Coalition bipartisan on treatment of Assange

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By , 08/08/2018 13:51

Opposition spokeswoman on foreign affairs Julie Bishop has affirmed bipartisan support for the government’s handling of Julian Assange’s circumstances. She said she accepted the assurances of US ambassador Jeffrey Bleich that the US government was not interested in extraditing the WikiLeaks publisher.

Asked whether the Coalition considered WikiLeaks’ activities in obtaining and publishing secret US government documents amounted to journalism or espionage, Ms Bishop said the publication of information appeared “to fall within the realms of journalistic endeavour”.

But she added that the trial of US Army private Bradley Manning might “cast further light on whether WikiLeaks breached any US laws in obtaining that information”.

Mr Assange has lived at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for a year, having been granted diplomatic asylum on the grounds that he is at risk of extradition to the US on conspiracy or other charges relating to the leaking of classified information by Private Manning.

Swedish prosecutors wish to extradite Mr Assange to face questioning about sexual assault allegations made by two women in August 2010. Mr Assange claims that extradition to Sweden would facilitate his eventual extradition to the US.

Ms Bishop adopted the same lines as Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr, saying the Coalition was not aware of “any formal legal proceedings” involving Mr Assange other than those arising from the Swedish allegations.

“The US has extradition treaty arrangements with Sweden and the United Kingdom and is thus able to commence extradition proceedings in cases that meet appropriate criteria,” Ms Bishop said.

She said the Coalition was not aware of any extradition proceedings under way or any formal prosecutions in the US that could lead to Mr Assange’s extradition.

“The United States ambassador to Australia has stated publicly that the US government has no plans to extradite Mr Assange from Sweden. The Coalition is not aware of any evidence to the contrary.

“Given that ambassador Bleich has stated publicly that extraditing Mr Assange is “not something that the US cares about”, and the Coalition accepts that assurance, it is not appropriate to speculate about alternative scenarios.”

The US Justice Department has confirmed that a federal criminal investigation into WikiLeaks continues.

Ms Bishop disagreed with Mr Carr’s recent observation that there had been an “over-servicing” of Mr Assange’s consular case and said a Coalition government would “continue to ensure Mr Assange was provided with the same level of consular support as would be provided to any other Australian in trouble overseas”.

But the Coalition saw no role for the Australian government beyond routine consular contact because “there is no capacity for the Australian government to intervene or influence the judicial processes of another country”.

Ms Bishop said a Coalition government would make “appropriate representations”.

Ecuadorean foreign affairs minister Ricardo Patino met Ms Assange at the embassy in London on Sunday, and held talks with his British counterpart William Hague on Monday.

After the meetings Mr Patino said Ecuador would “ensure that [Mr Assange] continues with the protection we have given him under asylum in our country, protecting his life, his personal integrity, and particularly his freedom of expression”.

Britain has repeatedly said it has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden. Police remain outside the embassy, ready to arrest Mr Assange if he leaves.

The British Foreign Office said that while the two foreign ministers had agreed to establish an officials working group to seek a diplomatic resolution of Mr Assange’s circumstances, “no substantive progress was made”.

“The Foreign Secretary William Hague was clear once again that any resolution would need to be within the laws of the United Kingdom,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said.

Mr Assange has indicated he intends to run as a Senate candidate in Victoria for the newly formed WikiLeaks Party.

Party campaign manager Greg Barns said the Coalition and the government were “so entrenched with the United States view of the world that they are wilfully blind to what is clear from the Bradley Manning trial – and that is the United States is bent on extraditing Julian Assange”.

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Roxon’s farewell: Don’t let naysayers define Labor

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By , 08/08/2018 13:51

Nicola Roxon delivers her valedictory speech at Parliament House on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares Treasurer Wayne Swan with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Nicola Roxon after she delivered her valedictory speech on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Outgoing Liberal MP Judi Moylan with Nicola Roxon after she delivered her valedictory on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Former Labor minister Nicola Roxon has given her farewell speech to Parliament, praising Julia Gillard as an “amazing Prime Minister” while cautioning the party not to allow its internal tensions to distract from its core mission.

Australia’s first female attorney-general also railed against continuing sexism in Australia, including the “crass” and “plain rude” behaviour that Ms Gillard has been subjected to for years.

As Labor continues to grapple with leadership tensions, Ms Roxon threw her support behind Ms Gillard, describing her as “an amazing Prime Minister, a great Labor leader and an impressive woman.”

“We should be proud of her and her work.”

But the Member for Gellibrand said she could not give her valedictory speech without acknowledging that it was a “hard time” for Labor.

“Even for true Labor believers there are times when it can feel frustrating.”

Ms Roxon issued a rallying call to Labor members and MPs, saying Labor was by its nature and causes “a party of optimists”.

“We can’t let the critics, the naysayers and the nasties define us,” she said. “The truth is, we might be down, but we’re not out.”

Acknowledging the party’s record on policies from Medicare to DisabilityCare Australia, Ms Roxon had a word of caution for her colleagues: “We’ve allowed internal tensions to overshadow our core mission for too long. We are a proud party with a proud record, now we need to start behaving like one.”

Ms Roxon, who was Australia’s first female Attorney-General, quit the front bench in a surprise move in February to spend more time with her young daughter. She also announced at the time that she would not recontest her Victorian seat of Gellibrand at the upcoming September election.

Ms Roxon, thanked her mother and husband Michael for their support during her ministerial career.

“Together, Michael and mum helped me manage a busy life as senior cabinet minister with a young child, the first woman to combine such roles.”

Despite celebrating some of Labor’s achievements for women – such as introducing paid parental leave – Ms Roxon said she could not help but “despair a bit on this front”.

“We have a capable, tough, smart, determined woman as our PM. Yet she had been subjected to some of the most crass, silly, petty, sexist and just plain rude behaviour for years.”

Talking of recent allegations about a degrading Defence email ring, Ms Roxon said there was a “dangerous underbelly” that still compromised women in Australia.

“The feminist cause in just as urgent as before.”

Ms Roxon, who was elected to Parliament in 1998, was health minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments before she became the first female attorney-general in December 2011.

The member for Gellibrand also said she “weirdly” needed to thank Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for providing the material for some of the most memorable moments of her political career.

This included the time he was late to a health policy debate during the 2007 election campaign and then swore at the then shadow health minister.

Ms Roxon also reminisced that her mother had once marched up to Kevin Rudd when he was prime minister and demanded that her daughter be given time off to get married.

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Ashley-Cooper fears Lions in wide, open spaces

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By , 08/08/2018 13:51

Dull, dreary and obsessed with the set piece … northern hemisphere sides generally come to Australian shores with a reputation for keeping it deathly simple on the rugby field.

The British and Irish Lions have fit the stereotype in one regard. Their scrum and lineout has been a well-oiled machine since the tour began with a rout over the Barbarians and Western Force, before facing sterner competition against the Queensland Reds and Waratahs.

But it has been their willingness to swing the ball wide that has impressed and in some ways surprised the locals. Depending on how conservative Robbie Deans plays his hand, it could be the tourists that play the more expansive game on Saturday night in Brisbane.

Tour games are not Tests by any stretch but Wallaby centre Adam Ashley-Cooper has seen enough to suggest the Lions will be chancing their arm at Suncorp Stadium.

There will be an inevitable tightening of play as the stakes rise, particularly with the accuracy of their goal kickers, but Ashley-Cooper believes the same blueprint will largely apply to the Tests as it has to the tour matches.

“Their ability to spread the ball has been quite impressive. Obviously they’ve come out with a very physical and confrontational approach to the start of the game and have that ability to throw the ball wide,” Ashley-Cooper said.

“You wouldn’t think too much would change. It seems they’ve had a little bit of consistency in the way they’ve approached each game.

“With the wingers they have, George North, (Sean) Maitland, (Adam) Cuthbert, it would be silly not to get the ball to those guys.”

This would guarantee a busy night for Ashley-Cooper, who should be named at outside centre when the Wallabies reveal their team on Thursday.

“From a backs perspective, it’s going to be tough. You have to consider the physicality and their great ball-running forwards and also have to defend the width they are capable of achieving,” he said.

“But Test match football is all about physicality and intensity. It’s quite simple when it comes to strategy and game plan but when it comes to intensity, it’s some of the toughest football you’ll play. They certainly have the characters and the ability to do that.”

The Waratahs utility, who has finally found a permanent home under Michael Cheika, is hopeful of coming face-to-face with Irish great Brian O’Driscoll.

After initially thinking he’d never been on the same field, a laughing Ashley-Cooper eventually realised he had faced O’Driscoll twice; once at 2009 at Croke Park and again in the Rugby World Cup.

To be fair, on one of those occasions he was on the wing and the other at fullback.

“I’m pretty sure I haven’t played him at 13. I want to though.”

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I was no dictator: Neeld

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By , 08/08/2018 13:51

Melbourne’s sacked coach Mark Neeld faces the press, 17th June 2013. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoLyon takes responsibilityRoos backs need for experienced coach

Departed Melbourne coach Mark Neeld has refuted assertions that he had “lost the players”, and that he was a “harsh dictator” that went too hard too soon in trying to drive a new culture at the struggling club.

Speaking on Channel Nine on Monday night, half a day removed from the morning press conference to announce his sacking, a still disappointed but also “relieved” Neeld claimed he “never once questioned his relationship with the players”.

“It was optional for the players this morning, (but) they all turned up to the press conference,” Neeld said.

“I don’t know what that said, but to me that was a good show of support by the boys,” he said.

“I wish them all the best. The majority of the boys are in the infancy of their AFL career and you’ll see over time, I’m not sure what time, but they will develop into a pretty handy side.

“When you want to strive to be the very best, as opposed to being just a participate in the AFL, you have to have a certain hard edge to the way you train and the way you develop.

“Elite training environments were what we were trying to develop at Melbourne, and (Neil) Craig will continue that on.

“But they are not for everyone and you’ve got to have players there that want to strive to be the very best all the time.”

The prevailing view out of Monday’s press conference was that convincing players to stay at Melbourne next year, such as Jack Watts, James Frawley and Colin Sylvia – all rumoured to be the target of rival clubs or looking to leave – played a part in the decision to sack Neeld.

Neeld said he would be surprised if Watts described their relationship as anything other than “very good”, revealing he spoke to the former No.1 draft pick “nearly every day”.

The sacked coach was also questioned about whether he disenfranchised a group of senior players such as Brent Moloney, Jared Rivers and Brad Green (all now not at the club) with his hardline approach when he first arrived before the 2012 season.

Part of the approach included taking the captaincy off Green and endorsing youngsters Jack Trengove and Jack Grimes as co-captains ahead of established veterans such as Moloney and Nathan Jones.

Moloney, the club’s best and fairest in 2011, left the Demons last year after being dropped during stages in 2012 and displayed the ill-will he felt towards Neeld by posting a picture with the words “karma is a bitch” on social media after the coach was sacked on Monday.

Neeld gave a measured response to Moloney’s public slap, saying: “people will deal with things in their own way. I won’t be putting out a tweet like that one”.

But Neeld admitted the club had given him the mantra to make “harsh decisions” at the start of his tenure in a bid to change the culture at Melbourne, which had been damaged in part by the tanking saga.

“I don’t think I am a harsh dictator, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” he said.

“We were given as a group of coaches certain things that we were told that really needed to be fixed.

“I’ve been involved and tasted success at the highest level, albeit as an assistant, and there’s a certain culture and a certain drive that are needed by the players and the coaches and the whole club to achieve that.

“And some harsh decisions, in some people’s eyes, needed to be made.”

Neeld reiterated his stance that he would not have done anything differently during his time at Melbourne.

That included standing by the controversial appointment of the two young co-captains and the just as damaging decision – at least in the eyes of some supporters – to recruit mature-age recycled players such as David Rodan, Cam Pedersen, Tom Gillies and Shannon Byrnes, who was added straight into the leadership group.

“When you turnover 14 players in one year, it is impossible… to bring in 14 teenagers,” Neeld said in defence of his list management.

His stubbornness has prompted some respected commentators, including former Essendon champion Matthew Lloyd, to surmise Neeld might be “still in denial” about the reality at Melbourne.

“All the decisions we were making were for the future, and we stand by that,” Neeld said.

“Remember that my initial period was for three years and I’ve only got to see half of that,” he said.

“We had a fair dinkum crack at it, it hasn’t worked out as quickly as the board would have liked. That’s footy.”

Neeld said he did not feel the board failed him by losing patience, insisting it was always upfront with him and “there was never any cloak and dagger stuff”.

Having talked to a number of coaches that have been sacked in recent seasons, Neeld said he would go through a range of emotions but conceded he would probably feel “a bit of jealously” watching the next coach take over the side he tried to build.

“When I’m sitting back, perhaps next year, and Jesse Hogan is running around with Mitch Clark and Chris Dawes in the forward line and they’re doing all right and someone else is coaching,” he said.

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McKenna stays calm on Ablett

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By , 08/08/2018 13:50

McKenna and Ablett.Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna is confident Gary Ablett will finish his career on the Gold Coast, and believes the Suns’ pending success will appeal more to the champion midfielder than a romantic return to a Geelong team that may have begun to decline by then.

While Cats chief executive Brian Cook has said it would be a dream for Ablett to one day return to the club where he grew up, McKenna expected the Suns to “intervene” well before the 29-year-old’s five-year contract was up.

Ablett is just halfway through that deal and while he acknowledged Cook’s remarks as “more mischievous than serious”, McKenna believed that by the time the captain was due to renegotiate, Gold Coast would be verging on success and would prove hard to walk away from.

“The way Gary’s going, I think he’ll play on beyond his fifth year with us. And I’d like to think that, like we’re doing with some of our younger talent coming through, we can jump in early and renegotiate,” McKenna said.

“Let’s not wait or let the light go off in the back part of the contract, I’d like to think we could talk to him much earlier than that. I think he’s been worth every dollar for us so far, so let’s give him some reward for what he’s been able to do and not wait until the fifth year.

“We’re only two-and-a-half years in and it’s not something we’d be talking to him about yet, but he’s delivered in spades and with the form he’s in, I think we’ll be wanting to have him around for a lot longer than two more years.”

The Suns have already re-signed the bulk of their young talent, with onballer Dion Prestia the latest to recommit, and McKenna hoped that when Ablett’s contract expired at the end of 2015, Gold Coast would be “around the corner” from some lasting success.

“I try to explain to all the boys that if you can play above the normal four-year average of an AFL player and get to a 10- or 12-year career, you want to spend as much time as you can playing finals and giving yourself a chance to win a premiership,” he said.

“I’m not saying it will happen this year, but next [year] we’d like to think we’ll be knocking on the door and when these boys are starting to hit 80 to 100 games, then I think we’ll be in that window and pushing for some success for a long period of time.

“Gary will weigh things up. He’s a very smart individual, and he’ll know what’s best for him and where the best place for him to be is in the last few years of his career.

“Geelong is a fantastically run organisation, from recruiting through to developing and coaching and management, and they’re trying to avoid the dreaded bounce and doing it really well at the moment.

“But fast forward to the end of Gary’s contract and if he wants to be better placed to spend as much time as possible playing finals, I would think Gold Coast will be first, second and third choice.

“There’s a lot of things that will go into that decision apart from pure football success and he has a life to lead and there will be a pull from his family, but I would encourage him to hang around because of the hard work we’ve done and what we all believe we’re setting ourselves up to achieve.”

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