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.