanton noted the “really dangerous group” was the young males, who obviously need more food as they were growing but were getting into bad sugar habits.

As well as introducing a sugar tax and child advertising restrictions, she said parents needed to make changes.

“They should go back to putting sandwiches and fruit in the lunchbox,” she said.

TOP SOURCES OF FREE SUGARS

Soft drinks, sports and energy drinks: 19pct

Fruit and vegetable juices: 13pct

Muffins, cakes, scones, confectionary: 8.7 pct

Confectionery and cereal/nut/fruit/seed bars: 8.7pct

Sugar product and dishes: 7.6pct

Tea and coffee: 7.3 pct

Cordials: 4.9pct

Sweet biscuits and frozen milk products: 4pct

PERCENTAGE OF AGE GROUPS EATING MORE SUGAR THAN HEALTHY

2-3: 50pct

4-8: 68pct

9-13: 70pct-80pct

14-18: 75pct

19-30: 60pct

31-50: 45pct-50pct

51-70: 35pct

71+ : 45pct

McInnes commits to Premier after pay rise

Premier Investments, the owner of Smiggle stationery stores, has handed Mark McInnes a bumper pay rise and the means to build a new home in a bid to hang on to the chief executive for the long term.

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Premier said it has increased Mr McInnes’ base remuneration and maximum short-term incentives by $500,000 each, taking his total annual package from $4 million to $5 million.

The retailer has also given the former David Jones boss the go ahead to sell shares worth more than $12 million to pay for the construction of a new home near Premier’s Melbourne headquarters.

Chairman Solomon Lew defended Premier’s largesse, saying the new contract terms represent Mr McInnes’ first salary increase since he was appointed in 2011.

The company’s market capitalisation has increased from $900,000 to $2.5 billion in that time, while shareholders have received a total of $313 million in fully franked dividends.

“Over the past five years, Mark has led a first class team to deliver significant returns to Premier shareholders,” Mr Lew said in a statement.

“The board is delighted that Mark has today recommitted himself to a long term future with Premier and we look forward to his continued contribution and leadership.”

Mr McInnes will sell 800,000 shares to build his home, two years after he sold 600,000 shares to buy a holiday home on the Mornington Peninsula.

He has rented a family home since relocating from Sydney in 2011 and Premier has agreed to pay his rent for as long as three years while his new pad is being constructed.

Premier’s brands also include Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Peter Alexander and Portmans.

The company’s shares gained 16 cents, or one per cent, to $15.64.

Australia taking an active role in Afghan military restructure

Afghan resources remain stretched, and the Coalition faces a challenge in preparing a restructured air force to take control of its own operations.

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At the British-run Afghan National Army Officer Academy (ANAOA) located at the vast Camp Qargha on the outskirts of Kabul, cadets are being mentored by Australian defence personnel.

ANAOA lead mentor Lieutenant Colonel Steve Jenkins said it is an important role. 

“Whilst they’ll graduate from here and certainly they’ll be the military leaders in the near future, I think we’re all hopeful that what we’re going to see is that these people will sort of spread out across Afghan society.”

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Afghan Brigadier General Sharif Sharifi said Australian support is vital.

“These Australian mentors that we have, they are helping us a lot in terms of training and education in this academy, so it is very, very important to have the Australian support,” he said.

Sergeant Kristy McMillen said it had heralded a cultural shift too – with more women being recruited.

“I know it will never be the same in Afghanistan as it is in Australia, maybe it will be one day, but it’s important that they see that women are capable and they’re just as good as the men,” she said.

As the military makes advancements on the ground, it’s also strengthening its air force, with help from specialised Australian advisors.

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The squadron leader, who did not want to be named for security reasons, said they were making ground.

“They’ve come from a really harsh place, if you consider the 30 to 40 years that Afghanistan’s been in conflict, it’s really knocked about the government institutions and the air force as well. But we see day-by-day improvements and they really are building up a strong capability.”

A burgeoning Afghan air force now has around 100 new aircraft, from gunship helicopters to C-130 Hercules and A-29 attack planes.

The A-29 Afghan aircraft that were involved in combat missions conducted just a few weeks ago over Taliban strongholds were all crewed by Afghan pilots.

It was seen as a success by those running the NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.

South African police to investigate Malema

South African police are investigating opposition leader Julius Malema for “inflammatory” speech after the politician threatened to remove President Jacob Zuma’s government through the “barrel of a gun”.

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Malema, the leader of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party told Al Jazeera television on Sunday that his party’s protest marches were often met with violent resistance by security forces and that members of his party would run out of patience and take up arms.

“We have noted with serious concern, reckless and inflammatory statements that have been ascribed to leaders of some political parties,” Police Minister Nathi Nhleko told reporters on Tuesday.

He confirmed a case had been lodged against Malema at the Hillbrow police station in Johannesburg and that the Hawks elite police unit were investigating.

“It is only an investigative process that will eventually lead to a point of categorisation in terms of whether it is high treason or constituted under crimes against the state,” he said.

Malema, a former leader of the African National Congress Youth League who fell out of favour with Zuma, has led a public campaign dubbed “pay back the money” against the president, demanding that he pay back some of the money spent to upgrade the president’s rural Nkandla home.

Earlier this month, Zuma survived an impeachment vote after the Constitutional Court said he breached the law by ignoring an order to repay some of the $US16 million ($A20.74 million) in state funds spent on renovating his home.

Malema, who promotes the nationalisation of mines and banks, is ratcheting up the rhetoric ahead of local elections in August, where Zuma and the ANC could face a tough test.

NSW woman stabbed before body found

A young woman whose naked body was found floating face down in a blow hole on the NSW Central Coast was viciously attacked before her death, police believe.

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The young Asian woman, believed to be aged between 20 and 35, was discovered by a tourist in the water at Snapper Point in the Munmorah State Conservation Area on Sunday morning.

Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jubelin said she had suffered a number of stab wounds.

“Our interpretation of the situation is that she suffered a violent assault prior to her death,” he told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.

Investigators believe the woman entered the water at the blow hole and had been there no more than 48 hours.

“There was no, what appeared to be, significant injuries from the rocks,” Insp Jubelin said.

“The most likely possibility is that she went in the water at the blowhole.”

Police haven’t ruled out the possibility the woman was killed elsewhere and dumped.

“The car park is right at the entrance of the blow hole. It is possible (the woman) was transported by vehicle,” Insp Jubelin said.

The area is frequented by tourists and rock fisherman, with a popular campsite nearby.

Investigators have combed the area, retrieved undisclosed items from the water and are checking CCTV footage.

“I won’t reveal what we’ve uncovered but we’re getting a pretty good understanding of what occurred in that area during that time,” Insp Jubelin said.

He said the woman had been found in an incredibly lonely area.

“It’s a very beautiful location but for a crime and someone to be disposed of in that manner in that location, it’s a very lonely and isolated area.”

The woman has not been formally identified.

Police have released a computer-generated image of her. She has no tattoos or distinctive scars and was not wearing jewellery when found.

“Anyone with any information or concerns about a woman matching that description we would encourage to come forward,” Insp Jubelin said.

Port slam AFL criticism as farcical

Port Adelaide have slammed suggestions of disunity at the AFL club as farcical.

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Power defender Tom Jonas says players are laughing at such talk because it’s so far off the mark.

“To be honest, it’s pretty farcical. And internally we’re joking about it, it’s that ridiculous,” Jonas told reporters on Wednesday.

Port, with three heavy losses in four games, initially dealt with a supposed rift between the players and chairman David Koch.

The chairman labelled a loss against GWS a fortnight ago as a “disgrace” in a critique which captain Travis Boak said rattled the players.

Koch then told any offended players to “harden up”, before reports of a fall-out between Boak and vice-captain Hamish Hartlett – which has been roundly rejected.

“There has been a lot of noise,” Jonas said.

“And that comes from expectation, that comes from disappointment from our supporters and the wider football community – and that is what happens.

“We’re just taking that on the chin. But internally we are staying very tight … we know what we have dished up so far is not good enough so we’re working together.

” … When there is pressure on and we let people down, things like that can get out control and that is what has happened.

“It’s not so much frustrating as a little bit disappointing that people would resort to that sort of stuff when things aren’t going our way.”

Jonas said the criticism would galvanise Port players ahead of Saturday night’s away match against struggling Richmond.

“To some extent when things are going against you, it’s really good when you’re back is against the wall,” he said.

“Everyone just comes together and Port Adelaide have got a strong tradition of doing that. So it is a good opportunity to use that to our advantage.”

Commercial radio spruiks DAB-capable phone

Commercial radio is hoping listeners turn on, tune in and drop out – of streaming – with a new smartphone that lets them listen to digital radio for free.

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Industry body Commercial Radio Australia has thrown its support behind a new phone, from manufacturer LG, that contains a digital radio, or DAB+, receiver, that lets users listen to radio without burning up valuable data.

The hope for the stations is for a boost in listener numbers and subsequent uptick in advertising revenue.

“We are giving them broadcast radio back into their smartphones, so they can receive every radio station in the city they are in,” Commercial Radio Australia chief executive Joan Warner told AAP.

“This will give back to Australians who used to have, in the old days, transistor radios when their radio went everywhere with them.”

Commercial Radio Australia will spend around $5 million promoting the new phone – the LG Stylus DAB+, Ms Warner said.

The phone, launched in Sydney on Wednesday, can receive digital broadcasts that allow text, images and song information to be delivered alongside the sound.

Although music streaming services such as Spotify are growing in popularity, Ms Warner said radio was not a competitor with streaming.

“Radio is more than music … the local news, the local information, the sense of local community, that’s why radio is surviving and actually thriving,” Ms Warner said.

When the phone goes on sale on May 2, listeners in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth will be able to tune into digital radio directly.

Everyone else in Australia will have wait to at least 2017 because DAB+ signals are not available.

Digital radio is broadcast in 40 countries and Ms Warner said there had been significant interest in the phone from emerging markets.

“Indonesia has just switched on the same broadcast technology and they said to me, `Where can we get our hands on these phones to promote them and launch them?’,” she said.