Cybersex trafficking the future: Scipione

The first NSW case of a person being charged with cybersex trafficking paints a “very worrying scenario for the future”, Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has told a parliamentary inquiry.

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A Sydney man faced the NSW District Court on Monday after he instructed and watched the abuse of children during a live stream from the Philippines.

He had previously pleaded guilty to more than 20 charges of causing a child under 16 to have sex outside of Australia.

Appearing before a NSW parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday, Mr Scipione described human trafficking offences as abhorrent, insidious and “a scourge”.

But he said this week’s case was “particularly troublesome”.

“We think that’s probably the future of this crime type,” the outgoing commissioner said.

“You don’t necessarily need to move people across borders if you can move the images … in real-time.

“At the end of the day, it paints a very worrying scenario for the future.”

The commissioner, in his last week in the top job, was asked whether NSW could be aided by a human trafficking commissioner.

“I couldn’t rule it out,” he replied.

“Probably what would need to be looked at was what that person would do … what level of connectedness that person would have in the global law-enforcement effort.”

Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett, the head of the NSW sex crimes squad, says technology is constantly challenging law enforcement agencies.

“A lot of the devices we’re coming across are encrypted,” she told the committee earlier this month.

“We have a number of sites posted overseas that we have no control over.”

Det Supt Howlett says police expect to see an increase in cybersex offences in third-world countries.

Debbie help unlikely until Wednesday: SES

Residents in the path of Cyclone Debbie could be waiting until Wednesday for emergency help, as the destructive slow-moving storm keeps the region in lockdown for hours.

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Northern region SES manager Dale Camp said strong winds are expected to continue into the evening.

The high-level category four system is not expected to weaken to a tropical low until midday on Wednesday.

“It’s a very slow-moving cyclone, so we’re talking anywhere between six and 14 hours until it’s completely over in each location,” he said.

“So that puts it well into this evening, and that’s the problem, everyone is going to have to stay in their house all day, and then stay there all night as well.

Mr Camp said poor light in the evening will hamper any clean-up efforts.

“We have to wait for that wind to die down before we move around, and if it’s at night time it makes it very difficult to see things like floodwaters, so they’ll probably be waiting until first light tomorrow,” he said.

Debbie had moved as slow as 4km/h in heading to the north Queensland coast on Tuesday morning but quickened to 12km/h as the eyewall made landfall near Airlie Beach just after midday.

Whitsundays councillor John Collins said Cyclone Debbie was one of the slowest he had experienced.

“I’ve been through a few cyclones that are quick and nasty but this one is going to go all day,” he told AAP.

“It’s a long wait, sitting here waiting while it tears everything up.

“This is going to be a terrible disaster when it is all over and done with.”

People needing assistance from the SES after the cyclone should call 132 500, and jobs will be prioritised in order of importance.

People with life threatening emergencies should call triple-zero.

US investigates civilian death tolls as ‘ferocious battle’ for Mosul continues

Iraqi forces renewed their assault Monday against jihadists in Mosul’s Old City, after days in which the battle was overshadowed by reports of heavy civilian casualties from air strikes.

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The Pentagon said Monday it was reviewing more than 700 video feeds of coalition air strikes on west Mosul after reports of a large number of civilians killed in bombings.

Amid rising concern over a jump in civilian casualties in fighting in Iraq and Syria, Colonel J.T. Thomas from US Central Command said they were putting a high priority on investigating the Mosul reports.

Nineveh provincial governor Nawfal Hammadi said “more than 130 civilians” were killed in strikes over several days in Mosul’s al-Jadida area, and attention has focused on one allegedly particularly deadly strike on March 17.

US investigators are also looking at the apparent bombing of a school in Mansura near Raqa, Syria on March 21, and a building next to a mosque on March 16 in Al-Jineh, in Aleppo province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said that 33 people were killed in the Mansura bombing and 49 in Al-Jineh, where the US target was a meeting of Al-Qaeda officials.

Thomas called examining what happened in west Mosul “the priority at this time” for Central Command.

He said the reports of a heavy civilian toll in the northern Iraqi city could represent several days of bombing against the Islamic State group.

“We know that we were dropping bombs in the immediate vicinity,” he said, stating that the bombs used were “quite precise.”

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Battle for Mosul continues

Iraqi forces began the massive operation to retake west Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group last month and have recaptured a series of neighbourhoods, but the battle poses a major threat to civilians in the city.

Iraqi officials and witnesses have said air strikes took a devastating toll on civilians in the Mosul Al-Jadida area in recent days.

“Federal Police and Rapid Response Division units began to advance today on the south-western axis of the Old City,” Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat, the commander of the federal police, said in a statement.

Jawdat said that one of their targets is Faruq Street, which runs near the Al-Nuri mosque.

IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only known public appearance at the mosque after IS seized Mosul in 2014, calling on Muslims to obey him.

Iraqi interior ministry forces have been operating in the area of the Old City for several weeks, but they have faced tough resistance and progress has been slow.

The Counter-Terrorism Service, which along with the Rapid Response Division is one of two special forces units spearheading west Mosul operations, has made faster progress in areas farther west.

But the Old City – a warren of narrow streets and closely-spaced buildings in which the UN said 400,000 people still reside – poses unique challenges in terms of the difficulty of advancing as well as the danger to civilians.

Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, said that interior ministry units have deployed snipers to target IS jihadists using civilians as human shields.

The toll on civilians

However, Iraqi forces have also frequently fired mortar rounds and unguided rockets during the battle for Mosul – weapons that pose a much greater risk to residents of areas where fighting is taking place.

The battle has already taken a heavy toll on civilians, pushing more than 200,000 to flee in addition to others who have been killed or wounded in the fighting.

An AFP photographer saw civil defence personnel and volunteers digging through the remains of houses to recover the dead in Mosul al-Jadida on Sunday.

The remains of at least 12 people – among them women and children – were placed in blue plastic body bags.

Rasool said that the defence ministry has opened an investigation into the reports that strikes killed civilians in west Mosul.

The US-led coalition against IS has indicated that it may have been responsible for at least some of the civilian deaths.

“An initial review of strike data… indicates that, at the request of the Iraqi security forces, the coalition struck (IS) fighters and equipment, March 17, in west Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties,” it said in a statement on Saturday.

But that only addresses one day, while Iraqi officials referred to strikes carried out over several days.

On Sunday, US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel called recent civilian deaths in Mosul a “terrible tragedy”.

“We are investigating the incident to determine exactly what happened and will continue to take extraordinary measures to avoid harming civilians,” he said in a statement.

Iraq is also carrying out strikes against IS with warplanes and helicopters.

The Joint Operations Command announced on Monday that Iraqi F-16 strikes had destroyed targets including bomb factories and weapons stores in the IS-held town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul.

Related:Straight from the frontline: Vice News in Mosul

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Parliamentary report recommends passing 18C changes

The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has recommended passing the government’s controversial changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, despite dissenting reports from Labor and the Greens.

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Composed of senators from all the major parties, the committee was only given a few days to report on the proposed legislation.

“The committee has found that this bill will make overdue reforms to the RDA, strengthening the protections against hateful speech based on race, colour or national or ethnic origin,” it said.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act currently makes it illegal to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone on the basis of their race or ethnicity.

The Turnbull Government is proposing to remove the words ‘insult’, ‘offend’ and ‘humiliate’ and replace them with ‘harass’, while retaining ‘intimidate’.

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The parliamentary committee agreed ‘insult’, ‘offend’ and ‘humiliate’ were too open to interpretation.

“The subjectivity of these terms and the disconnect from their ordinary meaning has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech,” it said.

However, Labor and Greens politicians on the committee each made dissenting reports which were critical of the official line.

“If passed, the changes to section 18C would result in a period of uncertainty about the scope of the new provisions,” Labor said in its report.

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Public submissions to the report also blasted the changes as unwarranted.

“There is little if any judicial interpretation of the word ‘harass’ in the Australian authorities,” a submission from the Law Council of Australia said.

“The Law Council maintains the view…that sections 18C and 18D of the RDA, as interpreted by the Courts, strike and appropriate balance between freedom of expression and protection from racial vilification, and should not be amended.”

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Similarly, the Federation of Communities’ Councils of Australia didn’t support the proposal.

“FECCA believes that by replacing the words ‘insult’, ‘humiliate’ and ‘offend’ in section 18c with ‘harass’, the Government sends a message to the community that racism is acceptable and that Australia condones insulting and offensive speech on the basis of race and ethnicity,” it said.

The bill will be debated in the Senate this week with a vote likely at the end of the week.

The government will need the support of Senate crossbenchers to pass the bill, although Senator Derryn Hinch has already labelled the legislation a ‘dead parrot’.

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The Feed: Hate Speech?

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Cars no more a symbol of freedom for young

A car is no longer the great symbol of freedom for young people.

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Millennials – people aged between 18 and 34 – are less likely to drive than people their age a decade ago, and a third have chosen not to fork out for a car.

Some 67 per cent of millennials who participated in Roy Morgan Research’s 2016 car industry survey are driving, down from 72.5 per cent of the same age group in 2006.

Almost one in five milliennials have the Uber app on their phone or tablet, and two thirds of those had used the service in the past month.

Of the 200,000 Australians who use car sharing services like Go-Get and Flexi-car, almost half are millennials, compared with only 20,000 baby boomers.

Consumer services innovator Scott Browning, the chief executive of mobile startup Quickar and former marketing director at JB Hi-Fi, says fewer people will own and drive a car in the future, because there won’t be a need.

Attitudes towards cars have changed, with technology and the internet changing the way people connect with family, friends and work, he said.

“Connection and mobility have very little to do with cars anymore,” Mr Browning said.

“Cars are just appliances, they’re not the symbol of freedom that we had because that was the only way we could get out of the house as kids.”

WHAT AUSTRALIANS THINK ABOUT CARS

– A smaller proportion of young people are driving than a decade ago

– Almost two thirds of Australians would pay more for a zero-emissions car

– More than half of millennials would consider buying a hybrid car and nearly one third would buy an electric car

– Just over half of Australians are not ready for travelling in a driverless car

– Almost two thirds are unaware of car sharing services, and almost 200,000 are using services like Go-Get and Flexi-car

– Over one in three are ready to dispense with dealerships and buy their car online

Source: The State of the Nation Report with a spotlight on the Australian Automotive Industry by Roy Morgan Research

Rain, wind from Debbie batter Mackay

Mackay has been battered by cyclone Debbie’s rain and wind gusts but the north Queensland town appears to have escaped being inundated by a tidal storm surge.

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The Bureau of Meteorology indicated Category 4 Cyclone Debbie made landfall on the north Queensland coast around 1pm on Tuesday.

More than 20,000 people were evacuated from the Mackay region on Monday amid fears the cyclone would flood low-lying areas with its storm surge set to come in on a predicted 3m high tide.

The storm’s landfall came almost three hours after high tide in Mackay and local councillor Laurence Bonaventura said it appeared the city had avoided any serious flooding.

“No inundation of houses, in that respect, that we know of,” Cr Bonaventura told AAP.

“None that we know of from tidal surge anyway.

“Drainage is swollen but coping in most areas.”

Cr Bonaventura said rainfall in the Mackay region had been heavy but not constant, coming in squalls which gave drains a chance to clear between falls.

Another Mackay councillor, former Queensland State of Origin rugby league player Martin Bella, said waiting for the storm to arrive had been difficult for residents.

“We’re pretty good at the moment, to be honest it’s just so bloody tedious because the damn thing is just so slow moving,” Cr Bella told AAP.

Social media footage of Sarina Beach, south of Mackay, shows the beach and adjacent road covered in sea foam whipped up by the churning waters.

Cr Bella said the biggest risk to the region would probably be fallen trees or trees at risk of toppling due to saturated ground.

Local resident Felicity Mackintosh told AAP trees and falling branches were her main concern.

“Trees are going to fall over because everything’s waterlogged,” she said.

The BoM is forecasting between 300-400mm of rain to fall across the Mackay region on Tuesday with possibly another 400mm forecast for Wednesday.

Ergon Energy says around 34,000 customers have lost power mainly in the communities of Airlie Beach, Cannonvale, Proserpine, Bowen, Mackay and the northern beaches of Mackay.

Hundreds of workers are on standby to restore power but won’t begin their work until conditions are safe enough to do so.

Government puts China extradition deal on ice amid cross-party criticism

The government has shelved a controversial move to ratify an extradition treaty with China, as parliamentarians from both the opposition and the government’s own ranks expressed concern over the ethics of the deal.

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced the government would withdraw its ratification bill from the Senate on Tuesday morning.

“The Australian Government decided not to proceed with the ratification of the extradition treaty with China at this time,” she said. 

Malcolm Turnbull decided to pull the bill after receiving a phone call from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who informed the prime minister Labor’s shadow cabinet had decided not to support the bill in a meeting on Monday evening. 

Ms Bishop said the government’s conversations with Labor had been “constructive”, but said it remained the government’s policy to implement the deal eventually. 

She said she would now hold further talks with China’s ambassador to Australia, as well as continuing meetings with the federal opposition. 

“China has asked us to uphold our end of the deal,” she said.

The ratification of the treaty would allow China to make official requests for alleged criminals residing in Australia to be extradited for trial in Chinese court, and vice versa. 

Politicians from Labor, the crossbench and within the Coalition expressed concern over China’s human rights record and judicial processes. 

Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz was among a group of Coalition backbenchers who met with Ms Bishop on Monday evening to discuss their concerns. 

“In China, the life of a defence lawyer is pretty poor, because I think in about 99.9 per cent of cases people are actually convicted,” Mr Abetz said. 

“I don’t think that’s because of the strength and expertise of the prosecutors, I think it’s more that the cases and the judicial system may be stacked in a particular direction.” 

“There are fundamental human rights issues here…and I expressed quite a few of those to the foreign minister, and we had a good discussion,” he said. 

The government had offered assurances that there were safeguards in the treaty that would prevent human rights abuses. Ministers would have powers to prevent extraditions where they had concerns about the treatment the accused might receive in China. 

“I have faith in our legal and political system to ensure that those safeguards would work,” Ms Bishop said.

“And likewise, it’s in Australia’s interest to be able to extradite back to Austrlaia any Chinese national who may have committed a crime here and returned to China.” 

But Greens senator Nick McKim said his party was not convinced by those safeguards, describing the Chinese government as a “junta” and its judicial system as a “convictions factory”. 

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The Turnbull Government’s move to ratify the treaty came just a day after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang concluded a four-day visit to Australia. 

The agreement has been on hold since it was signed by then-prime minister John Howard in 2007.

Ms Bishop says the treaty has been supported by every subsequent government since then.

But on Tuesday, Labor confirmed it now opposed the treaty. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the opposition was calling for a “full review of the entire extradition system,” including deals with other countries. 

The treaty has also drawn opposition from the legal community, including the Law Council of Australia.

China’s Li Keqiang during a five day visit to Australia. last week. AAP

Former prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday said he would be cautious about ratifying this treaty now.

“In my judgment, China’s legal system has to evolve further before the Australian government and people could be confident that those before it would receive justice according to law,” he told The Australian on Tuesday.

Malcolm Turnbull on Monday described the treaty as an important part of Australia’s co-operation with China on law enforcement.

Former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, now of the Australian Conservatives party, had introduced a motion to disallow the treaty’s ratification. 

“[It] doesn’t strike me as an open and transparent legal system,” he told ABC radio.

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If ratified, Australia would be the third Western country to enter into an extradition agreement with China, joining Spain and France. 

Australia would be the first of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence alliance with the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand to do so.

The move comes as the Chinese government continues its anti-corruption campaign and its so-called “fox-hunt” operation of returning corruption suspects overseas.

The Chinese Public Security Ministry says more than 850 fugitives were returned to China last year, mostly from Southeast Asian countries.

The Chinese government has previously released lists of fugitives they believe to be hiding in Australia, the US, New Zealand and Canada.

Andrew Byrnes, professor of International Law at the University of New South Wales, told SBS earlier in March many people in the legal community were concerned about the treaty.

“The Chinese legal system in many respects falls a long way short of the accepted international fair trial standards,” Professor Byrnes said.

“Normally when we deal with those sorts of situations we don’t enter in to extradition treaties with countries where we have real concerns.”

– with AAP

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Disability care a ‘catastrophic’ failure

A “catastrophic” failure to protect people in Victorian disability care from assault and sexual predators is being investigated after families of victims say they were ignored.

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Anne Mallia told the ABC’s Four Corners program her son was groomed by a predator while he was in care with Autism Plus in Victoria, but her reports were ignored.

Maria Thomas also told the program her son was being targeted by the same man, but when Autism Plus urgently asked the Department of Health and Human Services to move the man, the request was rejected.

“(My son) was sexually assaulted in the shower while he’s having a shower,” Ms Thomas told the ABC.

Beverley Swann said her brother had been assaulted in a Lifestyle Solutions home and it was covered up.

Jean Hislop said her son was sexually assaulted by a staff member in a home run by the Victorian DHHS.

Autism Plus general manager of operations Edward Boghikian said he welcomed the government investigation into the claims, but was legally prevented from commenting on the case.

“We’re bound by confidentiality and we hold the privacy of our clients in such regard that even in the face of public scrutiny we still will not breach it,” Mr Boghikian told AAP on Tuesday.

When asked if he was confident the department would properly handle an issue if he contacted them, Mr Boghikian said: “I can’t answer that question, it was a good question, but I can’t answer that.”

Victorian Human Services Minister Martin Foley said the department’s interactions with Autism Plus and Lifestyle Solutions were being reviewed.

“It is also evident that my department needs to do more to ensure people with a disability are not continued to be let down in any way,” Mr Foley said in a statement.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the government would learn from the “tragedy” and the pain caused to families.

“When something like this happens, you must acknowledge that it is a catastrophic failure,” he told reporters.

Lifestyle Solutions chief executive Andrew Hyland said he was “deeply saddened” by the stories.

“Where shortcomings were identified, the findings have informed improvements in our policies and procedures,” he said in a statement.

The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations said a 2015 Senate inquiry recommended a Royal Commission into abuse in disability care.

“We need providers to be held accountable for what happens on their watch,” chief executive Ross Joyce said.

Bulldogs players declare faith in Hasler

Canterbury players have declared their faith in Des Hasler to lead the Bulldogs out of their early-season funk as pressure mounts on the coach to keep his job at Belmore.

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Last week’s 36-0 defeat to Manly – their second biggest loss under Hasler – has left the Bulldogs near the bottom of the NRL ladder with one win over the opening month.

The result forced Bulldogs chairman Ray Dib to defend Hasler’s position at the club, however that stance may change when the board meets on Thursday.

Veteran prop Aiden Tolman denied Hasler’s game plan needed urgent change in light of a reported deadline – believed to be by round 10 – to retain the clipboard.

“I don’t think he needs to change. Obviously we need to improve a few things from last week. I suppose that’s where you’ll see the change,” Tolman said on Tuesday.

“But in terms of our footy structures, I don’t think that really needs to change too much.”

Tolman rejected claims the players had no more belief in their coach.

“That’s the question that’s always going to be asked, but at the end of the day it was our performance on the weekend that cost us the game. Des wasn’t out there,” he said.

However Tolman did admit feeling the growing pressure to deliver victories after being held scoreless for just the second time in the Hasler era.

Their combined 54 points over the opening four weeks is also the lowest in the league.

“Since I’ve been here, even though we’ve been in every finals series in the past five years and two grand finals, there’s always been pressure,” he said.

“At the moment we’re (1-3) and we’re not going to great, so that pressure builds a bit. But we’ve got full support here from Des and moving forward that’s the way it’s going to continue.”

Lock Greg Eastwood said Hasler’s successful coaching career, which includes two premierships at Manly, proved that he knows how to get their season back on track.

The Bulldogs lost five of their first six games in 2013 before storming back to make the finals.

“Des has our full support at the moment,” he said.

“The board and CEO decide (on his job). For now, Des has our full support and we’re right behind him. We’ve been to six finals in the last six years he’s been here. He’s got the right formula.”