Claims soldier pulled handgun on ASIS agent in Afghanistan to be investigated

Declined to confirm the report: Dr Vivienne Thom, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Declined to confirm the report: Dr Vivienne Thom, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Declined to confirm the report: Dr Vivienne Thom, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Declined to confirm the report: Dr Vivienne Thom, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The watchdog that oversees Australia’s spy agencies is investigating an incident in which a special forces soldier is reported to have pulled a gun on an Australian Secret Intelligence Service officer during a drinking session in Afghanistan. The claim is being examined alongside concerns ASIS officers are handling weapons despite consuming alcohol and amid revelations inaccurate information has been provided to prior investigations into the issue, however the Inspector-General of Intelligence Service, Dr Vivienne Thom, says there’s no evidence she’s been lied to. The incident is included in the annual report of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security which was sent to Prime Minister Tony Abbott on September 30. The report said “in December 2013 a further more serious incident occurred overseas involving an allegedly inappropriate action by an officer of another Australian government agency towards an [ASIS officer]”.   “While no physical injury resulted, the incident had the potential to cause serious injury.”  The ABC is reporting that this involved a soldier pulling a gun on an ASIS agent. An intelligence source told Fairfax Media that the reference was unusually explicit. It is not stated if the ASIS officer was armed or unarmed. Dr Thom declined to confirm the report when contacted but said ASIS had made “further improvements” to its processes to ensure that its staff comply with requirements. “I will not provide any further details about the December 2013 incident,”  she told Fairfax Media. The report said ASIS’s own investigation into the “serious incident” had “highlighted systemic issues” and the Director-General of ASIS told the Inspector-General that “inaccuracies” had been provided to her inquiry conducted earlier in 2013.   “My review of the ASIS investigation report and interviews indicated other substantial discrepancies,” Dr Thom said.  But Dr Thom said she had “no evidence” anyone had lied to her. She said: “If I did have evidence that any officer lied under oath, the matter would be referred to the AFP to be dealt with under the Criminal Code.” She pointed out the maximum penalty for such an offence is 12 months’ imprisonment. The 2013 inquiry raised concerns about the consumption of alcohol and weapons used by ASIS officers. ASIS policy prohibits anyone consuming alcohol being issued with a weapon but Dr Thom said “the inquiry found some staff misunderstanding in relation to this requirement”. The IGIS said “ASIS did not have adequate controls in place to provide assurance that there was compliance with this requirement”.

A spokesman for the Department of Defence refused to say whether or not the soldier had been reprimanded. The spokesman said: “It would not be appropriate for Defence to make comment on investigations undertaken by, or involving, other government agencies.”

The Inspector-General has promised an update on the matter in her next annual report.

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Press gallery veterans recall Whitlam era

Press gallery veteran Laurie Oakes was at the Sunnybrook Hotel in Cabramatta the night Gough Whitlam won the 1972 election.
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Then a reporter for the Melbourne Sun, Oakes was writing a book on Whitlam’s campaign and was with the Labor leader and his staffers as the votes were being tallied.

“There was a look of relief on his face when the bloke operating the computer said, I think we can send the white smoke up the chimney now,” Oakes recalls. “He cracked open a bottle of champagne.”

Oakes remembers Australia’s 21st prime minister as a flawed but “special sort of bloke” who had to take on the Labor Party before he could challenge the Liberals.

“He genuinely wanted to change Australia for the better and had big ideas of how to do it,” Oakes said. “That crash through or crash approach he took, took guts.”

Oakes says Whitlam faced a tough Canberra press gallery, but he took the media seriously and was not the sort of politician who relied on talking points.

“He gave good answers to questions, often witty answers,” he said. “He had a wonderful wit.

“If you were wrong, he’d tell you in no uncertain terms.”

Ken Begg was the ABC’s political correspondent during the Whitlam years. He recalls arriving in Canberra as a young reporter in 1972 when there was a sense of change in the air.

“It was an exciting time,” he said. “And for my generation who grew up only knowing one government, a Liberal Coalition, it was a time of extraordinary change.”

Begg remembers feeling intimidated by “a giant of a man … a giant in intellect”.

“If you asked a foolish question you got pulled down very, very quickly,” he said. “I, as a young reporter, was slightly in awe of this man.”

Begg says he learnt more about Australia and issues such as health care and state rights from Whitlam than he did from any other prime minister.

“And, of course, Whitlam’s great humour,” he said. “I think that humour was quite often misunderstood.

“The last time I saw him in the Old Parliament House I was coming out of the toilet. And he turned to me and said, ah, Begg, new office, I see.”

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Australian shares make it six in a row after last-minute rally

Shares managed a last-gasp gain – making it six straight sessions of rises – after banks sunk an early rally, with miners buoyed by better-than-expected Chinese economic data.
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Australian shares were set to close lower, breaking a five-day winning streak, after a promising rally driven by the Chinese data petered out in the afternoon.

But the market rallied in the last few minutes of trading. The S&P/ASX 200 index added 6 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 5325, while the All Ordinaries closed 5 points up at 5312.5.

Opening at 5307, the ASX200 spiked to 5331 on the back of a small rise in US equities overnight.

However, the market eased ahead of the release of Chinese GDP at 1pm, said Morgan Stanley’s head of investment strategy Malcolm Wood.

The market’s morning rise “was what you’d expect following the strong US lead”, said Mr Wood. “And I guess people were saying, we have the Chinese data coming out at 1 o’clock … we don’t want to be taking big positions into that.”

Chinese GDP grew at an annualised rate of 7.3 per cent in the third quarter, which was down from the previous quarter’s 7.5 per cent rise, but still above market expectations of a 7.2 per cent rise. The strong point of the data was industrial production, which grew at an annualised rate of 8 per cent – far ahead of the expected 7.5 per cent figure.

The market lifted sharply after the Chinese data was released but then fell back, eventually heading into negative territory. “Obviously it hasn’t rallied on since the China data,” said Mr Wood. “The industrial production number was a little bit better than expected. That would settle some nerves about China, a little bit at least.”

BBY senior client adviser Henry Jennings said China and the imminent bank reporting season weighed down on the market.

“It has been flat – there’s been a little disappointment with the Chinese GDP number.

“We’re running into bank reporting season, we’re only nine or 10 days away from that. The big driver in the market has been the bounce in the banks and I think a few people are just looking at them, thinking they’ve had a good run, and taking some money off the table just in case.”

The big four banks were mixed. Westpac dived 16 cents, or 0.5 per cent, to $33.41, CBA fell 8 cents, or 0.1 per cent, to $77.18, while NAB rose 8 cents, or 0.2 per cent, to $33.52 and ANZ rose 2 cents to $32.47.

Newcrest Mining stocks fell 3 cents to $9.78 after the miner announced it would keep its guidance for the full year unchanged. Newcrest reported a 12 per cent fall in gold production for the September quarter due to lower grades of the precious metal and planned plant shutdowns.

Gold output fell to 561,731 ounces in the three months ending September 30 from 586,573 in September 2013.

Veda Group was one of the market’s worst performers, diving 15 cents to $2.17 on news that its private equity shareholder has abandoned a planned sale of its stake.

Among the miners, Rio rose 0.4 per cent to $59.97, BHP fell 9 cents, or 0.3 per cent, to $33.75 and Fortescue rose 9 cents to $3.55.

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Adele Ferguson receives two Walkley Award nominations for financial planning scandal reports

Fairfax Media’s Adele Ferguson has secured two separate nominations as a finalist in the business category of the prestigious Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism
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Both Ms Ferguson’s nominations stem from her tenacious reporting on scandals in the financial planning sector.

Ms Ferguson was nominated together with Deb Masters and Mario Christodoulou, for her Four Corners ABC TV and Fairfax Media series titled: “Banking Bad”, “Rollo Sherriff and Meridien Wealth”, “Misconduct claims widen in CBA’s planning scandal”.Four Corners/Fairfax Media investigation forced the bank to apologise and announce a $250 million-plus compensation scheme. It also triggered an overhaul of the corporate regulator and wholesale changes to the financial planning industry. A royal commission was called citing their revelations.”Sydney Morning Herald and The Age titled: “Macquarie Group financial planning scandal”,  “Macquarie’s bombshell a call to arms”, “Cheating rife in financial planning”

“The Macquarie Group financial scandal revealed how tens of thousands of Australians were deliberately misclassified as “sophisticated” investors, leaving them exposed to high-risk, high-fee Macquarie products. Ferguson and Butler found sources and trawled through court records and documents to expose not only a rotten corporate culture but also the financial havoc inflicted on many customers,” the judges citation said.

Rounding out Fairfax Media’s domination of the award this year was the nomination of Nabila Ahmed, Sue Mitchell and James Chessell, of The Australian Financial Review, for their stories on ructions at the nation’s biggest department stores titled: “Myer, DJs merger proposed just before directors’ trade”, “DJs chairman must step down”, “Mason to purge DJs board”

The judging citation read: “Breaking the news that two of Australia’s most iconic companies had engaged in merger talks was a classic scoop. In their reporting, however, The AFR team also uncovered serious issues of corporate governance that led to the resignation of the chairman and two directors of David Jones.”

Group director news and business at Fairfax Media Sean Aylmer said the haul demonstrated Fairfax’s leadership in financial reporting.

“The crisis in confidence in financial planning has become one of the defining issues in our economy and Adele’s dogged thorough prosecution of this issue, working with some of the best news teams in the business, has put it at the heart of policy debate,” he said.

Mr Aylmer said The Australian Financial Review’s repeated scoops over share trading at David Jones underscored that masthead’s ability to get the truly inside workings of corporate Australia.

The Walkley judges were asked to select finalists from more than 40 entries, and said this year’s entries demonstrated the value of business journalism done well.

“Tenacious, forensic, entertaining, powerful, everything good reporting should involve,” the panel said. “It was also fascinating to see the innovation that is driving and improving our craft.”

The winners of the 59th Walkley Awards will be announced on Thursday, December 4.

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MP vows to raise defence pay offer with assistant minister

THOUSANDS of sailors, soldiers and air force personnel have reacted with fury to being asked to give up some of their Christmas and recreational leave in order to get the pay rise of just 1.5 per cent a year over the next three years.
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Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis said she, too, was concerned and vowed to raise the issue with the Assistant Minister for Defence.

“I was talking to some defence personnel a couple of days ago and we were discussing the impact of moving around every couple of years,” Mrs Sudmalis said.

“They know it’s all part of the job and they accept that, but it is the sort of thing that does impact on them and their families.

“It’s good to talk to the people, and hear their perspective. They love their job, and feel honoured to be in that position.”

Mrs Sudmalis said she wondered if the Assistant Minister for Defence Stuart Robert had been made aware of those types of issues.

“I’ve written a letter to Mr Robert and I will deliver that letter to him personally on Monday,” she said.

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Australia ‘paradise’ for white-collar criminals, says ASIC chairman Greg Medcraft

Tougher stance: Chairman Greg Medcraft said ASIC’s enforcement actions will be more transparent. Photo: Ben Rushton Tougher stance: Chairman Greg Medcraft said ASIC’s enforcement actions will be more transparent. Photo: Ben Rushton
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Tougher stance: Chairman Greg Medcraft said ASIC’s enforcement actions will be more transparent. Photo: Ben Rushton

Change: Chairman Greg Medcraft said ASIC’s enforcement actions will be more transparent. Photo: Ben Rushton

Australia is a “paradise” for white-collar criminals because of its soft punishment of corporate offences, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission chairman, Greg Medcraft, says.

Mr Medcraft said the only realistic response was harsher jail terms and bigger penalties for white-collar crime.

He also repeated calls for a national competency exam for financial advisers in the lead up to a crackdown on the industry and more funding for ASIC to investigate the finance sector, including a user-pays funding model.

Finance industry players were not “Christian soldiers”, Mr Medcraft said on Tuesday, but were motivated by fear and greed.

“You have to lift the fear and suppress the greed,” he said.

“This is a bit of a paradise, Australia, for white collar.

“The thing that scares white-collar criminals is going to jail and that’s what scares them everywhere in the world.”

“The penalties, particularly civil penalties, in Australia for white-collar offences are basically not strong enough, not tough enough. All you’re doing is giving them a slap on the wrist [and] that is not deterring people.”

In the past few years ASIC has come under fire over its handling of scandals at the financial planning arms of the Commonwealth Bank, Macquarie Group, and Storm Financial.

At recent Senate and parliamentary committee inquiries the corporate regulator was accused of being too slow to act against dodgy financial planners, of lacking transparency and being too trusting of big business.

Mr Medcraft admitted ASIC had made mistakes, but said its capacity to investigate and pursue corrupt financial advisers had been curtailed by a lack of resources.

He vowed to be more transparent about ASIC’s enforcement actions and said the regulator would “not be captive to the big end of town”.

“If we want to react faster, then having more resources to be able to do it is important,” he said.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission plans to devote more resources to scrutinising and investigating the financial advisory industry while also forcing the sector to lift its game through better education, monitoring and reporting of breaches.

“One way of lifting resources is to put pressure on them to better police themselves,” Mr Medcraft said.

“You have to try to put more pressure on the people who are supposed to be monitoring the advisers, so our strategy is going to be spending a lot more time putting pressure on their own misconduct and breach reporting.”

Mr Medcraft stepped up calls for a national exam for financial advisers to level the playing field and ensure minimum levels of financial competency.

“At least, pilots have to sit for a competency exam run by CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) – I regard financial advice as just as important,” he said.

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Companies snap up space in Melbourne’s refurbished World Trade Centre

A $50 million refurbishment of Melbourne’s World Trade Centre has yielded another 4000 square metres of leasing deals.
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All 12,000 square metres of space at the WTC’s Tower 4 have been leased in the past 12 months.

“This has been a stunning result in what has otherwise been a tough leasing market and tapping into what was previously a virtually unknown office market,” Savills Australia agent Phil Cullity✓ said.

“We identified our key market early but the refurbishment was really the key, along with the waterfront access.”

The WTC is on the Yarra River across the water from the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. The complex, owned by Asset 1, includes five office towers ranging from eight to 12 storeys, offering a combined 70,000 square metres.

The new five- to 10-year leases were struck on rates ranging from $290 a square metre for lower levels to $340 a square metre for high-rise space.

New tenants at Tower 4 on 18-38 Siddeley Street include Academy of Interactive Entertainment, which is taking 2545 square metres, the non-profit Rural Workforce Agency (550 square metres), Connect Furniture (250 square metres) and Compass Offices (733 square metres).

The deals were negotiated in conjunction with Colliers International.

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Famous Seamus flying under the radar on mission to cause boilover in Manikato Stakes

Sectionals “terrific”: Mayfield-Smith and Famous Seamus. Photo: Paul HarrisA bemused Noel Mayfield-Smith has joined the chorus questioning the discrepancy between favourite Terravista and the rest of the Manikato Stakes field, claiming there’s “not much more” his own charge Famous Seamus can do.
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A day after Buffering’s trainer Robert Heathcote pondered why his four-time group 1 winner was being shopped at such value, Mayfield-Smith could not fathom the $17 being offered about his major winner with Ladbrokes.

Tim Clark took Famous Seamus for a spin around Moonee Valley on Tuesday morning as the Hawkesbury-trained star looks to avenge a first-up defeat to Terravista in The Shorts at Randwick.

Quizzed whether he was surprised at Famous Seamus’ Manikato Stakes standing with bookies, Mayfield-Smith said: “I am, but it is just how it is.

“I don’t know whether I’m biased or not, but, for mine, in The Shorts, if you dissected and watched the race carefully … from his gate, he had to go back and was probably three or four lengths worse off.

“When you’re giving horses of that calibre – Terravista and co – that sort of start over 1100-metres you’re really facing an uphill battle trying to run them down.

“His sectionals were terrific and then he came out and won the Premiere Stakes in a race I thought he would be really vulnerable in.

“I don’t know what more he can do. Maybe it’s the fact he doesn’t go well on wet or shifting ground which has knocked his strike rate around a bit, but he’s still won more than $900,000 in prizemoney.”

Terravista was $3.40 favourite with Ladbrokes on Tuesday night, with Mick Price’s Lankan Rupee ($3.90) expected to challenge for favouritism later in the week. Buffering was third pick at $6 for the $1 million group 1 on Friday night.

Hawkes Racing’s Chautauqua was saved from the race for the Flemington carnival.

Famous Seamus had his first look around Moonee Valley in an early-morning hit-out at the Breakfast With The Best on Tuesday. The six-year-old was able to fly under the radar amid the drama enveloping the Cox Plate field, but his trainer remains buoyed about the prospects of a Manikato Stakes boilover given Melbourne’s fine forecast.

“They’re all blowing up down here about the firm tracks, but it suits him down to the ground,” Mayfield-Smith said.

“He worked very nicely and handled Moonee Valley pretty well. He worked to the line strongly and I probably would have liked him to work a little bit stronger early, but his work was very good. In fact, it was very good.”

Despite ambushing his rivals to win his first group 1 in the BTC Cup in May, a Manikato Stakes success would be the jewel in the crown for Mayfield-Smith and long-time client Jim Simpson.

Simpson had a trainer’s licence and raced frequently on the picnic circuit, but is enjoying the deeds of Famous Seamus.

The feedback from Moonee Valley was not so glowing from Tommy Berry, who partnered Gary Moore’s Not Listenin’tome in a moderate gallop. Berry told connections the addition of blinkers would be needed to sharpen the gelding after he drew barrier one in the 1200-metre scamper.

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Mitchell Johnson not in Wasim Akram’s class yet, says Waqar Younis

Mitchell Johnson may have become Australia’s human wrecking ball, but Pakistan coach Waqar Younis says the left-arm pace ace is not in the league of former fast bowling great Wasim Akram.
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For Waqar, who formed half of one of world cricket’s most deadly pace duos in the 1990s, Akram remains the benchmark for all left-arm quicks.

“I wouldn’t compare anyone to Wasim Akram, that’s for sure, because he’s a legend and has done wonders for Pakistan over the last decade or so,” Waqar said of his former teammate, who is ninth on the all-time wickets list with 414.

“He’s got a long way to go if he wants to compete with Wasim Akram, but he’s definitley a threat and a very fine bowler.”

Waqar’s comments come after a stellar run for Johnson during which he has re-established himself as one of the most lethal fast bowlers in international cricket.

Johnson, on 264, needs 28 wickets to pass Craig McDermott and move into Australia’s top five wicket-takers’ list, and could do so as early as this summer if he continues his red-hot run.

Johnson, with 59, sits second for most Test wickets during the past 12 months, bettered only by Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath who has played two more games.

And none of the world’s leading bowlers during that period has come close to matching Johnson’s average of 16 and strike rate of a wicket every 32 balls.

Johnson will find the pitches in the United Arab Emirates less helpful than the tracks back home and in South Africa but Pakistan still rate him highly.

“The last few seasons he has definitely changed his mode. He’s become a lot better bowler, he’s attacking,” Waqar said.

“We know they’ll use him in short spells and look for wickets from him. He’s a fine bowler. He is a threat, he’s world class.”

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Greg Inglis wants to keep the No.1 Kangaroos jumper

Number one: Greg Inglis is keen to take advantage of Billy Slater’s absence from the Kangaroos side. Number one: Greg Inglis is keen to take advantage of Billy Slater’s absence from the Kangaroos side.
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Number one: Greg Inglis is keen to take advantage of Billy Slater’s absence from the Kangaroos side.

Number one: Greg Inglis is keen to take advantage of Billy Slater’s absence from the Kangaroos side.

After waiting nine years to become Australia’s first choice fullback, Greg Inglis has every intention of making the No.1 jersey his own.

Inglis has craved for so long to replicate his club position by playing at the back at representative level, however Billy Slater’s constant presence has left Inglis confined to a centre spot.

Now, with Slater injured, Inglis plans on ensuring the move to fullback is permanent.

“It’s something that I’ve been striving for but it’s a bit hard when you’ve got someone like Billy Slater in the No.1 jersey,” Inglis said. “I’ll try and take my opportunity and really embrace it and hopefully hold on to it. At the end of the day I’m just happy to be in the side no matter what number the jersey is.”

Inglis has played just two of his 29 Test matches at fullback, both at last year’s World Cup, in Slater’s absence. At 31, Slater may have played his last Test match should Inglis thrive as the Melbourne fullback watches following a shoulder operation.

“The best thing about me is that I’ve got age on my side,” Inglis said. “Billy is in his 30s and I’m only 27. He has a few more years left. At the end of the day, you’ve got to go back to club [level] and perform to get your spot.

“It’ll sort itself out in the long run. At this point of time Billy would be the No.1 if he didn’t pull out through injury.”

Despite being years away from being grouped in the veteran category, an influx of youth in the Kangaroo line-up has Inglis feeling his age. The young Australian squad – led by Inglis’ South Sydney teammates Dylan Walker and Alex Johnston, plus Newcastle’s Sione Mata’utia – have added some spark to the Kangaroos team according to Inglis.

“I was in there doing medicals and the debutants walked in,” Inglis said. “I had to get out of there, I felt a little bit old. I had to go find the older group.

“They bring a lot of enthusiasm and excitement to the side, which is a plus. People are writing us off. At the end of the day we have a job to do in the tournament. It’s always exciting times to be in the Australian side. There’s been a lot of negativity about boys pulling out, but they pulled out for the right reasons. We have a job here to do throughout the tournament.”

Meanwhile, Inglis has not ruled out a cross-code switch when his South Sydney contract expires at the end of 2017.

But do not expect him to follow Jarryd Hayne into a potential National Football League career.

“I don’t know about NFL,” Inglis said. “Jarryd has gone over for the challenge. I don’t even watch it. I do take a bit of interest but not full-on.

“I always keep the doors open. Later in the career you look at different opportunities. I’m open to it. At this point of time I’m contracted to Souths.”

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