The painstaking search for a missing mother and her baby continues in Sydney’s inner west, with firefighters going brick by brick through the rubble of a burnt-out building.

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Rescue workers are searching for Bianka O’Brien and her 12-month-old son Jude after fire engulfed a convenience store in Rozelle and adjoining units at 4am on Thursday.

It’s believed Ms O’Brien, 31, and her baby were asleep in a unit upstairs at the rear of the shop.

A 30-year-old man, who lived in a neighbouring unit, is also missing.

This image shows the Rozelle building hit by explosion. Its been completely destroyed. (Photo from @FRNSW) #SBSnews pic.twitter广西桑拿,/8aECUL0P4b

— Antoinette Lattouf (@antoinette_news) September 4, 2014

NSW Fire and Rescue (NSWFR) Superintendent Paul Johnstone said rescue teams were going “brick by brick” for the safety of firefighters and anyone still trapped under the debris.

“We may be a quarter of the way through (a search of the area),” Supt Johnstone said.

He said rescue teams were preparing to work through the night.

“We are still working with the hope there is a response, but it is a dire situation,” he said.

Sniffer dogs, cameras, listening devices and cherry-pickers are all being used.

Emergency specialists have been shoring up the walls of the surrounding buildings.

The husband of the missing mother was not home when an explosion shook the street early on Thursday morning.

Supt Johnstone said the blast had blown out windows up to 100 metres away.

#Rozelle fire and explosion #today Before and after pics. Well done to the Fireys, Police and Ambos for their work pic.twitter广西桑拿,/7m9GPQlcFj

— Andy (@anastasi_andy) September 4, 2014

Two residents jumped from the first storey of the burning building and another man was pulled out of the rubble by hand after being stuck under a refrigerator.

Police Superintendent Clive Ainley said there was a report of a car driving away from the scene when the explosion occurred.

“I don’t know what part that car plays in the investigation at this time,” he said.

Darling St is expected to remain closed for the rest of Thursday and possibly into Friday.

Neighbour Anthony Carroll, who lost everything in the fire, said he was asleep in a unit next door where he lived with his father when he heard a massive explosion.

“Within 30 seconds my room was full of smoke,” he said.

“I just grabbed what I’ve got on and got out of there.

“There were people screaming and yelling and people trapped in the place next door, so it was pandemonium.”

 

 


The Wallabies’ front row is bracing for a South African scrum hellbent on “making them hurt” after the Springbok pack was completely dominated by Argentina.

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The South Africans’ reputation as world class scrummagers took a fierce beating in their last start win against the Pumas in Salta, losing four of their six scrum feeds.

It’s a stat that hasn’t gone unnoticed by either side, with reserve prop Pek Cowan admitting the Wallabies were first cab off the rank to face a Boks’ backlash at Perth’s Patersons Stadium come Saturday.

“Clearly they’ll take that personally,” Cowan said.

“They’ll definitely be coming here to hurt us in that area.”

Yet the Springboks weren’t the only side to face issues at the scrum in their last start, with Cowan admitting it was also a problem area for the Wallabies in their 51-20 flogging from New Zealand.

“Once you have a bad game, you look at areas of improvement and the scrum for both of us is an area we’ll really want to improve on,” Cowan said.

“The South Africans haven’t been as dominant as they’d probably like to be, especially at scrum time, so they’ve clearly picked a scrummaging pack and they’ll definitely be coming here to rustle a few feathers.”

Boks coach Heyneke Meyer has beefed up his pack for the clash with four starting changes in the forwards – and three in the tight-five – bringing in Marcell Coetzee, lineout master Victor Matfield, Adriaan Strauss and Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira.

Springboks hooker Strauss, who replaces rested rake Bismarck du Plessis, said they’d been hitting the scrummaging machine so relentlessly in the past fortnight that his neck had started to give him grief.

“I must say my neck is a bit stiff,” he said.

“We’ve really worked hard and we want to better our performance from Salta.

“It was a couple of technical things that we didn’t do well on the day. Luckily all of that we can fix.

“We just need to scrum better – and we’re excited to put things right again.”

The added focus on the two sides’ scrums means Wallabies’ hooker James Hanson will face a baptism of fire when he makes his run-on debut.

While Hanson is Australia’s fourth string hooker behind the injured Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Nathan Charles, Strauss has no doubts his opposite will be more than up to the task.

“It’s dangerous to focus on your opponents too much, but of course we have done our homework – and Hanson’s a good scrummager,” Strauss said.


The way Anthony Griffin sees it, Brisbane’s must-win NRL clash in Melbourne on Friday night is not about him.

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But the man affectionately known as “Hook” will find it hard to stay out of the headlines if the Broncos win and pull off something Griffin’s bosses clearly doubted their coach could inspire – a top eight berth.

Players have made no secret of the fact they will be “doing it for Hook” when their season goes on the line against the Storm.

Especially in Griffin’s 100th game at the helm.

However, they may be tempted to say something else to the Broncos bosses who tapped Griffin on the shoulder in July if they notch a rare win in Melbourne – “I told you so”.

“A lot of players are here because of Hook,” Broncos forward Matt Gillett said.

“He stuck by us so we want to stick by him and do a good job for him.

“I am sure he doesn’t want us to be thinking that way but he is why a lot of players are around here – it’s because of him.”

Griffin could not avoid the spotlight on the eve of a match that could abruptly end his four-year Broncos tenure.

At first Griffin attempted to deflect it by finding the funny side of his “dead man walking” status.

Asked by a reporter on Thursday if it was a do or die clash, Griffin laughed: “That’s a real sharp question.

“You just need to replay (his response from) the last five weeks.”

But the biggest laugh from Griffin came when asked if he sensed that his players were “doing it for him”.

“No, mate, no,” said Griffin of a Brisbane side that had won three of their past four games to keep their finals hopes alive.

“It’s a great time of the year to be playing games like this – that’s my feeling.”

Then Griffin attempted his best impersonation of the man who will replace him next season – Wayne Bennett.

Brisbane must end a seven-game losing streak against the Storm and clinch their first win in Melbourne since round nine 2010 to scrape into the finals.

Still, Griffin tried to convince the media it was just another game.

“We have been in this spot for five weeks, it is nothing new for us,” he said.

The closest Griffin got to touching on his situation was when his 100th game was mentioned.

“I would have been happy with one (game) four or five years ago,” he said.

“It was always an ambition of mine to coach in the NRL. To think I got to 100 is a nice feeling.”


There are early signs the next set of official economic growth figures will be a little more upbeat.

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Consumers appear to have got over their post-budget blues, while exports are on the move again.

Economists believe new figures suggest the economy will be looking healthier in the second half of 2014 after June quarter growth figures proved a bit disappointing.

Retail spending grew 0.4 per cent in July to a record $23.3 billion, continuing a recovery in consumer confidence from the sharp negative reaction to the May budget.

Thursday’s numbers showed that even the ACT, which will bear the brunt of public service job cuts, enjoyed a 2.6 per cent retail surge in July – the first positive growth in the national capital since December 2013.

The strongest growth across the nation was in department stores, dining out and food retailing.

The result provided some optimism for retailers who believe consumers have got over their anxiety about the budget.

“This gives us hope that the trend will continue as the warmer months arrive,” National Retail Association chief Trevor Evans said.

That’s the spring fashion season and the lead-up to the vital pre-Christmas trading period.

Australian Retailers Association boss Russell Zimmerman isn’t getting too carried away, urging the Reserve Bank to keep interest rates low.

After being a large drag on economic growth in the June quarter, exports too rose in July to outpace flat imports.

It meant the monthly international trade deficit improved for a second month in a row to $1.36 billion, after topping $2 billion in May.

RBC Capital Markets strategist Michael Turner said while the trade figures are starting the September quarter on a better note, the ongoing slide in spot commodity prices – especially iron ore – suggest surpluses are unlikely in the near term.


Having already played the longest match of the tournament in the fourth round, a bruising four-hour 19-minute battle with Canadian Milos Raonic, Nishikori had enough left in the tank to get past third seed Stan Wawrinka 3-6 7-5 7-6 (7) 6-7 (5) 6-4 in a four-hour 15-minute test of wills to become the first Japanese man into the last four of a grand slam in 81 years.

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Bidding to reach the Flushing Meadows final for a fifth straight year, Djokovic did not need five sets to tame a valiant Andy Murray 7-6 (1) 6-7 (1) 6-2 6-4 but the big Serb did have to dig deep to see off his longtime rival who was in obvious distress at the end of what had been a wildly enthralling stadium court encounter.

While Murray and Djokovic battled their way through a 73 minute opening set, 32-year-old Williams needed just 63 minutes in total on a sultry evening to breeze past Italian Flavia Pennetta 6-3 6-2 and become the oldest player to reach the last four at Flushing Meadows since Martina Navratilova in 1991.

Russian left-hander Makarova, who will take on Williams for a spot in Sunday’s final, made her best mark in grand slam singles by outslugging Victoria Azarenka, the U.S. Open runner-up the last two years, 6-4 6-2 in a snappy 87 minutes.

While the day presented plenty of intriguing matchups it was the late night clash under the Arthur Ashe Stadium floodlights between Murray and Djokovic, in a rematch of the 2012 final won by the Scotsman, that was always going to be the showstopper.

The pair delivered on the promise, combining for some stunning long rallies until Murray struggled with his movement near the end and required a hot compress for his back midway through the fourth set.

But he produced arguably his best tennis since having back surgery 11 months ago and gave the top seed a real scare.

“I think we played a very physical match in the first two hours,” Djokovic said. “I am very glad to get through to another semi-final.

“We both gave our best. At times, the tennis was not that nice, we made a lot of unforced errors but that’s due to a very physical battle we had in the first two sets.

“I knew coming into the match that he was going to go for his shots and the one who was the most aggressive would win. I am glad I managed to stay fit in the end and pull through.”

UNBELIEVABLE FEELING

Next up for Djokovic will be the tireless Nishikori who is turning into the Flushing Meadows ironman having clocked up eight hours and 34 over his last two matches.

Nishikori arrived at sun-bathed Arthur Ashe Stadium looking fresh despite having played the latest finishing match ever at the U.S. Open a day earlier, when he walked off court on Tuesday morning at 2:26 a.m. local time.

“I don’t know how I finished the game, but I’m happy,” an exhausted Nishikori, who had a medical timeout in the third set to have his right foot taped, told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.

“I feel amazing. I’m very happy to come to my first semi. I hope I can recover again and hopefully I can play 100 percent tennis next round.”

Williams sleepwalked through the start of her quarter-final with Pennetta as the 11th seeded Italian broke twice on the way to a shock 3-0 lead.

But the 17-time grand slam winner awoke from her slumber, storming through the next six games and romping to an easy win.

“It feels so special to be back in the semi-finals for the first time this year,” Williams, yet to lose more than three games in any set this championship, told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling. I’m so happy to have done it here.”

(Editing by Patrick Johnston)


In the end, the Scotsman’s body betrayed him and he was eliminated 7-6 (1) 6-7 (1) 6-2 6-4 in a three hour 32 minute quarter-final that gave him some optimism going forward.

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Murray has yet to win a title since last year’s Wimbledon and his subsequent back surgery, but on Arthur Ashe Stadium there were glimpses of his full power.

“I played well,” he told reporters as the clock neared 2 AM on Thursday morning. “Especially the first couple of sets was some good tennis.

“I was down in the first set and I fought back. I was down in the second set and a break and I fought back. So I fought hard. I played some good tennis. But it wasn’t enough.

“Right now I’m obviously disappointed. It’s extremely late. I’m tired. I don’t feel particularly proud right now. I feel disappointed. But I think there was some good tennis.

“Hopefully I can build on that.”

After giving as good as he got over the first two sets, Murray began to wear down late in the third. He walked gingerly, leaned on his racket like a cane, and picked his spots to cut loose on his groundstrokes.

“I got stiff in my hips and my back towards the end of the third set,” said Murray. “I didn’t hurt anything. It was just I think fatigue and I stiffened up.”

Murray said playing against his old friend and rival Djokovic was a good measuring stick.

“Maybe, I haven’t played enough matches at that level this year,” the eighth seed said. “I mean, it’s obviously different playing against the number one in the world, and the way that we play against each other, it’s just an extremely physical match.

Murray said locking horns with Djokovic was the ultimate test, one he passed in 2012 when he beat the Serb in five sets to win the U.S. Open crown for his first grand slam title.

And passed again in three long sets when he claimed his treasured Wimbledon triumph.

“Whereas, maybe when I play against Roger (Federer), for example, it’s quicker points. So physically, that’s not as demanding.

“But when me and Novak play against each other – you obviously see very tight, long rallies. Both of us do a lot of running. Maybe I’ll gain a lot from playing a match like today.

“Because it doesn’t matter how much training you do, when you get on the match court it’s different. I can’t practice with the best player in the world, so it’s tough to practice at that intensity.”

Before the stiffness set in, Murray was ripping forehands with sizzling gusto and seizing the moment to unleash winners.

It was enough to make him wish there were more grand slams remaining on the 2014 calendar.

“I played some nice tennis at times,” he repeated. “It’s a shame. Obviously, the slams are over for this year, so I have to wait a few months before the next one.”

(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Patrick Johnston)


By Philip Kokic, CSIRO; Mark Howden, CSIRO, and Steven Crimp, CSIRO

Published in the journal Climate Risk Management today, our research is the first to quantify the probability of historical changes in global temperatures and examines the links to greenhouse gas emissions using rigorous statistical techniques.

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Our new CSIRO work provides an objective assessment linking global temperature increases to human activity, which points to a close to certain probability exceeding 99.999%.

Our work extends existing approaches undertaken internationally to detect climate change and attribute it to human or natural causes. The 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report provided an expert consensus that:

It is extremely likely [defined as 95-100% certainty] that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic [human-caused] increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.

Decades of extraordinary temperatures

July 2014 was the 353rd consecutive month in which global land and ocean average surface temperature exceeded the 20th-century monthly average. The last time the global average surface temperature fell below that 20th-century monthly average was in February 1985, as reported by the US-based National Climate Data Center.

This means that anyone born after February 1985 has not lived a single month where the global temperature was below the long-term average for that month.

We developed a statistical model that related global temperature to various well-known drivers of temperature variation, including El Niño, solar radiation, volcanic aerosols and greenhouse gas concentrations. We tested it to make sure it worked on the historical record and then re-ran it with and without the human influence of greenhouse gas emissions.

Our analysis showed that the probability of getting the same run of warmer-than-average months without the human influence was less than 1 chance in 100,000.

We do not use physical models of Earth’s climate, but observational data and rigorous statistical analysis, which has the advantage that it provides independent validation of the results.

Detecting and measuring human influence

Our research team also explored the chance of relatively short periods of declining global temperature. We found that rather than being an indicator that global warming is not occurring, the observed number of cooling periods in the past 60 years strongly reinforces the case for human influence.

We identified periods of declining temperature by using a moving 10-year window (1950 to 1959, 1951 to 1960, 1952 to 1961, etc.) through the entire 60-year record. We identified 11 such short time periods where global temperatures declined.

Our analysis showed that in the absence of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, there would have been more than twice as many periods of short-term cooling than are found in the observed data.

There was less than 1 chance in 100,000 of observing 11 or fewer such events without the effects of human greenhouse gas emissions.

 

CSIRO scientists Dr Steve Rintoul, Dr John Church and Dr Pep Canadell explain how and why the Earth’s climate is warming.

 

The problem and the solution

Why is this research important? For a start, it might help put to rest some common misunderstandings about there being no link between human activity and the observed, long-term trend of increasing global temperatures.

Our analysis – as well as the work of many others – shows beyond reasonable doubt that humans are contributing to significant changes in our climate.

Good risk management is all about identifying the most likely causes of a problem, and then acting to reduce those risks. Some of the projected impacts of climate change can be avoided, reduced or delayed by effective reduction in global net greenhouse gas emissions and by effective adaptation to the changing climate.

Ignoring the problem is no longer an option. If we are thinking about action to respond to climate change or doing nothing, with a probability exceeding 99.999% that the warming we are seeing is human-induced, we certainly shouldn’t be taking the chance of doing nothing.

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.


By Benjamin T.

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Jones, University of Western Sydney

The culture wars that dominated the narrative during John Howard’s prime ministership have returned with the ascension of his self-described “political love child”, Tony Abbott. While Abbott is sometimes lampooned as Australia’s version of gaffe-prone US president George W. Bush, the consistency and clarity of his controversial interpretation of Australian history suggests it is deliberate and considered.

Howard lamented the so-called “black armband” version of history. He resisted intense pressure for a formal apology to Indigenous people. Howard insisted that his government and contemporary Australians could not and should not say sorry for past transgressions.

Abbott is now using his prime ministerial influence to challenge the new orthodoxy that sees January 26, 1788, as the beginning of Aboriginal dispossession rather than a cause for national celebration.

This year, in the lead-up to Australia Day, retail giants Aldi and Big W were compelled to remove T-shirts with the slogan “Australia: Est 1788”. The blatant Euro-centrism of the message and the failure to recognise over 50,000 years of Aboriginal culture attracted a stinging backlash.

The Anglophile view

In July, however, Abbott credited the British government with creating Australia, stating initially that the country was “unsettled” before 1788 before correcting himself to “barely settled”. Were it a simple gaffe (or a Clintonian case of misspoke), Abbott’s minders would have gone into damage control and made sure it was not repeated. Instead, Abbott reinforced the sentiment last Friday, when he declared:

The First Fleet was the defining moment in the history of this continent.

In case there was any ambiguity, Abbott continued:

Let me repeat that, it was the defining moment in the history of this continent.

Far from a gaffe, this must be recognised as a conscious effort to rescue January 26, 1788, from negativity and return it to the focal point of national celebration it was as recently as 1988.

Australia’s Bicentennial was perhaps the grandest national celebration the country has ever witnessed. Even so, there was great confusion over how to appropriately mark the occasion.

For republicans, the prominence of visiting royals Charles and Diana was regressive. For many Australians, 1988 was the first time they considered that what some call Australia Day is also called Survival Day or Invasion Day.

No-one would question the significance of this day in Australian history. But is it really the moment that defines Australia as a nation? Outside of the long-dead imperial embrace, do Australians even know how to define themselves?

Howard suggested in 2003 that:

As a nation we’re over all that sort of identity stuff.

The palpable unease with which Australians observe their official national day suggests otherwise.

January 26, 1788, was the day a British convict colony was established on Aboriginal land and renamed New South Wales. There was no treaty, no democracy and no sense of being Australian. The very name would not be popularised by Matthew Flinders for decades.

Outside the prism of British race patriotism, it is hard to comprehend how this could be the moment that defines us as a nation.

A very long disengagement

If not 1788, then when is Australia’s defining moment?

January 1, 1901, perhaps? That’s a popular candidate, except all aspects of Federation point to a celebration of Britishness. Officiated by British royals, Federation brought six British colonies together to form a Commonwealth, which by 1907 was declared a dominion of the British empire. Things like Australian citizenship, Australian passports and Australian foreign policy did not exist and would not for decades.

From a legal point of view, Australia simply does not have one defining moment but rather a century-long disengagement. Australia ratified the Statute of Westminster in 1942 to become an autonomous member of the British empire. Australia adopted its own flag in 1954, albeit one based on a 1901 competition that specified the imperial connection must be included.

Australia replaced imperial knighthoods with the Order of Australia in 1975, although Abbott has brought back knights and dames. Australia eventually settled on its own anthem in 1984. The 1986 Australia Acts severed any parliamentary links between Britain and Australia.

January 1, 2001, was touted as the final piece of the puzzle when Australia would finally replace the Queen with a local head of state and become constitutionally independent of any other nation. With the No camp powerfully supported by monarchists Howard and Abbott, the 1999 referendum on becoming a republic failed. We remain with a foot in both old and new Australia.

 

Al Grassby, pictured launching a telephone interpreter service in 1973, helped create a distinct, inclusive Australian identity. National Archives of Australia A12111, 1/1973/25/73

 

Independent identity emerges

Australia may not have a neat date from a legal point of view, but perhaps Australians can find a defining moment in their cultural history. The Liberal governments of the 1960s slowly dismantled the “White Australia” policy before Gough Whitlam’s government removed its final remnants in 1973. Whitlam’s charismatic immigration minister, Al Grassby, definitively declared:

It is dead. Give me a shovel and I’ll bury it.

Grassby introduced the term multiculturalism to the Australian political lexicon and it became the government’s official policy. Following the Whitlam dismissal, the incoming Liberal government of Malcolm Fraser kept and strengthened the policy. This was demonstrated most dramatically in the wake of the Vietnam War when thousands of Vietnamese asylum seekers arrived by boat and were resettled.

Australia passed a nation-defining moral test in the 1970s. Having rejected the inherent racism of White Australia and abandoned the desire to create a homogenous British mono-culture, Australians opened their arms and hearts to a new philosophy that sees the beauty in diversity.

Racism still exists, of course. The ideas of Pauline Hanson and, more recently, Geert Wilders, do hold niche appeal but it is exactly that: an extreme and minority view. Overwhelmingly, multiculturalism has been an Australian success story.

1788 was not our defining moment. Rather, some two centuries later, we let old Australia fade into history and took our first steps into the new.

Through social pressure and political leadership on both sides, we decided that in new Australia our neighbours could be the Smiths or the Nguyens. Multiculturalism has brought to Australia a richness and diversity that Arthur Phillip and his reluctant fellow voyagers could not have fathomed.

As I stand before my classes in Bankstown, Parramatta and other suburbs of western Sydney, I see smiling faces from every background imaginable. I see the next generation of Australian leaders and am thankful to live in a multicultural society.

Perhaps we do not need to go back to the days of empire to find our defining moment. Some 40 years ago, we took a bold stand as a nation and we see the benefits of it every day.


Benjamin T. Jones does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.


Rogue MP Geoff Shaw will hang on until the Victorian election and reckons he’s being bullied by a premier who has lost the plot.

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All sides agree the Shaw “circus” is a distraction, but the government maintains it can get legislation through without the balance-of-power MP’s support.

The independent MP survived Premier Denis Napthine’s attempt to expel him from parliament, voting to save himself after Labor locked it up at 42 votes all.

Mr Shaw said the premier was acting erratically over comments in a newspaper.

“I think he’s lost the plot, to be perfectly honest,” Mr Shaw told reporters on Thursday.

“What he’s done is neglect five and a half million Victorians and go after one person, myself.

“He wants to pick on and bully the one and use all the tricks and all the shady stuff in parliament to be able to try to expel me.”

Dr Napthine attempted to expel Mr Shaw after the Frankston MP labelled his own apology to the parliament for misusing his entitlements a farce.

Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said the government would not try to expel Mr Shaw again – but it would not work with him to get legislation through.

“We have no intention of negotiating with Geoff Shaw over anything,” Mr Ryan told reporters.

Mr Ryan denied the long-running dispute with Mr Shaw had damaged the coalition in the eyes of the public.

“Has the whole saga been a distraction? Yes it has,” he said.

“But we’ve drawn a line under it today.”

Mr Shaw, who returned from a three-month suspension on Tuesday, said he would decide how he would vote on each piece of legislation as it came up.

“They’ve done without me for a few months,” Mr Shaw said.

It’s the second time Mr Shaw has survived an attempt to expel him from parliament, after a Labor motion failed in June.

This time Labor said it would not back the move because it was a stunt, saving Mr Shaw from expulsion with only six sitting days left before the November 29 state election.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said Mr Shaw had done what the parliament asked of him when it suspended him in June.

“That suspension has been served, the money has been repaid, an apology has been given,” Mr Andrews told parliament.

“The conditions of the motion have been fulfilled.”

Dr Napthine said Mr Shaw had “clearly and plainly demonstrated that his apology was not genuine” and he was mocking the parliament.

Mr Shaw said he had spoken to some Liberal MPs who believed the expulsion motion set a bad precedent.

He said he had not decided where his preferences would go at the election, but he wasn’t happy with the leadership in Victoria’s parliament.

“I don’t see leadership on the front bench of either the opposition or the government,” Mr Shaw said.

He said he had an informal chat with the conservative Rise Up Australia party about preferences, but he would remain independent.

Mr Shaw was suspended from parliament in June and ordered to make an apology and repay more than $6800 for misusing his parliamentary car, fuel card and parliamentary entitlements.


With a horror year almost behind them Cronulla are hopeful Shane Flanagan will be given the green light for an early return from his NRL-imposed suspension.

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Flanagan will sit down in front of a panel that includes the code’s CEO Dave Smith and integrity unit lawyer Nick Weeks within the next 10 days to start discussions on a potential three-month discount on his 12-month ban.

The 48-year-old was sanctioned after the NRL deemed he and former strength and conditioning coach Trent Elkin failed in their duty of care to players during the 2011 season.

Smith said when he imposed the suspension last December that Flanagan could potentially return after nine months providing he completed an intensive education and training course that focused on his responsibilities as a coach.

But there was speculation that because of the recent bans issued to Sharks players Paul Gallen, Anthony Tupou, Nathan Gardner, John Morris and Wade Graham by ASADA that Flanagan may be blocked from a September 17 return.

However, an NRL spokesperson confirmed the code would only be able to enforce that option should Flanagan fail to follow the guidelines laid down by Smith.

“This case only relates to the duty of care issue,” the spokesperson said.

“We can’t act on anything else until we’re issued with information by ASADA.

“The panel will decide what happens now when they sit with Mr Flanagan and hopefully that will be in the next week or so.”

Sharks chief executive Steve Noyce said he had no idea what way the NRL was leaning but was confident Flanagan will be planning pre-season before the end of the month.

“From our point of view, we’re aware of the breach notice conditions,” Noyce told AAP.

“There’s an opportunity there that subject to fulfilling all these conditions, the suspension is reduced to nine months. We’re very hopeful that will happen and that’s the plan we’re working to.”

Experienced back-rower Luke Lewis said he’ll be glad to see the end of 2014, a year that saw the Sharks’ squad decimated by injuries and reluctant stand-in coach Peter Sharp quit mid-season.

The Sharks have already clinched the wooden spoon but Lewis is confident with Flanagan at the helm, along with the arrival of Michael Ennis and Mitch Brown from Canterbury, it will give the club a big lift.

“I am looking forward to 2015 being a better year and training with guys like Mickey Ennis and Mitch Brown,” Lewis said.

“To be honest I haven’t talked to Flanno and nor have any of the boys, but I do know he’s been active in doing everything possible to return.

“But it’ll be good to get the old crew back.”

Sharp, who openly admitted he didn’t want to be a head coach, walked away from the job in July handing the role to rookie under-20s coach James Shepherd.

But Lewis has nothing but praise for the role played by the pair in such difficult circumstances.

“It was hard when Flanno got stood down, but I have to give credit to ‘Sharpy’ and ‘Shep’.

“Shep has been outstanding for us the last four weeks. He gave a lot of the young boys a crack and has worked hard on a lot of things we haven’t worked on for a while.”