MSF ‘outraged’ by Syrian hospital attack that killed 20

Médecins Sans Frontières has condemned a series of airstrike that have killed at least 20 people in the Syrian city of Aleppo overnight.

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The dead included two doctors and three children.

In a tweet, MSF Syria said it was “outraged at the destruction of Al Quds hospital in Aleppo”.

#MSF is outraged at the destruction of Al Quds hospital in #Aleppo. Hospitals are #notatarget pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/TQ1hGhykSp

— أطباء بلا حدود سوريا (@MSF_Syria) April 28, 2016

MSF Syria said the hospital was the main referral centre for paediatric patients and included an emergency room, and operating theatre and an intensive care unit that had all been destroyed.

[email protected] supported hospital in #Aleppo was the main referral centre for paediatrics & had 8 doctors & 28 nurses. Hospitals are #notatarget

— أطباء بلا حدود سوريا (@MSF_Syria) April 28, 2016The destroyed MSF-supported hospital in #Aleppo had an ER, an OPD, intensive care unit & an operating theatre. All now destroyed #notatarget

— أطباء بلا حدود سوريا (@MSF_Syria) April 28, 2016

It comes as the UN envoy for Syria appealed early Thursday on the US and Russia to help revive the Syrian peace talks and a cease-fire he said “hangs by a thread”.

The chief Syrian opposition negotiator Mohammed Alloush blamed the government of President Bashar Assad for the deadly airstrikes on Aleppo.

He told The Associated Press that the latest violence by government forces shows “the environment is not conducive to any political action”.

The strikes hit shortly before midnight on Wednesday, according to opposition activists and rescue workers. They struck a well-known field hospital in the rebel-held district of al-Sukkari in Aleppo.

The dead included one of the few pediatricians remaining in the city’s opposition-held areas and a dentist, activists said.

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The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 20 were killed, including three children, and that the hospital was completely destroyed.

The Syrian Civil Defence, a volunteer first-responders agency, whose members went to the scene of the attack, said the al-Quds hospital and adjacent buildings were struck in four consecutive airstrikes.

The agency, also known as the White Helmets, gave a slightly higher toll, saying 22 were killed. It said there were still victims buried under the rubble and that the rescue work continued.

Among those killed were three of the hospital’s medical staff, they said.

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Residential housing strong: Stockland

The residential housing market remains strong, with owner-occupiers representing more than three quarters of buyers, property developer Stockland says.

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Stockland says its residential business generated a high number of sales in the three months to March, with net deposits of 1,706 for the quarter.

New projects and new townhouses added 279 sales in the quarter compared to the same period a year earlier.

Of the buyers, 77 per cent were owner occupiers.

Chief executive Mark Steinert said owner occupiers and first home buyers continue to be the focus of bank lending activity.

“Given undersupply in all the key metropolitan markets, combined with supportive interest rates, employment growth and population growth, we’re confident in the ongoing sustainability of this segment of the market,” he said.

“We’ve seen continued strong market conditions in NSW and Victoria, although price growth has moderated as we’ve been anticipating.”

Mr Steinert said the Queensland market continued to strengthen, and the Western Australian market was improving.

Stockland said its residential business was on track to achieve settlements for the full financial year slightly above its target range of 5,000 to 6,000 lots.

The company has reaffirmed its full year earnings guidance after all its core businesses reported positive results in the March quarter.

It expects to achieve full year underlying earnings per share growth of 6.5 to 7.5 per cent, and a distribution of 24.5 cents a security.

“I’m very pleased that once again, we’re in a position to report continued strong performance across the whole business,” Mr Steinert said.

Stockland said retail sales in its portfolio remained strong.

Leasing momentum and occupancy levels were good across the group’s retail, logistics and business parks, and office portfolios, it said.

The company is still pursuing a partner to grow its retirement living business, with a range of discussions ongoing but likely to take the full course of the year to determine.

Stockland securities gained one cent to $4.32.

Thai police arrest three over UK family bashing caught on camera

A British couple and their son have been savagely attacked during a family holiday in Thailand in the latest blow to the country’s image as a welcoming tourist paradise.

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Police said Thursday they have arrested three alleged attackers and are looking for one more.

A video of the attack, which was captured by overhead security cameras and posted this week on social media, has stirred shock and outrage over its brutality and the ages of the elder victims, a 65-year-old woman and 68-year-old man from Scotland.

The attack marks the latest act of violence against tourists in the Southeast Asian country.

In the clip the family is seen walking down a crowded street in the beach town of Hua Hin on the evening of April 13, amid festivities for the Thai New Year.

An altercation breaks out with a group of men on the street who punch all three in the face, kick their bodies and stomp on their faces in an attack that lasts about two minutes.

Police Colonel Chaiyakorn Sriladecho said it started after “the son accidentally bumped into one of the Thai men”.

The attack stops only when all three victims are seen lying apparently unconscious on the ground. As the Thai gang disappears, bystanders come to their aid.

Watch the full video here (graphic content)

“We have arrested three of the four suspects and have issued an arrest warrant for the other one who is still on the loose,” he said.

“The men say they are sorry and that they wouldn’t have done this if they weren’t drunk,” Chaiyakorn said.

The 43-year-old son and his father suffered head injuries requiring stitches, he said. The mother was more severely injured, suffering a buildup of fluid in the brain that was removed, he said. “The hospital is still holding her for observation for serious head and eye injuries.”

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Crackdown on overseas gambling

Australians will no longer be able to place online bets on sport during play after the federal government closed a loophole used by international bookmakers.

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In-play betting is only allowed over the phone, but some betting companies have mobile phone “click-to-call” apps, which make automated calls that allow punters to place bets on major sports such as cricket and the AFL.

Federal Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said on Thursday the government would not legalise online in-play betting for Australian sites and would move to close loopholes exploited by offshore providers.

He said the federal government would adopt 18 of 19 recommendations of a review of illegal offshore wagering, including banning online betting agencies that offer lines of credit.

The review, undertaken by former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell, found as much as 60 per cent of the $1.6 billion online gambling industry goes offshore to more than 2000 sites beyond the control of Australian regulators.

As part of its crackdown, the government will introduce legislation that will make it illegal for those sites to accept bets from Australian citizens.

Other measures include a national self-exclusion register for gamblers.

“The combination of measures we are proposing we hope will have a demonstrative impact … the tougher laws will seriously disrupt the illegal offshore providers from targeting vulnerable Australians,” Mr Tudge told reporters in Melbourne.

The government will also work with banks and credit card providers to identify ways to stop payments to offshore betting companies.

He said the government would introduce the legislation as quickly as possible despite limited sitting days before the next election.

The government expects the proposed overhaul to bring money spent on offshore betting sites back to Australia and provide better consumer protection.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon says he’s concerned the ban on “click-to-call” in-play betting will be short term.

Senator Xenophon says in-play betting drives gambling addiction and is a significant problem.

“The concern is this is a short-term solution to get the government through the election,” he said.

German photographer Sven Marquardt opens first Australian exhibition

His images are confronting – dark and industrial.

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A window into Berlin’s anarchist subculture.

The man himself is the same. His face is tattooed, and heavy metal earrings hang from his ears. His lips and nose also adorned in jewellery.

Sven Marquardt is as well-known for his photographs as he is for his position as the unforgiving bouncer of the infamous Berghain nightclub in Berlin.

“He is an artwork in and of himself, he is a cultural icon,” said Brad Spalding, the director of The Substation Gallery in Newport west of Melbourne where Marquardt’s work will be exhibited from Thursday until the end of May.

But icon isn’t a word Marquardt is comfortable with.

“It would be stupid to say that about yourself, it wasn’t planned,” Marquardt said.

“It just eventuates if, for many years, you do what you believe in.”

His unique vision is a product of a childhood in East Berlin, when the wall still separated the Communist region from West Germany. 

The Berlin Wall’s destruction brought about a new era of German culture.

“There was this grey area where there was no regulation and no rules yet and that led to extreme chaos but also extreme creativity,” said Gabriele Urban of the German culture society the Goethe-Institut.

She said this chaos and creativity was evident in Marquardt’s work.

“Everybody sees something different in Sven but it is all Berlin and the Berlin experience,” Ms Urban said.

Marquardt said his first hand experience as the gate keeper of the most exclusive techno venue in Berlin helped him find inspiration.

“Through my work as a bouncer I get to see the new the next generation of people and I get to feel the next zeitgeist,” he said.

Photographer and bouncer aren’t typically associated professions, but Marquardt said he couldn’t give up one for the other.

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“Both of my jobs are linked through this focus on people,” he said.

“I need to focus on people when I am a photographer and also when I am a bouncer.”  

He may be a cultural icon in Germany but the appeal of Sven Marquardt extends far beyond Europe, with tickets to a ‘talk with the artist’ session in Melbourne selling out in two hours.

“His identity and the identity of his work is closely link and I think that’s why people are so interested in him,” Mr Spalding said.

One question Marquardt said people were always interested in asking was: ‘just how do you get past the nightclub bouncer?’

“Just be yourself,” he said “It’s that simple.”

The works will be on display in Melbourne until May 31 before heading to Sydney.

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Dodson resoundingly endorsed as senator

Indigenous leader Pat Dodson has been endorsed as a WA senator, with the father of reconciliation demonstrating his diplomacy by defending a Liberal backbencher’s democratic right to make a “bad taste” speech.

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The respected Aboriginal elder was opposition leader Bill Shorten’s captain’s pick after right-aligned union stalwart Joe Bullock quit because he opposed Labor’s support for same-sex marriage.

At a special joint sitting of the WA parliament during a four-week recess on Thursday, Professor Dodson, 68, was resoundingly ratified as Mr Bullock’s replacement, with Premier Colin Barnett saying he would be a powerful voice for indigenous people.

But Liberal backbencher Peter Abetz, the older brother of Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, used the open floor to inject controversy into the rare moment of parliamentary solidarity.

Mr Abetz gave a speech against same-sex marriage, suggesting it was not in line with traditional Aboriginal social values and raising Prof Dodson’s Catholic background.

He became Australia’s first ordained Aboriginal Catholic priest in 1975 but left after disagreeing with the church hierarchy over his beliefs about the religion and traditional Aboriginal spirituality.

Mr Abetz’s speech prompted Nationals MP Brendon Grylls to walk out of the chamber in apparent disgust and Liberal MP Phil Edman tweeted he was “embarrassed”, while applause broke out when Upper House president Barry House questioned the relevance of the commentary.

Prof Dodson said Mr House had rightly told the backbencher to stick to the topic at hand, but denied the sitting had been hijacked.

“There was solidarity and a sense of sensitivity with some of the members walking out, particularly from the National Party and others, so I don’t think it detracted from it at all,” he told reporters.

“You could say it was bad taste but we live in a democracy.

“He just wasn’t on point.

“I just don’t believe you should discriminate against people. We shouldn’t be trying to tell people how they ought to think when you’ve never walked in the shoes that they’ve walked.”

Mr Barnett said he apologised to Prof Dodson for Mr Abetz’s comments after the sitting.

“This was Pat Dodson’s day … and I think it was inappropriate,” Mr Barnett said.

Prof Dodson is filling the senate vacancy on a casual basis and will be sworn in on Monday.

Truckies protest a ‘media stunt’: Coles

Coles has rejected union claims the supermarket giant is prepared to risk the lives of truck drivers to keep grocery prices down.

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Up to 200 workers blocked a major road in Sydney’s city centre on Thursday, protesting the federal government’s decision to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

Workers wearing white T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Coles pushing safety down the chain’ sat across Goulburn Street and observed a minute’s silence for International Workers’ Memorial Day before being moved on by police.

Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) NSW secretary Michael Aird says politicians and big businesses must be held to account, including Coles, “the biggest effective employer of transport workers in this country”.

“They’ve said ‘We’re prepared to sacrifice a life, we’re prepared to sacrifice a transport worker or member of the community, so packets of peas don’t go up by two cents’,” Mr Aird said.

However, Coles has denied Mr Aird’s claims, saying they contract their freight services through providers who put “enormous effort into safety measures for their employees”, such as Toll and Linfox.

“We’re not even the largest supermarket in Australia, so it beggars belief that we’d be the biggest user of freight,” a Coles spokesperson said.

“These are more deliberate lies from the TWU, which regularly engages in media stunts in an effort to boost its dwindling membership.”

More than 2500 Australians had died in truck crashes during the past decade and protests would continue until working conditions changed, Mr Aird said.

“We say to the community today: think of Malcolm Turnbull next time there is a death or injury on our roads because he will have blood on his hands,” he said.

TWU member and owner-driver Dawid Wojcik says the tribunal would have not only ensured safe pay rates but could have lifted the standards of the industry.

“I think we’re still trying to come to terms with why the tribunal was scrapped rather than why it wasn’t put on hold, or the issues and flaws with it addressed,” he said.

He knew of people who were expected to “fudge logbooks” and skip breaks to make time slots, driving 80-90 hours per week.

“When they have mortgages and families that they have to commit to, they don’t have any other choice,” he said.

Vigils were also held in Brisbane and Adelaide to mourn workers who had died while on the job.

Aust $72b worse off without school grads

Australia would be billions of dollars better off if every child left school with basic literacy and numeracy skills, new research says.

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The report, commissioned by the Australian Education Union, found students not finishing Year 12 would directly cost the federal government $72 billion by 2070.

About $60 billion of that would be paid in unemployment benefits.

However, the report, by education economist Adam Rorris, found if all students achieved the standard levels for 15-year-olds it would deliver $27.5 billion in economic benefits each year.

Mr Rorris said there was “nothing normal” about the degree of inequity in Australian schooling outcomes.

Failure to invest in the school system would impose long-term financial costs, he said.

AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe used the research to support the union’s call for full Gonski funding.

“These are the students who risk leaving school without the skills they need for work and life,” she said.

The report found children of unemployed parents are 10 times more likely not to meet the minimum year 9 standards for numeracy and reading.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the report found exactly what the union wanted it to, while ignoring the government’s focus on evidence-based measures.

Education spending was at record levels, he said. However, it was what governments do with the spending that matters.

“Evidence tells us to focus on the quality of teachers and teaching, the teaching of reading and maths and the engagement of parents,” Senator Birmingham said in a statement on Thursday.

Expect more palatable health policy

Health policies in next week’s budget are expected to be much more palatable than the government’s previous efforts, given a looming federal election.

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It’s unlikely there will be anything near as hideous as the deeply unpopular GP co-payment, which the Abbott government was forced to declare “dead, buried and cremated” months later.

Or the $57 billion reduction in hospital funding the government was forced to partially retreat from, despite maintaining it was not a cut.

So far, the 2016/17 budget will include an extra $2.9 billion for hospitals agreed to at the last Council of Australian Governments meeting, and $5 billion for the new Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme announced last week.

Former federal health department boss Stephen Duckett, now the Grattan Institute’s health program director, says the government is unlikely to leave itself open to potential scare campaigns ahead of an election.

But it will have to walk a fine line between saving and spending measures, given its previous rhetoric on the budget deficit, he says.

KEY AREAS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

* PATHOLOGY

The government left itself vulnerable to another co-payment scare campaign when it announced in its mid-year budget update that incentive payments for pathologists to bulk-bill patients would be scrapped.

Dr Duckett believes there’s big money to be saved in pathology and the government should go harder on cuts to the sector but to do it carefully, in a way that protects patients from threats of a $30 co-payment for tests such as pap smears.

Either way, he says the government needs to tackle its pathology policy in this budget: “They’ve either got to lay it to bed or they’ve got to put something else in place”.

* PBS COPAYMENT

Another left-over from the 2014/15 budget, Health Minister Sussan Ley conceded almost a year ago she wouldn’t be able to get this measure through the Senate.

But the proposal to increase the co-payment for prescription medicines by $5, or 80 cents for concession patients, has remained on the table for the past year as the government tries to find another way to save $1.3 billion.

* PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE

Ms Ley has been talking tough on private health insurance lately and repeatedly telling voters to be patient in the face of rising premiums and junk policies, insisting changes are on the way.

Some expect there will be a response to the government’s review into the sector in the budget.

Morgan groomed as long-term Test half

Nerves are not a problem for Michael Morgan ahead of his Kangaroos debut.

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But that may soon change.

Especially if he hears the bold plan Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has in store for the North Queensland playmaker.

Morgan will don the green and gold on the bench after being named as one of four rookies in Meninga’s Test squad for next week’s trans-Tasman clash in Newcastle.

Yet Meninga believed he had seen enough from Morgan to convince him he could become a long-term Test half.

Meninga likened Morgan’s journey to that of Cooper Cronk who was groomed on the Test bench before snapping up the Kangaroos halfback reins.

“Cooper benefitted from learning his trade coming off the bench and bringing energy into the team off the bench,” Meninga told the Former Origin Greats website.

“When the time came for him to take over the starting role in the team, it was an easy and comfortable transition for him to make.

“There is no reason why Michael cannot do the same, with both Cooper and Johnathan Thurston coming to the ends of their careers.

“He has an opportunity to cement his place in the team now, and it is up to him to grab it.”

Meninga said Morgan’s 2015 NRL grand final heroics showed he could step up to Test level.

“We saw in last year’s grand final that he is not afraid to back himself in pressure situations to come up with the right play,” he said.

“It was his cool thinking and execution under pressure that led to Kyle Feldt’s try to save the game (sending it to extra-time), and ultimately deliver the Cowboys the premiership.

“Morgo is getting better and better with experience.”

Morgan said he was probably the most surprised by his Kangaroos selection.

“I know there was talk about it (his Roos selection) but it’s not something I thought would happen,” he said.

“I am glad it has.”

Asked if it would be difficult to temper his Test nerves and concentrate on Saturday night’s NRL clash with Manly, Morgan said: “Not really.

“I am being pretty relaxed about it at the moment.

“Once I get into camp I am sure that is when it will sink in.

“I have just seen my name on a team list so I am fine with it at the moment.”