Rush of sorries for legal abuse

Fourteen Aboriginal women who were bashed and raped in a NSW-funded children’s home have received their third apology in two weeks for the legal anguish inflicted on them when they asked for help.

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Evangelos Manollaras, the solicitor asked by the Crown Solicitors Office (CSO) to manage the civil claim brought by former Bethcar residents, added his “sorry” to that of his boss, Crown Solicitor Ian Knight and secretary of the social services department, Michael Coutts-Trotter.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard the Department of Community Services (DoCS) and police took no action in the 1970s and `80s when children at the Brewarrina foster home complained of abuse.

The Bethcar survivors sought compensation and an apology from the state in 2008 and were put though a legal mill which breached rules of fairness and added to the women’s suffering.

The civil case was drawn out by the state for more than five years and only settled earlier this year.

It cost NSW $3.7 million.

On Friday, Mr Manollaras was recalled to the witness stand to explain how the state withheld evidence from a district court in February 2012 when it tried to get the case struck out.

The state used affidavits sworn by private investigator Peter Maxwell, which only told half the story about witnesses – failing to mention some relevant ones had been found.

Mr Manollaras, now retired, said on Friday there was no intention on his part to deceive the court.

He said he now realised he had a “duty of candour” to present the court the whole position and not just present an affidavit listing unavailable witnesses.

Mr Manollaras then offered an apology for not taking a more conciliatory approach with the litigation which might have resolved it “a lot earlier and they (the women) would have been spared some of the anguish they suffered having to re-tell their experiences”.

On Thursday, Crown Solicitor Mr Knight apologised to the plaintiffs for numerous breaches of the model litigant policy including asking them to prove the abuse the state already knew had happened.

Last week Mr Coutts-Trotter said he was ashamed at what the plaintiffs had been put through.

The commission will meet again in November when it will hear again from senior counsel Michael Cashion, who argued the prejudice case for the state.

Abbott keen to help Victorian premier win

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Victorian Premier Denis Napthine have hugged and made up after “robust” discussions about the fuel excise rise.

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Mr Abbott grinned and wrapped his arms around Dr Napthine on Friday, pledging to support his “friend” during the state election campaign.

Dr Napthine has made it clear he opposes the federal government’s decision to bypass the Senate to increase the fuel excise, but says he has a positive relationship with Mr Abbott.

The prime minister says he will be disappointed if the coalition does not win on November 29.

“I want to do everything I can to help my friend, Denis Napthine, but just as he’s got to act in the best interests of Victoria, I’ve got to act in the best interests of the Commonwealth,” Mr Abbott told reporters.

The ACTU and CFMEU have accused the state and federal governments of announcing a joint police taskforce on union corruption as a “red herring” and “political stunt” to distract from negative publicity surrounding the fuel excise increase.

But Mr Abbott said the rise was not a surprise to anyone, given it was announced in the May budget.

Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said he welcomed the prime minister’s presence on the campaign trail.

“He can spend as much time as he likes here because I think every time he visits Victoria he just reminds families that there’s a petrol tax, the GP tax, there’s all sorts of cuts to hospitals and schools and nobody, no one voted for that,” he said.

Mr Abbott said the East West Link road project was the single biggest issue in the Victorian election.

He reiterated that the $3 billion federal commitment could not used on other projects if Mr Andrews scrapped the project.

“It’s just a bit sad that in order to try to hold on to seats where Labor is under Green threat, that the opposition leader has completely junked what was previously the settled principle that governments abide by signed contracts,” Mr Abbott said.

Marking ANZAC’s Albany birth

The beginning of the ANZAC legend did not start on the shores of Gallipoli, but on the shores of Western Australia.

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November 1st marks 100 years since the first convoy of troops from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps embarked for World War One.

Most of them left from Albany on the south coast of Western Australia.

For many of those 17 thousand troops it was their last glimpse of their homeland.

To commemorate their journey, the city of Albany is hosting a series of events including the recreation of the ship convoy that took the sons of two young nations to war.

When the troops from around Australia and New Zealand gathered in the small town of Albany on WA’s south coast in late 1914 – very few people knew about it.

There was a media blackout and it wasn’t reported for several weeks until after they’d left.

But it’s definitely not a secret now and tens of thousands of people have once more flocked to Albany.

This time to remember Australia and New Zealand going to war and the sacrifice made by the young soldiers.

Onboard one of the 26 troop ships that sailed from King George Sound off Albany was 26-year-old grocer’s assistant Edgar Foster from Victoria.

His granddaughter Hamsa Warrener also from Victoria, now lives in Albany.

 “So my mum came down to visit a couple of years after we’d moved down and she said: ‘do you realise your grandfather left to go to Gallipoli from Albany?’ And I didn’t realise so we took a visit up to the Princess Royal Forts where all the history was kept and documented there and found the list of the ship that he was on, so it was pretty interesting.”

Hamsa Warrener says her grandfather took notes, which her grandmother put into a diary after the war, but he was matter of fact in his recordings.

“He’s very understated, but one of the things that they talk about, and I’ve read it in a few of the other men’s diaries, is that they’re quite excited.They’re young men going off on an adventure. They don’t actually realise the horror of what they’re going to, but later on in his diary he talks about the awful sights that he’s seen.”

Edgar Foster survived the war, including serving in Gallipoli, but tragically his only son Max would die in World War Two.

Hamsa Warrener will spend Saturday on one of the hills overlooking King George Sound when seven ships from the Australian, New Zealand and Japanese navies take part in a symbolic sea journey to remember the original convoy.

Also looking for a vantage spot will be 85 year old Bill Rae whose father served in Gallipoli.

“My father went to Gallipoli and I’ve got two uncles that went to Gallipoli and one of them won the distinguished flying cross. Well, we came down last Anzac day as well. I marched and met up with some of the different chaps down here and it’s just for well, more of less, for my father and my uncles.”

As well as the convoy, Albany will hold a commemorative service at Peace Park, which is where many of the troops camped out one hundred years ago before they left for the war.

The $10.6-million National Anzac Centre will also be officially opened.

It sits on Mount Clarence and overlooks King George Sound, but it differs slightly to other historical centres because it gives visitors the opportunity to walk in the shoes of one of 30 Australian and New Zealand soldiers, as well as a Turkish and German soldier.

The centre’s director of content James Dexter says it will be a moving experience as people experience the journey the soldiers took during the war and when they returned.

“I do believe that this will be a profoundly moving experience. It’s not a large experience, it’s only 400 square metres, but packed into it is that whole story. Through these audio pens you can actually hear what they said from their diaries and their letters, and from these character cards you can actually become them. You go through all the various stages and after war, but I think it will be very hard to leave this centre unmoved.”

Green bank makes money, cuts emissions

It may be able to cut carbon emissions for $2.

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40 a tonne, but the Clean Energy Finance Corporation still faces the government axe.

The CEFC, set up by Labor to leverage investment in a wide range of clean energy projects, has built a $931 million portfolio in its first full year of operation.

Chairwoman Jillian Broadbent said in the corporation’s annual report it had leveraged $2.20 for every $1 to produce projects valued at over $3.2 billion.

Once the projects are running they will abate 4.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, achieving an effective “carbon price” of $2.40 a tonne.

However, the CEFC has been asked by Treasury to prepare its accounts for the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook due in December on the basis that it will stop making investments on December 31 and cease operating on June 30, 2015.

The one thing standing in the way of this is the Senate, with the Palmer United Party, Greens and Labor opposed to the corporation’s abolition.

The annual report is expected to give further ammunition to their argument to keep it running for the long-term.

The CEFC reported its portfolio would return an average seven per cent, or 3.5 per cent above the government rate.

Across its portfolio are wind, solar and bioenergy projects, innovative energy efficiency programs and low emissions technology in manufacturing, building and local government.

Despite uncertainty about its future, the CEFC is in talks with more than 30 project backers seeking $1.2 billion in finance for total project costs of over $3 billion.

It is understood there are discussions within the government on how the CEFC could co-operate with the government’s $2.55 billion emissions reduction fund passed by the Senate on Thursday.

PM silent on poker reform progress

Ms Gillard met on Sunday with the Tasmanian politician to talk about his proposed poker machine gambling reforms but has so far declined to give any details.

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“Those discussions are ongoing and it’s not going to be my intention to comment on them in the media,” she told reporters in Hobart on Monday.

“But we had a constructive discussion yesterday.”

Asked about Senator Nick Xenophon’s comment that the reforms are doomed to failure because the federal government no longer relies on Mr Wilkie’s lower house vote to hold power, Ms Gillard said he wasn’t involved in her talks with Mr Wilkie.

“Senator Xenophon was not in those discussions yesterday so the people who best know how those discussions are going were in those talks … and me and Mr Wilkie describe them as constructive because they were.”

Mr Wilkie was due on Monday to fly to Adelaide to meet Senator Xenophon, who has been a strong supporter of the lower house MP’s poker machine reforms.

Mr Wilkie said on Sunday it was inconceivable Gillard would renege on the deal to impose mandatory pre-commitment for high loss poker machines and a $1 limit on other machines.

The reforms were part of the deal Mr Wilkie struck in return for his support for a Labor minority government after the 2010 election.

But the Gillard government is less reliant on Mr Wilkie’s support since coalition MP Peter Slipper defected to become Speaker.

Senator Xenophon, who backs a $1 limit on all bets, said on Sunday the government was about to commit an act of “political bastardry” and sink the reforms by making them too contentious for many MPs to vote for.

Greens Senator Richard Di Natale on Monday agreed there was a risk the proposed reforms may not go ahead.

“I think that there’s a real risk that the policy proposal put forward by Andrew Wilkie won’t get up,” he told ABC Radio.

Anthony Ball from Clubs Australia said the $1 maximum bet, just like mandatory pre-commitment, probably won’t help problem gamblers, but will be “hugely expensive” to implement.

“It would be a sad day that we pursued policy simply because it’s easier to get through parliament and that’s what Nick Xenophon and others are talking about,” Mr Ball told ABC Radio.

Key Independent MP Tony Windsor told ABC Radio: “I think the $1 bet suggestion is a lot easier to understand.

“I think people have difficulty understanding what mandatory pre-commitment meant in the first place.

“But obviously putting a limit on the bet is more understandable.”

Mr Wilkie said he expected to give a detailed public update on the progress later this week.

Inflation, jobs point to possible rate cut

Borrowers could receive more interest rate relief early this year if inflation remains subdued and the economy struggles to soak up a growing labour market.

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Two private sector surveys released on Monday point to another rate cut by Australia’s central bank after its board resumes deliberations on monetary policy in February.

One survey showed inflation, as measured by the TD Securities-Melbourne Institute’s gauge, rose by 0.5 per cent in December and by 2.4 per cent over the year.

Seasonal price rises for holiday and travel accommodation, increases in alcohol and tobacco, and new homes and flats purchased by owner occupiers were more than offset by the falls in fruit and vegetables, clothing and footwear, and meat and seafood.

However, the yearly rate was within the RBA’s two to three per cent target for inflation.

TD Securities Head of Asia-Pacific Research Annette Beacher said the survey showed price pressures were contained, auguring well for the next official consumer price index (CPI) report for the December 2011 quarter due January 25.

TD Securities is tipping the weakest quarterly CPI growth outcome since the March quarter of 2009, at a rise of 0.2 per cent.

That would be good news for the economy and could help pave the way for a 25 basis point cut in the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cash rate to four per cent on February 7.

“However, should the board choose to pause and assess the outlook at the time, we will just shift our expectations into the March meeting, for an eventual mid-year cash rate target of 3.5 per cent,” Ms Beacher said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Monday Australia’s economy had sound fundamentals.

“We have growth, we have low unemployment, we have low debt and we have inflation within the RBA’s target zone,” she said.

“That means the fundamentals in our economy are strong and … different to those in Europe.”

Europe is on the back foot after credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the sovereign debt ratings of nine of the 17 countries in the eurozone. France and Austria lost their triple-A ratings.

However, the outlook for Australian employment may not be so rosy.

An ANZ survey for December, measuring job advertisements in newspapers and online, suggests the official jobless rate would rise this year.

Total job ads were down 2.6 per cent lower from December 2010 – the first negative yearly growth rate since February 2010, the survey posted on Monday found.

“Indeed, the current trend rate of employment growth is unlikely to be fast enough to absorb the forecast growth in the labour force in the short term,” ANZ head of Australian economics Katie Dean said.

ANZ is forecasting the unemployment rate to rise from 5.3 per cent to 5.5 per cent by mid-2012.

There was some good news in the latest home loan approvals figures, which rose for the eight consecutive month.

However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures also found approvals were 12 per cent lower than the average for the previous 10 years.

Housing Industry Association chief economist Harley Dale said interest rate cuts, short-term government stimulus and longer term policy reform was needed to sustain a recovery in the housing sector.

The RBA cut the cash rate in November and December from 4.75 per cent to 4.25 per cent on concerns about a sluggish local economy.

Irish meet bailout goals, trim deficit

Ireland has passed all austerity goals required to keep international loans flowing, having cut its 2011 deficit back below 10 per cent of the value of the economy, the government and its international creditors say.

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Senior officials from the so-called “troika” – the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank – told a Dublin news conference on Thursday that Ireland was ahead of its deficit-cutting targets required under terms of its November 2010 bailout.

However, the international donors warned that Ireland could expect only tepid growth of 0.5 per cent in 2012, half their previous forecast, which will make it even harder to achieve the next end-of-year deficit target of 8.6 per cent of GDP.

“In this more challenging environment, maintaining Ireland’s track record of strong program implementation remains key to sustaining recovery and achieving Ireland’s return to capital markets,” the troika said in their prepared statement.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Ireland had impressed the troika by its achievement of a 2011 deficit below the goal of 10.6 per cent of GDP. The 2010 deficit had surged to a eurozone-record 32 per cent, chiefly because of exceptional costs of rescuing six banks.

Noonan said the treasury was already planning to return to the bond markets in the second half of 2012 by selling short-term bonds. Ireland exited those markets in September 2010 as its cost of borrowing soared above seven per cent.

He noted that Ireland’s existing medium-term bonds were currently offering yields of between six per cent and seven per cent, so if the Irish treasury went back into the market today it would be able to sell short-term paper at “substantially less than six per cent”.

Such a price would still be much higher than the EU-IMF loans, which command average interest rates of 3.3 per cent.

Thursday’s successful review, the fifth since January 2011, means Ireland will receive another 9.7 billion euros ($A12 billion) in loans from the total 67.5 billion euro credit line. The EU says Ireland already has received 38.2 billion euros of that total, leaving less than half to keep Ireland funded until the end of 2013.

Noonan said Ireland’s better-than-expected performance was achieved, in part, because its export-driven economy resumed growth in 2011 after three years of contraction.

The November 2010 agreement challenges Ireland to reduce its deficit to below three per cent of GDP, the normal eurozone limit, by 2015. The goal requires Irish GDP to keep growing – an uncertain prospect given Ireland’s reliance on growth in its two biggest export markets, the United States and United Kingdom.

Ireland reported a record trade surplus Wednesday on the back of strong export growth combined with continued weakness in imports, a sign that Irish consumers have been battered by three years of tax hikes and spending cuts.

Ireland, a country of 4.5 million people, runs the second-strongest trade surplus in the European Union behind export powerhouse Germany. Nearly 1000 foreign multinationals have made Ireland their EU base because of its 12.5 per cent rate of corporate tax, less than half the western European average.

The Irish have repeatedly rebuffed French and German pressure to raise their rate, and Irish newspapers reported on Thursday that the two EU giants intend soon to resume lobbying Ireland on the sore point.

Apple targets iPad education leap

Apple is taking aim at the textbook market.

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The California-based gadget-maker unveiled a free iBooks 2 application for the iPad on Thursday that brings interactive textbooks to the popular tablet computer.

“Education is deep in Apple’s DNA,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing.

“With iBooks 2 for iPad, students have a more dynamic, engaging and truly interactive way to read and learn.”

He said the iPad is “rapidly being adopted by schools across the US and around the world” and 1.5 million iPads are already being used in educational institutions.

At a press conference at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Schiller and other Apple executives showed off the interactive animations, diagrams, photos and videos available in the iBooks textbooks.

Apple said the electronic textbooks feature “fast, fluid navigation, easy highlighting and note-taking, searching and definitions, plus lesson reviews and study cards”.

“The iBooks 2 app will let students learn about the solar system or the physics of a skyscraper with amazing new interactive textbooks that come to life with just a tap or swipe of the finger,” it said.

Apple announced partnerships with publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Pearson to produce digital high school textbooks.

Most of the high school textbooks in Apple’s iBookstore will cost $US14.99 ($A14.41) or less, Apple said, far cheaper than the current prices for print textbooks.

Apple also unveiled a free tool called iBooks Author which allows Macintosh computer users to create their own iBooks textbooks and publish them to the iBookstore.

Amazon and others have been seeking to tap into the market for digital textbooks but Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said iBooks 2 and iBooks Author will “democratise the publication and distribution of content”.

“We’ll see an avalanche of new companies and new content for the education market — and many of the best innovations will come from these smaller companies, not the biggest publishers,” she said.

According to Forrester, electronic textbooks currently account for only 2.8 per cent of the $US8 billion ($A7.69 billion) US textbook market.

Apple on Thursday also announced a new iTunes U application for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch that helps teachers create courses and offers free educational content for students from dozens of universities, including Cambridge, Duke, Harvard, Oxford and Stanford.

“Never before have educators been able to offer their full courses in such an innovative way,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services, said in a statement.

“The all-new iTunes U app enables students anywhere to tap into entire courses from the world’s most prestigious universities,” Cue added.

Wilkie takes pulse of MPs over pokies

The Tasmanian MP has guaranteed support to Julia Gillard’s minority Labor government in exchange for anti-gambling laws.

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He has threatened to withdraw that support if mandatory pre-commitment technology for poker machines is not introduced in the first half of this year.

Ms Gillard and Mr Wilkie met in Hobart over the weekend in the wake of claims the government was looking at ditching its promise to him.

The speculation has arisen since the government gained an extra number on the floor of the lower house following the election of former Liberal MP Peter Slipper as Speaker and his predecessor Harry Jenkins going to the Labor backbench.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon, also an anti-gambling campaigner, predicted the government would use the vote buffer to commit an act of “political bastardry” and sink the reforms by making them too contentious for many MPs to vote for.

Mr Wilkie, who met with Senator Xenophon in Adelaide on Monday, said it was “historic, nation-changing reform” and he would hold the government to its promise.

“I intend to have this resolved and make a public statement later in the week,” he said.

Asked to confirm whether she stood by her promise, Ms Gillard told reporters in Hobart her talks with Mr Wilkie were continuing.

“Those discussions are ongoing and it’s not going to be my intention to comment on them in the media,” Ms Gillard told reporters in Hobart on Monday.

“But we had a constructive discussion yesterday.”

Mr Wilkie will meet with crossbencher Tony Crook in Perth on Tuesday.

He said Mr Crook’s position on the legislation was “quite relevant at this point in time”.

Senator Xenophon said after the meeting with Mr Wilkie his independent colleague had been “principled, ethical and consistent from day one”.

“I’ll continue to work with Andrew to do what I can to support him to bring about substantial reform of poker machines,” Senator Xenophon said.

Opposition families spokesman Kevin Andrews said it would become another broken promise, following Ms Gillard’s pledge in 2010 not to introduce a carbon tax.

“The Australian people must be scratching their heads about where she stands on this issue,” Mr Andrews said of the prime minister.

He said the coalition would conclude its examination of problem gambling by the end of February but at this stage it would not support mandatory pre-commitment or $1 bet limits.

The coalition’s policy would cover education and counselling and the broader issue of problem gambling, including the shift to online punting, Mr Andrews said.

Greens leader Bob Brown said the government would have an easier time convincing the public of $1 bet limits than of the merits of pre-commitment technology.

“The $1 bet option is much easier to promote … I think the prime minister should take it up and run with it,” Senator Brown said on Monday.

Anthony Ball from Clubs Australia said the $1 maximum bet, just like mandatory pre-commitment, probably won’t help problem gamblers, but will be “hugely expensive” to implement.

“It would be a sad day that we pursued policy simply because it’s easier to get through parliament and that’s what Nick Xenophon and others are talking about,” Mr Ball told ABC Radio.

Rural independent MP Tony Windsor said the $1 bet limit was much easier for the public to understand.

Mr Wilkie told reporters he had argued for $1 bets after the election 18 months ago but the government and coalition had rejected the policy.

Drug scandal rumours just that: Parker

Rumours that Brisbane will be the next NRL club engulfed in the Queensland sport cocaine scandal have been dismissed as just that by Broncos veteran Corey Parker.

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The back-rower said his club had been caught up in a “frenzy” after some bookmakers suspended betting on Brisbane’s NRL season opener against South Sydney next week.

It came after Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) announced more arrests could be made by the end of this week or early next week as part of their investigation into the state’s cocaine trafficking syndicate that has already claimed players in two codes.

Queensland Reds code hopper Karmichael Hunt and five Gold Coast Titans NRL players have become embroiled in the scandal.

And rumours have also linked four Broncos players.

The Broncos’ official line is that they are “not concerned” by the speculation after having no contact from Queensland police or crime authorities.

And it was a line Parker stuck to on Thursday.

“It is a frenzy,” he said.

“All you guys (media) are here tiptoeing around the same question.

“But all it is innuendo and rumours.

“I have got nothing else for you (on the topic).”

When asked whether he was shocked that Broncos players’ names had been caught up in the rumours, Parker said: “What names are they?

“You are talking about names that are floating around but you can’t give me one of them.

“It’s rumour and innuendo until those names are specified or they are tapped on the shoulder.

“There is nothing else for me to say.”

Parker said no one should read too much into coach Wayne Bennett’s address to players on the cocaine scandal before last weekend’s World Club Series UK trip that came to light on Thursday.

Bennett reportedly asked Brisbane players to tell him if they were involved in drugs after the cocaine scandal hit before they flew out to the UK.

“Wayne made a stance on the situation but it’s nothing different to what Wayne has said my whole career,” Parker said.

“It wasn’t an impromptu speech.

“It was just the way he goes about his business.”

Parker did not believe it would be a distraction ahead of their blockbuster opener against NRL premiers South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium on March 5.

“Round one is about to start, there were three great games over in the UK (World Club Series),” Parker said.

“I am not sure how much of that has been talked about.

“Unfortunately we are talking about other stuff.

“It’s disappointing that the code has gone through an incident like this but we will deal with it the best we can and move on.”

Second shark attack in two days

David Pickering, 26, had a lucky escape when he was mauled by a tiger shark off Coral Bay in northern Western Australia on Thursday afternoon.

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Mr Pickering, on a snorkelling tour with a couple and their two children about 100 metres from shore in a popular swimming spot called The Lagoon, suffered lacerations to his right forearm in the attack.

“I turned around and boom, there he was,” Mr Pickering told reporters from an ambulance stretcher.

“(The force of the impact) was enough to actually bring me forward and under because I scraped my knee on his belly.”

Mr Pickering said he fought the shark off with his other arm and it let go.

He then alerted everyone on his tour before he made his way back to shore and was flown to Royal Perth Hospital.

“I just kicked, kicked and held (my arm) out of the water),” he told the Seven Network.

The Fisheries Department said the beach remains closed following the attack only the day after a surfer was mauled by a shark off the NSW mid-north coast.

Glen Folkard, 44, was surfing at Redhead Beach near Newcastle on Wednesday afternoon when what was thought to be a bull shark dragged him under, slicing his leg open and taking a chunk out of his surfboard.

He suffered a deep laceration and on Thursday was reported to be in a stable condition in Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital.

The beach reopened on Thursday and swimmers returned to the water.

Mr Pickering insisted the attack had not put him off swimming either.

He told reporters he would be back in the water “as soon as this bad boy (arm) is healed up”.

Factbox: Tour Down Under cycling race

Here is the calendar and itinerary for the Tour Down Under, which starts on Tuesday in Adelaide, SA.

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Tuesday: Prospect to Clare, 149km. One for the sprinters.

Wednesday: Lobethal to Stirling, 148km. Four rather than three climbs this year on the Stirling loop. Potential time gaps here.

Thursday: Unley to Victor Harbor, 134.5km. Cross winds could have a big impact. Teams who have riders with overall ambitions will need to be watchful.

Friday: Norwood to Tanunda, 130km. An uphill start and then Menglers Hill just over 20km from the finish. Potential for a breakaway.

Saturday: McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill, 151.5km. The Queen Stage. For the first time, Willunga will feature a hilltop finish. This will have a massive impact on the overall standings and probably confirm this year’s Tour winner.

Sunday: Adelaide street race, 90km. Sprinter’s stage. Highly unlikely to influence the overall result.

THREE RIDERS TO WATCH

SIMON GERRANS (Aus, GreenEDGE) – The Victorian starred at the Australian championships this month, winning the men’s elite road race. A strong all-round rider and probably the best hope for the new Australian team.

EDVALD BOASSON HAGEN ( Nor, Sky Procycling) – The 24-year-old, nicknamed “Eddy Boss” is one of the hottest young talents in world cycling. Winner of two Tour de France stages last year and making his Tour Down Under debut.

ANDRE GREIPEL (Ger, Lotto-Belisol) – Overall Tour winner in 2008 and ’10. Greipel showed on Sunday night he is ready to again dominate the sprints when he and his team rode superbly at the Down Under Classic street race. The tougher course this year makes it unlikely he will win the overall title again.

Titans should play after court: coach

Gold Coast coach Neil Henry is hopeful the five players facing drug charges should be allowed to return to action following their court appearances next month.

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Henry says isolation is affecting the five Titans who have been stood down among the cocaine scandal sweeping through Queensland sport.

Two players, Beau Falloon and Jamie Dowling, will face Southport Magistrates Court next Friday, two days before the Titans’ NRL season opener against Wests Tigers.

The remaining three players, State of Origin stars Greg Bird and Dave Taylor and outside back Kalifa Faifai Loa, are all set to make their initial court appearances on March 9.

Henry says all five should be allowed to return to first grade duties following those initial appearances, despite the likelihood the matters could take up to two years to resolve.

“It’ll be a distraction but that’s happened before,” Henry said.

“There’s been players who’ve had to go to court but they’ve still played, they haven’t been stood down, in a variety of codes, not just rugby league.

“In fact, playing football and being around their mates will be a real bonus. The isolation at the moment is making it really difficult for our players.”

Titans back David Mead, who said the initial revelations had been a shock to the squad, said all five players would be welcomed back if their suspensions are lifted.

“I’d love to play with those guys any time of the year,” Mead said.

Speaking at the launch of the NRL’s new commercial for the 2015 season at the Sydney Opera House, Titans fullback William Zillman said the club can still be a competitive outfit despite the scandal.

“The club is bigger than a couple of players,” Zillman said.

“What we’re doing is looking forward to round one, we need to move on from this and prepare for a rugby league game … we will be competitive.”

Zillman said he’d been in contact with the five players and they were holding up well.

“I have spoken to them, they are going through a tough time, but I’m just here representing the club and we’ve got a football game to focus on,” he said.

The Titans will hold their season launch at Jupiters Hotel and Casino on the Gold Coast later on Thursday evening.

6 NATO troops die in Afghanistan chopper

said on Friday.

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The cause is still being investigated but a coalition statement said there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of Thursday’s crash, which brought the number of international forces killed in Afghanistan this month to 24.

The coalition did not disclose the nationalities of those killed and would not release details of the crash until the families of the dead were notified.

It was the deadliest crash in Afghanistan since August, when 30 American troops died after a Chinook helicopter was apparently shot down in Wardak province in the centre of the country.

Thursday’s crash occurred on the same day that a suicide car bomber killed at least seven civilians outside a crowded gate at Kandahar Air Field, a sprawling base for US and NATO operations in the south. The Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility, saying they were targeting a NATO convoy.

It was the second suicide bombing in as many days in southern Afghanistan, officials said. The coalition said no NATO troops were killed on Thursday. It does not disclose information about wounded troops.

The Taliban have been stepping up attacks in southern Afghanistan, the birthplace of the insurgency, with a wave of bombings and the assassinations of three local Afghan officials this week. The violence comes even as the US is moving ahead with plans for negotiating with the Taliban to try to end the 10-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Two witnesses told The Associated Press that they suspect Thursday’s suicide car bomber was trying to hit US troops because he detonated his explosives just as two pickup trucks, which they say are often used by American special forces, were leaving the base.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef said that NATO forces opened fire after the bombing and that they killed three of the seven civilians who died. The coalition denied this, saying there was no fighting after the blast.

Earlier, officials reported that the suicide bomber was walking near the gate, but the Afghan Ministry of Interior later said the attacker was driving a Toyota Corolla.

Zalmai Ayubi, the spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, said two children were among the seven civilians killed. He said eight other civilians, including two children and one woman, were injured in the explosion.

Gates to the larger US bases in Afghanistan often are crowded with trucks waiting to deliver goods and services, and local Afghans going to or coming back from jobs on the compounds.