05 April 2008

Australia's richest lose $5b in 3 months

Ten of Australia's richest businesspeople have lost $5 billion between them over the past three months due to the global financial upheaval.

Some of the executives have recorded losses on paper of up to half of their fortunes, New Limited newspapers report.

Australia's richest man, Andrew Forrest, has recorded the biggest losses, having watched his share in Fortescue Metals fall by $1.01 billion.

However, the miner's fortune is still valued at more than $7 billion.

The portfolio of the nation's second richest man, James Packer, performed slightly better, with his paper losses for the first quarter of 2008 estimated to be about $600 million.

This has largely been due to the decreasing share price of the Packer-based Challenger Financial Services.

Retail giant Gerry Harvey's shareholdings have dropped in value by $900 million while Frank Lowy's shareholdings have fallen by $439 million.

Seven Network boss Kerry Stokes' shares have lost $308 million in value.

Meanwhile Olympic legend Herb Elliot faces the loss of half his $40-million fortune after becoming the highest-profile casualty of the collapse of stockbroker Opes Prime.

The Weekend Australian reports Mr Elliot has lost control of half of his 5.5 million shares in Fortescue Metals Group worth about $20 million.

Police 'knew about' teen sex trade in NT

Trading young Aboriginal girls for sex has been happening for at least 15 years in a Northern Territory mining town, one of Australia's most powerful Aboriginal leaders says.

NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson on Friday conceded that police had known about the shocking allegations for "a significant period of time".

Despite this, and the intervention to combat child sexual abuse announced in June last year, there has been no arrests over claims of child prostitution at Nhulunbuy, 650km east of Darwin.

Non-Aboriginal people working there are believed to be exchanging cash, drugs, taxi rides and alcohol for sex with teenagers, some as young as 13.

Indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu said the sex trade had been operating for the past 15 years and at least 12 girls were currently engaged in the trade.

"Everybody here knows what has been going on and the time has come for us to put an end to this once and for all," he said.

"It has been let go for a while and it should be about time that somebody in authority comes and stamps it out."

Mr Henderson defended the NT police force.

"Police can't respond to a general allegation of just 'everybody knows'," he told reporters in Darwin.

"Police have, over a significant period of time, heard of these allegations but it's been very hard to provide specific evidence to get people before the courts."

Asked if he thought it was embarrassing that police had failed to make inroads, Mr Henderson replied: "I don't accept that".

"The onus is on people who have that information to report it to police," he said.

NT Acting Assistant Police Commissioner Colleen Gwynne said police had only recently become aware of the allegations aired nationally on Friday, but claims of a similar nature had been known for several months.

Following the latest media reports, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin announced a child abuse taskforce was being sent to the remote Arnhem Land town.

"That will include additional police, additional family and children's services, child protection officers," she said.

Australia's most senior Aboriginal politician, NT Deputy Chief Minister Marion Scrymgour, denied the allegations reflected badly on the federal intervention.

"We are lifting the lid finally on child abuse in remote Aboriginal communities," she said.

Leon White, a former school principal at the remote Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala, said there had been "allegations (of child prostitution) for decades".

Many of the victims of the shocking racket are believed to come from Yirrkala and use sex to pay their way into town and back.

"It is good news that police are going to conduct an investigation into this," he said.

"There has been a conspiracy of silence ...

"I think the facts are that the silence has been a lot longer than just a year."

The Little Children Are Sacred report, which prompted the intervention, detailed allegations of a rampant sex trade at an unnamed town where mining workers gave Aboriginal girls - aged between 12 and 15 - alcohol, cash and other goods in exchange for sex.

It was published a year ago.

02 April 2008

Tips searched as government computer tapes dumped

The back-up computer tapes contained emails from various departments including Prime Minister and Cabinet, which reprimanded the telco over the blunder.

The mistake occurred in late March or early April this year from Telstra Enterprise Services' offices in Bruce, ACT, and rubbish tips were subsequently searched.

Telstra has since assured the agencies it would never happen again.

"We deeply regret this situation," Telstra's regulatory and corporate director, Bill Scales, told a Senate estimates hearing.

"There is no doubt that from Telstra's perspective that policies were not followed.

"As soon as we became aware of this particular issue, we notified the various agencies that were involved."

Mr Scales said there was no loss of information and the dumping of tapes posed only minimal security risks.

"However from our perspective this was unacceptable," he said.

"We apologised to the departments that were involved.

"Quite appropriately the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet wrote to us explaining how disappointed he was.

"We understand his concern, we recognise the points that he made and we gave him and the various agencies our assurance that it would never happen again."

Telstra believes the back-up tapes were taken from people's desks as usual, but were left for too long in a wheelie bin instead of being locked away, and were accidentally thrown out.

"It is presumed they were thrown out," Mr Scales said.

Asked if any searches or investigations were conducted at rubbish tips or where Telstra normally disposed of its rubbish, Mr Scales replied: "My understanding is yes there was."

"We did everything we could to try and find those tapes... it was an embarrassing issue for us," Mr Scales said.

Telstra regarded the letter from PM&C as a severe reprimand and again apologised today for the error.

"We've certainly been sanctioned directly by the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet," Mr Scales said.

"We take no pride out of this particular event, none at all.

"We've tried to face up immediately to our responsibilities.

"We regard a letter from the head of the department about this issue as a very severe sanction."

The other agencies affected were the Department of Communications, Information technology and the Arts, Department of Transport and Regional Services, Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

smh, 3 Nov, 2003

Coles-Myer sued over workplace injury.

At a later stage it was recommended that it would be more beneficial, for the checkout ‘chick’ to deliver the monies personally, again usually requiring a journey up a flight of stairs.

During this recommendation, theres was neglect in realising that there might be an occupation, health and safety issue, regarding weight and or manner in which these sums of monies are carried.

During one such incident a checkout employee was injured during one such transfer of monies. As a result of this a court case became pending, and subsequently a sum of money was awarded to the individual.

31 March 2008

Mildura crash driver jailed for 10 years

A Victorian driver has been jailed for 10 years over the road deaths of six teenage pedestrians near Mildura.

Thomas Towle, 35, formerly of Red Cliffs, veered into a group of teenagers, killing six and seriously injuring four of them, as they left a 16th birthday party at Cardross near Mildura on February 18, 2006.

Killed in the crash were Shane Hirst, 16, his 17-year-old sister Abby Hirst, Stevie-Lee Weight, 15, and Cassandra Manners, Cory Dowling and Josephine Calvi - all aged 16.

A Supreme Court jury earlier this month found Towle guilty of six counts of dangerous driving causing death, and four of dangerous driving causing serious injury.

Towle was found not guilty on six counts of the more serious charge of culpable driving.

On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Philip Cummins jailed Towle to a minimum term of seven years before he is eligible for parole.

During the trial the jury was told Towle was driving with his four-year-old son on his lap and speeding on a country road when he crashed into the group.

The prosecution argued his criminal negligence caused him to lose control of his car and crash into the teenagers.

The defence team said Towle had tried to avoid one group walking along the side of the road and ended up hitting another.

The prosecution said Towle's sentence must recognise the large number of victims.

However, the defence argued Towle should serve any penalties concurrently, meaning he should serve a maximum five-year jail term.

Towle's lawyer, Robert Richter, QC, said outside court that his client has instructed him to appeal against the sentence.

Towle's basic sentence was three and half years for each death, two years each for two of the injuries and one year each for the other two injuries.

While Justice Cummins said part of the sentence would be served concurrently, reducing it to 10 years, he said it would be inappropriate for the entire term to be concurrent.

A concurrent sentence, he said, would "reduce human victims to mere numbers".

"These victims were not and are not statistics.

"They were and are human beings, every one entitled to the full protection of the law."

Towle was stony-faced as he was led away following the sentencing.

Family members called out "I love you" as he was led away, while many friends of the teenage victims shed tears.

Family and friends of the six teenagers unable to come to Melbourne on Monday watched the sentencing on video screens in Mildura Court.

Justice Cummins said the sentence had to reflect the fact that Towle knew children were likely to be in the area of Myall St, where he was driving at high speed.

"A most serious element of your criminal driving was not physical, but psychological," he told the court.

"You knew that there were, or were likely to be, numerous children in the area.

"This is not a case of unexpected circumstances. This is not a case of a momentary lapse of attention.

"This is a case of multi-faceted lack of attention at high speed at night and with knowledge of risk. And with terrible consequences.

"The three central facts ... are that there was one limited course of driving, your knowledge of the presence or likelihood of numerous persons at the scene and that there were six deaths and four serious sets of injuries."

Speaking on behalf of the families of the victims, Mildura Senior College chaplain Colin Cole said they did not expect a tougher sentence.

"In a nutshell, it was the best we could expect," Mr Cole said outside court.

Carmel Calvi, mother of Josephine Calvi, said she was satisfied with the sentence.

"We're as happy as we can be," she said.

When asked what she would say to Towle, she replied: "I've got nothing to say to him."

Towle's father, Graham, said he could not comment on the sentence.

He said he was aware the sentence would be subject to an appeal.

"I've left it in God's hands," he told AAP.