Hockey \’second choice after Costello\’ in treasury role

Mr Hockey is taking over from Deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop, who stepped down yesterday after five months as shadow treasurer to stop a destabilisation campaign against her within the Liberal party.


She becomes shadow foreign minister and will stay deputy.

But there has been speculation that the treasury job was first offered to Mr Costello, who served as treasurer under former Prime Minister John Howard.

Costello camp denies shadow offer

While well-placed sources insisted the offer had been made, others close to Mr Costello strongly denied this, Fairfax reported.

The former treasurer made it clear this month he was not interested in the shadow treasurer\’s job.

Mr Costello, who has been the subject of repeated speculation about a possible move for the Liberal leadership, has still not said whether he intends to contest the next election.

Liberal frontbencher Tony Abbott said speculation that Costello was approached to take up a front bench position was nothing but “feverish gossip”.

Nelson to quit politics

Meanwhile, former opposition leader and defence and education minister Brendan Nelson says he will not be re-contesting his Sydney seat of Bradfield at the next election.

It is believed Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Costello spoke on Sunday about the pressure on Ms Bishop to quit, and again yesterday after it was reported Mr Turnbull had made the offer to Mr Costello.

Mr Costello is believed to have told people that Ms Bishop had done nothing wrong, Fairfax reports.

Coonan new opposition finance spokesperson

Economic minister Senator Helen Coonan will replace Joe Hockey as opposition finance spokesperson.

In the minor reshuffle following Ms Bishop\’s announcement, Mr Turnbull said education spokesman Chris Pyne would take over Mr Hockey\’s tactically important role of manager of opposition business in the House of Representatives.

Tasmanian Senator Stephen Parry will become manager of opposition business in the Senate, lightening the load for Senator Coonan, in addition to his role as Senate opposition whip.

Mr Turnbull said both Mr Hockey and Senator Coonan, who was assistant treasurer and minister for revenue in the Howard government, would make “a formidable team to take on the Rudd government”.

Three shadow treasurers in 15 months

But Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner said that in 15 months of government, the opposition had appointed three different shadow treasurers and finance spokesmen.

“The Liberal Party\’s changed the jockey but it\’s still the same horse, they\’ve voted against jobs, voted against nation building in the parliament last week and is hysterically exaggerating the government debt,” Mr Tanner said.

“Yeah, Joe\’s a nice bloke, he seems to present pretty well, he\’s also the same bloke who a week or two ago was saying the last people you\’d want to listen to in a global economic crisis is economists.”

Mr Hockey praised his predecessor in a statement saying Ms Bishop had “done a very good job” in laying the foundation for the party\’s economic policy for the next election.

Neither Mr Turnbull\’s office nor that of former treasurer and now backbencher Peter Costello would confirm speculation that Mr Costello was offered a frontbench spot only to decline the role.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout appeared to favour the change, saying the role of shadow treasurer was a big task in the current economic times “but Joe Hockey hasn\’t shied away from big challenges in the past”.

“We have a lot of respect for Julie Bishop having worked closely with her in a number of roles,” Ms Ridout added.

An Essential Research poll, asking whether Mr Turnbull or Mr Costello would make a better Opposition leader, found 37 per cent favoured Mr Costello and 26 per cent Mr Turnbull.

Coalition voters favoured Mr Costello over Mr Turnbull 46-36 per cent; Labor voters preferred Mr Costello to Mr Turnbull 37-22 per cent, Fairfax reported.

Ms Bishop rejected suggestions she\’d been pushed after a series of leaks to the media in the past week that suggested she was not up to the job.

“I formed the opinion, I have made the judgment, it is my call,” Ms Bishop told reporters in Perth.

“While I believe I have carried out my duties as shadow treasurer diligently and competently, I have formed the opinion that the ongoing commentary on my role has been a distraction from the scrutiny that should have been applied to the government\’s reckless economic performance.”

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NSW residents cut off by floods

A caravan park has been evacuated and a town is cut off by floodwaters as heavy rain continues on the NSW mid-north coast.


The town of Bellingen, with a population of about 2,700, is isolated after its main road, Waterfall Way, was cut by floodwaters on Tuesday.

“Both sides of the town are flooded,” the manager of the Diggers Tavern said.

The State Emergency Service (SES) said the flooding occurred after the Bellingen River peaked at Bellingen about 11am (AEDT) on today.

The flood peak was now moving down the river and was expected to peak about 3pm (AEDT) at Repton and Urunga.

Twenty-four people had been evacuated from the Repton Riverside Caravan Park in anticipation of flooding there, an SES spokeswoman said.

No other evacuations were planned, but the SES was “keeping an eye on things”, she said.

The SES had received about 150 calls for assistance from residents of the Bellingen area since the heavy rain began on Friday, the spokeswoman said.

Bourke declared natural disaster zoneMeanwhile Bourke has been declared a natural disaster zone by the New South Wales government following major flooding in the state\’s north-west over the weekend.Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan visited Bourke today to inspect flood damage and thank local emergency services for their efforts.

Almost 200mm of rain about two-thirds of the region\’s annual rainfall fell over 15 hours from last Friday night and the situation was made worse by another 27mm of rain yesterday.

Mr Whan says the natural disaster declaration will provide for a range of assistance to residents, council and business owners who suffered property damage.

Weather warnings

The Bureau of Meterology also issued a flood warning for Sydney after heavy rain overnight and further heavy falls and flash flooding are forecast for today.

The is a strong wind warning for coastal waters between Wooli and Ulladulla on the NSW coast and gale warnings for the Mid North Coast and Hunter Coast.

For emergency assistance call the SES on telephone number 132 500.

For the latest weather forecast see the Bureau\’s website.

FloodSafe advice is available here.

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Earth-like planets \’in our galactic neighborhood\’

“There are something like a few dozen solar-type stars within something like 30 light years of the sun, and I would think that a good number of those — perhaps half of them have Earth-like planets,” Alan Boss told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AASS).


“So I think there is a very good chance that we will find some Earth-like planets within 10, 20 or 30 light years of the Sun,” the astrophysicist from the Carnegie Institution for Science told his AAAS colleagues meeting here since Thursday.

One light year equals the distance light travels in one year at the speed of 300,000 kilometers per second, or 9.46 trillion kilometers.

Boss is convinced that the Earth-sized planets could be found either by the Kepler space telescope US space agency NASA plans to launch on March 5, or by the French-European telescope-equipped COROT satellite that has been in orbit since 2006.

“I will be absolutely astonished if Kepler or COROT didn\’t find any earth-like planets, because basically we are finding them already,” Boss told a press conference Saturday when asked why he felt so confident.

COROT has already discovered the smallest extraterrestrial planet so far.

At a little over twice the Earth\’s diameter, the planet is very close to its star and very hot, astronomers reported earlier this month.

Boss said Kepler and COROT will likely find so many Earth-like planets that they will “tell us how to go ahead and build the next space telescope to go and examine these planets, after we know they are there.”

The images from those new planets, he added, should identify “light from their atmosphere and tell us if they have perhaps methane and oxygen.

That will be pretty strong proof they are not only habitable but actually are inhabited.”

“I am not talking about a planet with intelligence on it. I simply say if you have a habitable world … sitting there, with the right temperature with water for a billion years, something is going to come out of it. “At least we will have microbes,” said Boss.

Raymond Jeanloz, professor of astronomy, earth and planetary science at the University of California at Berkeley, delved further into the matter.

“I can strongly reinforce Alan Boss\’s point that life from this perspective that is very much driven by our understanding from the genome, is in some sense \’inevitable,\'” if the same basic building blocks of life that exist on Earth are present.

“The distinction will be more between a class of life form that can communicate with us versus … the vast abundance of life forms recorded in our fossil records, namely microbial life.”

On the possibility of finding an extra-terrestrial civilization, Boss said the research “is an interesting one and an important one to do because, even though there is a small probability of success, if you actually find something, it is an immense discovery to make.

“So you say, \’yes, this is worth doing.\'”

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Factbox: Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge tribunal

Here are key facts about Cambodia’s long road from genocide to justice:


The communist Khmer Rouge seized control of Cambodia in April 1975 and immediately began dismantling modern society in their drive to transform the country into an agrarian utopia.


The regime abolished religion, schools and currency and exiled millions of people onto vast collective farms. Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork or were executed from 1975 to 1979. The horrors of the genocide were portrayed in the film The Killing Fields.


The Khmer Rouge were driven from power in 1979 by Vietnamese troops and former regime members who defected, including Hun Sen, now Cambodia’s prime minister. He was a mid-level military commander until fleeing to Vietnam in 1977. Under him, the Cambodian government fought the Khmer Rouge until the movement collapsed in the mid-1990s.


Cambodia and the United Nations signed an agreement in 2003 which essentially brought the tribunal into being and set out its mandate. Known as the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), it is a complex hybrid court combining elements of international law with Cambodia’s judiciary.

Its mandate is to prosecute “those most responsible” for crimes committed between 1975 and 1979. The tribunal has faced controversy over allegations that Cambodian staff were forced by their superiors to pay kickbacks for their jobs.

It can impose a sentence of imprisonment of up to life in prison. There is no death penalty and no financial compensation for victims. It is funded by foreign nations, the biggest donors being Japan and Germany.

The tribunal was widely praised for its landmark first trial but it has come under fire from survivors in recent months who fear the court is bowing to political pressure to wind up proceedings after the second trial.

Officially, the court is still looking into two more cases against five other unnamed Khmer Rouge suspects but observers widely expect these third and fourth cases to be dismissed.

The Cambodian government has repeatedly objected to further trials, saying they could destabilise the country.


After Duch, the court is scheduled to try Khmer Rouge “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea,former head of state Khieu Samphan, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary, and his wife, former social affairs minister Ieng Thirith, all on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The court is also due to rule whether to pursue charges against other former leaders after the Cambodian co-prosecutor said such a move would destabilise the country. Many observers say the decision on whether to prosecute more Khmer Rouge suspects represents a test of the court’s independence from the current Cambodian government.


Because of the tribunal’s limited scope, thousands of lower-level Khmer Rouge members and fighters who carried out the regime’s brutal acts will never face court. Also escaping justice are “Brother Number One” Pol Pot, who died in 1998, and military commander Ta Mok, one of the regime’s most vicious figures, who was in jail when he died in 2006.

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Khmer Rouge trial: Who is Duch?

Khmer Rouge torturer-in-chief Duch once taught maths to school children but put his cold, calculating mind to far more devastating use as head of a jail from which few inmates ever came out alive.


The 67-year-old — whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav — oversaw the extermination of some 15,000 men, women and children at the Tuol Sleng prison in Cambodia’s capital during the communist regime’s brutal 1975-1979 rule.

Those who worked under him at the prison testified that Duch was universally feared by the staff.

Most who worked there were uneducated teenage boys, whom Duch said could be easily indoctrinated because they were “like a blank piece of paper”.

“Comrade” Duch begged for forgiveness at Cambodia’s UN-backed war crimes court for crimes committed under his command at the jail, where prisoners were tortured into denouncing themselves and others as foreign spies.

But victims questioned whether his remorse was genuine after Duch asked to be acquitted in his closing remarks in November, and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison Monday for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

As a staunch communist, then a born-again Christian and finally remorseful defendant, Duch seemed to always strive to please those above him, making his request to be released all the more surprising.

“He is meticulous, conscientious, control-oriented, attentive to detail and seeks recognition from his superiors,” according to a psychological examination released by the UN-backed court.

Born in 1942 in central Cambodia, Duch is remembered as a sincere teacher devoted to helping the poor, before he became a Khmer Rouge cadre in 1970.

The decision to join the communist guerrilla movement was influenced by one of his high school instructors, who also enlisted but would later be executed at Tuol Sleng as a suspected traitor.

“I joined the revolution in order to transform society, to oppose the government, to oppose torture,” Duch said during his trial.

“I sacrificed everything for the revolution, sincerely and absolutely.”

Inside the rebel-controlled zones, he chose Duch as his revolutionary name because it was used by a model student in a schoolbook from his youth.

He then oversaw a series of jungle prisons before being made head of Tuol Sleng after the regime seized the capital in 1975.

What began as only a few dozen prisoners turned into a daily torrent of condemned coming through Tuol Sleng, or S-21, as the regime purged itself of its “enemies”.

Ever meticulous, Duch built up a huge archive of photos, confessions and other documents with which prosecutors traced the final horrible months of thousands of inmates’ lives.

Following the Khmer Rouge’s fall from power, he maintained posts within the communist movement as it battled Vietnam-backed troops.

He also reportedly worked in the 1980s for Radio China and later taught English and maths in at least one refugee camp.

After his wife was murdered in 1995, Duch turned to Christianity.

He was arrested after Irish photojournalist Nic Dunlop uncovered him working for a Christian aid agency in western Cambodia under a false name.

Before that, many had long assumed he was dead following his disappearance after Vietnamese troops ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

“I told Nic Dunlop, ‘Christ brought you to meet me’,” Duch told his trial. “I said, ‘Before I used to serve human beings, but now I serve God’.”

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Firefighter killed battling bushfires

A firefighter from Canberra has died while battling a blaze near the devastated Victorian town of Marysville, after a tree branch fell on his vehicle.


Victoria Police said a firefighter had been killed on the fireground at Cambarville, east of Marysville, at about 7pm (AEDT) on Tuesday.

“Initial reports indicate the man and a passenger were driving in the area when a tree limb fell on the vehicle,” spokeswoman Senior Constable Karla Dennis said.

The driver died at the scene, near the intersection of the Warburton-Woods Point and Marysville-Woods Point roads, about 20km east of Marysville.

A second person in the car was uninjured.

Truck hit by falling tree

The ACT Emergency Service Agency later confirmed the death of one of its firefighters in Victoria.

“A large tree appears to have crashed on to one of our fire tankers at Cambarville, resulting in an ACT Fire Brigade firefighter confirmed dead,” said agency commissioner Gregor Manson.

“Fortunately, no other firefighters were injured,” he said.

ACT Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell described the news as tragic.

“I am extremely saddened to hear the news of the loss of one of our highly respected and dedicated firefighters,” Mr Corbell said.

The dead firefighter has not yet been named.

Deadly fires still raging

The Emergency Services Agency has created a special hotline for family and friends of ACT firefighters deployed in Victoria. The number is (02) 6232 5639.

The accident happened high in the Yarra Ranges National Park, which has been ravaged by bushfires that have raged in the area for more than a week.

Hundreds of interstate and overseas personnel have been brought in to assist local Victorian crews fighting Australia\’s greatest bushfire disaster.

Major collisions police will investigate and prepare a report for the Victorian coroner.

The death brings the toll from Victoria\’s fires to 201, just hours after authorities announced it had reached 200 with the discovery of 11 new bodies.

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Rich or poor, tobacco still a killer

Previous research in developed countries have shown that disparities in income translate into significant gaps in health and longevity.


But the extra years of life that, on average, come with being in the highest social brackets are more than wiped out by smoking, showed the study, which tracked mortality rates over a 28-year period among 15,000 men and women entering into old age.

Lighting up likewise cancelled out the survival advantage enjoyed the world over by women, who generally live several years longer than men.

The findings also confirmed that it is never too late to quit: ex-smokers had survival rates much closer to those who had never smoked than to those with a confirmed tobacco habit.

For the study, residents aged 45 to 64 from two towns in western Scotland, recruited in the mid-1970s, were divided into four groups depending on their social class and income level.

They were further divided by sex, and into smokers, former smokers, and “never smokers” who had consistently avoided the tobacco habit.

Survival rates after 28 years spelled out the risks of smoking with stark clarity.

Among non-smokers who had never smoked, the survival rate was 65 per cent for women and 53 per cent for men in the top social tier. The rates in the lowest tier were 56 for women and 36 for men.

For women who smoked, the percentage of survivors dropped to 40 for the most affluent smokers, and 35 for those on the bottom rungs of the social ladder – fully 30 percentage points less than wealthy non-smokers.

For men the gaps were even larger. Smoking cut the survival rate for the well heeled in half to 25 per cent, and for the most income-challenged the percentage dropped to 18.

For both sexes, smoking had a far more devastating impact on mortality than being poor.

“This study provides further evidence that cigarettes indiscriminately damage and kill their users, regardless of social position,” said the study, led by Laurence Gruer at NHS Health Scotland and published in the British Medical Journal.

“Smoking itself was a source of greater health inequality than other factors associated with social position in that population.”

The results also suggest that moving up the socioeconomic ladder will have little effect on the health of those who continue to puff away.

“The combination of the greatly increased mortality of smokers with the now much lower prevalence of smoking among the more affluent is the major contributor to the widening health inequalities observed in the United Kingdom and other industrialised countries,” the researchers concluded.

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Firefighter killed in bush blazes named

A firefighter who died when he was hit by a falling tree while battling Victoria\’s bushfire disaster has been identified as a father-of-three from Canberra.


David Balfour, 46, from Gilmore in the ACT, was killed on Tuesday evening when his crew – drafted in to battle Australia\’s worst wildfires – were on their last shift in the disaster zone.

Mr Balfour, a firefighter for 10 years, was connecting a hose to his team\’s tanker in the Yarra Ranges National Park at Cambarville, near Marysville, when a tree branch fell onto him.

The United Firefighters\’ Union has asked of Australia\’s fire brigades to observe a minute\’s silence in his honour before beginning their shifts on Wednesday.

“Mr Balfour was a well respected elected officer of the United Firefighters\’ Union, ACT Branch who served his fellow fire-fighters and the community at the highest level,” UFU national secretary Peter Marshall said.

\’Horrific tragedy\’

“It is extremely sad that a person with such a strong record in promoting community safety has paid the ultimate price for its protection.

“On behalf of 13,000 firefighters nationwide, our deepest sympathies go out to his family, friends and colleagues,” Mr Marshall said.

The government has also paid tribute to Mr Balfour, with Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin describing his death as a “horrific tragedy”.

“All I can say to his family is that he has paid a terrible, terrible price and he\’ll certainly never be forgotten,” she said.

Mr Balfour is survived by his wife and three children, aged nine to 15.

The 120 members of his ACT firefighting team are believed to be on their way back to Canberra on Wednesday.

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Facebook halts changes amid protests

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, in a post on the company blog, said the popular networking site was withdrawing the change to its terms of use that prompted concern among users over who owns the content on Facebook.


The February 4 change to the terms – the online agreement that users must accept to join – included new language giving Facebook “perpetual worldwide licence” to anything posted on the network.

The move sparked a backlash among users with more than 85,000 joining a Facebook group calling itself “People Against the new Terms of Service”.

Zuckerberg, in his blog post, said Facebook “had received a lot of questions and comments about the changes and what they mean for people and their information.

“Based on this feedback, we have decided to return to our previous terms of use while we resolve the issues that people have raised,” he said.

Facebook reverts to previous terms of use

Facebook posted a “Terms of Use Update” on the home pages of the tens of millions of Facebook members on Wednesday explaining the decision to revert to the previous terms and invited members to share their thoughts.

Zuckerberg said the terms would be revised – but with the input of users this time. “More than 175 million people use Facebook,” he said. “If it were a country, it would be the sixth most populated country in the world.

“Our terms aren\’t just a document that protect our rights; it\’s the governing document for how the service is used by everyone across the world.

“Since this will be the governing document that we\’ll all live by, Facebook users will have a lot of input in crafting these terms,” Zuckerberg said.

Facebook members routinely share comments, pictures and more online and the website needs legal permission to be a platform for such exchanges.

Facebook bill of rights created

Zuckerberg said a new group had been created – “Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” – to allow users to post “questions, comments and requests”.

The group had more than 55,000 members just a few hours after its creation. Facebook also posted an apology for its handling of the issue.

“We never intended to claim ownership over people\’s content even though that\’s what it seems like to many people,” the statement said.

“This was a mistake and we apologise for the confusion.”

Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt, meanwhile, addressed the users who joined the protest group and reiterated that Facebook had never claimed ownership of the photos and other content posted on users\’ pages or shared with friends.

“Facebook does not, nor have we ever, claimed ownership over people\’s content. Your content belongs to you,” he wrote on the protest page.

“Selling user information for profit or using it to advertise Facebook in some way was never part of our original intent,” he said.

“Assurances aren\’t enough, though, and we plan to codify this in our revised terms through simple language that defines Facebook\’s rights much more specifically.”

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Zimbabwe ministerial pick charged

Roy Bennett, a leading figure in Tsvangirai\’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was formally charged with illegal possession of arms for purposes of committing banditry, insurgency and terrorism, as well as immigration violation.


The 52-year-old appeared in the Mutare magistrate\’s court shortly after the historic cabinet session at the Munhumutapa government headquarters in downtown Harare.

He was remanded in custody for a new appearance on Wednesday.

Bennett\’s case had overshadowed the historic cabinet meeting, from which little detail emerged.

“This was a familiarisation of how issues are addressed or are discussed in cabinet,” a government source told AFP.

“It was a really good beginning as members interacted really well.” However, no further details were forthcoming on what issues were raised in the inaugural meeting which lasted around two hours.

“People are sworn to secrecy on the cabinet deliberations,” the source said. Bennett is earmarked to join the government as deputy agriculture minister when junior ministers are sworn in this week.

The arms possession charge stems from 2006, when weapons were discovered in the home of a currently imprisoned former white policeman, Peter Michael Hischmann, who said they belonged to Bennett, a source in the attorney general\’s office said.

The second charge stems from Bennett\’s arrest last week at a Harare airport where he was accused of having tried to leave Zimbabwe without presenting himself to an immigration officer.

The party had maintained that the charges are trumped-up and said Tuesday that it was “inconceivable” that Bennett\’s nomination for office would be withdrawn.

“The earlier that is accepted, the earlier the inclusive government can get down to the real work of creating conditions for economic recovery and dismantling institutions of dictatorship that have haunted Zimbabwe for some long,” it said.

“The country needs healing.” The MDC\’s secretary general and newly appointed finance minister Tendai Biti said Monday the party would take unspecified “action” if Bennett was not released.

“The prime minister is in touch with Mugabe. We hope that the situation will be resolved today,” Biti told South African radio. Ministers in the unity government reported for work Monday, with some holding meetings with Tsvangirai and his deputies, The new Prime Minister also met representatives of teachers unions and donor communities.

Most teachers in public schools have been on strike over pay since last year and Tsvangirai has promised to pay them and other key professionals and soldiers in foreign currency from the end of this month.

Zimbabwe, once seen as a post-colonial success story, has been brought to its knees by the collapse of its economy since the turn of the decade and the inflation rate is now the highest in the world.

The economic crisis has also led to the collapse of the country\’s health infrastructure and more than 3,000 people have been killed by a cholera outbreak in recent weeks.

The former British colony has been ruled since independence in 1980 by Mugabe who was beaten into second place by Tsvangirai in the first-round of a presidential election in March last year.

Tsvangirai subsequently pulled out of the run-off after scores of his supporters were killed and only agreed to enter the unity government after months of wrangling over the division of powers.

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