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Vic police pursuits lead to road crashes

Two police pursuits have ended in crashes in Victoria, one of which left three people in hospital.

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Both pursuits started when the drivers failed to stop for routine intercepts, police say.

Road Policing Command Assistant Commissioner Robert Hill says officers are aware of the risks associated with pursuits.

“Our police members are going about their business of keeping our roads and our communities safe,” he told reporters on Monday.

“Our members are acutely aware of the risks that result with engaging a police pursuit and then continuing in a police pursuit.”

On average there were three or four police pursuits a day, with a total of 950 in 2012, he said.

In the first incident in the Ballarat suburb of Wendouree, police were pursuing a Holden Commodore sedan which collided with another car on Sunday evening.

The Commodore driver, a 39-year-old Sebastopol man, was arrested and taken to hospital with minor injuries.

A female passenger was also treated for non-life threatening injuries after being trapped in the car.

A 70-year-old woman in the other car was also taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Another pursuit in the Melbourne suburb of Skye ended when the black Holden Calais lost control and collided with a guard rail about 4.30am (AEDT) on Monday.

A man and a woman were arrested but have since been released pending further investigation.

Police want to speak with two other men, believed to be in their 20s, who fled the scene.

In a separate incident at Fawkner on Sunday night police tried to intercept a car which didn’t stop and hit a traffic signal and another vehicle.

Mr Hill said officers were following the car as it allegedly had a false licence plate but it was not technically considered to be a pursuit.

A 24-year-old Hadfield man has been charged with reckless conduct endangering a person and disqualified driving.

Kiwi steady after retail stats underwhelm

The New Zealand dollar is little changed after weaker than expected consumer spending figures failed to spook investors.

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The kiwi traded at 83.75 US cents at 5pm in Wellington from 83.77 cents at 8am and 83.64 cents on Friday in New York. The trade-weighted index edged up to 78.43 from 78.29 last week.

New Zealand retail sales rose 1.2 per cent in the final three months of 2013, according to Statistics New Zealand, short of the 1.5 per cent growth predicted in a Reuters survey of economists.

Still, the kiwi didn’t fall out of favour after a manufacturing report in the US showed industrial production reported its biggest decline in more than four years as the harsh winter disrupted the world’s biggest economy.

“There’s been a number of bad-weather impacts in economic activity reflected in the data, and that’s hurting the US dollar as a consequence,” said Michael Johnson, senior trader at HiFX in Auckland.

“I’m happy to be long the kiwi, which can grind higher, but it hasn’t got a million miles more in it.”

A public holiday in the US is expected to keep markets quiet during the northern hemisphere session.

New Zealand’s economic outlook also got a boost from the BNZ-BusinessNZ performance of services index, which showed the sector expanded at its fastest pace in six-and-a-half years in January, with new orders failing to keep up with demand.

The kiwi was little changed at 92.43 Australian cents at 5pm in Wellington from 92.54 cents on Friday in New York, unchanged at 85.12 yen from the New York close, and also steady at 61.08 euro cents.

Almost 1500 Forge employees now sacked

Almost 1500 Forge Group employees have now been sacked as all but one of the collapsed company’s projects grind to a halt.

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Michael Smith from receivers KordaMentha said that number could grow.

“It probably will,” he said.

On Friday, 70 workers at the Horizon Power station in the Pilbara were given notice, making it 1470 employees that have been retrenched from Forge’s engineering operations.

“They’ve been retrenched and they’ll get their entitlements through the federal government scheme but it will take a few weeks to come through,” Mr Smith said.

Still, he estimates around half of the affected employees will be offered positions by other companies that will take on Forge’s work.

Forge went into administration last week with around $500 million in debts, leaving administrators to complete the company’s troubled Diamantina Power Station project in Queensland.

Mr Smith said all of Forge’s projects except Diamantina had stopped since Forge’s financiers, including ANZ Bank, withdrew their support for the company.

Forge’s clients included mining giants Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill Holdings.

The company, which had 1,753 employees in Australia, was previously involved in more than a dozen projects, including Rio Tinto’s West Angelas power station project and Cape Lambert power station as well as BHP Billiton’s Yarnima power station in the Pilbara.

Forge was also working on a $1.47 billion processing facility at Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill iron ore project in WA, which was worth $830 million to Forge.

The first meeting of creditors is scheduled to take place in Perth on February 21.

Boxer Wood rubbishes dirty slur

Garth Wood insists he’s not a dirty fighter, though opponent Daniel Geale has questioned some of his tactics in the lead-up to Wednesday’s fight.

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Wood will start a huge underdog against former WBA and IBF world champion Geale at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion.

Geale didn’t label Wood a dirty fighter at Monday’s media conference, but said the bout could get rough and tough and suggested his opponent wasn’t averse to ignoring the rule book.

“There are tactics that you use that aren’t always within the rules; you come forward with your head down,” Geale said to Wood.

“There’s been times when you’ve headbutted guys and you’ve been headbutted yourself. That happens in any fight, but that’s what you do.”

Wood took umbrage at the suggestion he would employ illegal tactics, pointing to his disciplinary record inside the ring.

“In 17 fights, I’ve had one point deducted. What makes you think I’m a dirty fighter?” Wood said.

Wood conceded his style wasn’t one for the pugilistic purists.

“When I first started boxing, I wasn’t the prettiest boxer, but that’s my artwork,” Wood said.

“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, my artwork, but if I can knock Daniel over and conquer him on Wednesday night, I’m sure that’s going to become a masterpiece.”

Wood’s trainer Lincoln Hudson made it clear his charge wasn’t going to engage Geale in a pure boxing match.

“Garth doesn’t have the pedigree of Daniel Geale, so to try and outbox him is crazy,” Hudson told AAP.

“To try and be messy is crazy, so the bottom line is Garth has got to punch what’s in front of him and it’s that simple – bash the crap out of him.”

While it will be the first time in seven bouts Geale has fought without a world title on the line, he says he has prepared just the same.

“I’m in great condition. Mentally, I think I’m even better than I have been coming into my world title fights,” Geale said.

“I know there were a couple of small issues going into the (Darren) Barker fight and we’ve changed that completely.

“I think I’m probably three or four times better at least than I was going into the Barker fight.”

Aurizon increases coal haulage forecast

Australia’s largest freight rail operator expects to haul more coal this year than previously forecast, but has suffered a fall in half year profit.

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Despite a long downturn in the Australian coal market, Aurizon chief executive Lance Hockridge said the company was transporting record volumes of coal for export from local mines.

Formerly known as QR National, Aurizon has increased its guidance for coal haulage in the 2013/14 financial year to between 207 and 212 million tonnes, up from its previous forecast of between 200 and 205 million tonnes.

The stronger volumes of coal have prompted analysts to lift their full year profit forecasts for Aurizon.

The company’s shares gained nine cents, or 1.8 per cent, to $5.19, despite it posting a 39 per cent fall in profit in the first half of the financial year.

The result included $197 million in writedowns, due to it reducing its number of locomotives and wagons, and delays or changes to major infrastructure projects it is involved in.

Aurizon also had $25 million in costs after 262 employees took voluntary redundancy packages during the six months to December 31, as it continued to downsize after its privatisation in 2010.

It made a net profit of $107 million in the six months to December 31, down from $176 million in the same period a year earlier.

Mr Hockridge highlighted Aurizon’s achievements in cutting costs, which mirror the efforts of its coal mining customers.

It cut $59 million from its cost base in the first half of 2013/14, and aims for a reduction of $90 million for the year and $230 million in annual reductions by the 2014/15 year.

“In summary our trains are running faster with bigger payloads, lower fuel, operating costs and on a smaller maintenance footprint,” he said.

Mr Hockridge said economic headwinds continued to affect the company, particularly efforts by local miners to slash costs to stay competitive against overseas rivals, and the fall in the value of the Australian dollar.

He cited the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance in Queensland, which is trying to cut $1 billion of costs out of its Queensland coal operations.

Mr Hockridge also conceded Aurizon faced the possibility of industrial action from its 200 NSW train drivers in the coming year.

The NSW workers are headed for protected industrial action after receiving Fair Work Australia approval, and Queensland workers could possibly do the same as new workplace agreements are negotiated.

New doping case hits Australian cycling

Cycling Australia (CA) wants no mercy for respected cyclist Michael Rogers if he is found guilty of doping.

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The three-time world time trial champion and 2004 Olympic bronze medallist tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol at his last race of the season, the October 20 Japan Cup.

Rogers, a respected figure in the sport, has been provisionally suspended by the sport’s governing body.

But the Saxo-Tinkoff rider denies deliberate doping, fearing a contaminated food source is behind the positive test.

Interim CA chief executive Adrian Anderson also revealed on Thursday that Rogers does not hold an Australian racing licence, meaning that body will not hear his case.

It is understood that Rogers has a Swiss or Italian licence.

Rogers last rode for Australia at last year’s Olympics.

Anderson said “not many” Australian professionals had licences with other national federations.

He was also blunt when commenting on Rogers’ positive urine test.

“While we respect Michael Rogers’ right to defend himself, we will support the maximum sanctions applicable in the event that he’s found guilty of doping,” Anderson said.

Rogers’ positive is the latest blow for a sport that insists the Lance Armstrong doping era is history.

“For too long, this great sport of cycling has been let down by drug cheats,” Anderson said.

“This sport has had a tortured history of doping.

“Of course these sorts of incidents … do tarnish the sport.”

Rogers competed in China a week before his failed test.

The UCI and WADA have warned athletes to exercise caution in China when eating meat.

“Michael Rogers immediately informed Saxo-Tinkoff’s management about the notification from the UCI,” the cycling team said in a statement.

“The Australian explained to the team management that he never ingested the substance knowingly nor deliberately and fears that the adverse analytical finding origins (came) from a contaminated food source.”

Saxo-Tinkoff added that Rogers travelled directly from China to Japan before the Japan Cup.

Rogers has the right to request and attend the analysis of his B sample.

Clenbuterol, which helps build muscle and burn fat, is the substance Alberto Contador tested positive to at the 2010 Tour de France, resulting in his loss of the title.

Contador blamed contaminated meat for the positive test but WADA rejected the Spaniard’s claim.

Rogers joined Contador at Team Saxo-Tinkoff last season from Team Sky, where he rode in support of 2012 Tour winner Bradley Wiggins.

The Australian left Sky after evidence in the Lance Armstrong case alleged he had worked with the American’s favoured doctor Michele Ferrari.

The Australian won three consecutive World Time Trial Championships between 2003 and 2005, the first of which was awarded to him after David Millar confessed to taking EPO.

Rogers was upgraded to bronze in the time trial at the 2004 Atlanta Olympics when Tyler Hamilton was disqualified.

The Japan Cup was his only win this season.

The UCI said the decision to suspend Rogers was made in response to a report from the WADA-accredited laboratory in Tokyo indicating an “adverse analytical finding of clenbuterol” in a urine sample collected during the event.

The governing body announced Belgian rider Jonathan Breyne has also been suspended after testing positive to clenbuterol at a Chinese race on November 5.

Former Australian cyclists Stuart O’Grady and Matt White this year admitted to doping during their careers but, unlike Rogers, they did not test positive in-competition.

Australians evacuate from South Sudan as violence spreads

A report from South Sudan says at least 20 Australians are being evacuated from the capital, Juba, following days of deadly clashes.

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The United Nations says hundreds of people are believed to have died in fighting between between rival South Sudan army factions, which erupted on Sunday.

The United States and Britain have begun evacuating their citizens from the capital.

An Australian-South Sudanese man in Juba is accusing the Australian government of not doing enough to help its citizens stranded in the country.

Brisbane man Daniel John Barak had travelled to Juba to visit family over the festive period.

Mr Barak says the United States has begun evacuating its citizens from the capital via US Airforce planes, but the Australian government has not offered similar assistance.

“At this stage I’ve helped about 20 or 30 people out there, women and children,” he told SBS World News Australia Radio.

He says he’s most concerned for Australians caught in Jonglei state, which is currently inaccesible by road or air.

“Where they are right now it’s very very critical and it’s unknown (what their) situation at this time. There’s no phone numbers. They’re actually in the middle of nowhere. I have a few, more than 20 people in Juba, being evacuated today.”

But a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs says DFAT is providing consular assistance to Australian citizens in South Sudan.

“We are, through our High Commission in Nairobi, organising for daily welfare checks of the Australians in the country,” says DFAT spokesman Justin Brown.

“We’ve done mass mailouts of our udpated travel advice. We have a smartraveler travel advice (website) which has been updated twice in the last couple of days in light of developments. And we’re using those sorts of tools and relationships with our consular counterparts to maintain contact with the Australians in the country.”

Mr Brown says any Australians in Juba should leave if they feel unsafe.

Thai protesters on the march again

Thousands of anti-government protesters have resumed their marching in Bangkok, demanding that caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down to make way for a government free of nepotism and corruption.

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The demonstrators, led by former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, left their protest site at the Democracy Monument in the city’s government quarter on Thursday morning and marched to the busy Sukhumvit Road, in Bangkok’s tourist belt.

Later in the day the protesters, many blowing whistles and shouting “Yingluck out” and “We don’t want corrupt government”, said they planned to march along Sukhumvit Road and back to the Democracy Monument in a show of strength.

Marchers said some of the protesters planned to break off from the main body of the demonstration and march to the US Embassy to protest against perceived official US support for the Yingluck government.

The noisy but peaceful march followed a lull of several days in a campaign that attracted as many as 150,000 marchers earlier this month and triggered skirmishes with police and pro-government activists.

Suthep, secretary-general of the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee, has rejected Yingluck’s bid to defuse the crisis by dissolving parliament and calling a snap election on February 2.

He said anti-government groups will hold another, larger, demonstration on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Election Commission chairman Supachai Somcharoen denied reports that the poll would be postponed, saying it would take place on February 2 as scheduled.

Suthep said another election would only help entrench the corrupt political machine of Yingluck’s elder brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a coup in 2006 and fled the country in 2008 to avoid a two-year jail term for abuse of power.

Suthep’s campaign has attracted wide support in Bangkok but is strongly opposed in the country’s relatively poor regions of the north and north-east, where Thaksin is revered for his populist policies.

Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party won the last election in July 2011 with a majority of over 4 million votes, and Thaksin-supported parties have won every national election in Thailand since 2001.

The main opposition party, the Democrats, have until December 23 to decide whether to support Suthep’s call to reject the election or take part in the uphill electoral battle.

PM Abbott seeks advice on adoption reform

Couples seeking to adopt children from overseas could be given an easier pathway, under proposals to go to the prime minister and premiers next year.

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has asked for a report by March 2014 on how to improve the system, which will inform talks at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in April.

“I do not underestimate the complexity of the work … (and) I recognise the need to have a broad and inclusive discussion about proposed change to ensure that, as a community, we do not repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said.

In March, then prime minister Julia Gillard delivered a formal apology to people affected by forced adoption and removal policies in the wake of a report which exposed the horrific experiences of many of the 250,000 children adopted since World War II.

Actor Deborra-Lee Furness, who has two adopted children with husband Hugh Jackman, has led a campaign to make international adoptions easier but ensure proper checks are in place.

She told a function on adoption with Mr Abbott that orphaned and vulnerable children deserved to have a family.

“We’re going to continue to highlight all the issues around adoption awareness,” she said.

“We have to look after these kids.”

Thanks to @Deborra_lee @RealHughJackman and @Lisa_Wilkinson for helping make adoption easier for Australian families pic.twitter.com/RsRRP0xA8h

— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) December 19, 2013

Great to host morning tea at Kirribilli House to announce our plans to make adoption easier 上海性息网网,上海按摩,/J5jUSMMlk1 pic.twitter.com/kmK2UXWtrN

— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) December 19, 2013

Incredible day for adoption. Deb with PM Tony Abbott. Change is coming. #thedebs #change #AU… 上海性息网网,上海按摩,/uXBqHlljp7

— Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) December 19, 2013

The waiting time for inter-country adoption averages five years and costs up to $30,000, experts say.

Adding to the complexity, each state and territory has different eligibility requirements for parents.

Joanna Howe, from the University of Adelaide and Women’s Forum Australia, said Australia has the second-lowest adoption rate in the developed world and reform was needed.

Of the 339 children adopted nationally in 2012/13, 129 were from other countries.

Decisions such as the recent closure of a scheme involving Ethiopian children – which came after some people had waited up to 10 years to adopt – had led to disenchantment, Dr Howe said.

“The Australian system is incredibly bureaucratic and each country we seek to adopt from have their own rules and procedures,” she told AAP.

Dr Howe said parents who wanted an overseas adoption had to say no to the local program, could not be on IVF programs and had to agree to certain criteria about their pregnancy intentions.

On the other side of the argument, Australia needed to put in place checks to ensure women from other countries are not being forced to give up their children.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, whose state has the highest adoption rate, said there should also be a national discussion about bringing all the states into line on local adoptions.

NSW families minister Pru Goward said adoption can improve the lives of vulnerable children.

“How can we hope to break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage if we do not begin by giving each of these children a safe and loving home for life?” she said.

From Indonesia with love

In mid-November, as diplomatic tensions between Jakarta and Canberra escalated, it was suggested to Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa that the road back to normal relations with Australia appeared quite long.

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Natalegawa had just spent five hours briefing a closed-door session of the Indonesian parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee on the spying claims that have seen relations with Australia ebb to their lowest point in more than a decade.

“Ah, the long and winding road; what’s that other song called? Sorry seems to be …,” the usually earnest Natalegawa, with a wry smile, quipped back to journalists waiting in a hallway outside the committee room.

The reference to the Elton John song, Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word, revealed much about Jakarta’s view of Tony Abbott’s refusal to apologise for an Australian spying operation that, in November four years earlier, had targeted the Indonesian president and his inner-sanctum, including his wife.

Indonesia has since made it abundantly clear that cooperation on various fronts, including in the key area of people smuggling, will not be restored until Australia signs up to a new code of conduct, which will include protocols around spying.

But the “roadmap” back to normal relations, as set out by Indonesia, means it would be optimistic to believe the rift will be healed sooner rather than later.

Natalegawa has warned that there must also be “a revival of a sense of trust” – the sixth point in Dr Yudhoyono’s plan – before Indonesia would look at restoring bilateral co-operation with Australia.

The spying drama has already had repercussions for the issue which in recent history had been the dominant factor in relations between Australia and its northern neighbour – people smuggling.

While the flow of asylum-seeker boats has slowed to a trickle compared to highs seen under the Rudd and Gillard governments – and arguably due to Labor’s decision to process refugees on Nauru and in PNG – Indonesia’s suspension of cooperation has the potential to damage Abbott who cannot walk away from his promise to stop the boats.

Mr Abbott concedes Indonesia’s withdrawal of cooperation in combating people smuggling is a problem.

“There’s no doubt that the suspension of cooperation by the Indonesian authorities has been unhelpful; it’s been singularly unhelpful,” he said on December 14.

“And given that people-smuggling is a crime in Indonesia, just as it’s a crime in Australia, I think it’s high time that cooperation was resumed. But I accept that in the end, what Indonesia does is a matter for Indonesia and what Australia does is a matter for Australia.”

There have also been suggestions that the ongoing stoush is delaying a parole bid by convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby.

While Indonesian officials insist the spying fallout has no impact on Corby’s parole, the process which months ago appeared to moving ahead quickly, even prompting suggestions the 36-year-old would be out of Kerobokan before the end of the year, slowed to a glacial pace as relations soured.

Comments from the Indonesian president, including a number of tweets, since the espionage scandal emerged suggest an apology could have healed some of the damage, and perhaps quickened the healing process.

“I also regret the statement by the Australian PM that belittles this surveillance to Indonesia, as if no wrong has been done,” Dr Yudhoyono said of Abbott’s initial response to the espionage claims.

“The actions of US and Australia has very much wounded the strategic partnership with Indonesia, a fellow democratic state,” he also tweeted.

Dr Yudhoyono said a week before Christmas that the spying games had hurt him personally, but that he was determined to repair the relationship with Australia as part of his legacy when he completes his second and final presidential term in November 2014.

Dr Yudhoyono also said that the healing process must happen in a way that satisfied his domestic needs, while the elections and the inevitable nationalist fervour that comes with them, will also make it difficult for a quick fix to be negotiated.

With Mr Abbott having tied himself to a foreign policy agenda that has a focus that is “more Jakarta, less Geneva” – dealing with the diplomatic tensions that bookend 2013 will be a priority for the Coalition in the year ahead.