China warns of more rain in flood-hit areas

Chinese weather authorities warned of more rain on Sunday in some of the areas worst hit by floods that have so far left at least 1,100 people dead or missing.

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The Asian nation is grappling with its worst flooding in a decade, with its Yangtze River dangerously swollen as summer downpours continue to hit southern parts of the country. The National Meteorological Centre warned Sunday that parts of the badly hit southwestern province of Sichuan — where 100,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in recent days — would continue to see torrential downpours. Other areas such neighbouring Yunnan, as well as the eastern provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian would also see heavy rain, it added. Premier Wen Jiabao warned on Saturday that the situation was at a “crucial stage,” adding there could be worse to come as he toured the flood-hit central province of Hubei, wading knee-deep in Yangtze floodwaters. In Sichuan, rain-triggered floods and landslides have already killed 13 people and left another 20 missing since Thursday, the official Xinhua news agency reported. In one township, for example, rain fell continuously for 10 hours, triggering floods that swamped all single-storey houses. Roads leading into the town were cut off, as were power supplies and communications, Xinhua said. Thousands of people had to evacuate their homes and were sleeping in warehouses and tents on higher ground, it added. In neighbouring Shaanxi province, more than 700 workers were repairing a collapsed dyke on the swollen Qianhe River, which was threatening a railway bridge, Xinhua said. Recent rains there have killed at least 14 people. In Hubei’s Yichang city, meanwhile, six people died and another eight were missing in a landslide. The flooding, mostly in the southern half of the country, has caused economic losses of at least 22 billion dollars and affected 120 million people, the government has said. It has triggered fears of a repeat of disastrous Yangtze floods in 1998, the country’s worst in recent memory, which killed more than 4,000 people and forced the evacuation of 18 million.

EU to hammer Iran with oil sanctions

EU foreign ministers will formally approve the sanctions following Iran’s repeated refusals to halt sensitive nuclear activities, which the West fears are aimed at building a bomb.

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The UN Security Council imposed a fourth set of sanctions on Tehran in early June, but EU leaders and the United States decided shortly after to impose their own penalties against the Iranian energy sector. The sanctions are part of a twin-track approach with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton seeking to revive moribund talks between Iran and six world powers – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. “This (package of sanctions) is about applying pressure, but applying pressure in order to bring the Iranians to the table to talk,” a European diplomat said. Western powers have demanded that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment programme, fearing that Tehran would use the material to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran says that its atomic programme is a peaceful drive to produce energy. New EU sanctions The new EU sanctions include a ban on the sale of equipment, technology and services to Iran’s energy sector, hitting activities in refining, liquified natural gas, exploration and production, diplomats said. The EU will ban dual-use goods that can be used for conventional weapons. It will also step up vigilance of the activities of Iranian-connected banks operating in the EU and bar them from setting up branches. “A number of (EU) member states have had to overcome considerable problems with their economic interests in order to adopt this package,” the diplomat said. “It will be in some way the most substantive and far-reaching autonomous sanctions package which the EU has adopted against Iran or any other country,” he said. Iran is the world’s fourth largest producer of crude oil but it imports 40 percent of its fuel needs because it lacks enough refining capabilities to meet demand. The unilateral US and EU sanctions, seen as much tougher than UN sanctions, were “expected to have a material impact on the country’s energy industry,” the International Energy Agency said last week. The IEA noted that it was “significant” that China and Russia had agreed to back the UN sanctions but that those did not include specific measures aimed at Iran’s energy sector. The US and EU sanctions were harder, and “longer term, development of the country’s oil and gas industry will clearly be adversely impacted,” the IEA said. “These sanctions are suprisingly strong,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the nonproliferation programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “They go much further than the UN sanctions.” Fitzpatrick added: “For the first time Iran will face biting sanctions that will significantly impact its economy.” The sanctions “could nevertheless give reasons to Iran to go back to the negotiating table,” he said. “In the past, Iran has always moved once it was under pressure of the international community.” Iran to be urged to set new date for talks EU foreign ministers meeting Monday will urge Iran to set a date for new talks, according to draft conclusions. The last high-level talks between Iran and the six world powers were held in Geneva in October 2009 when the two sides agreed a nuclear fuel swap that has since stalled. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last week that talks could begin in September after Ashton reached out to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in a letter in June. According to the draft conclusions, EU foreign ministers will call on “Iran to seize this opportunity to allay the concerns of the international community about its nuclear programme and agree on a concrete date for talks with the EU High Representative, together with the six countries.”

Elders take nuclear dump fight to court

Aboriginal landowners have protested in Resources Minister Martin Ferguson’s electorate to oppose the establishment of Australia’s first radioactive waste dump on their land.

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The traditional owners have launched a legal challenge against the federal government and the Northern Land Council over plans for the nuclear waste dump at Muckaty station, near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.

Elders from Muckaty travelled to the seat of Batman in Melbourne’s north, calling for the waste dump to be stopped.

Mark Lane Jangala, a senior traditional owner of Muckaty, claims he and senior elders from four other traditional owner groups were not adequately consulted before the station was nominated as a possible dump site.

Traditional landowners have been promised about $12 million in government compensation if the waste dump goes ahead.

The Ngapa clan have volunteered a four-square-kilometre area to be considered for the facility, which is expected to require one-square-kilometre of land.

Elder Doris Kelly says a waste dump would destroy her people’s culture.

“It’s very cultural and spiritual land,” she told reporters. “We need our land to be safe and in one piece.”

Lawyer Martin Hyde says only one interested landowner group was consulted over the proposed dump.

“When you’re going to put a nuclear waste dump on people’s land and it’s going to be there forever, there’s a legal obligation on the government to ask everybody for their consent and to make sure they’re informed about the pros and cons for having a waste dump on your land,” he said.

But he says a Northern Land Council anthropological report identified only one part of one traditional group as land owners.

That flies in the face of what the Land Commissioner said after his extensive investigations,” Mr Hyde said. “So far we haven’t seen this secret anthropological report.”

Muckaty station was returned to indigenous ownership in 1999 after use as a cattle station.

The case is due back in the Federal Court in October before Justice Tony North.

WA nation’s best performing economy

Resource-rich Queensland has maintained its wooden-spoon position among the states, ranking equal last in a survey of state economies.

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Western Australia has become the nation’s best-performing economy while NSW tied with Queensland for last place in the latest CommSec state and territory economic rankings.

The survey assesses states’ economic growth, retail spending, equipment investment, housing, unemployment, construction work and population growth.

The report said Queensland is still suffering from soft tourism demand and a more modest boost from population growth than other states.

The sunshine state is also experiencing a slower resumption of mining projects compared with Western Australia after the global financial crisis.

Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser dismissed the report as unreliable, saying Queensland was at the top of the tree for job generation and migration.

“I don’t agree with the methodology that CommSec uses,” Mr Fraser told AAP.

“If you look at what the Australian Bureau of Statistics has said in last couple of months, we are number one for generating jobs.

“We remain number one destination for people moving within Australia.”

Mr Fraser agreed weaker tourism demand and the strong Aussie dollar was hurting Queensland but new tourism programs were helping to boost domestic visitor numbers.

He said Queensland is suffering from a credit crunch.

“Our banks are more reticent to lend than in other parts of Australia,” he said.

“I think that the banks do have a role to play in supporting growth.”

CommSec chief economist Craig James said the result was not all bad news for Queensland.

“This is very much a relative ranking of states and territories,” he said.

“It’s doing all the right things, the government is investing in infrastructure, roads, bridges, hospitals … land is being (released).

“Unemployment is relatively low … wages in Queensland are rising faster than prices, that’s good for retail spending.

“House prices are not rising to the same extent of other states that means housing affordability is better.”

He said WA was riding high on the back of iron ore demand in China and was out in front because it didn’t have the same high reliance on tourism as Queensland.

Acting Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg blamed the Bligh government for the poor result.

“Queensland and New South Wales have the worst economies because we have long term Labor governments,” Mr Springborg said.

New Zealand ‘regret’ nominating Howard

New Zealand Cricket (NZC) chief executive Justin Vaughan says it is regrettable that John Howard was ever nominated for the ICC vice-presidency.

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The former Australian prime minister’s candidacy was rejected by cricket’s governing body last month, although Cricket Australia (CA) are yet to rule out re-nominating him.

Six of the 10 Test-playing nations opposed Howard’s joint nomination from NZC and CA.

The search for a replacement nominee was further complicated when NZC’s original preferred candidate, Sir John Anderson, last week declined to reapply for the role.

NZC and CA now have until August 31 to put forward a new name for the position, which will see a successful candidate graduate to the presidency in 2012.

“In perfect hindsight, if we’d known what the ICC’s position on John Howard was going to be – it is regrettable,” Vaughan said.

“We felt clear messages coming back around John Howard. Australia invested a lot of time into getting Howard to put himself forward for the position, so it’s a sensitive position for them.

“It’s something that we’ll discuss with them in the next couple of weeks.”

NZC met on Friday to discuss the matter, following which their former chief executive Chris Doig and current chairman Alan Isaac emerged as leading contenders.

“Both those people certainly tick the boxes,” Vaughan said.

But a CA spokesman said Australian cricket were yet to decide who they wanted in the role and refused to rule out pushing to retain Howard as their candidate.

“We’re not going to go into hypotheticals … he’s the only name our board has authorised at this point,” the spokesman said.

He said CA chairman Jack Clarke arrived back in Australia on Monday, having been overseas since the ICC board meeting in Singapore in June.

Clarke and Isaac were expected to begin discussions in early August.

But Vaughan said NZC wanted a quicker resolution than the long-running process that originally resulted in Howard being nominated over Anderson.

And he said the ICC had made their position clear on Howard.

“It’s really important NZC and CA are on the same page with the new nominee … they (the ICC) said (Howard) was unacceptable and asked us to re-nominate. That’s pretty clear.”

Labor pledges more ER medics

Labor will help train more than 3000 emergency department nurses and doctors if it wins the next federal election.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard made the announcement at Launceston General Hospital in Tasmania on Monday.

Up to 2000 new emergency nurses would be trained during the next decade and 1000 student nurses would also get “vital experience” in emergency departments.

‘Important work’

Ms Gillard said there would be 270 additional emergency department doctors in the next decade.

“They are specialist emergency doctors trained with the skills they need to do this important (work).”

The first will come online next year, with an additional 27 training places made available.

Ms Gillard also committed a re-elected Labor government to funding 1000 scholarships for emergency department support staff over the next decade.

The first 100 of those would begin on January 1, 2011.

‘Upskilling GPs for emergency work’

“I also announce that we will be investing in upskilling local GPs and doctors in outer suburban and rural hospitals to help them keep their skills in emergency medicine so they’re able to assist with emergencies,” Ms Gillard said.

Ms Gillard said while the training would be paid for with new money, she wouldn’t reveal exactly how much it would cost.

“Of course it is subject to our rules that every spending announcement we make during this campaign will be offset, so at the end of the campaign not one cent has been added to the budget bottom line,” she said.

Ms Gillard later clarified that the training went above and beyond the health reforms announced earlier this year as part of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.

New announcement

“This is new, this is beyond what was announced at the time of COAG,” she said.

“Provision was made for it in the budget and we are announcing the measures today.”

A statement released by Ms Gillard’s office during her press conference stated that $96 million for the initiatives had been provided for in the 2010/11 budget.

Ms Gillard said the government earlier this year secured an agreement with the states and territories to roll out a tough new national standard to ensure that Australians visiting emergency departments would be seen and treated within four hours.

Nearly a third of patients admitted into hospital from an emergency department – about 600,000 – wait longer than eight hours between the time they arrive and when they are transferred to a hospital bed in a ward.

“This investment today will provide emergency departments with additional staff to ensure they meet this four-hour target,” Ms Gillard said.

Suspect bandit killed in robbery attempt

A robber has been shot and killed and an innocent bystander wounded during an attempt to steal cash from an armoured security van outside an RSL club on Sydney’s northern beaches, police say.

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Emergency services responded to reports of several gunshots being fired on Pittwater Road, Dee Why, about 1.30pm (AEST) during the failed robbery on Monday.

One man was shot in the chest and died at Royal North Shore Hospital a short time later.

Police confirmed he was one of two men attempting to steal money from the van.

The other man remains at large.

Network Ten reported that the van was carrying $4 million in cash. A second robber, who has a shaved head and wearing a grey hooded top, ran from the scene, sparking a police search.

He was last seen heading north towards Dee Why Lagoon, police said.

The bystander, who was reportedly waiting for a bus, is believed to have been hit in the ankle by a stray bullet. The man, aged in his 30s, was taken to Royal North Shore Hospital hospital in a stable condition.

Police said a crime scene was established and a number of police and specialist units, including PolAir and the dog squad, were currently searching for a man who may be able to assist with inquiries into the alleged attempted armed robbery.

A local bus driver told The Manly Daily newspaper she pulled up outside the Dee Why RSL Club moments before the drama unfolded. “I heard some gunshots … and then this guy got on the bus with blood streaming from his foot and he sat down behind me,” Emma Caruso, of Narraweena, said.

“I saw the guy who I think shot him – he was one of the guys from the armoured van. They were checking him for breathing and a pulse but he was dead.

“That’s when I started bawling. I was in shock.” Chris Cowan was working in Dee Why Bike Hub, opposite the RSL, when he heard three or four shots in rapid succession, Fairfax Media reported. “We heard like a bang, bang, bang – real rapid gunshots – and we walked out a bit later and there was a guy lying on the ground and the paramedics were working on him,” Mr Cowan said.

“There could have been three or four (shots) – it was very rapid.” Police have warned the man they are hunting should not be approached. He is described as being of Caucasian appearance and 188cm tall. The incident bears similarities to another in Sussex St Sydney last month.

A 59-year-old Chubb guard named Gary Allibon was shot in the chest by one of four armed robbers during the early morning raid on a cash van. He and two colleagues were delivering cash to a commercial complex, Darling Park, in Sussex Street.

Gillard flags mental health as priority

Julia Gillard has signalled mental health will be a key priority if Labor wins government, launching a $277 million program to tackle suicide.

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In a major policy speech in Brisbane, the prime minister announced one of the biggest investments of Labor’s election campaign so far.

She pledged Labor would invest funding in four areas, aimed at boosting frontline services, direct prevention of suicide, more services for men and support for young people.

“This … will redouble our national efforts to prevent suicide in order to reduce the tragic toll it imposes on the many people it affects,” she said.

Under the plan, Labor will boost psychological counselling services for those who have attempted or are at risk of attempting suicide, providing an extra 12,500 people with assistance each year.

It also will expand crisis intervention and suicide prevention services, such as the Lifeline Australia hotline.

Ms Gillard said she would improve safety at suicide hotspots such as The Gap in Sydney.

Few people had not been affected by suicide at some time in their lives, she said.

“Mental health will be a second-term priority for the government.”

The announcement was welcomed immediately by the Mental Health Council of Australia.

“The measures outlined by the prime minister today are real steps forward,” chief executive officer David Crosbie said in a statement.

But it was disappointing the package did not go further, he said.

“There is a desperate need to address decades of neglect from all levels of government.”

Ms Gillard said Labor was legitimately proud of its past record on health reform but there was more that it could do.

The major health announcement came as Ms Gillard attempts to put her own stamp on health, an issue that was such a priority for her predecessor Kevin Rudd.

She reminded her audience at the Community for Economic Development Association of her past experience as shadow health minister earlier this decade.

Ms Gillard also took the blowtorch to the man who was her opponent for much of that time, the current Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Mr Abbott had been one of the nation’s longest-serving health ministers yet had done little or nothing to reform the system, she said.

To date in this campaign he had offered little in the way of health policy.

Ms Gillard joked about the constant media obsession with Labor’s “bland” campaign but she said there was a very real choice in the election.

“It’s a choice between cutting services and improving services,” she said.

Stoner second as Lorenzo wins Moto GP

Casey Stoner has finished second as Spain’s Jorge Lorenzo extended his Moto GP championship lead with victory in Sunday’s US grand prix at Laguna Seca.

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The runners-up spot is the Australian’s best finish in 2010 although Stoner rarely challenged Lorenzo who ended up over 3.5 seconds in front for his sixth win of the year.

But the Ducati rider was content with the result.

“We are happy. We didn’t expect much more than second place,” he said.

“At the start of the race, I felt OK. But I made a mistake and ran wide, lost the front again and the last time I ran really wide which wasn’t good.

“Every time I tried to step it up I didn’t feel comfortable. I was braking later and later but was making mistakes.”

Lorenzo’s main championship rival, countryman Dani Pedrosa, crashed out on the 11th lap while leading the race and the red-hot Yamaha rider took full advantage.

“It was tough,” Lorenzo said. “Dani Pedrosa did a great race. It was difficult to follow him but he made a mistake and crashed when he was on the maximum.”

Reigning world champion Valentino Rossi of Italy, also riding a Yamaha, finished third just seven weeks after breaking his leg.

Lorenzo’s win was his first at the iconic Californian circuit and boosts his overall championship lead over Pedrosa to 72 points with Italian rider Andrea Dovizioso sitting third.

Rossi just missed the podium last week in his return from the broken leg and he was delighted with the result despite still feeling pain from the injury.

“I’m very happy,” Rossi said.

“I may not look happy because I have pain everywhere. This podium is like a victory on a very difficult track for us. I want to thank everyone who has helped me get back on the podium as early as this after my accident.”

Pedrosa seized the lead from pole-sitter Lorenzo at the first turn but crashed out on the fifth turn of lap 11.

Stoner chased Lorenzo, never worse than second this season, to the finish but could not catch him while Rossi passed Dovizioso for third with five laps to go to crack the podium ahead of his countryman in fourth.

Nicky Hayden of Ducati edged American Ben Spies for fifth. It was the fifth consecutive pole start for Lorenzo.

Williams ‘asked to be moved’

Convicted gangland killer Carl Williams reportedly asked repeatedly to be moved from his Barwon Prison cell, including about one week before his alleged bashing death.

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But authorities reportedly refused Williams’ repeated requests to be moved to a different section of the high security Acacia Unit, ABC radio reported on Tuesday.

Williams, 39, died after he was allegedly bashed with a metal bar in the maximum-security unit in April.

His ex-wife, Roberta Williams, said he had also told his family he wanted to be relocated.

“He told us he wanted to be moved on several occasions, and had said to us that he had asked the authorities to move him, but that fell on deaf ears,” Ms Williams told ABC radio.

Ms Williams said she wasn’t sure if her ex-husband had asked to be moved because he feared for his safety.

“I’m not sure; I can’t answer that because he didn’t specifically say to us there was a problem, or there wasn’t a problem.”

Ms Williams said it concerned her that her former husband’s requests were denied.

“Of course, it does (concern me). He was in a high security prison and he should have been looked after and they failed in their duty of care to do that,” she said.

“The government can clearly sweep it under the carpet because they class Carl as just another criminal murderer being killed, and it’s just bad luck.

“But as far as I’m concerned he was my husband and my daughter’s father and I won’t let it rest until we get some answers.

Ms Williams wants to sue on behalf of her daughter for victims of crime compensation.

Corrections Victoria claimed in April Williams was happy with his prison arrangements.

The inmate accused of bashing Williams, who appeared in a Geelong court last week, is expected to argue defensive homicide.