Saving Privat(izing) Ryan: Mitt Romney selects a running mate

By Glenn Altschuler, Cornell University

On Saturday, August 11, “before the press and just about everyone else” was notified, the Mitt Romney campaign used a mobile phone app to inform supporters that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan would be the Republican candidate for vice president.


Romney’s choice is significant. No vice presidential candidate has been a deciding factor in an American election since Lyndon Johnson carried Texas for John F. Kennedy in 1960. Since then the operative principle for Republicans and Democrats in selecting a VP has been the political equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath for physicians: Do No Harm. Romney was widely expected to make a “safe” choice—of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman, U.S. Senator from Ohio. Instead, he has, uncharacteristically, rolled the dice.

The forty-two year old Ryan is an experienced, articulate and influential legislator, a vigorous campaigner, and the darling of conservative Republicans and Tea Party activists. A key factor in his selection is his ability to energise the party’s base, which has been less than enthusiastic about Governor Romney, a former Massachusetts moderate. Ryan’s supporters suggest as well that he will help the GOP win the 10 Electoral votes of his home state, which has been carried by the Democrats in every presidential election since the 1980s.

But Ryan’s presence on the ticket also gives President Obama an opportunity to change the conversation from the fragile, and some say faltering, economy, to a federal spending plan, authored by Ryan, that Newt Gingrich (of all people) called “right wing social engineering.” First introduced in 2010 and known variously as The Path to Prosperity and The Roadmap, the Ryan budget proposes radical changes in the role of government in promoting and protecting the welfare of American citizens – and an attack on Social Security and Medicare, two of the most popular programs in the United States.

In its current version (which passed the House of Representatives with support from all but four Republicans and died in the Democrat-controlled Senate), the Ryan budget would cut $6 trillion in discretionary spending over ten years, reducing the deficit to about 3 percent of Gross Domestic Product by fiscal year 2014, three years ahead of the White House plan. Favorable to the wealthiest Americans in virtually every provision (Ryan has signed the “no tax” pledge of lobbyist Grover Norquist, who famously aims to shrink the federal government until it’s small enough to be drowned in a bathtub) it collapses individual income tax brackets into two rates— 10% and 25% —and promises to clear out “the burdensome tangle of loopholes that distort economic activity,” without identifying any specific loophole. And it cuts corporate tax rates ten points to 25 percent while eliminating (as yet unnamed) exemptions.

Unlike a previous iteration of his plan, Ryan would not now privatise Social Security. But Democrats will surely remind voters of his earlier views — and will ask Governor Romney if he agrees with them. The latest Roadmap does phase out Medicare, a government guarantee of health care for senior citizens, in favor of vouchers, which would be used by individuals to pay for private insurance premiums – but which, according to critics, will not pay the full freight.

The Roadmap is not popular with voters. When Ryan discussed it at town hall meetings in his home state, he was shouted down. Fearing dire consequences at the ballot box, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer characterized the Ryan Plan, which weighed in at 73 pages with 37 footnotes, as perhaps “the most annotated suicide note in history.” Until recently, Romney, who has endorsed The Roadmap, kept his distance from it.

He will not now be able to do so. And so, the selection of Ryan will make it far more difficult for Republicans to carry Florida, a must-win state with many senior citizens – and 29 Electoral votes.

As Democrats assert that, by jumping on Ryan’s Express, Romney has demonstrated that he is a hostage to Tea Party extremists, they may also take note of Ryan’s record during the presidency of George W. Bush, when he voted for sweeping tax cuts, a costly prescription-drug entitlement for Medicare, two wars, and the multibillion-dollar bank-bailout legislation known as TARP, and in so doing, helped add $5 trillion to the national debt. Ryan now claims that the experience made him miserable. The GOP faithful will give him the benefit of the doubt, but mainstream voters may be less forgiving.

Whether Ryan’s presence on the ticket proves a boost or a bust, it could inject a substantive discussion of the issues into what hitherto has been a dispiritingly vicious contest. Congressman Ryan could save both Romney’s campaign and his own efforts to privatize the economy. He could also sink them both.

Glenn Altschuler does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

How ethical are hymen restorations?

Because they have had pre-marital sex and risk being ostracised by their family; because they are victims of rape; or because they “want to achieve a sense of a clean slate”.


These are just some of the reasons why some women are asking cosmetic surgeons like Dr Les Blackstock to restore their hymens.

“I’ve done women from most cultures and most religions; I’ve done women who have been victims of rape, I’ve done women who have no sexual interest, they’ve been returning to be a nun,” he tells SBS’s Insight.

“They want to very much achieve a sense of a clean slate.”

Hymen restoration is the surgical repair of the hymen. There are no hard data on hymenoplasty rates in Australia, but surgeons say there is a steady demand for the procedure in Australia.


In some cultures, having gynaecologists ‘inspect’ hymens is not uncommon. Sydney-based gynaecologist Dr Wafa Samen often issues doctor’s certificates in English and in Arabic certifying that a hymen is intact.

“Culturally and religiously, it is important to preserve the virginity and that applies to woman and men,” says Dr Samen.

In cultures that place a high value on virginity there may be serious consequences for the woman and her family if her hymen is not intact, including being outcast from the community, beatings, mutilations and honour killings.

“One of my standard questions when I interview the woman is: will they be at physical risk?” says Dr Blackstock. “Because in some the cultures the women have told me that they may be physically harmed and there have been deaths reported for lack of virginity.”

He adds: “I know that my hymens have passed inspection in Australia and overseas and not been detected.”


WATCH: The audience receives mystery packages. Can you guess what they are?


Surgeons are faced with a moral dilemma: on one hand, they can help women avoid social and mental consquences through hymen reconstruction. On the other hand, performing such an unnecessary surgical procedure might contribute to persisting gender inequality.

One paper published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics writes:

“Gynecologists may oppose hymen reconstruction on grounds that it is deceptive, not medically required, or that the requirement of evidence of virginity discriminates against women and the procedure supports holding them to higher standards of virtue than are required of men.”

However, the paper also writes that gynaecologists “may justify the procedure” if the hymen reconstruction preserves “mental and social wellbeing”, especially if the woman faces violence or death.

So what happens when a gynaecologist, who certifies intact hymens, like Dr Samen, detects a restored hymen?

“As a doctor I should keep the confidentiality of the patient,” she tells Insight.

What do you think about hymen reconstructions? How do you define virginity? Watch the Insight discussion on virginity tonight at 8.30PM on SBS ONE. The program will also be streamed live here.

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter or by commenting on Insight’s Facebook page.



Srebrenica: Massacre victims reburied

Bosnians buried 520 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, with the two alleged masterminds of the slaughter finally on trial for genocide.


About 30,000 people gathered at a special memorial centre in Potocari, just outside Srebrenica, for the mass funeral on the 17th anniversary of the worst single atrocity on European soil since World War II.

After speeches and the Muslim prayer for the dead, people began hoisting the simple coffins covered in green cloth to carry them to the freshly dug graves. Clouds of red dust rose over the vast cemetery as relatives covered the caskets with earth under the sweltering afternoon sun.

Mujo Salihovic, 30, had come to bury his father and one of his brothers — his other brother was already among the 5,137 victims already laid to rest there.

“I haven’t told my mother that they will be buried today. She is sick and still believes they will return,” he said tearfully.

“If I tell her, it would kill her. I cannot lose her, she is all that I have left”.

It is the first anniversary being commemorated since the massacre’s alleged architects, Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic and political leader Radovan Karadzic, went on trial before the UN war crimes court.

In all, around 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb troops who overran the UN protected enclave on July 11, 1995, in the only episode of the 1992-95 Bosnian war to have been ruled a genocide by international courts.

US President Barack Obama in a statement slammed moves to downplay the scale of the massacre in a clear swipe at Serbia’s new President Tomislav Nikolic, who said last month that the killings in Srebrenica constituted “grave war crimes” but not genocide.

“The United States rejects efforts to distort the scope of this atrocity, rationalise the motivations behind it, blame the victims, and deny the indisputable fact that it was genocide,” he said.

Holocaust-survivor and US rabbi Arthur Schneier, who spoke at the commemoration, condemned the massacre and also the international silence in the face of grave injustice that allowed it to happen, drawing a comparison with events in Syria.

“Silence is not a solution; it merely encourages the perpetrators and ultimately it pays a heavy price in blood,” he said.

“It is a lesson that the world must learn again today as we witness the massacres being perpetrated by the regime in Syria against its own people. It is time again for humanity to say with one clear voice: these crimes must end,” he urged.

Many survivors and relatives in Srebrenica said Wednesday the trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague are too little, too late.

“It hurts me to watch broadcasts of the trials… it does not comfort me. (Karadzic and Mladic) plead not guilty, they say this was not genocide,” Muniba Cakar, who buried her husband, said bitterly.

“It should be enough to come here and see the thousands of graves. If that is not proof, we should give up,” the 63-year-old said, gesturing at the thousands of simple white headstones around her.

The trial of Mladic, who commanded the attack on Srebrenica, resumed in The Hague this week with the first prosecution witnesses testifying, a little over a year since his arrest in Serbia after nearly 16 years on the run.

Karadzic is due to start presenting his defence in October. His trial opened in 2009 after he evaded justice for 13 years.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to genocide charges for masterminding the massacre and all other charges against them over the Bosnian war that left around 100,000 people dead.

So far 38 former Bosnian Serb military or police officials have been convicted, including some for genocide, for their role in the Srebrenica killings, both by the ICTY and Bosnia’s own war crimes court.

In the past 17 years, the remains of 6,800 victims have been identified, but the search goes on as excavations of mass graves continue.

Removing face veil in court ‘no problem’, in eyes of Muslims

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

I can only see the eyes of that defendant.


Those are the words of a magistrate in a Brisbane courtroom, pondering about what he called the “validity” of a Muslim woman wearing a niqab in an Australian courtroom.

He didn’t pursue the matter further, but it was enough to push the issue back into the headlines.

Ron Sutton reports on reaction within the Muslim community.

Leading Australian Muslim figures say they support judges asking women to remove their face coverings if necessary after the issue arose again recently in a Brisbane courtroom.

Brisbane magistrate John Costello actually declined to ask a woman wearing a niqab to uncover her face as he sentenced her for leaving her baby unattended in a hot car.

But he asked her lawyer whether it was appropriate that he could only see her eyes before proceeding to sentence her, and his remarks attracted extensive media coverage.

The assistant secretary of Muslims Australia, Keysar Trad, says the country’s Islamic scholars have clearly determined it is no problem for women to remove their face coverings.

“The Islamic scholars in Australia have already reached a position on this, and they’ve published a statement to say that, whilst a person is required to be identified, there are certain points — for example, entering the court building, et cetera — they can remove it temporarily, and, if they’re in the court and they’re giving evidence, they can remove it for the duration of the period that they’re giving evidence. So, where it’s necessary and there’s a legitimate reason for removing it, the scholars have said that they should remove it for that period and then they can put it back on when they finish.”

In Brisbane, the president of the Muslim community festival Eid fest, Yasmin Khan, says it is not an issue.

Ms Khan says it is a matter of fairness and the courts have every right to see the people standing before them.

“They should be able to see the person that they’re standing in judgment on. I think that the judicial system is supposed to be fair and equal for everybody, and I think it’s important that it’s there to protect everybody. In this particular case, it was a matter of court expediency, that she pleaded guilty and away they went, they just signed the papers, and the job was finished. But if she’d pleaded not guilty, or if there was some contest to the charges that were laid against her, then it would be vitally important that they made sure that they had the right person.”

Queensland’s chief justice and the state’s anti-discrimination commissioner both have stated that processes are in place in the state’s court system allowing coverings to be removed.

And the chief justice says that has always been done in a respectful way if required.

Jamila Hussein, formerly with the Muslim Women’s National Network of Australia before becoming a lecturer in law, says it is not just a matter of identification either.

Ms Hussein, now a senior lecturer at the University of Technology in Sydney, says it can be important to see the face of a person giving testimony as well.

“I think, if somebody’s being cross-examined in court, giving evidence, I think that it is relevant that the magistrate, or the judge, should be able to see the person’s facial expressions. If not, if it’s just a routine matter, perhaps it doesn’t matter.”

Yasmin Khan, whose forefathers built the first mosque in Brisbane, says she is unhappy about the way the matter has arisen again because it was a routine matter.

She points out the magistrate did not ask the woman to remove her face covering and the woman did not refuse to do so.

Ms Khan says a report in The Courier-Mail newspaper in Brisbane, which turned the remarks into a headline and a front-page story, worsened already-existing stereotypes.

“It reinforces (accusations) like not integrating into Australian society. It reinforces one rule for one, and another rule for another. You know, people will always say, ‘Oh, well, they want sharia law,’ so there’s always those sorts of issues. You know, (people say) they want their own legal system, you know, women are oppressed, women have to be covered, and yet husbands can walk around uncovered. So there’s a whole heap of stereotypes that go on there that we try so hard to dispel constantly.”

Yasmin Khan estimates fewer than 50 out of 15,000-20,000 Muslim women in Queensland’s southeast wear the niqab.

The niqab is worn most frequently in deeply conservative Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and parts of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan.

The woman in the Brisbane courtroom, who was sentenced to a six-month good-behaviour bond, was from Saudi Arabia.

Jamila Hussein says it can be embarrassing to a woman from such a background to face men in open court without her face covered.

But she says other arrangements can sometimes be enough, especially in cases of merely needing to confirm a woman’s identity.

“She could go to another room to reveal her identity to a female officer. There should be no difficulty about that.”

Ms Hussein says the head covering of a niqab is usually easy to remove, with an attachment beside the face.

Keysar Trad, of Muslims Australia, says there simply is more flexibility to the rules for those Muslim women in Australia who cover their heads or bodies than many people think.

“In Islam, many rules have a proviso, or an exemption, under certain circumstances. This situation, this situation of giving evidence in the courtroom, is one of the exemptions, even under their school of interpretation.”

Officers hospitalised in Belfast riots

Sixteen Northern Ireland police officers were injured while battling to quell sectarian clashes in Belfast on Saturday as the row over the flying of the British flag showed no sign of abating.


Police used water cannon and fired a plastic bullet during the clashes in Belfast, the latest to blight the British province after more than five weeks of violent disorder over the flag issue.

A police spokesman confirmed that some of the officers required hospital treatment for injuries sustained during disorder in the Castlereagh Street of east Belfast.

“Water cannon has now been deployed. Police have fired one AEP round”, the spokesman added, referring to so-called baton rounds, or rubber bullets.

Witnesses said rocks and fireworks were thrown as lines of police tried to keep loyalists — the Protestant community’s working-class hardcore — apart from Catholic nationalists in the Short Strand area of Belfast.

Nearly 1,000 people earlier gathered outside Belfast City Hall to protest, and the trouble erupted around 2.30pm (1430GMT) as the group passed by the republican neighbourhood.

Northern Ireland has been swept with a wave of sometimes violent protests since December 3, when Belfast City Council voted to restrict the number of days the British flag is flown at City Hall to 18 per year.

Loyalists see the council’s decision to restrict the flying of the flag as an attack on their identity and an unacceptable concession to republicans seeking a united Ireland.

First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness will join Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Ireland’s Tanaiste (deputy leader) Eamonn Gilmore for talks next week on how to deal with the ongoing unrest.

“This violence is being orchestrated and those behind it are known criminals, intent on creating chaos,” Gilmore said.

“This has nothing to do with real issues around flags and identity in a shared society, which are the subject of intensive political discussions at present.”

Nationalist SDLP MLA lawmaker Conall McDevitt said “these are depraved acts which immediately dismiss any claim on a protest being peaceful.”

Alliance MLA member Judith Cochrane added: “This violence cannot continue. People want to go about their daily lives, but are really angry at the disruption they have faced in recent weeks.

“These protests and violence are doing untold damage to traders and businesses and Northern Ireland’s image is being tarnished.”

A 1998 peace agreement brought an end to the three decades of sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics known as the Troubles, but sporadic bomb threats and murders by dissident republicans continue.

Australia plumb fresh depths

Australia’s defeat in the second test was the sixth in a row this year after losing 4-0 in India, their worst run since they were thrashed by a mighty West Indies side in the 1980s.


Along the way they failed to advance past the first round of the Champions Trophy, lost coach Mickey Arthur who was sacked 16 days before the Ashes series began and suspended batsman David Warner for throwing a punch at England’s Joe Root in a Birmingham bar.

Warner is currently playing for Australia A in Zimbabwe in a so far unsuccessful attempt to regain sufficient form to force his way back into the Ashes eleven.

Root, by contrast, was named man-of-the-match for his monumental 180 in England’s second innings. He also dismissed Australia’s top scorers Usman Khawaja (54) and captain Michael Clarke (51) in consecutive overs with his part-time off-spin before showing he was human by dropping a regulation catch at third slip.

“I’ve loved every minute of it and it’s great to get a win,” the fresh-faced Yorkshireman said at the post-match victory ceremony. “To get a hundred against Australia is always something you dream of growing up and to do it at Lord’s is very special.

“It’s nice to contribute, when you get the opportunity you want to take it and help the team.”

England’s match-winner was Graeme Swann, who won an lbw decision against the stubborn James Pattinson (35) four balls before the close of play after England had taken the extra half hour available when a finish is possible in order to avoid returning to the ground on Monday.

Swann finished with nine wickets, including five for 44 in the first innings when he became only the second England spinner after Hedley Verity in 1934 to take five wickets in an innings against Australia at Lord’s.

“It’s the first time in my 17 years of first-class cricket that extra half hour has got a wicket, we’re so happy it’s over now,” he said

“We were 30 for three on the first day but the fightback to end up posting 350 which everyone thought was below par but subsequently proved to be a good score.”


England’s win came without any sort of contribution with the bat from either captain Alastair Cook or Kevin Pietersen, who did not take the field on Sunday because of a strained left calf muscle.

Instead Root and Ian Bell, who followed his 109 in the first innings with 74 in the second innings, laid the basis for England’s massive victory.

“You can’t control the weather but when it is dry, we have a world-class spinner and the seamers know how to reverse the ball but we back ourselves in all English conditions, really,” said Cook.

The Australian pace attack worked hard and did not let their side down but left-arm spinner Ashton Agar did not look like taking a wicket and, despite his spectacular 98 batting at number 11 on his debut in the first test at Trent Bridge, his position must be under threat.

The top-order batting, though, is the real problem and it again looked desperately weak at Lord’s after failing twice in Nottingham. It is also hard to see where any substantial improvement will come from, although Khawaja’s second innings was a step in the right direction.

“Our first innings with the bat really let us down, it was not acceptable and against good opposition it’s hard to win from that position,” said Clarke.

“We’re putting extra pressure and expectation on our bowlers, our top seven has experience but once we lose one wicket we’re losing two or three in quick succession.

“We know we have to win the next three tests to win this series. It’s going to be hard but I’d be silly to go into Manchester expecting to lose, we’ll do everything in our power to improve our game but England outperformed us once again in this test match.”

(Editing by Alan Baldwin)

Live blog: Eastern Australia battered by severe weather



50PM: A shot of the swollen Brisbane River, taken by SBS reporter Kathy Novak.

4.40PM: Reporter Kathy Novak is in Brisbane inspecting flood damage. This shot is from Milton, where residents are sandbagging ahead of possible rising floodwaters.

More details from Kathy on how Queensland residents are coping with the big wet coming up in the news bulletin at 6.30.

4.20PM: Queensland flood insurance claims have already hit $28 million according to reports from AAP, a figure that could rise as residents realise the full extent of damage caused by ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald.

Insurers are not expecting the Australia Day long weekend disasters to be as severe as the floods of December 2010 and January 2011, when rising floodwaters in Brisbane, Ipswich, Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley cost almost $2.4 billion.

4.15PM: Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised federal government support to those in flood-affected areas of Queensland.

The PM spoke from Victoria where she was visiting fire-ravaged parts of the state.

Warning eastern Victoria residents that they are still facing a fire danger, she said communities in Queensland are going through a tough time with the flood crisis there. Read more.

4.10PM: IN PICTURES: Queensland’s wild weather

4PM: That same weather system shown on the national map. Both images courtesy of the Bureau of Meteorology.

3.45PM: A screenshot from the bureau shows the weather over Sydney at the moment. The rain band is still moving slowly south, and rain and winds are expected to increase overnight.

3.15PM: A round-up of affected Queensland areas from Premier Campbell Newman:

Burrum Heads: Sewerage out

Maryborough: CBD flooded

Eidsvold, Mundubbera, Gayndah, Albert and Logan: Flooding issues

Gympie: Significant flooding

Laidley: Homes inundated

Grantham: Flooding

Kalbar: Evacuations may be necessary

Ipswich: Water rising to 15 metres. More than 200 properties could be affected.

Gold Coast: No major issues

Brisbane: 2.6m flooding. Around 100 roads closed around the city.

There are power outages in effect right across south east Queensland.

3.10PM: More than 2,000 properties are affected by floodwaters in in Bundaberg. North Bundaberg is about to be isolated.

“Leave now if it is safe,” says Premier Newman.

Patients at Bundaberg Hospital are being moved from the Ground Floor up to higher levels.

3.05PM: In Queensland, Premier Campbell Newman is giving a press conference on the state’s flood emergency.

“To the people in the midst of this disaster, we are doing everything possible to help you,” he said. “You are not on your own.”

Bundaberg continues to be the main area of concern for Queensland, with the Burnett River currently at 9 metres, according to Premier Newman.

However, Rockhampton catchment is still taking in water, and could flood by next weekend.

3PM: Residents along the Tweed River in northern NSW are bracing for heavy flooding, with the water level at 4.41 metres and rising at around 2pm this afternoon. Hundreds have already called for help.

A major flood warning is in place for Murwillumbah.

Along the Tweed Coast, residents at Chinderah, Kingscliff, Fingal Head were being asked early on Monday afternoon to prepare for a possible evacuation.

Fingal Head residents were told to stay were they were because they were already isolated.

2.50PM: SBS reporter Kathy Novak is on her way to Brisbane to bring you the latest reports from the region. Full details tonight on SBS at 6.30pm and 10.30pm.

2.45PM: Live traffic information for NSW shows a number of roads flooding in the north of the state. Several roads in and around Sydney are also affected. For detailed and up-to-date roads information click here.

2.30PM: Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has launched an appeal in conjunction with the Red Cross, to assist people affected by floods across the state.

Matthew Cox, Red Cross Acting Executive Director in Queensland, said in a press release the affected communities would need ongoing support as they returned to their homes to begin the difficult process of recovering from disasters.

“This is particularly distressing time for a lot of people as they won’t know the extent of damage to their homes until the floods and storms pass through,” he said. “Coming so soon after the 2010/11 disasters, this is a heavy blow for many communities.”

Those who would like to donate should visit the Red Cross website for more information:

2.15PM: The bureau of meteorology has issued an update on NSW weather, which is expected to worsen particularly along coastal areas as the storm tracks south this evening.

Very heavy rain and strong winds in excess of 125km/h will extend to coastal parts of the Hunter this afternoon and this evening. These winds will reach metropolitan Sydney overnight and possibly extend to the South Coast tomorrow.

Due to abnormally high tides and dangerous surf conditions, coastal areas should be avoided. View the full report from the BOM here.

2.10PM: There are a number of delays and cancellations for flights in and out of Sydney and Brisbane airports, due to weather.

Passengers are advised to check with their airlines for the status of their flight.

QANTAS flight information

TIGER AIRWAYS flight information

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA flight information

JETSTAR flight information

2PM: Queensland update: As below, Bundaberg North has been issued with a mandatory evacuation order. Floods are expected for Gympie, Maryborough and Ipswich.

Brisbane valley and Lockyer valley expected to peak around noon tomorrow.

Bremer River, Ipswich, is expected to peak at 6pm according to Queensland SES.

1PM: A forced evacuation has been declared for Bundaberg North, effective immediately. The order came as Burnett River broke its banks.

“All residents in NORTH BUNDABERG including Belmont Park and One Mile Road are to evacuate IMMEDIATELY to Oakwood State School,” a notice on the council website reads.

12.40PM: Visit our Social Hub here for the latest social media updates from emergency crews and official sources.

12.30PM: While the Prime Minister inspects bushfire affected areas of Victoria, Deputy Wayne Swan is tweeting from flood-stricken Brisbane.

On the corner Clayton St and Nineth Ave in Sandgate in my electorate – locals saying its the worst since 1974…

— Wayne Swan (@SwannyDPM) January 28, 2013

12PM: Ipswich City Council in Queensland has opened evacuation centres for those affected by flooding. Further details (including where to go if you want to take pets) can be found here.

Are you affected? Brisbane City Council has released a list of streets that are expected to flood or partially flood. Details here (via

11.45AM: Volunteers are being sought in Queensland to help fill sandbags. Anyone interested should register online here and wait to be contacted.

11.35AM: The Triple Zero emergency services number is currently inaccessible to some Queenslanders due to damage to Telstra networks.

If you cannot get through, and need urgent assistance, try one of the following numbers:

Emergency numbers for northern and central Queensland:

· Cairns 4030 7000

· Mareeba 4030 3340

· Townsville 4750 5581 or 4750 5583

· Mt Isa 4744 1111 or 4744 1808

· Mackay 4968 3530

· Gladstone 4971 3222

· Rockhampton call via alternative carrier only

11.20AM: The weather bureau has issued an update for NSW, with widespread heavy rain, damaging and locally destructive winds and damaging surf expected to continue. Click here for more details.

11AM: Queensland police are warning residents NOT to dial triple zero for road updates. The best number to call for road information is 13 19 40.

You can find more contact numbers for state-based emergency and assistance services here.

10.50AM: It’s been a harrowing weekend for Queenslanders pummelled by wild weather caused by ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald. These images, taken from our weekend news coverage, show the extent of the damage suffered by some residents:

10.40AM: The death toll from Queensland’s flood crisis has risen to three, after the body of a man was discovered in floodwaters south of Brisbane this morning.

He is believed to be a motorcyclist who was swept off the road at Greenbank at Logan on Sunday night.

It follows the earlier death of an 81-year-old man who was pulled from waters near Bundaberg, and a 27-year-old man killed near Gympie.

10.35AM: A mother and child who became trapped under a fallen tree in Queensland have been taken to hospital after being freed by emergency services, ABC journalist John Taylor reports via Twitter.

Incident now over at Kedron Brook Gordon Park after a tree fell on a family. Woman & child taken away by ambulance. @abcnews #bigwet

— John Taylor (@_JohnTaylor_) January 27, 2013

10.30AM: There are fears for a young Brisbane family trapped under a fallen tree at Kedron Brook in north Brisbane.

Witnesses say the family was standing on the banks of Kedron Brook at Gordon Park when the large tree suddenly fell, trapping them.

Emergency crews are working to free the woman while the child has been taken to hospital. Read more: Tree falls on Brisbane family.

10.20AM: Details of dramatic rescues continue to emerge as parts of Queensland continue to be battered by extreme weather.

In one Brisbane rescue, 24 people were rescued in the Windsor area as waters rose there.

The SES received more than 1800 requests for assistance in the 24 hours to 4am on Monday.

It follows the nerve-wracking rescue of a toddler who was put in a bag and winched to the safety of a helicopter hovering above, in Biloela in central Queensland yesterday.

WATCH VIDEO: Toddler winched to safety in daring arial rescue

10.15AM: There are fears for the Queensland city of Maryborough, where floodwaters are expected to be higher than the devastating 2011 floods.

Floodwaters have spread across parts of the city’s CBD and about a dozen homes are flooded, Maryborough’s mayor Gerard O’Connell told AAP. More details.

10AM: Meanwhile in Victoria, emergency officials continue to battle fires and fire threats across the state.

Current fire warnings and incidents across Victoria: For more up-to-date information, visit the CFA site here.

A Watch and Act warning is in place for a slow-moving bushfire in the Violet Town-Harry’s Creek Road area. Full details from the Victorian Country Fire Authority.

The Prime Minister is currently in Heyfield being briefed on the latest fire risks.

9.30AM: There are flood warnings in place for 15 rivers across Queensland, as well as destructive winds, abnormally high tides and dangerous surf in coastal areas, although the bureau notes heavy rainfall and strong winds in the south are easing.

Click here for current Queensland flood warnings.

9AM: Severe weather warnings are in place for NSW this morning, with Ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald continuing to move south.

The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting very heavy rain which may lead to flash flooding in the Northern Rivers, Northern Tablelands and the Mid North Coast forecast districts. Click here for current NSW weather warnings.

Heavy rain is expected to continue in the Hunter, Sydney Metropolitan, Central Tablelands and Illawarra regions.

Read more: Severe weather warnings as Oswald hits NSW

The weather system shown in this Bureau of Meteorology radar map will bring heavy rain and strong winds to much of the NSW coast.

EARLIER: Wild weather causes havoc across Queensland, where the army has been called in to help with rising flood waters and severe winds.

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French cyclist was ‘first shot in Alps shootings’

Sylvain Mollier was thought to have been shot simply because he stumbled on last month’s attack on the British-Iraqi family.


But the ballistics report revealed that he was the first person shot, before the killer turned on the al-Hilli family the website of Le Parisien reported.

Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, were all shot and killed.

Seven-year-old Zainab al-Hilli nearly died after being shot in the shoulder and hit repeatedly around the head by the attacker. She has been unable to help the enquiry in any meaningful way.

Her four-year-old sister survived by sheltering under her mother’s skirt in the back of the family’s BMW estate car.

Investigators think only one person was involved in the shootings.

Having examined the soles of his shoes, they think Saad Hilli was first shot outside the car and then finished off after he got back in the car and tried to drive off, Le Parisien reported.

After having shot the three members of the family in the car, the killer then turned back to the cyclist and finished him off, investigators think, basing their theory on the different angles of some of entry wounds.

Their reconstruction suggested that the killer had moved around a lot in an apparently disorganised manner, going from one victim to another and then back again.

That seemed to undermine the theory that a professional killer had been behind the killings, investigators told the paper.

Israel says no decision on Middle East nuclear conference


But the envoy, Ron Prosor, insisted there could be no accord on a weapons free zone until there is a “comprehensive peace” in the region.


The United Nations is pressing for a conference this year and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has previously said he hoped Israel would attend.

While there are many doubts about whether Israel would go, Prosor told AFP: “No decision has been made regarding Israel’s participation in the international conference at the end of 2012.” He clarified comments made earlier to reporters.

Israel would only be willing to join a nuclear free zone “when there will be comprehensive peace in the region. Before that we feel that this is something that is absolutely not relevant,” he said earlier.

Prosor said there had been too many cases of nuclear programs in the region where “the international community had very little ability” to act. He cited Iraq and Syria, where Israel has attacked nuclear facilities in the past.

Israel is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal but has a policy of neither confirming nor discussing the country’s atomic capabilities.

UN leader Ban has sought a conference on Middle East nuclear disarmament this year and he asked Finland’s undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, Jaakko Laajava, to be the main planner.

Finland agreed to host the event but no official date has been given.

Diplomats consider the presence of Israel and Iran crucial to the success of any conference, which was called for by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Review held in 2010.

Ban said last month that he wanted Israel to attend.

“Israel will be invited and they should be there but nothing has been decided yet,” he said while in Jerusalem.

Preparations are going ahead amid mounting Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.

Egypt buzzing ahead of landmark poll

A buzz of excitement swept through the Egyptian capital, a day before its first presidential election since an uprising overthrew Hosni Mubarak and ushered in a tumultuous military-led transition.


The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), in power since Mubarak’s ouster, on Tuesday repeated its earlier calls for Egyptians to turn out en masse to the polls, while warning against any “violation.”

“The participation of citizens in the presidential election is the best guarantee of the transparency and security of the electoral process,” Mohammed al-Assar, a member of the SCAF, was quoted as saying by state news agency MENA.

“We will not allow any violation or (attempt) to influence the electoral process or the voters,” he added, saying that any person who broke the law would be treated “firmly and decisively.”

Despite the tone of the warning, the sentiment in Cairo’s streets ahead of the election was dominated by excited anticipation and last-minute discussion about candidates.

“This is the first time I’ll be going to vote in any election, and it’s definitely a big deal. My family has been talking about it for weeks,” said Ibrahim Farrag Hassan, 64, who sells toys in a small market in central Cairo.

Around 50 million eligible voters are being called to choose Mubarak’s successor on Wednesday and Thursday with a run-off scheduled for next month should there be no outright winner.

“This election will change things, whoever is coming will be scared of the people and will have to listen to them,” said Hind Ahmed, 25, a shop assistant at a lingerie store.

“All my friends and family are talking about the elections all the time. It’s the first time in their lives that any of them are voting in a presidential election because this time the result isn’t known in advance.”

Campaigning for the landmark poll ended on Sunday night, with candidates banned from giving any media interviews or making public appearances for 48 hours before the election.

But the “campaign silence” did little to dim the excitement in Cairo.

“Tomorrow is the big exam, I have knots in my stomach and can’t sleep,” giggled Warda, 25, an attendant at an upmarket sports club in Cairo.

After decades of pre-determined results, for the first time, the outcome of the vote — which pits Islamists against secularists and revolutionaries against old regime members — is wide open.

The main contenders are former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Mussa, Ahmed Shafiq, the last premier to serve under Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi, independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh and Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi.

Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri on Tuesday called for calm during the election and urged political forces to accept the results of the historic vote, echoing a call a day earlier by the ruling military.

Ganzuri asked Egyptians to “stand together to ensure the success of the electoral process and to accept the decision of the majority of Egyptians who will express their will through the ballot boxes.”

In a statement, he expressed hope that “the elections proceed with calm” and called on “candidates, political forces, parties to urge their supporters to respect the will of others and accept the results of the election.”

In Cairo, an army vehicle rumbled through Tahrir Square — the epicentre of protests that toppled Mubarak– urging Egyptians to vote.

“Rise, Egyptian; Egypt is calling you,” the soldier shouted through a loudspeaker, borrowing the lyrics from a popular nationalist song by iconic composer Sayyed Darwish.

“It’s the first time your vote will count, don’t stay at home,” he pleaded.

On Monday, the SCAF urged Egyptians to accept the results of the looming election.

Comment: Defence force sex scandals – can the culture be changed?

By Ben Wadham, Flinders University

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is again confronted by allegations of sexual humiliation and denigration of serving female members.


The latest scandal involves claims that emails containing explicit images of women were circulated between up to 100 or more Defence Force personnel. A number of the members involved have already been suspended, including several senior officers.

In a video message, the Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutentant-General David Morrison, vowed to rid the Australian Defence Force of those guilty of the damaging behaviour:

On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian Army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future.

If that does not suit you then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable but I doubt it.

The Conversation spoke with Flinders University’s Ben Wadham, an expert on military culture, on what the ADF is doing to combat such behaviour and whether some cultural problems are perhaps beyond reform.

Are these recurring scandals a demonstration of systematic cultural problems within the ADF?

Yesterday was the latest scandal since the Skype affair in April 2011. The Skype affair led to a range of cultural reviews to address the treatment of women within the Australian Defence Force. The reviews found there was a culture of misogyny and an environment in which it was difficult for women’s careers to proceed.

There was also a culture where demeaning women and objectifying women, and others of different ethnic and social backgrounds, was part of the tradition. So yesterday’s incident is not a surprise, but it still is shocking. It demonstrates, for various reasons, the intensity with which these sorts of values pervade the Australian Army.

Do we have to accept that perhaps there are intractable cultural problems within the ADF?

I think there is a structured element to the way in which militaries operate in a liberal-democratic society, and more specifically, an Australian society. When you are trained to be a soldier you are taken away from your civilian background. You are then re-made and it is a very profound remaking of someone. People in the Australian Defence Force, or in any military, seem to see themselves as quite separate from broader society.

That sense of separation tends to form a part of the culture. It gives some military members a sense of license, a sense that they are above broader Australian standards, a sense they are above the law and in order to reassert that sense of self they end up engaging in sexually, racially or ethnically objectifying practices. These often lead into criminal practices as well.

Are we wrong-headed in expecting an HR code more applicable to a modern office to also fit an organisation that has the ultimate objective of killing others?

No, I don’t think so. If you look at the Australian Defence Force, in particular the Australian Army, it is only a very small percentage of those military personnel that are engaged in a “more-heated” environment. The Australian Defence force is more a giant support network or service institution than simply a combat institution.

These sorts of activities tend to happen more where the combat imperative is stronger, that culture still does pervade throughout the whole institution. There is no correlation between training people in a particular way to be good and effective combatants and this sort of behaviour. In fact they are the antithesis of the professionalism that the Australian Defence Force espouses.

Could the ADF be doing more to curb these cultural issues?

I think there are two sides to this. Firstly, the Australian Defence Force is engaging with broader civic initiatives, such as generation and the development of equity-type organisations – cultural diversity, general awareness, reporting and recording activities – so that when things do happen they are effectively dealt with. These sorts of things indicate the Australian Defence Force is serious.

But the Australian Defence Force, by its very nature, sees itself as quite separate from broader Australian society and is therefore unable to see the root cause of its problem. This is partially because the root cause is the development of core and military effectiveness. It is unwilling to address that part of its core business and that means that within the service, there is great ambivalence about taking on civic initiative and interventions.

Do you think scandals like this damage the ADF’s self-imposed goal of increasing the number of women in the army by next year?

I think it does. But I think it affects moreso how parents consider allowing their children to enter the defence force. I think that the defence force provides an adventurous and exciting career path for young people making the transition from school into the workforce.

From my research it doesn’t seem to be dissuaded by these sorts of events. But it does dissuade parents, and parents do have a strong influence on children as they are leaving school and entering the workforce.

Ben Wadham does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Data-retention plan like ‘punching at a cloud’

The Federal Government’s plan to effectively reverse existing privacy legislation by endorsing a two year data-retention policy for internet service providers has been called “Gestapo” tactics by one Liberal MP.


Yesterday, Attorney General Nicola Roxon told a Security in Government conference that the “proposed reform is to allow law enforcement agencies to continue investigating crime in light of new technologies.”

The statement moves away from Ms Roxon’s previous statement about the plan and has met with opposition from privacy groups and the IT sector.

They fear that the plan does not address the need for extended powers, will effect e-business and will expose civilian data to risk.

Making a submission at today’s conference on behalf of Blue Print for Free Speech, Simon Wolfe said the Attorney General’s proposed reforms were “vague” and likened them to “punching at a cloud”.

“The onus should be on those proposing the reforms to justify what they should be,” he said.

“They are talking about the merits of increased powers without actually talking about why they are needed in the first place.”

Mr Wolf’s submission also said the plan imposes unreasonable costs, requiring private providers to carry out public surveillance, a sentiment echoed by others in the technology sector.

Pete Cooper is co-founder of Fishburners, the largest collective of tech start-ups in Australia.

He says that the government’s data-retention plan will be a hurdle for international businesses looking to invest here.

“There is a mini boom going on in the data centres at the moment,” he said.

“The one selling point Australia has going for it is a perception of quality and force of law – one tiny security breach would have a dire effect on that perception.”

“There are thousands of layers to this thing and it’s full of holes – none of them good and none of them good for commerce.”

But despite fears about costs, some companies will benefit from the plan — the data-retention industry, as with the data-mining industry, is a multi-billion dollar sector.

Rob Livingstone is a UTS fellow and an information technology expert who says private industry is set to gain – with potential risks to the privacy of Australian citizens.

“The government puts out a tender for the storage of so many exabytes of data, then private markets rub their hands with glee trying to get their hands of that pot of gold,”

“If you get Australian data from citizens in an Australian jurisdiction and you sign a contract to an Australian data host to provide it, and three months after the contract is signed they [could] get bought out by a Chinese or American firm.

“The government cannot mandate that you will always be an Australian-owned company.”

Mr Livingston is also concerned about the security of systems the Government would put in place for data-retention.

“Data-retention is data-sovereignty,” he said.

“The data is resident in a data centre somewhere. That data is very portable; it could be striped across multiple data centres for redundancy and availability purposes.”

In the rapidly changing data industry, Mr Livingstone says the ultimate destination of Australians’ data could be far away from where the government intends.

Also, sophisticated crime syndicates or terrorist groups, the intended targets of the government plan, are already using advanced ISP masking and protocols that circumvent the proposed measures, he said.

“It’s fine for politicians to get up and make grand statements but the potential complexity of this thing in application and practicalities needs to be serious considered,” he said.

Speaking from today’s conference, Mr Wolfe said his biggest concern about the proposed changes was the privacy of individuals.

“Our objection is that they unreasonably interfere with people’s privacy, they have a chilling effect on freedom of expression,” he said.

US discloses list of Guantanamo inmates

The US government has published for the first time a list of 55 Guantanamo detainees cleared for release but still held amid challenges identifying a willing host country or concerns about sending them home.


The list, which includes names and serial numbers, represents about a third of the 167 “war on terror” suspects who still linger at the US naval base in southern Cuba more than 11 years after the September 11, 2001 attacks on US soil.

A significant number of the men listed are Yemenis, reflecting US concerns over sending Guantanamo detainees to the troubled nation, where they could become involved in terror-related activities.

President Barack Obama suspended transfers to Yemen in January 2010, citing the “unsettled” security situation there.

Since 2009, government officials have kept secret the identities of detainees approved for release or transfer, saying a public release would hinder diplomatic efforts to arrange for the men to be moved to “safe and responsible” locations.

“The United States originally sought protection of this information in order to maintain flexibility in its diplomatic engagements with foreign governments on potential detainee transfers, especially in cases of resettlement in third countries, rather than the detainees’ respective countries of origin,” a Justice Department spokesperson said Friday.

But in a court filing in the US District Court for the District of Columbia in the capital Washington, government lawyers said “circumstances have changed” such that prisoners’ names “no longer warrant protection.”

The efforts of the United States to resettle Guantanamo detainees have largely been successful,” they said, noting that 28 prisoners have been sent to their home countries since 2009, while 40 prisoners have been transferred to other countries.

Among the prisoners cleared for release was Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held at Guantanamo, and the prison’s five remaining Tunisians. London has repeatedly called for Aamer to be freed.

Missing from the list was Adnan Latif, a 32-year-old Yemeni man who died at Guantanamo earlier this month, the ninth prisoner to pass away since the prison camp was opened in 2002.

Shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama issued an order to shutter the facility by January 2010. But his plans quickly fell apart amid staunch opposition from Congress, as lawmakers raised security concerns.

Although Congress has placed restrictions limiting prisoner transfers to other countries or on US soil, the Obama administration has sought help from allies willing to take in qualified detainees.

Rights groups were quick to hail the new list’s publication, with the American Civil Liberties Union calling it a “partial victory for transparency” that should also be a “spur to action.”

“These men have now spent three years in prison since our military and intelligence agencies all agreed they should be released,” ACLU senior staff attorney Zachary Katznelson said in a statement. “It is well past time to release and resettle these unfairly imprisoned men.”

Amnesty International USA executive director Suzanne Nossel said the cleared detainees “should be immediately transferred out of Guantanamo to countries that will respect their human rights… Indefinite detention is a human rights violation and it must end.”

The disclosure “dispels the myth that the remaining detainees who are trapped at Guantanamo are too dangerous to be released,” said the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents some Guantanamo prisoners.

“The list announced today, however, is incomplete, and not appearing on the list is no indication of wrongdoing,” CCR executive director Vincent Warren added.