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Palestinian leaders hail new ‘partnership’

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal have hailed a new Palestinian “partnership” after talks to implement a landmark reconciliation deal.


“We want to assure our people and the Arab and Islamic world that we have turned a major new and real page in partnership on everything do to with the Palestinian nation,” Meshaal said.

“There are no more differences between us now,” added Abbas, who heads the Fatah movement. “We have agreed to work as partners with joint responsibility.”

The leaders spoke after two hours of face-to-face talks in Cairo on Thursday, the first since they inked the reconciliation deal in May.

The deal was hailed as the beginning of the end of years of bitter rivalry between the Palestinian movements, which boiled over in 2007, when Hamas took control of Gaza a year after winning a surprise electoral victory.

But implementation of the agreement, which called for a transitional government of independents to pave the way for elections within a year, has proved tricky.

The composition of the temporary government, and who will head it, has proven particularly contentious, with Abbas seeking to keep on his current prime minister Salam Fayyad, over objections from Hamas.

Successive rounds of talks between lower-level officials failed to move the process forward, but earlier this month Fatah negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed confirmed he had held secret discussions with his Hamas counterpart Mussa Abu Marzuq.

Ahmed said the talks had produced broad agreement on the principles for choosing a consensus government, though reports have suggested there is continuing disagreement about its composition.

No announcement has so far been made on candidates for the prime minister’s post, and Ahmed said the names were likely to be discussed at a later stage, possibly when the factions meet in December.

Other issues being discussed at the talks included a restructuring of the factions’ rival security forces, as well as changes to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which does not currently include Hamas.

Corruption inquiry hears of MP’s sex romp

Former Labor MP Ian Macdonald roughly kissed the escort, named Tiffanie, at a luxurious Sydney hotel room before telling her: “If you knew who I was, you’d be very surprised”, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was told on Friday.


The 38-year-old Asian woman is alleged to have kissed and fondled Mr Macdonald as his “reward” for setting up meetings between tycoon Ron Medich and several energy firm executives in mid-2009.

The second day of the inquiry into the affair heard evidence that Tiffanie met the then energy minister at a luxurious room at the Four Seasons hotel and was later paid $400.

“I think he kept his clothes on and he then kissed me very roughly,” Tiffanie said in a witness statement tendered to the inquiry.

“I felt very reluctant to be kissed by him because I didn’t like him and he said something like “if you knew who I was, you’d be very surprised”.

The alleged encounter followed a lavish $870 dinner in Leichhardt, attended by Mr Macdonald, Mr Medich, and two Country Energy executives whom Mr Medich had wanted to make a sales pitch to, with the group dining on wine, baby goat and calamari.

A month earlier, Mr Macdonald is said to have arranged a meeting between Mr Medich and Energy Australia managing director George Maltabarow at the same restaurant, the ICAC has been told.

Mr Macdonald is alleged to have picked out Tiffanie from a group of Asian women at an adjacent table during the July 15 dinner at Tuscany Ristorante and was then driven to the hotel by Mr Medich, ICAC was told.

Mr Medich’s associate, the former boxer Lucky Gattellari, is said to have driven Tiffanie to the hotel and later paid her $400.

“I understood I was there to have sex with this man and Lucky was going to pay after,” Tiffanie said in her statement.

She was questioned about the encounter after taking the witness stand at the corruption hearing on Friday.

Tiffanie said she did not end up having sex with Mr Macdonald.

“I believe after he kissed me we talked some more and I don’t know if he fell asleep but I remember telling him I wanted to go home and he said he also wanted to go home,” she added in her statement.

One of Tiffanie’s friends, a woman called Cindy, gave evidence that Tiffanie later described the man she met at the hotel as “very gross and sick”.

The exact translation of the statement from Mandarin to English was ambiguous, ICAC heard, and Cindy was not exactly sure what she meant.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, said in his opening address on Thursday that Mr Macdonald will explain in his evidence that the encounter was innocent and that he had gone to the hotel for a massage after suffering from a stiff neck earlier in the evening.

The former energy minister has not yet given evidence to ICAC’s public investigation, but is expected to next week.

Tiffanie appeared to cast doubt on the massage claim, saying there was no massage equipment in the hotel room, nor any towels, massage lotion and she was not a qualified masseuse.

ICAC is investigating whether Mr Macdonald engaged in corrupt conduct by meeting Tiffanie as a reward for arranging the meetings between the energy executives and Mr Medich.

Renowned Margaret River wineries evacuate

Some of Australia’s best-known winemakers have been forced to evacuate as a bushfire raging in the Margaret River area of Western Australia approaches.


The southwest tourist hot-spot, about 280km south of Perth, is one of Australia’s most renowned wine-producing regions.

So far at least five vineyards around Margaret River have been evacuated, including the internationally awarded Leeuwin Estate, Xanadu Wines, Cape Mentelle, Voyager Estate and Redgate Wines.

The bushfire began spreading fast across the area on Wednesday morning after a prescribed burn by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) went out of control in the nearby Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.

The blaze has already claimed at least 20 properties and burnt through more than 2000 hectares of bushland.

Voyager Estate cellar door manager Janine Carter, told AAP from her home on Thursday, said she and most of her staff lived in the region and were concerned about the approaching fire.

“We took the decision that we would evacuate early,” she said. “That was more in the interests of staff who were concerned about getting home and getting prepared. “It was a pre-emptive move.”

Ms Carter said both Voyager and neighbouring Leeuwin Estate had voluntarily evacuated shortly after 1pm (WST), while other wineries in the region were asked to leave by police later in the afternoon.

A spokeswoman at Leeuwin Estate’s head office in Perth said about 15-20 staff had been evacuated from the Margaret River vineyard. Ms Carter said the conditions on the ground were “very scary”.

“It’s not a good time to be in Margaret River – the winds are howling, it’s very warm and smoke is very evident,” she said. “Obviously we don’t know what’s going on.”

While the evacuation would affect short-term wine production, Ms Carter said it would be “negligible”, with little to no impact overall.

Reject violence against women, men urged

The men of Australia have been issued with a challenge – never to commit or excuse violence against women.


Politicians, sportsmen, businessmen, brothers, partners and fathers gathered under gloomy skies in Sydney’s east for a mass vow led by NSW’s top police officer on White Ribbon Day.

About 150 people braved wet weather on a walk from Randwick to Coogee, including federal minister Peter Garrett, NRL boss David Gallop and former sports stars Rhys Wesser, Mike Whitney and Gary Ella.

“This oath challenges all men to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women,” NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told the crowd, many of whom had white ribbons pinned to their chests.

“It challenges us to act more respectfully towards women and (to be aware) how our behaviour as men influences the behaviours of our sons.”

Mr Scipione said statistics on violence against women remained disturbing, with one in three homicides related to domestic disputes.

“Violence against women is an insidious crime that affects us all,” he said.

“These women are our mothers, our sisters, our wives, our girlfriends, our work colleagues and our friends.

“Men, we need to make sure we set the right example.”

More than 200 events were held across Australia on Friday to mark the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

White Ribbon Day began in Australia in 2003 and is the country’s only national male-led violence prevention campaign.

Mr Gallop told the crowd the NRL was committed to helping stamp out violence against women.

“From the Kangaroos wearing white ribbons last Sunday in their winning Four Nations final in the UK right down to our junior ranks and grassroots clubs, rugby league is committed to using our profile to raise awareness and educate people about the important cause,” he said.

Daniel Isidro, a year 11 student from Randwick Boys High School, was just as strident.

“Everyone has a mum, and no mum should be the target of violence,” he told AAP.

In a report released on Friday, White Ribbon urged men to be bold in reducing violence in their lives.

The report, Men Speak Up: A toolkit For Action In Men’s Daily Lives, calls on men to take steps to behave non-violently themselves, stop violence between other men and women, and take a stand in the wider community.

But the first step, the report advises, is for men to look closely at their own behaviour.

“Men must start by putting their own house in order,” states the report, authored by White Ribbon ambassador Dr Michael Flood.

“Take responsibility for violent behaviour and attitudes and strive to build non-violent and respectful relations with the women and girls… in your life.

“Look critically at your own social and sexual relations with women, rather than assuming that violence is a problem simply of other men.”

More than 200 events were held across Australia on Friday to mark the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Asylum seekers moved into community

Asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat are now being moved into the community on bridging visas.


Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says he has approved bridging visas for 27 single men, mostly Afghans and Sri Lankans, who have been in detention for long periods.

The government has begun issuing the bridging visas for eligible boat people to relieve pressure on its detention centre network after the failure of Labor’s Malaysian people-swap deal.

The High Court ruled the deal unlawful in August and the government’s attempts to resurrect it through legislative changes have so far failed.

“The Malaysia arrangement presented a genuinely innovative regional and humanitarian response to the people-smuggling problem,” Mr Bowen said in a statement on Friday.

“But the High Court’s decision and (Opposition Leader) Tony Abbott putting his political interests ahead of the national interest prevent the government from pursuing this option.”

The 27 men have gone through identity, security and behaviour checks and will live in the community while their asylum claims are completed.

Asylum seekers on bridging visas will have the right to work and access health services.

Some will also be eligible for support services, to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

They will have reporting conditions, and breaches could result in visa cancellations and a return to detention.

Mr Bowen said his department was identifying and processing more suitable people for release.

“We would expect to see at least 100 IMAs (irregular maritime arrivals) eventually being released every month,” he said.

Next year the government would begin processing boat arrivals the same way it processed asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by plane, Mr Bowen said.

“With the legislative impasse and the resulting move toward greater community placement, there is no longer any benefit to parallel processing arrangements for offshore entry persons,” he said.

“It is only prudent to introduce a single, consistent and efficient process that will continue to afford all people using the system access to judicial review.”

Mr Bowen said the government was forced to process asylum seekers onshore because of the opposition’s reckless approach in opposing offshore processing laws.

“An initial group of 27 people has been approved for bridging visas and they’ve been released from detention today,” Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney on Friday.

“This is the first batch of bridging visas, we estimate that at least 100 bridging visas will be issued this month.”

The group, released from detention centres all over the country, will be accommodated with family or friends.

Although they will have the right to work, they will have no access to Centrelink benefits.

Mr Bowen said the government might consider putting the Migration Act amendments to a lower house vote now it has an increased majority because of the defection of Liberal MP Peter Slipper to become Speaker.

However, the easiest way to have the law pass was for Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to supported offshore processing, he said.

“Until Mr Abbott acknowledges that his obstructionism, his negativity, his addiction to saying no means that we can’t have offshore processing.”

There are about 3800 asylum seekers in detention centres and 1300 living in the community.

Press left me feeling under siege: Rowling

Author JK Rowling has told a UK media inquiry how she felt “under siege” from intrusive journalists, who staked out her house and even went so far as to slip a note into her five-year-old daughter’s school bag.


The creator of boy wizard Harry Potter said media interest began shortly after the publication of her first novel in 1997 and soon escalated, with photographers and reporters frequently stationed outside her home.

“It feels threatening to have people watching you,” she said.

Once, her daughter came home from primary school and Rowling found a letter from a journalist in the child’s backpack.

“I felt such a sense of invasion,” Rowling said. “It’s very difficult to say how angry I felt that my five-year-old daughter’s school was no longer a place of complete security from journalists.”

By the time her younger children were born in 2003 and 2005, Rowling said, the scrutiny was “like being under siege and like being a hostage”.

Rowling was the latest in a string of prominent people to tell the inquiry about the distressing effect on their lives of intense press interest.

Earlier on Thursday, actress Sienna Miller said she was left paranoid and scared by years of relentless tabloid pursuit that ranged from paparazzi outside her house to the hacking of her mobile phone.

Miller said the surveillance and a stream of personal stories about her in the tabloids led her to accuse friends and family of leaking information to the media. In fact, her mobile phone voicemails had been hacked by Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid.

Miller, 29, became a tabloid staple when she dated fellow actor Jude Law. She said the constant scrutiny left her feeling “very violated and very paranoid and anxious, constantly”.

“I felt like I was living in some sort of video game,” she said.

She called the paparazzi focus terrifying.

“For a number of years I was relentlessly pursued by 10 to 15 men, almost daily,” she said. “Spat at, verbally abused.

“I would often find myself, at the age of 21, at midnight, running down a dark street on my own with 10 men chasing me. And the fact they had cameras in their hands made that legal.”


Miller, the star of Layer Cake and Alfie, was one of the first celebrities to take the News of the World to court over illegal eavesdropping. In May, the newspaper agreed to pay her STG100,000 ($A160,000) to settle claims her phone had been hacked.

The newspaper’s parent company now faces dozens of lawsuits from alleged hacking victims.

Miller, who looked confident as she gave evidence at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, said it was a difficult decision to challenge Murdoch’s media empire.

“I was very nervous about taking on an empire that was richer and far more powerful than I will ever be,” she said. “It was very daunting.”

Miller took the stand after another witness was allowed to give evidence in private. The courtroom was cleared of the press as the witness, identified only as HJK, testified about suffering intrusions while in a relationship with a well-known figure, whose identity was also kept secret.

Also testifying on Thursday was former Formula One boss Max Mosley, who has campaigned for a privacy law since his interest in sadomasochistic sex was exposed in the News of the World.

Mosley successfully sued the News of the World over a 2008 story headlined “Formula One boss has sick Nazi orgy with five hookers”. Mosley has acknowledged the orgy, but argued that the story – obtained with a hidden camera – was an “outrageous” invasion of privacy. He said the Nazi allegation was damaging and “completely untrue”.

Mosley said he has had stories about the incident removed from 193 websites around the world, and is currently taking legal action “in 22 or 23 different countries”, including proceedings against search engine Google in France and Germany.

“The fundamental thing is that Google could stop this appearing but they don’t or won’t as a matter of principle,” he said.

“You work all your life to try and achieve something or do something useful,” Mosley added. “And suddenly something like this happens and that’s what you’re remembered for.”

High-profile witnesses still to come include CNN celebrity interviewer Piers Morgan, who has denied using phone hacking while he was editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper.

The hearings have heard allegations of media malpractice and intrusion that extend far beyond the News of the World.

Witnesses have included celebrities like actor Hugh Grant and ordinary people pursued in times of grief, including the parents of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, whose voicemails were accessed by the News of the World after she disappeared in 2002.

NZ election will be tight: Key

New Zealand’s National party is holding on strong in the latest polls, and polls show that New Zealand First has the numbers to make a political comeback.


But Prime Minister John Key says apathy is the biggest threat to a second term of stable government.

“I don’t think people realise just how tight it is, there are four other parties that could get together and beat us.”

That was the message Mr Key took to Auckland on Friday, home to a third of the country’s voters, riding on a bus through the city’s suburbs.

Labour leader Phil Goff was also on a bus, travelling from Rotorua to Auckland and stopping along the way to tell voters Saturday is their last chance to stop asset sales and he has policies to help them cope with the crippling cost of living.

Campaign spokesman Grant Robertson says Labour kept up the pressure through the final day of the campaign.

“Selling everything that’s not bolted down and unleashing an austerity package that will needlessly hurt low and middle income earners isn’t the right way to do it,” he said.

The last two polls of the campaign, released on Friday, showed National maintaining its strong lead over Labour – a gap of more than 20 points that Mr Goff hasn’t managed to narrow during the last four weeks.

They also gave fresh hope to New Zealand First after a strong campaign by leader Winston Peters.

The New Zealand Herald DigiPoll shows it at 5.2 per cent and the Roy Morgan poll at 6.5 per cent – both above the five per cent threshold it has to reach to return to parliament.

The Greens, also doing well at around 12 per cent, wrapped up their campaign on Thursday and ACT leader Don Brash closed his on Friday.

Dr Brash’s message was similar to Mr Key’s – a National Party majority is far from a sure thing.

For ACT to be the helpful partner, John Banks has to win Epsom and the latest electorate polls show he’s trailing National’s Paul Goldsmith.

National supporters are supposed to vote tactically and make sure Mr Banks gets in, and when they get to the ballot boxes that’s what they are likely to do.

Aussies, Irish share World Cup golf lead

Irish dynamos Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell carded a second-round four-under 68 at the World Cup to share first place with pacesetters Australia on Friday.


World No.2 McIlroy and 2010 US Open champion McDowell shot six birdies and two bogeys during the challenging foursomes alternate shot format on the muggy southern Chinese island of Hainan.

“We struggled to find our rhythm a little bit on the front nine. Rory putted really well today, which kept things together,” said McDowell.

“I’ve struggled a little bit on the greens the last couple of days. But I was happy the way I swung the club in general and Rory is playing lovely.”

Current US Open champion McIlroy added: “I think both of us are very pleased about the score that we ended up shooting today.

“Anything in the 60s in the foursomes format is a very reasonable score out there.”

Determined Australians Brendan Jones and Richard Green crafted an eagle and three birdies in their 70, but were undone with two bogeys in the humid, wet and windy conditions.

They and the Irish pairing top the leaderboard on 13-under-par 131 after two days of the $US7.5 million tournament.

“We spoke about our strategy last night and we decided that anything under par in this form is going to do alright. So a 70 today achieved that goal, I guess,” said Green.

“It’s a bit of a shame to have finished with a bogey. But it’s a very difficult finish to this golf course and a very demanding 18th hole. Hopefully, we can work that out for the weekend and not do that on Sunday.”

Scottish stalwarts Martin Laird and Stephen Gallacher fired four birdies in their 69 to secure third place on 12-under overall.

New Zealand pairing Michael Hendry and Gareth Paddison zipped up the leaderboard to tie for fourth on 10-under with Spain and the USA after shooting eight birdies during their impressive 68.

Hosts China were the second round’s other big movers, to the acclaim of the home crowd, with Liang Wenchong and Zhang Xinjun carding six birdies and two eagles in their 68 to tie 10th.

England’s Ian Poulter and Justin Rose are tied for seventh with Mexico and the Netherlands.

The 28 national teams return to the fourballs format for the third round on Saturday on the Blackstone course at the Mission Hills golf resort.

About 120,000 tickets have been sold for the tournament and, in Sunday’s final round, there will be a return to the tricky foursomes alternate shot game.

The World Cup is being staged biennially following golf’s inclusion in the Olympics from 2016.

Ex-Olympus head meets Japan investigators

The ousted chief of scandal-hit Olympus, Michael Woodford, has met Japanese investigators over a cover-up of huge investment losses dating back to the 1990s, pledging the truth will out.


The Briton is in Japan for the first time since Olympus stripped him of his title on October 14, only six months after appointing him its first ever non-Japanese president and two weeks after he was also named chief executive.

Woodford, who blew the whistle on the scandal at the camera and medical equipment maker, held talks with prosecutors in Tokyo, where a special white collar crime unit is examining the matter.

“I think justice will be done,” he said in a speech at a media event after meeting with investigators on Thursday. “They gave assurance to me that they will follow the money.”

“The board is all contaminated. Absolutely. They made all these decisions. All of them have to go,” he said. “It’s financial misreporting on grand scale. It’s false accounting on grand scale.”

Woodford also met with police and government regulators, who assured him authorities would conduct thorough investigations into Olympus’ overpayments in a series of acquisition deals that have also led to probes by British and US authorities.

In a statement released on Thursday, Olympus company president Shuichi Takayama said that the management team was prepared to step down once the Japanese firm is on the road to recovery.

“Once the group is on the road to recovery, the current management team are willing to resign our positions at any time to take responsibility for the crisis,” Takayama said in a statement.

Olympus had said earlier that Woodford was ousted because of cultural differences – despite his 30-year career with the group.

But Woodford has contended that he was sacked because he questioned the acquisitions and enormous fees paid to little-known consultants based in the Cayman Islands, and because of his calls on the then chairman to resign.

Olympus originally defended its past deals, only to eventually admit that it funnelled funds through the corporate purchases to cover up losses it made on bad investments during the 1990s.

Local media have reported that the losses may total more than Y100 billion ($A1.3 billion). But the company has yet to disclose details, citing a probe by an outside panel commissioned by its board.

Woodford – who major shareholders and retired employees have called to be reinstated – plans to attend the company board meeting on Friday to push for a deeper investigation into the mismanagement.

“How was it hidden for 20 years? It is a question hopefully investigators will have answers to,” he said.

“I think Olympus is a good business,” he said, adding that he would be willing to return to the firm.

Britain’s Serious Fraud Office has also launched an investigation, along with those under way by Japanese and other international agencies amid media speculation that Yakuza crime syndicates may be involved.

After his meetings in Japan, Woodford will travel to the United States for talks with investigators there.

Olympus’ actions have prompted a massive sell-off of its shares, which had lost 80 per cent of their value at one point after Woodford was demoted.

But the shares have rebounded in recent trade, with Woodford saying he did not wish the company to be delisted and called for a new management team to be put in place.

Olympus shares shot up 17.3 per cent, or 150 yen, on Thursday to close at 1,019 yen – roughly 41 per cent of their value before Woodford was removed.

The stock has been placed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s watch list for possible delisting.

The company will be removed from the index if it fails to report its earnings by December 14 – a move that would effectively wipe out the value of its shares and could trigger investor lawsuits.

Slipper defection is Abbott’s fault: government

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has no one to blame but himself for the circumstances that led to the defection of Liberal MP Peter Slipper to the crossbenches, the federal government says.


Government Leader of the House Anthony Albanese said even losing a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives was pretty careless but Mr Abbott had just lost an MP.

Mr Albanese zeroed in on the opposition’s hardball approach to the pairing of MPs in the current parliament, under which Mr Abbott has declined to countenance absence of any Labor MP from any vote in the finely balanced parliament, other than in exceptional circumstances.

Under the Australian constitution, the Speaker doesn’t get a vote, although the convention has been for the Speaker to be paired with an opposition MP to ensure fairness.

The opposition stance left the government a vote down when Labor’s Harry Jenkins was the Speaker.

But with Mr Jenkins’s return to the back bench and Mr Slipper’s ascension to the speakership, the government has effectively picked up two votes.

Mr Albanese said the government this year had sought an arrangement with the opposition whereby whoever was in the chair wouldn’t change the vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

“Tony Abbott walked away from it,” Mr Albanese told reporters.

“It is Tony Abbott’s responsibility completely that he finds himself in this position.”

Pairing is a longstanding practice whereby one side of politics agrees to absent one of its MPs from a vote in parliament when an MP from the other side is also absent.

Mr Abbott has already been blamed for failing to rein in the Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP), which was considering preselecting former Howard government minister Mal Brough in place of Mr Slipper, leaving the longtime Liberal MP with nothing to lose.

Mr Albanese also rejected suggestions that Mr Jenkins had been offered an inducement such as a diplomatic posting to stand aside.

“Harry Jenkins is a person of integrity. He has chosen the path that he’s now on to participate as the Labor member for Scullin (in Melbourne),” he said.

“There is no deal with Harry Jenkins. It is what it is.”

Mr Albanese said it came as no surprise that Mr Jenkins would want to participate as a Labor MP in a Labor government.

“It is difficult being Speaker in this parliament, in terms of not being able to participate in party rooms. Harry has been a longterm chair of the left caucus,” he said.