Indian government survives confidence vote

India's embattled coalition government has survived a chaotic parliamentary confidence vote, clearing the way for it to forge ahead with a civilian nuclear energy deal with the United States.

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh won the backing of 275 deputies against 256 who opposed his Congress-led government, mainly left-wingers and Hindu nationalists, speaker Somnath Chatterjee said at the end of a raucous session on Tuesday.

Mr Singh needed just a simple majority to survive and see through the last year of his mandate. Had he failed, the world's largest democracy will be headed into early elections – with his opponents emboldened.

The result came after a tense hand-count of some votes that apparently were not properly recorded by machine, and a furore over opposition allegations that the ruling coalition paid out large sums of cash in bribes to ensure its win.

The deal gives the government the green light to move forward with a pact with Washington designed to bring India into the global loop of nuclear commerce after decades of international isolation.

“It's a great victory for the party and the government, and this victory is dedicated to the future of the country,” said senior Congress party official Ambika Soni.

Nuclear deal

“The nuclear deal has been endorsed,” said government minister Ashwini Kumar.

The deal would allow India, which has nuclear weapons and refuses to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to be treated as a special case on condition it separates its civil and military programs and allows some UN inspections.

Government officials gave an impassioned defence of the deal during two days of special parliamentary debate, arguing that the country's 1.1 billion people badly need alternative sources of energy to avert an impending fuel crunch.

Left-wingers – who triggered the vote by withdrawing their support for Mr Singh earlier this month – and the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say the deal ties traditionally neutral India too closely with the United States.

They also argue it would compromise the country's nuclear weapons program.

The communists had tried to widen the terms of the debate – speaking out against rising food and fuel prices, and arguing that hundreds of millions of poor have been left behind in India's economic boom.

Bribery claims

The Revolutionary Socialist Party, one of the four left-wing parties that forced the vote, said the government's win had “blackened” the face of Indian democracy.

“We do not recognise this as a victory. They won because of intense horse-trading,” fumed party leader T J Chandrachoodan.

BJP president Rajnath Singh alleged: “There has been pressure on our MPs to take money to either abstain or vote for the government, and this has been done by the (ruling) Congress and their supporters.”

The stormy session saw three opposition BJP MPs wave bundles of cash worth 30 million rupees ($A732,200) that they said they had been paid for their votes.

“Never in the history of our parliament has such a shameful and revolting scandal unfolded,” Mr Singh said.

Officials in parliament said Mr Chatterjee had called in New Delhi's police chief to investigate the bribery claims. The speaker said it was a “sad day in the history of parliament”.

Mission Accomplished? Iraq five years on

It's five years since US President George W Bush stood before the infamous 'Mission Accomplished' banner, to declare an end to major combat in Iraq.

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It's an awkward anniversary for an administration which has taken the country into one of the most unpopular and costly conflicts in US history.

The giant banner on the bridge of an aircraft carrier, provided the perfect backdrop for the President's bold claim.

Just six weeks after ordering the invasion of Iraq, a triumphant George Bush made the declaration that has come to haunt him.

“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended in the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed,” the president said.

'More specific banner needed'

That was then; today the White House had a new take on what that banner really meant.

“The banner should have been much more specific and said, “Mission Accomplished” for these sailors who are on this ship, on their mission',” explained press secretary Dana Perino.

But outside the White House, anti-war protestors weren't buying the administration's attempt to backtrack.

“Four thousand Americans dead, three trillion dollars we will spend on this war when its all said and done according to a Nobel prize winning economist and John McCain says 100 years,” they said.

“We ask you Mr President Mission Accomplished?”

With the mission in Iraq far from over, and the US death toll steadily climbing, the man responsible can now make another claim – to being the most unpopular President in modern US history.

Bush popularity hits new low

A new CNN poll shows George W Bush has a 71 per cent disapproval rating, well ahead of Richard Nixon at 66 per cent and Harry Truman at 67 per cent.

Not surprisingly, Democrats have been making the most of it.

“Five years ago today, President Bush made an outrageous claim, a claim that has become the symbol of his incompetence and failure in Iraq,” said senator Frank Lautenberg.

In Iraq, the killings continue: one American soldier and nine Iraqi civilians, including three women and a child died in this bomb blast in Baghdad.

And there were up to two dozen more deaths in Sadr City, where US and Iraqi forces are still trying to put down the Mehdi Army miltia.

New Orleans – In Katrina's Wake

It is two years now since Hurricane Katrina tore apart historic New Orleans deep in the American South.

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How could we possibly forget that harrowing footage? But, what's not well-known is that the bloke currently in charge of rebuilding the shattered city is actually an Australian citizen who lives in Sydney, Dr Ed Blakely. New Orleans is not his first assignment. In the past, he's been called on to reconstruct other cites around the world pulverised by nature. Our reporter David Brill has just been to New Orleans to examine the city's reconstruction and he found a disturbing extra layer to the crisis, the dreaded race card is well and truly out of the deck. Here is David Brill's report.

REPORTER: David Brill

DR ED BLAKELY, HEAD OF RECOVERY NEW ORLEANS: New Orleans is America's city. It's a unique creature of the United States. New Orleans is the crucible of America. We have no unique institutions except jazz, which was invented here. So this is America's soul, if America's soul dies so does America.

The old New Orleans in the state of Louisiana, they called it the Pearl of the South. But everything changed in August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina blasted ashore leaving 1,500 dead and destroying 250,000 homes across the state. When the levee surrounding New Orleans broke, the city quite literally drowned.

DR ED BLAKELY: Maybe you can compare this with Hiroshima or Nagasaki, where you destroy good portions of the city and you are unable to occupy them for a long time.

I've come here to see what has or hasn't changed since then. In many ways the city looks and sounds normal, at least in the centre of town. And by night, the famous Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is pumping out the jazz, just like the old days. But appearances can be deceptive.

JOHN CANNON, ‘FREE AGENTS BRASS BAND’: Most of us are homeowners who can't even get into our own homes because of the condition that they are in. We are forced to pay high rents and we are not making the wages that we need to pay the rent and just keep our head above water. You talk about a flood that passed through here. There's still a flood here, a lot of people are just barely above the flood-line.

REPORTER: So all these blocks here, there were houses on all these blocks?

JOHN CANNON: Every inch of square land that you see back here…

John is the tuba player from the band and he wants to take me to his home in the hardest-hit part of the city, the Lower Ninth Ward.

REPORTER: Where have they all gone?

JOHN CANNON: The ones that did not wash away were torn down by the city. The ones that washed away ended up almost to Shellmet. I mean, all of this was neighbourhoods, everybody lived here. Think of all the people who had homes here.

The poor and black residents suffered most when the hurricane hit and I'm about to learn that they're still suffering.

JOHN CANNON: And this..I don't know how it's been locked, well… This was the kitchen we had in the house, all the copper piping that was in here, people have been stealing that and there used to be a stove on this side, but..

REPORTER: They've been coming in here, stealing your copper piping?

JOHN CANNON: They steal everything. It's a cut-throat place now, like a third-world country, you have to do what you have to do.

REPORTER: Like the Wild West going on here?

JOHN CANNON: Right.

With his house flooded up to the rafters, John's family was evacuated interstate and hasn't yet returned. He now lives at a friend's place.

JOHN CANNON: Right here in the kitchen, the refrigerator was here.

One of thousands of home-owners caught in a catch 22 situation, he doesn't have the money to rebuild his home and the state government won't let him return untill it's repaired.

JOHN CANNON: You know, I own a property, I'm still paying taxes on it, I have to pay taxes every year or the City will just take my property from me and the bad thing about it is that there is nothing I can do with it, not at this point.

REPORTER: Nothing?

JOHN CANNON: Nothing.

And as bizarre as it sounds, John is even in debt to the city for not cutting his lawn.

REPORTER: So they want you to pay $100 a day to cut this grass?

JOHN CANNON: Yes, a hundred dollars a day, every day that it is not cut it's $100 that I pay to the city. This is a light that has been there since Katrina and that's still Katrina water, two years later, that's how high the water was here.

As I move around, the Lower Ninth resembles a ghost town.

REPORTER: What number's that?

JOHN GREY: 5006.

REPORTER: 5006, and your house used to be in there?

JOHN GREY: Right.

REPORTER: What happened to it?

JOHN GREY: It floated away.

REPORTER: Have you ever seen it since?

JOHN GREY: No, we have never saw it can't even but find it. Was trying to find it and get some sentimental things out there but we couldn't even find it.

John Grey is another resident who seems to be in shock two years after the flood.

REPORTER: How's it affected your health?

JOHN GREY: Mentally, it is devastating, it is devastating. Devastating. This is sad, really sad. And you got people homeless, hungry and everything else out here, committing suicide and everything else and, you know, it's just bad.

John was a paralegal working for a well-known law firm. Ever since Katrina, he's been jobless and survives on the food provided by this charity centre.

BRIAN QUINN, MANAGER, ‘EMERGENCY COMMUNITIES’: We provide three meals a day, we had child care here during the summer. We're gutting houses for people, rewiring houses for people. If it wasn't for the private sector, and the religious groups, a lot of this work wouldn't be getting done because the government's not doing it.

REPORTER: And have most of these people lost their homes during Katrina?

BRIAN QUINN: Just about all of them.

The charity business is booming. I check another centre that's just opened. The story was depressingly similar, more homeless people.

CURTIS BROUSSARD: Before Katrina I was doing alright, I had my own place, I was staying with one of my daughters. But since then the rent is so sky-high. I get $600 something a month. I can't meet the requirements of paying no regular rent. Before Katrina I could afford it.

DON THOMPSON, MANAGER, ‘HARRY THOMPSON CENTER’: Serving about 110-115 meals a day. Serving folks who have no where else to go, no place in the daytime for these folks to go, many of them are folks who had a place to stay, like the gentleman you were just talking to, and have nothing now, no where to go.

REPORTER: Because of Katrina?

DON THOMPSON: Because of Katrina because the apartment they may have rented is flooded out, the landlord couldn't afford to fix it, the other rents they can't afford, so they have nowhere else to go.

REPORTER: But, Don, this is two years down the track. What's gone wrong here?

DON THOMPSON: Oh, there's such little leadership, political leadership around here at the state, local, federal level. Nobody knows what to do or how to do it, they're all passing the buck.

Much of the buck stops with this man. Dr Ed Blakely lives and works in Sydney. He's the chair of urban and regional planning at Sydney University. He was appointed by the Mayor of New Orleans to oversee the reconstruction of the city.

DR ED BLAKELY: Here is a grand facade and it needs to start looking like a grand facade again.

Today he's leading a tour group of would-be investors, civic leaders and journalists.

DR ED BLAKELY: Everything that we are doing has to be done consistent with the public benefit, we’re not doing anything for private benefits, we’re doing these facades for the public benefit.

Two years after any major event like this you'd just be rebuilding. Now, we've rebuilt most of our private home-owner housing stock in that 2-year period, which is quite remarkable. When I came here we didn't even have street signs up. Many of the streets weren't paved. We didn't have basic services and so on so my first thing I had to do was to get those things right. And then we have to start getting our businesses right, they are coming back, about 85% of businesses are back, so we are getting our jobs back. I think we are doing things in the right priority.

No-one could doubt Ed Blakely has a monumental task on his hands to rebuild the shattered city. But where do the homeless and those in the Lower Ninth Ward stand when it comes to priorities?

DR ED BLAKELY: We are taking our time in the Lower Ninth Ward, because we have to knock down houses in order to build them back and, like any development project, all the developers in Sydney know it takes about four or five years to get your permits, and then you got several years of building.

And if working-class home owners are in for a long wait, it's another story altogether when it comes to public housing. When I turned up at the Lafitte housing project, this was the scene.

TRACIE WASHINGTON, LAWYER: Somebody is just throwing out all of my client's personal belongings.

Tracie Washington is a lawyer here for those who once lived here.

TRACIE WASHINGTON: My clients don't know what's going on here. If they knew, maybe they could come and get their things, maybe they could come and get their air-conditioners or their chairs or their clothes or something. These buildings have been shut up for two years and folks haven't been able to get in and they haven't been told what is going on with their property, they haven't been told anything.

These buildings have been slated for demolition under a federal government program. After Katrina the Feds seized the opportunity to begin clearing the area.

TRACIE WASHINGTON: They have said for years that these buildings need to be torn down.

REPORTER: Do they?

TRACIE WASHINGTON: No, let me show you something. If this is my water line, this is my water line, here is somebody's house. The water stopped here! What's interesting, and I want you to see this, I’m sure this is an apartment.. this is in very good condition.

REPORTER: Tracie just here for instance, look here.. there is a DVD there and a washing machine. These are peoples possessions, are they just going to throw those away, are they?

TRACIE WASHINGTON: They are going to throw everything away.

REPORTER: What happens to those people?

TRACIE WASHINGTON They didn't notify any of the people that are here and that's what's so disturbing for me. They spend thousands upon thousands upon thousand of dollars to hire these people to come and throw stuff out but they can't spend the same amount of money to take the shutters off and put my clients back in their building. You come in with a little bleach and water and wash it down and – ta-da! – it's back.

DONALD POWELL, FEDERAL COORDINATOR OF GULF COAST REBUILDING: We wanted to tear down some public housing that has been in deplorable condition for the last 10 years, the conditions are not good and rebuild those homes, and that resulted in a lawsuit so the lawsuit closed down the process of committing on that. Meanwhile, there's 5,000 units that have been rebuilt.

A world away from the Lower Ninth Ward, amidst the marble and fine furniture of this grand hotel, I find Donald Powell. He's the man in charge of federal funding for New Orleans.

DONALD POWELL: Yeah, I think it's a partnership of a lot of people. I think it's a partnership of the federal government, I think it's a partnership of the state and of the locals and the private sector and obviously individuals have to take some initiative to assist and help themselves and I see that quite frankly with people along the Gulf Coast.

DR ED BLAKELY: The federal government has made a decision and we do not think it is the right decision, to keep those units closed until they either knock them down or rehabilitate them. We don't think that's the right decision. We think the right decision is to open some of them up, let some of our residents come back and have them participate in the remodelling of them or in the destruction of them.

Tracie Washington says the Federal government simply wants the poor residents out in order to build condominiums for the wealthy.

TRACIE WASHINGTON: You don't want public housing because you don't want poor people, news flash, folks! You know how you get rid of poor people? You pay them more. You don't keep paying people $6 an hour and tell them we don't have a goddamn place for you to live. That's what's so insane about the city of New Orleans.

And there's a political conspiracy theory going around here too, that Republican power-brokers wouldn't mind shifting out poor blacks who usually vote Democrat.

REPORTER: Any truth in that?

DONALD POWELL: That is a no. That's unfortunate, for instance the labour system is going to be rebuilt, reconstructed, redesigned to protect all the people of New Orleans.

REPORTER: A lot of poor people have said to me that they think it's deliberate, to get them out of some of these areas.

DR ED BLAKELY: I won't go there, but I think there may be something to that.

In the middle of Tracie's tirade against the authorities, one of the elderly ex-residents arrives, worried about her possessions.

TRACIE WASHINGTON: Can you just give her the assurance that she'll come out any time? Can you just give her the assurance…

MAN: I can her the assurance through tomorrow, but after tomorrow, I can't. Through tomorrow. After tomorrow I can't guarantee anything. You'll have to call and schedule an appointment.

TRACIE WASHINGTON: But you tell them when they set the appointment Tracy Murcadale has said he's guaranteeing your stuff will be here only through tomorrow, so if they give you an appointment on Saturday, your stuff is going to be trashed, so tell them you have to have the appointment tomorrow. Alright? Yeah, go put your teeth in!

REPORTER: What about situations where people couldn't get back into their homes to get their possessions out? Two years go past and the possessions have rotted away.

DR ED BLAKELY: That's right. Now, again, that's public housing, and the public housing people weren't able to do that. In private housing, they had access to their houses within a few weeks. Again, here we have a difference between what the federal government wants to do and what the local government wants to do.

REPORTER: And they won't listen to you? If you say to them, “These people want to get things out of their houses and they can't…?”

DR ED BLAKELY: No, no. The federal government has its position and we cannot override the federal government. If the President of the US empowered me to do that, I could, and I did ask for that.

REPORTER: You asked for that?

DR ED BLAKELY: Oh, yeah.

REPORTER: And he said no?

DR ED BLAKELY: He said no.

REPORTER: The federal government blames local government, the local government blames the feds. In the meantime, people are still suffering two years later.

DONALD POWELL: I don't think, Dave, it's productive to blame the individual. This is a partnership between the federal government, the locals and the state. But, look, we're committed to helping, assisting all of our partners in getting this work done.

DR ED BLAKELY: We have an active conflict here. That conflict can't be resolved quickly or easily.

REPORTER: That must be so frustrating for you.

DR ED BLAKELY: It is. That is frustrating for me because I can't really reach into the federal government like that.

While the money for rebuilding the city is divided between State and Federal programs, many say this shared responsibility is just an excuse for buck-passing. Meanwhile, right outside City Hall is the sad result of another blunder by the authorities. Despite the housing crisis, the mayor of New Orleans asked for people to return to their city, so they did and now many find themselves living in this bandstand.

MAN: No homes…at all.

REPORTER: Why's that?

MAN: Because the rent is very high.

REPORTER: And these people can't afford to…

MAN: Pay rent. But they will work.

MAN 2: You know, this is what we came back to.

REPORTER: And you've got nothing.

MAN 2: I don't have anything. I lost everything. I was renting, but I'm taking depression medicine now and before Katrina, I was in perfect health. I have some friends that have killed themselves because of the way we're living.

REPORTER: Depression?

MAN 2: Yeah.

REPORTER: So are there many people like you that you've seen around?

MAN 2: There's a lot of people, a lot of people.

REPORTER: In the same position?

MAN 2: A lot of people. It's all over the city. Big people riding around in big cars, big people living in big homes, poor people still going in the food lines getting food stamps.

REPORTER: Crime's doubled?

DR ED BLAKELY: Yes.

REPORTER: Suicide?

DR ED BLAKELY: Doubled.

REPORTER: What reason do you give for that?

DR ED BLAKELY: Despondency. People have given up and nothing is more important to the mayor and me than this. He talks constantly about our mental health problem. It's really tough here, tougher than you can imagine.

DONALD POWELL: I think it's very important that we operate in the sunshine, in a transparency type of environment. Our office will be putting up, very quickly, a website where various stakeholders can go to that website and see, for example, where a school may be, as it relates to the construction progress, or lack thereof. So the people can see where the hold-up is. “Is the hold-up at the federal level, is it at the state level, or is it at the local level?”

The locals probably don't care where the hold-up is, they just want some action.

LOCALS: Fired up, we ain't take it no more. Fired up, we ain't take it now more.

MAN 3: We had homes at one time, we'd like to have our homes back, we'd like to have a decent living wage, we want to have fair housing projects. We want to have some housing projects open up again.

But not all the good people of New Orleans are waiting on the government. In the upper ninth, these houses have been built by a cooperative of musicians. With funding from a private group called Habitat for Humanity, 70 houses will eventually be built. The musicians are using what's called sweat equity ? you build my house and I'll help build yours.

ALFRED GROWE: Katrina actually brung reality to New Orleans that you know, it could be here today and gone tomorrow, everything is not certain to you.

Alfred Growe is a trombonist in the Free Agents Brass Band.

ALFRED GROWE: It's happening. It's not like it's not happening. It's not happening as fast, like we had thought it would. It's taken two years and it's probably gonna take more than two years, probably five, six, seven, ten years down the line, but we striving to make it work, you know. We gonna make it work. There's no ifs and or buts about it, we gonna make it work.

For many, though, home for the last two years has been a trailer in a trailer park. These parks are still scattered right across the southern states. The lucky ones, like Mrs Mathews, have a trailer parked outside their homes.

MRS MATHEWS: Life has changed totally. It's a different New Orleans to me. I don't know about anybody else. And I still have my feelings, I have my moments, 'cause I know it can never be the same but we gotta move on, and that's what you keep in mind, you gotta move on and go ahead and make the best of each day and try not to let it get you down. That's all, we try to encourage each other, 'cause we have our days, we still do.

And to make matters worse, many of the people living in these trailers, hastily built for the federal government, had to be evacuated again because of toxic fumes from formaldehyde used in the trailer construction. For some, Katrina is a harsh memory that will never fade. This man lost everything. His family was swept away by the flood. I tried to speak with him, but he was too depressed to answer. His mute testimony to the disaster reminded me again that the scars from Katrina may never heal, and rebuilding will take many more years.

REPORTER: People say to me also they can't see any light at the end of the tunnel. They've had it, just worn out.

DR ED BLAKELY: I understand that. As the mayor and I say, “We now see the tunnel, the light will come later.”

I couldn't help thinking that Ed Blakely's plan for New Orleans works for those who can fend for themselves. But those in need, thousands of them, are a very different story.

Feature Report: New Orleans: In Katrina’s Wake

Camera/Reporter

DAVID BRILL

Editor

NICK O’BRIEN

ROWAN TUCKER-EVANS

Fixer

KATY RECKDAHL

Brooks’ phone hacking trial delayed in UK

The trial of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks over allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World has been delayed for legal reasons.

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The trial of Brooks and seven other defendants, including Prime Minister David Cameron’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson, was due to start at the Old Bailey on September 9 but is now expected to begin on October 28.

Brooks, 45, denies a total of five charges, including conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to pay public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by allegedly trying to hide evidence.

Former Sun and NotW editor Brooks, former managing editor Stuart Kuttner, 73, and former news editor Ian Edmondson, 44, also deny conspiracy to intercept mobile phone voicemails between October 3, 2000, and August 9, 2006.

Coulson, 45, who previously edited the now-defunct NotW, denies the same charge.

He and NotW former royal editor Clive Goodman, 55, are also accused of two charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.

Brooks denies two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

In the same trial, she and former personal assistant Cheryl Carter, 49, are charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice by allegedly trying to hide material from the News International archive between July 6 and 9, 2011.

Brooks’ racehorse trainer husband, Charlie Brooks, 50, and News International head of security Mark Hanna, 50, will also appear in the same trial over a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by allegedly hiding documents and computer equipment from police between July 15 and 19 2011, a charge also faced by Brooks.

Bowen will not run for Labor leadership

Former treasurer Chris Bowen says he will not seek the Labor leadership.

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“I have decided I will not be a candidate for the leadership of the Labor party,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

Mr Bowen said it was his decision not to run.

“There’s an obligation on each of us to make ourselves available for positions of leadership if we feel genuinely that we are the best possible candidate at any particular time,” he said.

“Equally, there’s an obligation not to put our names forward if we don’t feel that.

“The conclusion I’ve reached will be obvious to you.”

Mr Bowen said he would fill any role the new leader wanted him to carry out, including that of shadow treasurer.

Mr Bowen said Labor in opposition needed to be united and focused, to hold the new Abbott government to account and to heed the message from Saturday’s federal election.

“We need a period of reflection to determine how best to determine that united and stable opposition but we need to provide it from today,” he said.

Labor also needed to build on its “successes and achievements” in government over the past six years.

“We need to acknowledge and build on our strong record of economic growth in difficult circumstances,” Mr Bowen said.

“Our ability to introduce landmark reforms like DisabilityCare and better school funding.”

Mr Bowen said the deputy Labor leadership was a separate matter.

“We’ll see how the leadership pans out,” he said.

“Again, there will be a number of very good people interested in the deputy leadership if that should be vacant.”

The Kevin Rudd supporter also said the former prime minister could make an “ongoing contribution” to Labor and Australia, although it was up to him to decide what that might be.

“He should be given all the time he needs to make that decision and those announcements and it’s entirely a matter for him,” Mr Bowen said.

Mr Bowen said Labor had a talented team and noted some names had already been mentioned as possible leadership contenders.

“I think all of those potential candidates are people of great talent and ability,” he said.

“They, I know, are going through the process that I have gone through over the last 24 hours to consider their options and they’ll make their own plans in their own good time.”

Those touted as future Labor leaders include Anthony Albanese, from the Left, and Bill Shorten, from the Right.

If they both decided to stand, the matter would go to the grass roots membership for a vote.

If only one stood, Mr Bowen said that person would automatically be declared the leader.

“If there is only one candidate that doesn’t indicate anything other than the fact that there is a consensus emerged, and that is not a bad thing necessarily,” Mr Bowen said.

He said his own decision not to stand was made after he reflected on the qualities he thought he could bring to the job, the qualities of other possible candidates and the point in the electoral cycle.

He also considered what he might be able to contribute as shadow treasurer.

“I decided the best fit for me was that role going forward,” he said.

Mr Bowen declined to endorse another Labor MP for leader, saying he’d wait to see who nominated.

Cats to host AFL final in Geelong

Fremantle will be confronted with the toughest task in the AFL when Geelong host a playoff match at their home ground for the first time in 116 years next Saturday.

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With all four finals in week one to take place in Victoria, the qualifying final between the second-placed Cats and the third-ranked Dockers has been scheduled at Simonds Stadium, rather than Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, despite the latter venue being far bigger.

Simonds Stadium has a capacity of 33,000 – which the AFL has estimated is sufficient to accommodate the expected crowd for a clash between Geelong and Fremantle.

The Cats have won 43 of their past 44 matches at their fortress.

Big-drawing Melbourne clubs Hawthorn, Richmond and Collingwood will host the other three finals in week one at the MCG.

Under coach Ross Lyon, Fremantle have made “play anywhere, anytime” their mantra – one sure to be severely tested on Saturday.

“With our members and fans, we haven’t experienced that many top-four double chances,” said Lyon.

“We have members and fans who couldn’t get a seat or a ticket down there. What’s it seat, 30,000?

“Outside of that, we’re an anywhere, anytime team. We’ll go and play.

“At the start of the year, you thought if you finished third you wouldn’t be playing in a regional centre.

“You’d be playing in a metropolis at world-class venues.

“But it’s out of my control.

“It’s not a problem for me. We’ll go down and play.”

The only other final to have been played in the city of Geelong was way back in 1897 – the first year of the VFL – when Essendon beat Geelong by six points in a semi-final at Corio Oval.

Cats chief executive Brian Cook said the final against Fremantle would be the “biggest national sporting event ever in Geelong”.

That may well be true, but the biggest crowd of the weekend will be for the elimination final between traditional rivals Richmond and Carlton at the MCG on Sunday.

The Tigers will be involved in the September action for the first time in 12 years, while the Blues sneaked into the playoffs at Essendon’s expense after edging Port Adelaide by a point at AAMI Stadium on Saturday.

Collingwood are almost certain to play Port Adelaide in the other elimination final on Saturday night, unless they beat North Melbourne by an improbably large margin on Sunday, in which case the Magpies could move to fifth and take on the Blues.

The opening match of the finals pits Hawthorn against Sydney at the MCG on Friday night in a qualifying final.

Blues rally for superb AFL finals win

There are few more dangerous AFL beasts than a Mick Malthouse-coached side with the odds against it.

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Carlton will go into Saturday night’s ANZ Stadium semi-final against Sydney with the underdog status and growing confidence after making another comeback on Sunday to beat Richmond.

It was the third upset result in an absorbing opening weekend of the finals series.

On Saturday, Fremantle were superb in Geelong against the Cats and Port Adelaide’s fairytale season continued with their stunning boilover win over Collingwood.

Sydney’s ongoing injury woes and their bad qualifying final loss to Hawthorn on Friday night suggest they might be vulnerable.

But the reigning premiers also have become legendary for defying the odds and they will be a tough nut for Malthouse’s surging Blues to crack.

Certainly Carlton cannot afford the starts they have been giving to their opponents in the last few weeks.

On Sunday, the Blues rallied from 32 points behind early in the third term to beat Richmond by 20 points in an epic elimination final.

It is arguably Carlton’s biggest win since the 1999 preliminary final upset against Essendon.

They won 18.8 (116) to 14.12 (96) in front of a record elimination final crowd of 94,690, which was very pro-Richmond.

Carlton also rallied from 39 points down last week to beat Port Adelaide by one point and secure their finals berth.

The Blues finished ninth, but reached the finals, because of Essendon’s AFL penalty.

In round 21, Carlton were 30 points down against Richmond and won by 10 points.

“I’ve never, ever got past Tuesday and thought we couldn’t win a game,” Malthouse said.

“There’s been times on Monday I’ve been a bit shaky, but by Tuesday – I’ve got great belief in my team.

“If I don’t believe, how can I expect my players to believe?

“Right now, on those performances of the last month … that we will give ourselves a real chance of winning.

“They still owe their supporters and still owe it to their teammates who aren’t playing, to have a red-hot crack.”

On Friday, Sydney faded badly in the second half to lose to Hawthorn by 56 points and they will be desperate for Adam Goodes to prove his fitness this week.

Fremantle joined Hawthorn in earning next weekend off with a 15-point win over Geelong in Saturday’s qualifying final at Simonds Stadium.

It was a physical clash and several incidents will attract match review panel scrutiny.

On Saturday night, Port kicked the last four goals of the match to beat the Magpies by 24 points in their elimination final.

The Power will now play the Cats on Friday night at the MCG in the other semi-final.

The AFL have scheduled Fremantle to play a preliminary final in two weekends’ time against either Carlton or Sydney.

When Malthouse heard an AFL official say it would be a day game in Perth, he jumped in with the wish that it start as late as possible.

“Not that I’m jumping ahead – but the poor bastards who have to go over there … I’m just worried about the weather, whoever is in it,” he said.

Skin-eating fungus is killing salamanders

A new kind of skin-eating fungus has been killing fire salamanders in the Netherlands at an alarming rate.

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European researchers found the boldly-coloured yellow and black salamanders have dwindled rapidly since 2010, with just four per cent of their original population left.

Based on an analysis of the dead salamanders, scientists reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a US journal, that they have identified the cause as a fungus called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans.

This salamander-eating fungus appears to be related to another kind – Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd – that is blamed for killing more than 40 per cent of amphibian species in parts of Central America, Austria, Europe and North America, or decimating about 200 species worldwide.

This fungus – which may live in water or soil, or may be a parasite – causes a disease called chytridiomycosis, which has been lethal to some frogs but not others.

“In several regions, including northern Europe, amphibians appeared to be able to co-exist with Bd,” said study author An Martel from the University of Ghent in Belgium.

“It is therefore extremely worrying that a new fungus has emerged that causes mass mortalities in regions where amphibian populations were previously healthy.”

Scientists are probing whether the new fungus came in to the country from another part of the world.

“We need to know if this is the case, why it is so virulent, and what its impact on amphibian communities will be on a local and global scale,” said co-author Matthew Fisher of Imperial College London.

“Our experience with Bd has shown that fungal diseases can spread between amphibian populations across the world very quickly. We need to act urgently to determine what populations are in danger and how best to protect them.”

Scientists said the fungus appears to pass among salamanders in direct contact, but found that it did not infect midwife toads, which can be vulnerable to chytridiomycosis.

Scientists took 39 fire salamanders into captivity for protection and to start a breeding program, but then half of them died between November and December last year. Only around 10 remain.

So far, the fungus appears to be isolated to the Netherlands.

But the emergence of the fungus “is worrying and warrants close monitoring, urgent risk analysis, and its inclusion in any monitoring program assessing amphibian population health,” the study concluded.

Vodafone to pull the plug on 3 at midnight

Vodafone will pull the plug on its “3” network at midnight on Friday after a decade-long stint in Australia.

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From 12.01 (AEST), customers who remain on 3 will be disconnected, losing their ability to send or receive calls, texts, and data.

Under telco rules, they may also lose their number if they fail to move to another provider within six months.

In a note on its website, Vodafone advised customers to “make a move ASAP”.

A Vodafone representative said 97 per cent of 3 customers had already changed providers but would not disclose an exact number.

The closure is set to put more pressure on porting services already under strain after cut-price wholesaler Kogan Mobile went under last week.

The company’s more than 100,000 customers were forced to change providers after ispONE, the company through which Kogan bought access to Telstra’s network, entered administration, severing its contracts.

The current “strain” on porting services “may result in consumers experiencing some delays”, the Australian Communications and Media Authority says on its website.

Vodafone is putting on extra staff “to manage last-minute movers” and will extend porting hours over the weekend, its representative said.

“We are still able to port customers’ mobile numbers for a short period after 3 closes tonight.”

The Communications Alliance, the industry body responsible for porting once telcos receive a request from new customers, will also extend weekend hours.

Customers have known since early June that 3 would close at the end of August.

It is part of a long-term strategy to create a single brand and network under the Vodafone banner following the company’s merger with 3’s owner, Hutchison Australia, in 2009.

Hutchison launched 3 in 2003 and it became the first provider to launch a 3G mobile network in Australia.

New boy Saili has plenty of help at hand

Francis Saili will be the new boy on the block, but he’ll have plenty of experience beside him when he makes his Test debut against Argentina.

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The 22-year-old Blues second five-eighth is the one uncapped player in the All Blacks team for the Rugby Championship clash in Hamilton on Saturday night.

On either side of him in the backline will be 95-Test first five Dan Carter and 71-cap centre Conrad Smith.

Coach Steve Hansen says having Carter and Smith there will be a big help for Saili.

“For someone like Francis, it’s the perfect scenario – you’ve got a couple of old heads just keeping him calm,” he said.

“You can tell he’s pretty excited, so you just have to keep him calm until Saturday and then let him rip.”

Saili replaces Ma’a Nonu in one of three changes from the side that started the 27-16 win over Australia in Wellington two weeks ago.

Carter is back from a calf problem to reclaim the No.10 jersey from Tom Taylor, an injury call-up who himself finished his Test debut in the casualty ward with damaged ribs.

Carter will go into the match one point short of being the first player to score 1400 Test points.

In the pack, tight-head prop Charlie Faumuina will get his 10th cap and third start in place of Owen Franks, who picked up a groin injury against the Wallabies.

Saili has had to bide his time to get his Test debut, after making the 32-man squad for the France series in June.

He didn’t get game time against the French and then an ankle injury meant he missed a probable spot on the bench in the Bledisloe Cup opener against the Wallabies in Sydney.

Hansen said Saili had a wide skill set that included his pace, defence, passing and ability to kick with his left foot.

“It’s just a matter of him working through the risk and rewards of using all those skills at the right time,” he said.

“That’s why we’ve taken a bit of time to work on that and we’re comfortable he understands now what he has to do at Test rugby as opposed to Super rugby.”

Hansen said Nonu, who has been playing on a painful ankle, could have been picked against the Pumas.

However, the selectors decided to follow medical advice that it would be better to give him another week off to get the injury right.

Meanwhile, skipper Richie McCaw will play his 119th Test, and his 48th in the Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations, equalling the competition record of former Wallabies captain George Gregan.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Francis Saili, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Steven Luatua, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau.

Perth man re-arrested in Kuala Lumpur

A Perth man acquitted by a court in Malaysia last week on charges that carry the death penalty has been re-arrested while preparing to board a plane to Australia.

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Dominic Bird, 33, who was acquitted last Wednesday on drug trafficking charges, was taken into custody at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Monday morning.

An application will be heard by the Court of Appeal in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday to decide whether or not to grant prosecutors an appeal against last week’s decision.

Mr Bird’s lawyers say they will vigorously fight the move by prosecutors.

“To re-arrest him, and now for the court to say he should be held pending an appeal … the concept of rule of law is breached,” Mr Bird’s lawyer, Muhammed Shafee Abdullah, told AAP on Monday.

Mr Bird was set free by the Kuala Lumpur High Court last Wednesday, but was unable to return home immediately because his visa for Malaysia had expired, and was then detained at an immigration office.

However, prosecutors had suggested on Wednesday that organising a new visa for Mr Bird was a formality.

“This is total trickery on their part,” Mr Abdullah said.

It’s understood Mr Bird was escorted to the airport on Monday morning by Australian consular officials, having finally obtained the visa.

But he was then taken back into custody before he could board his flight.

His Australian-born lawyer, Tania Scivetti told AAP the application hearing, and any subsequent appeal, would be “fiercely” challenged on the grounds it’s “contrary to our fundamental rights to liberty and rule of law”.

“They informed us he was going back today, and on that basis, the embassy escorted him to the airport,” Ms Scivetti told AAP.

“He was just about to board a flight to go back to Australia and 10 minutes before he was to board they arrested him.”

Mr Bird was initially arrested at a cafe near his apartment in Kuala Lumpur on March 1 last year and accused of supplying an undercover police officer with 167 grams of methamphetamine.

However, the prosecution’s case collapsed following allegations of corruption against Inspector Luther Nurjib – the undercover officer who arrested Mr Bird – who was later accused of “setting up” the Australian.

Insp Nurjib was found guilty of contempt of court and fined RM2000 ($A665), after it emerged he had threatened and attempted to bribe a witness in the Bird case.

In delivering the ruling, Kuala Lumpur High Court’s Justice Kamardin Hashim found the prosecution failed to prove its case and the defence raised reasonable doubt.

Detectives probe politician death threats

Federal detectives are assessing serious threats against senior Australian politicians after a web page advocated the assassination of prime minister elect, Tony Abbott.

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The page “Tony Abbott should be assassinated” appeared on Facebook this week after the coalition won Saturday’s federal election.

Mr Abbott is expected to be sworn in next week.

That page and others including those called “Tony Abbott should just die” and “20,000 likes and I will assassinate Tony Abbott” have gathered a series of threatening comments and have been removed.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) would not confirm if those particular pages have formed part of an ongoing assessment of threats against senior politicians.

“The AFP treats reports of threats against Members of Parliament and high office holders seriously and investigates complaints where appropriate,” a spokesman said.

“Commentary of this nature can occur in a range of media forums, often anonymously, and where these comments are brought to the attention of the AFP an assessment is made.

“The AFP is currently assessing a number of Facebook pages and comments.

“While these processes are underway it is not appropriate for the AFP to comment further.”

Facebook was not able to confirm if it removed the pages.

Content is removed from its site for a variety of reasons, including pages relating to “actionable threats of violence”, it said.

“Our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities forbids content that includes pornography, bullying, and actionable threats of violence and we will remove any content reported to us that violates these policies,” a Facebook spokesperson told AAP.

The threats against Mr Abbott have sparked anger on other social network sites.

“This needs to be looked into. It should be regarded as serious,” one person wrote on Twitter.

“This is in poor taste, even for the unhinged,” another added.

Adelaide-based lawyer Alex Ward says it is illegal to use telecommunications networks or carriage services to make threats or hoax threats.

But he said Australian law has struggled to keep pace with advances in technology.

“It’s illegal to do it but people just don’t seem to know that’s the law,” Mr Ward told Adelaide radio station Five AA.

“It’s very hard to find the law on this and this is one part where society has gone just a million miles ahead of the laws very ponderously keeping up.”

Mr Abbott’s office has been asked for comment.

A Victorian branch of the leftist Socialist Alliance acknowledged that the creator of one of the Facebook pages had claimed membership of its group.

But the alliance’s Geelong branch denied it was responsible.

“The person who created this page has claimed membership with Socialist Alliance and have (sic) managed to access the internet from the same building our office is located in, which can be done using a phone out on the street,” the Socialist Alliance Geelong said in a Facebook post.

“Since then, one of our members has received death threats via our office phone.

“After speaking to our members, we can assure you that our branch is not responsible for this page and we do not advocate violence or assassination of politicians.”

Mr Abbott’s office declined to comment on the threats.

Would-be IOC boss pleased by gay pledge

Would-be Olympics chief Ng Ser Miang said on Monday he was heartened by Russia’s promise not to discriminate against homosexuals at next year’s Winter Games, adding the event would be “wonderful”.

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The Singaporean supermarket chief, one of six men vying to replace International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge, also played down other problems including Sochi’s huge cost and a ban on protests during the event.

“Sochi has put in quite heavy investment because of the need for them to develop a lot of infrastructure,” Ng told AFP in an interview at his office in Singapore.

“This anti-gay law, we now have a written assurance from the highest authority that there will be no discrimination of any kind, respect to the provisions of the Olympic Charter as well as the fundamental principle against discrimination of any kind.

“So the rights of those who are attending the Games, from spectators, to officials, to media, especially the athletes, will be respected.

“I believe that Sochi will be a wonderful Games.”

The new Russian law banning “gay propaganda” has attracted widespread criticism and it was one of the main talking points at this month’s world athletics championships in Moscow.

Russian pole-vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva caused uproar when she appeared to criticise homosexuals, although she later said she had been misunderstood.

Ng, a diplomat and former politician who is also a vice-president of the IOC, said the Olympics body stood firm against discrimination but also that he preferred a softly-softly approach.

“In some of these issues I believe in quiet diplomacy to deal with these issues,” he said. “It’s a common goal that we want to have a successful Games and the IOC is very clear and very strong — the IOC is against discrimination of any kind.”

One estimate has put the cost of Sochi’s Games at $US50 billion ($A55.64 billion), which would make it the most expensive Olympics in history.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has courted more controversy by banning protests and demonstrations and restricting access to the Black Sea resort during the Games early next year.

Ng also backed Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, host of the next Summer Olympics in 2016 as well as next year’s World Cup, to have the infrastructure in place to host a successful Games.

“Rio has put in a lot of resources. Definitely they have a lot of challenges because they’re hosting the World Cup before the Games themselves,” he said.

“But they are fully aware of the issues and they are fully aware of the challenges and they’re also aware of the very tight timeframe they are in.

“I’m sure they’ll put in all the necessary resources to make sure that we have a wonderful Games. The IOC is fully behind Rio and we will give our fullest support to them and do everything in our power to make sure they will organise a wonderful Games.”

Ng, considered a strong candidate behind front-runner Thomas Bach, will soon travel to Buenos Aires, where the IOC will elect its new leader on September 10.