Federal govt orders Murray Darling review

Water use in the Murray Darling Basin will be scrutinised in an independent review following allegations of water theft in NSW, the federal government says.

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The basin-wide review of compliance with regulations governing water use follows allegations in an ABC Four Corners report that billions of litres earmarked for the environment have been diverted for cotton irrigation in NSW.

The Turnbull government says it will seek the basin states’ agreement for an independent examination by the Murray Darling Basin Authority of whether state laws, water licence conditions and statutory instruments are appropriate and being met.

It will also look at the adequacy of water measurement and monitoring arrangements, and whether governance arrangements are strong enough to prevent water theft or misuse.

“Strong compliance regimes are just as important for irrigators as they are for the environment and basin communities,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said in a joint statement on Sunday.

NSW welcomed the review, said it would assist the authority and reaffirmed the state’s commitment to the basin plan.

But South Australia, which wanted a judicial inquiry, said the authority-led review was “toothless”.

“The allegations go well beyond any compliance issue and need a full judicial inquiry that will fully investigate the NSW Department of Primary Industries and ensure public servants at the highest level are not undermining the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and jeopardising the future water use for the nation,” Water Minister Ian Hunter said.

The Turnbull government announced the review after Mr Joyce was recorded telling farmers in Shepparton that the Four Corners investigation into alleged water rorting was trying to “create a calamity”.

“It’s about them trying to take more water off you… shut more of your towns down,” he said in the recording obtained by Fairfax.

NSW last week said it was looking into water theft allegations at properties in the state’s north, whether a senior official helped irrigators undermine the basin plan and whether a major investigation into water management breaches was stymied.

Additionally, the Australian auditor-general was examining how the federal agriculture department monitors the performance of NSW under a national Murray Darling agreement.

The independent review would present its findings by the end of the year, the Turnbull government said.

Hawks and Bulldogs make AFL finals charge

The AFL’s hunger games season marches on, with another weekend that did little to settle the fate of sides left in finals contention.

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Only St Kilda’s wound suffered on Saturday night looks like a mortal blow.

Mathematically, the Saints are still in contention.

But a third defeat in a row, and the nature of that two-point loss to Port Adelaide – delivered by Robbie Gray with just seconds remaining – must surely have broken St Kilda hearts.

Hawthorn sit two points below them on the table, but their equally-tense six-point defeat of high-flying Sydney gives Alastair Clarkson’s side a sniff of September.

And on Sunday, the reigning premiers breathed life back into their defence.

The Western Bulldogs looked like their flag-winning selves with a 30-point win over Essendon that temporarily put them back in the top eight.

Coach Luke Beveridge said he was starting to see signs of last year’s form after stringing together three straight wins for the first time since September.

“We’ve had to really focus (each week) to remind ourselves of the type of footy we need to play to establish ourselves as a recognisable and threatening team,” he said.

“It’s great in the recent three weeks we’ve been able to do that.

“We’d like to keep teams to a lower score but it was great that we were able to score the way we did.”

With 12 individual goalkickers, the Bulldogs 19.13 (127) was their biggest score in 47 matches, headlined by a four-goal bag to best-afield contender Jason Johannisen.

“That’s been he recipe for us for a long period of time. We need a (goalkicking) spread and we got it again today,” Beveridge said.

“(Johannisen) had a really big game.

“We sent him to one of the wings when we knew he’d be a bit freer and he snuck forward … it’s amazing what accurate long kicking can do.”

The Bulldogs can take a further step towards September when they travel to bottom side Brisbane next weekend.

Essendon are out of the top eight but are far from done this season, with three matches against bottom six clubs in their run-in.

John Worsfold dismissed the suggestion that their final four games were more inviting than others.

“Today was inviting for us playing a side that was level pegging for us and we weren’t good enough. We need to show that we’re good enough now by winning what’s ahead of us,” he said.

Elsewhere, Melbourne’s fortunes took a hit with a poor loss to strugglers North Melbourne in Hobart.

The Demons couldn’t use the wind in the final quarter on a blustery day and limped to a four-point loss.

They now face a must-win clash with GWS Giants next Saturday, who were unimpressive in beating lowly Fremantle by 12 points.

On a forgettable Saturday night, Geelong and Richmond beat lacklustre opponents – Carlton and Gold Coast respectively – to keep their top four bids on track.

Finally, on Sunday afternoon, league leaders Adelaide appeared to troll the competition by drawing with Collingwood at the MCG.

Maduro presses on with Venezuela vote despite protests

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pushed on Saturday with a controversial weekend vote for an assembly to rewrite the constitution, despite fierce political opposition, international condemnation and deadly street demonstrations.

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Small groups of protesters defied a ban he imposed against anti-government demonstrations, blocking some roads in Caracas with trash. 

0:00 Venezuelan opposition blocks streets Share Venezuelan opposition blocks streets

Other parts of the capital, however, operated normally on the eve of Sunday’s divisive election to choose the new assembly. 

One protester in the upmarket district of Chacao, who gave his name only as Endderson, told AFP: “I slept here and will stay here all day. I’m here because my mother died of cancer, unable to get medicine, and I was in the street.”

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Venezuela’s opposition has called for protests over the weekend and beyond to press Maduro to drop the election of a 545-seat citizens’ “Constituent Assembly” with wide-ranging legislative powers.

The opposition, other Latin American nations, the US and the EU see the new body as a tool to crush democracy in the oil-rich country, where the opposition controls the National Assembly.

Vote broadly rejected

The opposition has urged a boycott of the “fraudulent” vote, making it likely that only government supporters will cast ballots.

Some 70 percent of Venezuelans oppose plans for the constituent assembly, and 80 percent reject Maduro’s leadership, according to the polling firm Datanalisis.

0:00 Protesters burn ‘electoral materials’ in Venezuelan town Share Protesters burn ‘electoral materials’ in Venezuelan town

Maduro insists the new assembly is the only way to haul Venezuela out of its economic and political crisis, but has not explained how a new constitution would do so.

“We have a card to play: a card that will win this game. And that card is the National Constituent Assembly,” he said Friday.

An opposition lawmaker, Freddy Guevara, said the struggle against Maduro started before the Constituent Assembly was mooted, and will continue regardless of the election.

“From Monday, this crisis will deepen,” he said. 

Already, 113 people have died in four months of protests.

Maduro’s decree cracking down on demonstrations warned that those taking part risked up to 10 years in prison.

One activist, a 23-year-old violinist famous for playing at anti-government protests, Wuilly Arteaga, was to face court after being arrested on Thursday, a justice watchdog NGO, Foro Penal, said.

Struggle to survive

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s citizens struggle to survive.

Long lines were seen in front of supermarkets in the capital and the next-door state of Vargas.

Runaway inflation, caused by the government printing excess money, has reduced salaries to the equivalent of just tens of dollars a month. Food, medicines and staple products are scarce.

International criticism of Maduro and his policies has noticeably sharpened in recent days.

0:00 Venezuelan opposition blocks streets Share Venezuelan opposition blocks streets

Neighboring Colombia – a refuge for tens of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing the chaos at home – said on Friday it would not recognize the results of Sunday’s election in Venezuela.

Panama on Saturday said it was following suit, and also backed the US sanctions against Venezuelan officials.

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The United States this week imposed sanctions on 13 current and former Venezuelan officials, including police and army chiefs. It ordered the families of embassy personnel to leave the country.

On Friday, US Vice President Mike Pence spoke by telephone to a detained prominent Venezuelan opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, who early this month was moved from prison to house arrest.

In implicit support for the opposition, Pence praised Lopez’s “courage.” 

He also called for the “unconditional release of all political prisoners in Venezuela, free and fair elections, restoration of the National Assembly, and respect for human rights in Venezuela,” a statement from his office said.

The United Nations human rights office said it was “deeply concerned” about the “very tense and very difficult situation.” 

Air France and Iberia both announced they were suspending their flights to the country during the weekend vote. Avianca, a Colombian carrier, cut flights indefinitely from Thursday.

“I bought food to get through the next few days. The US has pulled out its people, my boss has disappeared and we don’t know when he’ll be back. Best to be prepared,” said one 34-year-old Caracas resident, Maximiliano.

Spain’s former prime minister Jose Rodriguez Zapatero said in a statement sent to AFP that dialogue in Venezuela “could bring an end to the grave crisis.”

But an earlier effort he headed ended in failure, and the opposition has made suspension of the Constituent Assembly a condition for it to join talks.

Some in Maduro’s administration have broken ranks, most prominently his attorney general. Two diplomats resigned this week in dissent: one at the United Nations and another at the embassy in Panama.

0:00 Venezuela’s Maduro blames sanctions on US ‘imperialism’ Share Venezuela’s Maduro blames sanctions on US ‘imperialism’

Storm’s Vunivalu on track to be NRL great

While his captain reached a huge milestone, Melbourne winger Suliasi Vunivalu quietly made his own mark in the Storm’s 40-6 NRL drubbing of Manly.

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And his coach Craig Bellamy said the flyer could go on to become one of the game’s best ever.

The 21-year-old winger crossed just before halftime, which was his 38th try in two NRL seasons.

That put him level with four other players to achieve the feat in their first two seasons of first grade — South’s Alex Johnston, who is leading the NRL for tries this season, ex-Balmain flyer Larry Corowa, and St George greats Reg Gasnier and Ron Roberts.

Johnston has scored 16 tries in 2017, with Vunivalu and Canberra’s Jordan Rapana, who jointly topped last year’s tally, and Brisbane’s James Roberts on 14.

With five rounds to go Vunivalu is set to blast past the mark set by Gasnier and co., with Bellamy predicting he could become an all-time great.

“Suli’s a good player now but he’s going to be a pretty special player,” Bellamy said.

“He’s pretty footy smart, he’s one hell of an athlete as we’ve all seen and he trains hard and looks after himself.

“You’d like to think he’s going to have a real good career ahead of him.”

The Fijian, who is set to represent his homeland at this year’s World Cup, said he was flattered to be in such elite company and vowed to keep improving.

With his 39th minute try he burrowed over from dummy half, and said that was part of his evolving game.

“I just saw the opportunity there and in the past I would have looked to Cameron (Smith) or Cooper (Cronk) but now I’m backing myself more,” Vunivalu said.

MOST TRIES IN FIRST TWO SEASONS IN FIRST GRADE – 38

Suliasi Vunivalu (Melbourne) 2016-17

Alex Johnston (South Sydney) 2014-15

Larry Corowa (Balmain) 1978-79

Reg Gasnier (St George) 1959-60

Ron Roberts (St George) 1949-50

Donald Trump vows he won’t allow China to ‘do nothing’ on North Korea

President Donald Trump has warned he will “no longer” allow China to “do nothing” on North Korea after Kim Jong-Un’s regime launched another intercontinental ballistic missile.

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In his critique, which came in two tweets, Trump linked trade woes with the Asian giant to policy on North Korea, after South Korea indicated it was speeding the deployment of a US missile defence that has infuriated China.

“I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk,” Trump wrote.

I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2017…they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2017

“We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!”

Trump has vowed to take “all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region.”

The US and South Korea conducted a live-fire exercise using surface-to-surface missiles after the launch, the US army said.

The heads of the US and South Korean militaries discussed “military response options” after North Korea’s launch, the Pentagon said. 

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China, Pyongyang’s main economic and diplomatic ally, opposes any military intervention and calls for a resolution through dialogue. 

The US military will also roll out “strategic assets” to the South following the North’s missile test late Friday, according to South Korean defense minister Song Young-Moo.

0:00 US-South Korea military exercises follow North Korea missile launch Share US-South Korea military exercises follow North Korea missile launch

Song declined to specify the nature of the mobilization, but the phrase usually refers to high-profile weapons systems, such as stealth bombers and aircraft carriers.

The THAAD battery comprises six interceptor missile launchers. Two launchers have been tentatively deployed at a golf course-turned-US military base in Seongju County, 187.5 miles (300 kilometers) south of Seoul.

China has long argued the deployment will destabilize the region.

On trade, the United States has blamed the unbalanced relationship – marked by a trade deficit with China of $309 billion last year – on Beijing’s policies that impede access to their market. China says Washington’s own rules restricting US high-tech exports are partially to blame.

0:00 North Koreans react to news of missile launch Share North Koreans react to news of missile launch

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China’s Xi calls for building elite forces during massive military parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told the military to transform itself into an elite force, as he oversaw a parade with flybys of advanced jets and a mass rally of troops to mark 90 years since the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.

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China’s armed forces, the world’s largest, are in the midst of an ambitious modernisation program, which includes investment in technology and new equipment such as stealth fighters and aircraft carriers, as well as cuts to troop numbers.

Xi presided over the large-scale military parade on Sunday at the remote Zhurihe training base in China’s northern Inner Mongolia region, where he inspected troops from the back of a jeep, an event carried live on state television.

Travelling down a long strip lined with tanks, missile launchers and other military vehicles, Xi, wearing military fatigues and a field cap, greeted thousands of troops.

Chinese soldiers carry the flags of (L to R) the Communist Party, the state, and the People’s Liberation Army during a military parade (Getty)Getty

Xi, who oversees the PLA in his role as head of the powerful Central Military Commission, repeatedly shouted, “Hello comrades!” and “Comrades, you are working hard!” into four microphones fixed atop his motorcade as martial music blared in the background.

The troops bellowed back: “Serve the people!”, “Follow the Party!”, “Fight to win!” and “Forge exemplary conduct!”.

Tanks, vehicle-mounted nuclear-capable missiles and other equipment rolled by, as military aircraft flew above, including H-6K bombers, which have been patrolling near Taiwan and Japan recently, the J-15 carrier-based fighters and new generation J-20 stealth fighter.

“Today, we are closer to the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation than any other time in history, and we need to build a strong people’s military more than any other time in history,” Xi told the assembled troops in a short speech that did not yield any new policy announcements.

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Xi said that the military must “unswervingly” back the ruling Communist Party.

“Always listen to and follow the party’s orders, and march to wherever the party points,” he said.

Xi said that the world was not peaceful, but he did not mention any specific hot spots, such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Taiwan, or tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles programmes.

Unlike a massive 2015 parade through manicured central Beijing to mark 70 years since the end of World War Two, Sunday’s spectacle had fewer frills.

Thousands of troop marched in combat garb, not dress uniforms, and vehicles kicked up clouds of dust as they rounded sections of the base’s track.

It was the first time China has marked Army Day, which formally falls on August 1, with a military parade since the Communist revolution in 1949, state news agency Xinhua said.

It was also the first time Xi has reviewed troops in the field like this, Xinhua added.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said in a statement that the location for the parade embodied a “dust-covered battlefield atmosphere” for the 12,000 troops who participated.

0:00 Trump won’t allow China to ‘do nothing’ on North Korea Share Trump won’t allow China to ‘do nothing’ on North Korea

NSW welcomes Murray Darling Basin water investigation

NSW has backed a review into water usage in the Murray Darling Basin after the federal government announced it would scrutinise the system following allegations of water theft.

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“NSW welcomes the commonwealth’s announcement of a basin-wide review of compliance arrangements by the Murray Darling Basin Authority,” a spokeswoman for Regional Water Minister Niall Blair said.

The Turnbull government on Sunday ordered an independent basin-wide review of compliance with regulations governing water use, to report by the end of the year.

It will examine whether state laws, water licence conditions and statutory instruments are appropriate and being complied with, the adequacy of water measurement and monitoring arrangements, and whether governance arrangements are strong enough to ensure water isn’t being stolen or misused.

The spokeswoman for Mr Blair’s office said NSW would assist the MDBA’s investigation however it can and reaffirmed the state’s commitment to the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, in a joint statement, said strong compliance regimes are just as important for irrigators as they are for the environment and basin communities.

NSW is already investigating allegations of water theft at specific properties in the state’s north and whether a senior official helped irrigators undermine the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and whether a major investigation into water management breaches was stymied.

As well, the Australian auditor-general will examine how the federal agriculture department monitors the performance of NSW under a national Murray Darling agreement.

Hundreds join Stuart Diver to mark 20 years since Thredbo landslide

Hundreds crammed into the Chapel on Sunday for an emotional service to commemorate the victims two decades after a landslide crushed two ski lodges in the popular NSW ski resort.

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Mourners wept as Euan Diver, brother of sole survivor Stuart Diver, and other community members read the names of the victims, followed by a moving rendition of Amazing Grace.

A bell was tolled and a candle lit for each of the victims before mourners lay flowers and wreaths at the nearby Thredbo Memorial Community Centre.

Annie Boward said emotions were still raw for those who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

Stuart Diver as he was pulled from the rubble of a ski lodge in Thredbo in 1997. (AAP)AAP

She recalled how she had planned to call her friend Wendy O’Donohue before discovering she was trapped in one of the collapsed ski lodges.

“I had a letter on my kitchen bench signed by Wendy just to call her and let her know when I was coming down next,” Ms Boward said.

“I had it on the bench that morning ready to call – then I turned on the early news.”

Ms Boward said healing was about bringing people back to Thredbo.

But the loss always remained just under the surface, she said.

“I don’t think it leaves you. It’s always just there.”

Donna Barlow worked in customer service at Thredbo when the landslide occurred.

She returned this weekend to remember the friends and coworkers she lost in the tragedy.

“We’re still a community and we support each other – it changed all of our lives,” she told AAP.

“It’s confronting how quickly 20 years goes by.”

Local businessman Ian Foster insisted the community was stronger than ever but the pain was still present.

“It’s something that’s always there. It’s not hard to feel that emotion come up,” he said.

Memorial services were held throughout the weekend in Thredbo, with a commemorative flare run on Saturday night led by Stuart Diver.

He was joined by 300 skiers and snowboarders who blazed down Thredbo’s Supertrail with red flares in memory of the victims, including his wife Sally.

The procession was followed by a pyrotechnics display featuring 18 separate fireworks – one for each victim.

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Tensions high after Nth Korea missile test

The United States has flown two B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula in a show of force after recent North Korean missile tests.

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North Korea said it conducted another successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday that proved its ability to strike America’s mainland, drawing a sharp warning from US President Donald Trump.

The B-1B flight was in direct response to the missile test and the previous July 3 launch of the “Hwansong-14” rocket, the US Air Force said in a statement. The South Korean air force said the flight was conducted early on Sunday.

The bombers took off from a US air base in Guam, and were joined by Japanese and South Korean fighter jets during the exercise, according to the statement.

“North Korea remains the most urgent threat to regional stability,” Pacific Air Forces commander General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy said in the statement.

“If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing”.

The US has in the past used overflights of the supersonic B1-B “Lancer” bomber as a show of force in response to North Korean missile or nuclear tests.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally supervised the midnight test launch of the missile on Friday night and said it was a “stern warning” for the United States that it would not be safe from destruction if it tries to attack, the North’s official KCNA news agency said.

North Korea’s state television broadcast pictures of the launch, showing the missile lifting off in a fiery blast in darkness and Kim cheering with military aides.

China, the North’s main ally, said it opposed North Korea’s missile launches, which it said violate United Nations Security Council resolutions designed to curb Pyongyang’s banned nuclear and missile programs.

“At the same time, China hopes all parties act with caution, to prevent tensions from continuing to escalate,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

However, Trump said he was “very disappointed in China”.

In a message on Twitter, he said: “Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet…”

“…they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!” he said in a subsequent tweet.

The Hwasong-14, named after the Korean word for Mars, reached an altitude of 3,724.9 km and flew 998 km for 47 minutes and 12 seconds before landing in the waters off the Korean peninsula’s east coast, KCNA said.

Western experts said calculations based on that flight data and estimates from the US, Japanese and South Korean militaries showed the missile could have been capable of going as far into the United States as Denver and Chicago.

Crows goal after siren to draw with Pies

Adelaide forward Mitch McGovern has kicked a goal after the siren to seal a heart-stopping AFL draw with Collingwood at the MCG.

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In a high-scoring, unpredictable, shootout on Sunday, the ladder-leading Crows trailed by 50 points early in the third quarter before they conjured up an astonishing comeback to secure a 15.13 (103) to 16.7 (103) result.

Collingwood led by 21 points midway through the final term when Daniel Wells booted his third goal for the match.

But the Crows would not be denied and booted the next four majors, with McGovern’s calm and collected set shot from 30m cementing the third draw of the season.

The Pies had earlier looked unstoppable, booting six straight majors either side of halftime to open up an eight-goal lead.

Nine of the next ten goals went Adelaide’s way as the Crows carved the margin to three points early in the final term.

Ben Reid, Jarryd Blair and Daniel Wells answered back but Adelaide again reduced the deficit to single digits.

The Pies tried desperately to hold on but allowed Jake Kelly to mark uncontested before McGovern’s huge contested mark and smooth finish secured the two points.

It was a remarkable finish for the Crows, who booted 13.4 in the second half after managing just 3.4 in the first.

Adelaide coach Don Pyke described the result as “bittersweet”, saying he thought Collingwood had deserved to win the game.

“We sort of stole a couple of points at the end,” he said.

“Some of the things we did in the early part of the game just weren’t to the level. But then at 50 points down, they kept persevering and found a way to give themselves a chance.”

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley was left frustrated by his side’s failure to execute their game plan after halftime.

“It’s pretty clear – if you give Adelaide turnover opportunities, they’ll take them,” he said.

“They’re the best in the comp at it, and we weren’t able to take that away from them for long enough.”

Crows forwards McGovern (four goals), Jenkins (three) and Otten (two) proved the difference in the second half, while Matt Crouch (36 disposals, nine clearances) was immense in the midfield.

Wells and Taylor Adams were superb for Collingwood, each finishing with 34 disposals and three goals, with Levi Greenwood’s hard tagging restricting Rory Sloane to 16 touches.