Police, students clash at Sydney university

Mr Birmingham was at the University of Sydney to adjudicate a debate when protests broke out.

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Footage has surfaced showing police forcibly removing about 30 students from the university’s Fisher Library.

Students were protesting policy changes to higher education funding and loan repayments.

“They pushed us up two sets of stairs, utilised headlocks, and at least two students were knocked to the ground,” student Cameron Caccamo told AAP.

“(It was) really excessive force given that we weren’t violent.”

Mr Birmingham told the ABC on Wednesday that policy of deregulating the sector was still on the table.

“We will make sure that Australians understand what we are doing, the reasons why we’re doing it and importantly that our universities do need to be able to differentiate between each other, to innovate on the world stage,” he said.

“And that, of course, does provide or require a certain degree of latitude for them in terms of how they structure their source course and how they finance those courses to some extent.”

Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the Seven Network on Thursday that funding of the university sector needs to be sustainable for the future.

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“There is an exposure here which is the result of two decisions of the previous government,” Mr Cormann said.

“Namely they expanded student loans to the vocational education and training sector.

“They’ve also introduced what is called a demand driven program into the higher education sector more broadly.

“So we’ve been grappling with these issues and have been focusing on how we can make sure that what we do in this space, we do across government , is affordable and sustainable for the future.”

An expert panel is calling for public feedback on proposals for University entry requirements to be more clearly articulated, clarity around ATAR scores and clear information about all entry pathways.

Mr Birmingham said he was keen to see universities provide more transparency about entry requirements.

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New Qld rail plan labelled a stunt

Queensland’s government insists it’s found a way to ensure the long-touted Cross River Rail project will actually go ahead and no longer be a political football.

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But with no business case and no funding to build a second river rail crossing in Brisbane, the opposition has accused the government of using the project as a publicity stunt for federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Mr Shorten campaigned in Brisbane on Thursday, announcing a federal Labor government would help fund the project and suggested the private sector, particularly superannuation funds, should also invest.

His comments came just hours after acting Premier Jackie Trad announced plans to establish a delivery authority to take the project out of the hands of politicians of the day.

The authority, which is yet to be set up, would have statutory powers and feature a board made up of representatives from all tiers of government and the private sector.

The Bligh Labor government first released plans for the project in 2010, but they were scuttled when the Newman government came to power in 2012 and instead pushed ahead with its BaT (bus and train) tunnel.

The latest plan, which includes a realignment of the proposed track through Brisbane’s CBD, is expected to cost about $5.2 billion, but Ms Trad conceded the business case wouldn’t be finished until the middle of the year.

She refused to say what the funding split between the state and federal governments would look like and whether the state was planning to increase debt or borrowings to pay for the infrastructure project.

“I’m not ruling anything out, I’m not ruling anything in,” she said.

“This is a key project for Queensland and we will make sure it gets its full attention and consideration through the state budget process.”

Opposition infrastructure spokesman Tim Nicholls said Labor was dragging the chain on what was supposed to be its priority project.

“We don’t have a plan, we don’t have a funding source, we don’t have a start date – all we have is more talk,” Mr Nicholls said.

“This is quite clearly a stunt designed to support Bill Shorten on his pop-up trip to southeast Queensland this morning.”

Opposition transport spokesman Scott Emerson also questioned why the realigned track proposes a CBD station in Albert Street, given the area is notorious for flooding.

The plan also isn’t popular among state and federal MPs based in north Queensland.

“What does north Queensland have? Nothing,” Kennedy MP Bob Katter said.

“We struggle to fund even one road.”

However, Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said the infrastructure was vital to deal with crippling congestion expected to hit Brisbane’s roads by 2026.

Labor open to banks royal commission

A Labor government could initiate a royal commission into banks after accusing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of being too quick to rule out an inquiry into the sector.

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The shadow cabinet is understood to have considered the idea of launching an inquiry if elected, after the government rejected calls for a commission despite Mr Turnbull criticising the big banks for mistreating their customers.

Mr Turnbull on Wednesday used a Westpac 199th birthday function to remind banks of their duties not just to shareholders but the wider community.

He accused some banks of “taking advantage” of their customers.

The prime minister’s comments came as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission investigate Westpac over the alleged multi-billion dollar rigging of interest rate trading.

But Finance Minister Mathias Cormann on Thursday said he saw no need for a royal commission.

“Our banking system is well regulated,” Senator Cormann said.

Banks needed reminding of their social obligations but rejected the idea that white-collar criminals were being let off under the coalition government, he said.

“Whenever anybody does anything wrong, they have to have the book thrown at them,” Senator Cormann said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Brisbane the fact that Mr Turnbull was concerned about the “bad behaviour” of banks pointed to the need for an inquiry.

“It’s time for Mr Turnbull to stop ruling out quickly the option of the royal commission and instead start listening to what every day Australians are saying and they don’t like the bad behaviour of banks,” Mr Shorten said.

“I think Australians are sick of politicians who talk tough and do nothing.”

However, he stopped short of promising Labor would initiate a royal commission if it won the next election.

Several coalition members have backed a royal commission.

“We need a full royal commission into the profit-driven and immoral activities of the big banks and they must pay an appropriate level of compensation to clients for past wrongs,” former government whip Warren Entsch said.

Nationals senator John Williams, who last year crossed the floor to support a Greens motion for a royal commission, said he still believed it was warranted.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said Mr Shorten was only looking at a banking royal commission as a distraction in the wake of the unions royal commission.

“This is Bill Shorten seeking to play politics,” Mr Morrison told Sky News.

Asked whether he would rule out a banking inquiry, Mr Morrison said: “We are not proposing one, so I don’t need to rule one out.”

He said the banking and finance sector was “well regulated and incredibly stable”.

“The sort of commentary that Bill Shorten is engaged in does potentially do harm to confidence about that sector and I don’t think that is a very helpful thing for him to do,” Mr Morrison said.

Dogs taught how to fly a plane for TV show

The idea of an old dog learning new tricks has been taken to unprecedented heights after a New Zealand animal behaviourist taught three rescue canines how to fly a plane.

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In an effort to further understand dogs’ cognitive abilities, Mark Vette, the host of TVNZ’s Pound Pups to Dog Stars, chose 12 dogs from British rescue shelters for the study.

While he’d previously taught three dogs to drive a car, flying a plane is at a different level, he said.

Only three dogs – Reggie, Shadow and Alfie – made it through to the final stage after extensive training designed to simulate different aspects of flight as well as the delicate manoeuvres required.

They were taught on specially-designed training simulators.

“We built a deep connection to the dogs we were training, and that formed the basis for why we were able to achieve this feat,” Mr Vette said.

We taught three unwanted dogs how to fly a plane. And they are far from unwanted now! Dogs CAN fly on #dogsmightfly pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/kMyqO4oeH9

— Mark Vette (@MarkVetteDogZen) April 3, 2016

“The crucial element was communication – we needed to understand the dogs, and the dogs needed to understand us and what we wanted them to do.”

“By building a shared language I call Dog Zen, we were able to guide the dogs through the flying process.”

The three dogs successfully completed a full figure-8 in a four-seater Cessna 172 while in London.

Following the making of the documentary- named Dogs Might Fly – Vette went on to adopt his protege, Reggie, bringing him back to New Zealand where he’ll live at his Auckland home.

Skinner defends NSW chemo bungle handling

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner has rejected claims she was “in hiding” following a damning report on the chemotherapy scandal enveloping Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital.

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“In the morning, I was undergoing my own medical procedure and I was unavailable to comment,” Ms Skinner told 2GB Radio on Thursday.

The minister says she provided a briefing for Acting Premier Troy Grant on Wednesday once she was made aware of calls for a special commission of inquiry into the bungle.

The scandal deepened on Tuesday after Ms Skinner’s department released a report which found the St Vincent’s Hospital had been slow to respond to concerns its oncologist Dr John Grygiel was under-dosing cancer patients.

It said that of the 78 patients treated with low doses of a chemotherapy drug between 2012 and 2015, 23 had since died – three of non-cancer causes and four of an unspecified cause.

The government-ordered inquiry was unable to attribute their deaths to the incorrect dosing.

But it found St Vincent’s was made aware of the practices as early as 2005 and misled the public about the incident after the revelations were aired in a media report.

“Junior pharmacists, nurses and doctors who have practised in medical oncology at St Vincent’s Hospital during these years have either challenged the practice or sought an explanation for it,” the report also said.

Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham, who with Labor called for a special commission of inquiry into the scandal, accused Ms Skinner of “hiding behind” the two independent inquiries currently examining the bungle.

But Ms Skinner, who sent out a media release on the report when it was released, again argued that she had full confidence the inquiries would address issues arising from the case.

“(And) I have no authority in relation to the hospital per se. It is run by the St Vincent’s board,” she said.

St Vincent’s Hospital apologised to patients, their families and the public on Tuesday, saying it had not lived up to the “the high standards we set ourselves”.

“We failed to appreciate the seriousness of the situation: early questions about the doctor’s dosage practice should have led to a formal examination,” it said in a statement.

Dr Grygiel was stood down in February and is currently overseas.

His lawyer, Stephen Blanks, told AAP his client was looking forward to giving his evidence to the inquiry when he returns.

Rents rise despite record number of new apartments

There may be talk of an impending oversupply when it comes to apartments, however it has not been reflected in most capital city rental prices.

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In the year to March, Melbourne saw the biggest increase: up 4.1 per cent, with the median weekly rent at $380.

Sydney remains the country’s most expensive capital, setting tenants back $520 a week on average. This is a rise of 4 per cent, and is despite a record number of new dwellings coming on to the market.

Nearly 90,000 apartments were approved to be built in Sydney since the beginning of 2013. That is 2,000 more than Melbourne, with more to come.

Andrew Wilson, Chief Economist at Domain, says the rising rents indicate fears of an oversupply are unwarranted for the moment.

“We must recognise there is still a lot of new development yet to come into market, and that may assist in re-balancing the never ending increase in rents for tenants, but for the moment there is absolutely no sign of rent relief in any of the capital city markets.”

He adds, tenants are having to make some tough choices.

“Clearly there’s an undersupply. We’re seeing that the shortage of house rentals are pushing tenants into the unit market, and we’re seeing unit rents rising as a consequence.”

While this is bad news for tenants, it is good news for landlords.

Gross rental yields are above 5 per cent in most Australian capital cities.

Alexander Katyk and Katie Koo rented apartments in Sydney’s inner suburbs for just over two years, but were frustrated by the rising rents.

“Just because they offer a small view or a convenient location, and a lot of places that are reasonable price points within close suburbs to the city are unfortunately older style of buildings,” says Alexander Katyk.

Katie Koo says they decided to forgo convenience, looking west to buy their own apartment.

“It just makes more sense for the long term to invest all your money to your own mortgage, than someone else’s mortgage,” she said.

They have less disposable income, and it now takes longer to get to work, but Alexander says the local parks and cafes make up for it.

“We’ve made sacrifices. I think it’s no secret if you go out and buy a place in terms of what you’re going to be committing as part of your salary – is substantially more than when you rent, but I guess the benefit is you get some stability.”

NZ school students have necks cut on stage during performance of Sweeney Todd

Two New Zealand school students have had their necks cut on stage during a performance of Sweeney Todd at St Kentigern College in Auckland.

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College head Steve Cole told the New Zealand Herald that a razor blade was used as a prop in the production and caused the injuries.

Mr Cole said the blade had been blunted and wrapped in duct tape and other protective materials.

“It’s normal for Sweeney Todd to have such an instrument,” he said. “This clearly had been checked many, many times.

“It has been bound and cellophaned and all sorts of things. It had been blunted and had been through all sorts of health and safety checks.

“It was a very unfortunate mistake”.

A New Zealand police spokesperson told SBS that police had been in contact with the school.

“We are seeking further information to establish what if any the next steps will be,” the spokesperson said.

Sweeney Todd tells the story of a barber who slits the throats of his customers. It was on the opening night of the St Kentigern College production that the incident occurred. 

Mr Cole said the scene has been rehearsed “many, many times” since January and offered no explanation as to how the boys’ throats were cut.

“I’ve got no idea,” he told the New Zealand Herald. “I’ve got no idea.”

Both students, aged 16, were taken to hospital but Mr Cole said they had since been discharged and were “doing well”.

He said the play had been postponed for the night but would likely be back up and running “without those particular props” by the weekend.

He said students and staff had been offered counselling.

St Kentigern College has been contacted for comment.

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AFL chief helps Adam Goodes get closure

Retired Sydney AFL legend Adam Goodes says he has achieved closure on the turbulent final year of his career, crediting league boss Gillon McLachlan for playing a big part in that process.

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Swans’ games record holder Goodes called time on his career last September after the club’s semi-final loss to North Melbourne.

It was the 372nd game of a glorious career which included two premierships, four grand finals, three club best and fairests, four All Australian nods and a Rising Star award.

Much of Goodes’ last season was overshadowed by persistent booing from supporters of opposing clubs.

The strain created by that behaviour prompted Goodes to take a week away from the game late in the season before he came back and completed the campaign.

Two days before doing a halftime SCG lap of honour with former teammate and fellow retiree Mike Pyke at this Saturday’s Sydney derby, Goodes revealed he had reached closure and was focusing on his many achievements rather than dwelling on the bad treatment he had received.

“I’ve been able to read letters, emails, cards from people,” Goodes said on Thursday at the Swans’ Legends breakfast.

“I definitely feel the love and support out there – there is no doubt about that.

“I think the biggest closure for me was when I did have a sit down meeting with Gill (McLachlan) and had a chat about last year.

“I thought that was a big step forward for me dealing with what happened last year.

“I’ve got great closure on last year and I am now able to reflect on my career.”

Goodes clearly has no regrets about his decision and isn’t missing playing.

“I think seeing the guys run around down at Etihad Stadium (last weekend), I know I’m a fair bit off the pace right now after seven months of doing not much,” Goodes told Swans TV.

“I’m very much happy to sit in the stand and be a supporter.”

Although some have suggested former Australian of the Year Goodes could look at a political career or become even more involved in indigenous issues, Goodes clearly isn’t bothered by not being part of the daily grind of the AFL.

He will head overseas on Sunday, take in some of the NBA finals and have Boomers and Spurs guard Patty Mills show him around San Antonio.

“I’m really happy with the routine I’m in at the moment. I’m comfortable where I’m at,” Goodes said.

“I’m not too fussed about what’s going to happen in the near future and it’s nice.

“To have that freedom and time to do what I want is quite refreshing.”

Reflecting on his early days, Goodes disclosed a couple of little-known facts from the time he was injured before getting drafted by Sydney.

When he broke a hand in the first match of the national under-18 carnival, he was replaced at centre half back by future Geelong star Matthew Scarlett.

He also revealed he umpired for 10 weeks back home in Horsham in country Victoria, as he waited for his hand to heal.

Dutch voters reject Ukraine-EU treaty

Dutch voters have overwhelmingly rejected a Ukraine-European Union treaty on closer political and economic ties, in a rebuke to their government and the EU establishment.

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The broad political, trade and defence treaty, which had already been signed by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government and approved by all other EU nations as well as Ukraine, took effect provisionally in January.

But that didn’t stop Dutch voters on Wednesday rejecting it by a 64-36 margin in a referendum that drew only 32 per cent of voters to the polls – barely enough for the result to be considered valid.

Voters said they were voicing their opposition not only to the treaty itself but also to European policymakers on matters ranging from the migrant crisis to economic policy, not long before Britain’s June vote on whether to stay in the EU.

Although the referendum was non-binding, Rutte acknowledged late on Wednesday it was politically impossible for his unpopular government to ratify the treaty in its current form.

However, as the Dutch currently hold the EU’s rotating presidency, he will need time to figure out whether and how he can alter the treaty in a way that could satisfy all parties.

Rutte said the government would consult with parliament and its European partners “step by step. That could take days or weeks.”

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said on Thursday his country will continue moving towards the EU despite the Dutch vote.

“Under any circumstances we will continue to implement the association agreement with the European Union including a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement,” he told reporters in Tokyo.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the result was “an indication of European attitudes to the Ukrainian political system”.

Any proposed changes to the treaty will have to pass both houses of the Dutch parliament, including the Senate, where Rutte’s shaky coalition lacks a majority.

If a compromise can be found, it must also be palatable to other European countries, as well as the European Union Commission and the Ukrainian government.

Rutte’s main political rival, the anti-EU, anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, whose popularity has hit all-time highs amid Europe’s refugee crisis, said the result was “the beginning of the end” for Rutte’s government and the EU in its current form.

“If two-thirds of the voters say no, that is a vote of no confidence by the people against the elite from Brussels and The Hague,” he tweeted.

The European Commission has said it will wait for the Dutch government to suggest a way forward.

Options include leaving the Ukraine agreement in force provisionally, or drafting exemption clauses for the Netherlands as has happened in somewhat similar circumstances in the past.

Manfred Weber, leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, the biggest bloc in the European Parliament, and an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the referendum result was a “big defeat” for the Dutch government and should be taken seriously.

“We need to make Europe more democratic and transparent,” Weber told Deutschlandfunk radio, saying there was too much backroom politics going on in Brussels.

He added that politicians needed to engage more with citizens, explain things to them and show that they take people’s concerns seriously.

He said that applied particularly to Britain ahead of the June referendum on the country’s membership of the European Union.

Call for sugar tax in Australia to reduce diabetes

A diabetes expert believes a sugar tax is one way Australia could tackle increasing rates of the disease.

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A World Health Organisation report has revealed the number of people worldwide with diabetes has quadrupled since 1980, to 422 million in 2014, with Australian rates running at about the global average.

“A sugar tax will clearly not be the only solution to the problem… but there has never been a successful public health intervention which has not involved some form of legislation and regulation,” Professor Stephen Colagiuri, from the University of Sydney’s Boden Institute and a contributor to the report, told the ABC on Thursday.

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The report also found the rates of diabetes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were among the highest in the world. 

Indigenous woman Judi Hall told SBS News she was shocked when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

“I thought I was eating well and I thought I was doing everything well,” she said.

Ms Hall said living with diabetes affected almost every aspect of her life.

“I have to check my sugar levels, check what I eat and make sure that I eat,“ she said

“I’ve cut down the portion of my meals, I’m more conscious of the need for fresher food and less meat and more grains. My plate looks completely different now to how it used to.”

She said there needed to be more education about sugar and its link to diabetes.

“People need more education about how harmful sugar is, and I don’t think people realise it,” she said. 

“If I’ve got friends who I know aren’t eating well, and I try to encourage them because I don’t want them to end up with it. It’s an awful disease and it’s only going to get worse.

“Education is probably one of the biggest things to get out there.”

However Indigenous woman Gail Daylight, who also suffers from type 2 diabetes, told SBS she was not sure if a sugar tax would work in Australia.

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She said something needs to be done to reduce the consumption of sugary food and drinks, but a tax would not necessarily stop Indigenous people from buying them anyway.

“People still smoke, and look at how much the price of smokes have gone up,” Ms Daylight said.

“When your doctor tells you that you’re borderline to becoming a diabetic, be proactive.

“Start either thinking about losing weight, doing more activities, just go walking around the block.”

– with AAP