Gillard rocked by leaks

JULIA GILLARD privately argued against the generosity of two of the Rudd government’s major increases in welfare payments.
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In public, Ms Gillard has been happy to share credit for the decisions to give more cash for age pensions and parental leave.

But in the inner sanctum of the government, she tried to cut the size of the pension rise and wanted to kill the idea of paid parental leave altogether, telling cabinet colleagues it was being pursued because it was politically correct, according to figures familiar with the debates.

As deputy prime minister, Ms Gillard argued that a big rise in the age pension was excessive because ”old people never vote for us”, the sources said.She was overruled and 3 million aged pensioners received the rise in last year’s budget.

And she was happy to boast about the decision in the televised leaders’ debate on Sunday. ”We did a major increase in the pension, to help older Australians particularly, with the pressures that are on them,” she said.

In that decision, the formula for calculating the pension was raised from 25 per cent of the average wage to 27.7. That means an extra $1100 a year for single pensioners and $1900 for couples.

Ms Gillard also opposed the proposal for a paid parental leave scheme. She told colleagues in cabinet it was being pursued because it was ”politically correct”, according to informed members of the government. She did not argue that the support was unneeded, only that it would not be politically helpful to Labor, government sources said.

Again, she was overruled. The scheme, championed by the Minister for Families, Jenny Macklin, is to take effect from January 1. It will give all primary carers 18 weeks’ leave at the minimum weekly wage of $544.

Yet as Prime Minister, Ms Gillard has said she was ”delighted” that the scheme was legislated.The revelations, the third internal Labor leak in as many weeks, will be a campaign embarrassment for the government.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, who had to crash through Coalition resistance to propose a more generous parental leave scheme, can now argue he is the only leader who truly believes in giving parents paid time to be with their newborns.

News that Ms Gillard opposed the pension increase, as delivered, will not please the National Seniors Australia organisation due to launch its election campaign claims today.The Prime Minister’s office declined to give the Herald any response to these revelations on the record.

But in response to a similar report on Channel Nine last night, Ms Gillard’s office issued a statement in her name: ”I was very proud to be a member of the Labor team that delivered these two historic achievements – delivering a better deal for pensioners and supporting parents to spend more time with their babies.

”Pensioners and families deserve more support, and this government has acted to give them that support.”Cabinet discussions are confidential. If the Liberal Party have allegations to make, they should put their names to them.

”But the sources of the information on Ms Gillard’s positions are not Liberal members. The Channel Nine reporter Laurie Oakes told viewers his sources were ”closer to home”. The Herald’s sources are government members.

Stoner second as Lorenzo dominates

Casey Stoner has finished second as Spain’s Jorge Lorenzo extended his Moto GP championship lead with victory in Sunday’s US grand prix at Laguna Seca.The runners-up spot is the Australian’s best finish in 2010 although Stoner rarely challenged Lorenzo who ended up over 3.5 seconds in front for his sixth win of the year.But the Ducati rider was content with the result.”We are happy. We didn’t expect much more than second place,” he said.”At the start of the race, I felt OK. But I made a mistake and ran wide, lost the front again and the last time I ran really wide which wasn’t good.”Every time I tried to step it up I didn’t feel comfortable. I was braking later and later but was making mistakes.”Lorenzo’s main championship rival, countryman Dani Pedrosa, crashed out on the 11th lap while leading the race and the red-hot Yamaha rider took full advantage.”It was tough,” Lorenzo said. “Dani Pedrosa did a great race. It was difficult to follow him but he made a mistake and crashed when he was on the maximum.”Reigning world champion Valentino Rossi of Italy, also riding a Yamaha, finished third just seven weeks after breaking his leg.Lorenzo’s win was his first at the iconic Californian circuit and boosts his overall championship lead over Pedrosa to 72 points with Italian rider Andrea Dovizioso sitting third.Rossi just missed the podium last week in his return from the broken leg and he was delighted with the result despite still feeling pain from the injury.”I’m very happy,” Rossi said.”I may not look happy because I have pain everywhere. This podium is like a victory on a very difficult track for us. I want to thank everyone who has helped me get back on the podium as early as this after my accident.”Pedrosa seized the lead from pole-sitter Lorenzo at the first turn but crashed out on the fifth turn of lap 11.Stoner chased Lorenzo, never worse than second this season, to the finish but could not catch him while Rossi passed Dovizioso for third with five laps to go to crack the podium ahead of his countryman in fourth.Nicky Hayden of Ducati edged American Ben Spies for fifth.It was the fifth consecutive pole start for Lorenzo.AFP
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‘Cheating’ Ferrari fined $110,000

Ferrari were fined $US100,000 ($110,000) on Sunday for breaching sporting regulations at the German Grand Prix where their victory was overshadowed by allegations of using team orders.The sports governing body the FIA said the result, in which Fernando Alonso took victory after teammate Felipe Massa allowed him to pass, would stand.However, the team would be summoned to appear before the FIA’s world council at a date to be set.Alonso wins, Webber sixthThe Italian stable denied ordering Massa, who was leading the race, to slow down and allow Alonso to overtake on lap 49.Team orders were banned by the FIA eight years ago after the infamous incident at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix when Ferrari instructed race leader Rubens Barrichello to pull over and allow Michael Schumacher to pass and win the race.On Sunday, Massa was effectively ordered by race engineer Rob Smedley to let Alonso through as the Spaniard was the quicker driver.”OK, Fernando is faster than you,” said Smedley.”Can you confirm you have understood this message?”Massa reacted by letting Alonso pass him on the exit of turn six with only 18 laps remaining.Following the controversial move, Smedley was again on the radio apologising to Massa.”Good lad – just stick with it now, sorry,” he said.Ferrari went on to secure the one-two victory.Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali insisted that there were no team orders and that it was Massa’s decision to let two-time world champion Alonso past.”We gave information to the driver and it was his decision to decide how to react,” he said.Domenicali added that Smedley’s apology was simply due to the fact that Massa’s car was not as fast as Alonso’s.”You have to consider that fact that he gave the information to Felipe to help him, and was sorry that his car was not as fast.”Massa, clearly upset by the incident, bit his tongue and claimed that it was his decision.”I didn’t have a good pace on the hard tyres and Fernando was quicker,” he said.”It was my decision. You always need to know that we are working for the team and there were no team orders in the race.”I made the decision because Fernando was faster than me.”Alonso claimed he thought Massa slowed down due to a gear problem.”There are no team orders,” said Alonso.”I was surprised when I saw Felipe having a problem – I thought it was a gear problem but after hearing Felipe, he was struggling with the hard tyres.”AFP
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Evans eyes future after Tour of discontent

PAUILLAC: Cadel Evans can laugh about it now. After a Tour de France campaign defined by misfortune and injury, the world champion is certain both he and his BMC Racing Team will return next year better for the experience.”It’s not just about this year and building up a team for [next] year’s Tour or the Tour in 2012 or whenever,” Evans said. ”It takes a long time.”Every step of the way here we learn something, we improve things … especially this year, it’s been a real learning experience.”Evans was speaking barely 15 minutes after crossing the finish line of stage 19, a 52-kilometre time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac, and was still clearly in pain after almost two weeks nursing a fractured elbow sustained in a crash in stage eight. He didn’t need to see an official result sheet to know where his performance on Saturday ranked. ”That was one of the worst time trials of my life. My body is exhausted,” he said.Evans had finished 10 minutes 57 seconds off the pace of stage winner Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) and in 166th place from 170 finishers.The 33-year-old Victorian was spot on with his assessment, even though it still left him best placed Australian overall in 26th at 50:27 to Spaniard Alberto Contador (Astana) before the final and 20th stage from Longjumeau to the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday.Evans was justifiably disappointed to fall short – again – of the potential he and many others believe he has in the Tour. But his capacity to continue on in this year’s race and maintain a sense of humour indicates a sense of inner calm – something that will be needed if he is to ever win the race. Soon after recovering in his team bus on Saturday, Evans was able to look at the positives when others in a similar position might not have.”We have been close for stage wins and we have had the yellow jersey taken off to get X-rays as well,” he said. ”We have experienced a spectrum of outcomes. That can only serve us for the future.”An optimistic attitude … goes a long way especially when things aren’t going well. When you think, ‘Why the hell you are doing it?’, a little bit of optimism can go along way.”
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Farah hits back at Sea Eagles: ‘I’m no diver’

THERE are few worse things you can accuse a player of than being a diver. Which is why Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah, having vomited at half-time following a hit of which he had no recollection, was desperate to set the record straight.”I wouldn’t take a dive,” Farah said yesterday, after agitated Manly players made that suggestion while he was being treated – the ensuing stoppage resulting in Sea Eagles centre Steve Matai being penalised, placed on report and sin-binned.”He got me pretty good. I just remember Leedsy [strength and conditioning coach Andrew Leeds] talking to me out there and just telling me to take my time and try and come around. The boys were telling me that a couple of them were having a go at you, but I can’t remember. I’m disappointed [by the suggestion] … I don’t think I went too well in the second half. You can probably tell by my performance that I wasn’t taking a dive.”Matai was sin-binned after giving Farah a whack on his back after the hooker had been treated. The Manly player had attempted a charge-down on a passing Farah, leaping to stop the ball and raising his arms in the air as he did so, making contact with the Tigers player as he came down.While no Sea Eagles player or official publicly accused Farah of play-acting, it was clear from their actions on the field that they had doubts about the extent of his injuries.”It didn’t look like there was too much in it, and if it does go to – and I don’t think it should – but if it does go to the referees committee, I think we might be calling on the Balmain player to maybe throw in some evidence as well,” Manly coach Des Hasler said. ”Until it’s reported on, we’ll keep our fingers crossed.”Asked whether Farah made more of the hit, Hasler said: ”You’ll have to ask Robbie Farah that.”Farah said he did not even know who had hit him. ”I just got stung,” he said. ”I don’t really remember … I didn’t black out. I just got shook up and spaced out. I don’t even know who got me. Some of the boys said it was Matai. I can’t remember what happened. It just shook me up a bit.”The contentious moment occurred just before half-time. Farah received treatment for several minutes from Leeds, while Manly protested to referee Shayne Hayne through Matai and captain Jamie Lyon; the latter urging the official to ”look at him”.Video referee Steve Clark reviewed footage of the incident several times, and eventually called or Matai to be penalised, with Hayne telling Matai: ”It’s been reviewed, you’ve collected him high, it’s on report.”Matai replied: ”Are you serious?” The Manly player then approached Farah and gave him a sturdy slap on the back. Hayne called Matai back and sent him to the sin bin – probably the first time a pat on the back has led to that result, although former Balmain prop Steve Roach was once reprimanded for patting an official on the head.Sea Eagles players were adamant the initial hit by Matai was legal.”I didn’t think there was a lot in it,” winger Michael Robertson said. ”I’m not a ref. It’s his call. There might have been a bit of gamesmanship … I didn’t think there was a lot in it, but they [the officials] obviously saw something in it, so it was a penalty.”Tigers doctor Donald Kuah confirmed Farah had suffered concussion. Another team official said when Farah was asked on the field if he wanted to be substituted, given Matai had been reported, the player had no idea what he meant.”I just felt crook, I had a bit of a spew at half-time, got through the game but I was a bit of a passenger,” Farah said afterwards.Tigers players denied their skipper would take a dive. ”No way, mate,” said Chris Heighington, who gestured towards Matai after his whack on the back. ”He [Farah] is a tough player. He’s an 80-minute player. He got hit high, and the refs thought it was a penalty. That’s it.”But he held nothing against Matai. ”It’s in the heat of the battle,” he said.
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Neighbours uneasy with Afghan pact

NEW DELHI: Recent moves by Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve their once-frosty relationship have prompted deep concern in other countries in the region and led some to consider strengthening ties to the political rivals of the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.The US government considers the Afghan-Pakistan overtures essential to combating insurgencies racking both nations. But India, Iran and Afghanistan’s northern neighbours fear they are a step towards fulfilling Mr Karzai’s desire to negotiate with Taliban leaders and possibly welcome some of them into the government.These nations think Mr Karzai’s plans could compromise their security and interests by lessening the influence of Afghanistan’s Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara ethnic minorities, with whom they have cultivated close links, diplomats and government officials say.The apprehension, recently voiced by senior Indian officials, has emerged as yet another challenge for the US, which seeks to encourage new initiatives to stabilise Afghanistan while minimising fallout on the already tense relationship between India and Pakistan.In an attempt to assuage those concerns, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, went to New Delhi last week to meet the Indian National Security Adviser and the Foreign Secretary.The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, also arrived last week for two days of meetings with military and civilian leaders.India has been angered by recent meetings involving Mr Karzai and Pakistan’s top two security officials, General Ashfaq Kiyani, the army chief, and Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the intelligence director.Afghanistan and Pakistan have signed a trade agreement that allows Afghan trucks to drive through Pakistan to the Indian border. Indian officials had wanted to send their trucks through Pakistan to Afghanistan, but the Pakistani government insisted they not be included in the negotiations.Compounding India’s resentment is that it believed it had cultivated close ties with Mr Karzai. India has opened four consulates in Afghanistan, even though relatively few Indian citizens live there, and invested $US1.3 billion ($1.45 billion) in development projects, far more than Pakistan has.”The Indians are shell-shocked,” said a Western diplomat. ”They went in with more than a billion dollars, and now Pakistan is eating their lunch.”? The Taliban have offered to exchange the body of a US Navy member they said was killed in an ambush on Friday in exchange for insurgent prisoners, an Afghan official said.US and NATO officials said two US Navy personnel went missing in their four-wheel-drive on Friday in the eastern province of Logar. Afghan officials believe one was killed and the other captured when they took a wrong turn into a Taliban-held area.The Washington Post, Associated Press
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Artworks come straight from the source

NEW DELHI: The Ganges holds a special place in a billion Indian hearts. But a Melbourne-born artist has become the first to paint the river from source to mouth.Kevin Pearsh travelled by foot, boat and land vehicle, from the river’s source waters in the Himalayan ice cave of Gaumukh to the sprawling delta where the Ganges flows out into the Bay of Bengal, to create an acclaimed series of 21 oils on canvas.The painter, who lives in France, completed his journey in three stages in 2006 and 2007, keeping a comprehensive travel diary of sketches, notes, photographs and watercolours – all painted with Ganges water.”I did it in three parts to try to absorb the vision,” he said. ”But I didn’t start any of the 21 paintings until I had finished the whole journey. It was only then that I felt I could begin.”It took Pearsh 2½ years to complete the paintings at his studio in Burgundy, where he has been based for 25 years.A Varanasi boatman called Deepak, who accompanied Pearsh for the entire journey, acting as interpreter and assistant, suggested he do 21 paintings because it was an auspicious number in Hindu astrology.The large-format canvases depict an array of scenes along the 2500-kilometre river, including the point at Devprayag where two mountain streams meet to officially become the Ganges, bathers at the holy city of Haridwar, complex reflections in the waters off Varanasi, working river boats in West Bengal, the famous Howrah Bridge in Kolkata and Ganga Sagar, where the sacred river finally meets the sea.One of the most popular works features a solitary boy sitting on a wall contemplating the vast expanse of the river in the state of Bihar.”I often felt just like that little boy – sitting on the edge of a wall with all the space of the Ganges in front of me,” Pearsh said. ”We all have those sorts of moments.”The Ganges is sacred to Hindus and millions of Indians bathe regularly in its waters. But humans are incidental, or missing completely, in most of Pearsh’s paintings.”The Ganges holds its own presence and I didn’t feel the need to always depict activity along it,” he said.The collection, called Ganga 21, is on show for the first time in New Delhi and moves to Kolkata early next month.Pearsh, who has paintings in many well-known collections including the Tate gallery in London, was anxious about how his Ganges series would be received in India.”I felt the only way to know if I had got it right, or was at least on the right track, was by the reaction of the Indian public,” he said.”But it has been absolutely phenomenal … They have never seen the Ganga in paint as a journey.”Padam Talwar, the program director of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which is hosting the exhibition, said Pearsh’s work has been enthusiastically received.”They are beautiful paintings so thoughtfully and vibrantly done,” he said. ”It is the first time we are seeing such paintings of the Ganges.”Ashok Raisinghani, a visitor to the exhibition, said Pearsh ”has accomplished what Indian artists could not achieve”.Pearsh, who has travelled and painted extensively in India since the late 1970s, said one of the unexpected highlights of his river journey was encountering the unique Ganges River dolphin.”Sleeping on a boat every night was extraordinary because you see and hear these wonderful creatures,” he said. ”They would come up and you could hear a puff of air and they would go under again.”The Ganges journey has had a big impact on Pearsh’s art.”I didn’t realise this journey would have such an influence on my painting,” he said. ”There was an extraordinary sense of light, a wonderful transparency, that I was able to bring into the paintings. It has really changed the way I look at things now.”
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Two leaders, two promises to slash immigration and ease growth

Where do Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott stand on the big election issues? The Herald provides a snapshot as the countdown to August 21 nears.DEFICIT Neither Julia Gillard nor Tony Abbott know what they’ll do if the global recession returns. Or if they do, they won’t say. Both are committed to returning the budget to surplus in three years’ time.Asked whether they would amend the timetable if conditions turned nasty, neither would countenance the possibility. Ms Gillard simply reiterated the commitment, and talked about how Kevin Rudd had done the right thing last time.Surprisingly, Abbott agreed. The Coalition had supported the measures that pushed the budget into deficit, but not all of them.But when it comes to the present, lingering deficits are bad. What neither would do was acknowledge the question asked.The world economic outlook is uncertain. Last week seven European banks failed so-called stress tests. Seven US banks were taken over by regulators. Are they prepared to reassess their determination to return the budget to surplus if those developments drag down the global economy?Presumably the answer is yes, but without departing from their scripts, neither would say. Mr Abbott talked about debt, Ms Gillard talked about Mr Rudd’s wisdom in deploying it well. Both seemed to wish future economic problems away.Peter Martin IMMIGRATION A sustainable population with a reduced immigration intake was the promise from both sides, in a conscious departure from previous bipartisan rhetoric about population growth.”A prosperous Australia and a sustainable Australia, not a big Australia,” was Ms Gillard’s pitch to the people, promising ”record investments” in solar and renewable technologies.Mr Abbott said population was inextricably tied to immigration which had risen to unacceptable numbers under Labor. ”From about 200,000 when the Howard government left office to about 300,000 under the current government.”This is unsustainable,” he said, repeating his pledge to bring immigration down to 170,000 a year.Ms Gillard said Labor had brought immigration down from a 2008 high of 300,000 to 230,000 last year. Final net migration numbers this year would be down to 175,000 and as low as 145,000 next year, she said. BORDER SECURITY Mr Abbott has an ”action plan” for asylum seekers and it involves returning to the Pacific solution of the Howard government.Ms Gillard wants to stop the flow of asylum seekers before they get onto boats.”It’s not safe to stop the boats because the boats are destroyed before your very eyes. That’s why we need a better solution about stopping the boats before they even leave,” she said. Ms Gillard said she had increased surveillance of borders and was working with Indonesia to target people smuggling.Speaking of Ms Gillard’s ”boat people fix that got lost somewhere in the Timor Sea,” Mr Abbott declared there would never be offshore processing in Timor. ”The Indonesians don’t like it and the East Timorese don’t want it,” he said.Mr Abbott suggested if Ms Gillard was ”fair dinkum” about wanting to stop the boats she would abandon the ”fanciful” Timor solution and place a detention centre on Nauru, which, he said, was willing to reopen its Howard-era camp.But Nauru’s government is in a caretaker mode and its Parliament is deadlocked, Ms Gillard said. ”It is not in a position to deal with these kinds of positions,” she said.Dylan Welch COST OF LIVINGBoth leaders say they are concerned about the price of bread, but neither has much idea about how to restrain it. Mr Abbott said he wouldn’t promise a Grocery Choice website and he wouldn’t run up government debt. Ms Gillard said she wouldn’t impose Mr Abbot’s proposed parental leave tax. Perhaps both of them should visit shops. The Bureau of Statistics reports that the price of bread climbed just 1.7 per cent in the year to March. The overall food price index climbed a mere 0.7 per cent. By contrast Sydney electricity prices jumped 18 per cent, gas prices 15 per cent, and water prices 14 per cent. It’s because investments in new plants are stalled until our leaders make up their minds about emissions trading. It would do more to restrain our cost of living than needless fretting about bread.Peter Martin HEALTH While Ms Gillard warned about what Mr Abbott would do to health if he won power, he cited his own record as health minister to argue his credibility.Ms Gillard attacked Coalition plans to dump Labor reforms for local medical services, but neither made more than a brief mention of health issues.But Mr Abbott said that as health minister he had lifted bulk billing rates to record levels and expanded Medicare to cover allied health services, including dentistry. The Coalition would provide community-run hospitals with more beds.Mark MetherellEDUCATIONJulia Gillard used her opening statement to remind viewers of Tony Abbott’s plans to cut Labor programs to improve teaching and to provide computers and trades training centres to secondary schools.Mr Abbott focused on the government’s school building program, through which he said it was ”wasting billions on overpriced school halls”. If voters elected the Coalition, he said, they would get ”schools run by parents, not bureaucrats”.When asked for an example of when she had the courage to take a decision at odds with public opinion, Ms Gillard nominated setting up the My School website, which allows people to compare the performance of schools. When moderator David Speers suggested public opinion had been on her side and she had only faced opposition from teacher unions, she countered that if school transparency had been so easy, why had it not been achieved until now.Dan Harrison ENVIRONMENTOn climate change, Mr Abbott accused the government of a talkfest but Ms Gillard spoke of the need for community consensus.Mr Abbott dismissed Labor’s plans for a Citizens’ Assembly to develop a consensus on carbon reduction measures as nothing more than talk.Ms Gillard said climate change was real and she believed that her bid to achieve community consensus on the issue would bring about a long-lasting solution.”If we are going to have deep and lasting change I do want Australians to come with me.”She pointed to her policies to stop the construction of dirty power stations, plans to convey electricity from remote sources to the national grid and to spur greener cars and buildings.Mr Abbott said the Coalition would deliver a 15,000-strong ”Green Army” as part of its action on climate change.Mark Metherell BROADBAND Ms Gillard sought to use the issue of broadband to bolster her broader narrative that Labor would take the country forwards, while Mr Abbott would take it backwards.Labor’s $43 billion National Broadband Network was ”so important to the jobs of the future, and how we will live in the future”, she said in her opening statement. She returned to it in her closing statement, reminding the audience that the Coalition had promised to scrap it.Tony Abbott did not mention broadband specifically, but several times restated his pledge to end wasteful spending and repay government debt.The Coalition is yet to announce its broadband plan, but it is expected to use the existing cable used to deliver pay television to deliver fast broadband in metropolitan areas.It has also flagged the use of targeted government funding to deliver broadband to regional areas where services might be commercially unviable.Dan Harrison
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Aboriginal skull reveals the past’s changing shape

ELEVEN thousand years ago a tall and solidly built Aboriginal man lived a hard life. His bones reveal he had arthritis in his jaw, multiple breaks in both forearms and a fractured ankle so severe his shin bones fused together.”Death might have been something to look forward to for him,” the palaeoanthropologist Peter Brown said.But since the skeleton, known as Nacurrie, was discovered in 1948 near Swan Hill on the Murray River it has been the changes to his skull that have been of most interest to Professor Brown.The shape of his cranium suggests Aborigines practised body modification, manipulating the contour of the skull, he said.Nacurrie appears to be the earliest example of the practice anywhere in the world, he said.”You can only change the shape of the head in a baby because the skull is soft and malleable so it can pass through the birth canal,” Professor Brown, who works at the University of New England, said.The skeleton of Nacurrie suggests his skull shape was modified by subtle means, probably by massage from his mother’s hands. Several other skeletons found in the Murray-Darling area also had modified skulls.”It is clear from the archaeological record that a group of people living on the Murray River used to do this … between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago.”Professor Brown said massaging the skull did not cause brain damage because the brain was a flexible organ. The practice was probably done for aesthetic reasons, but no one knows why it had stopped in Aborigines, he said.Cranium manipulation has been common throughout different cultures. By some reports, it was the most popular type of body modification after circumcision, said Professor Brown, whose findings are published in the Journal of Human Evolution.In Papua New Guinea some mothers would bind their babies’ heads with a tight bandage, which created a cone shape, while in South America babies were strapped to cradleboards, creating a flat-shaped head, he said.
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Milat pens indignant letter from ‘dark side’

Serial killer Ivan Milat has protested his innocence in a six-page letter from his ”sunless cement cave” in Australia’s most secure prison.The letter to The Sun-Herald reads like Milat’s last throw of the dice after losing appeals at every level of the justice system, right up to the High Court.The former roadworker is serving seven life sentences for murdering seven backpackers in the Belanglo State Forest south-west of Sydney between 1989 and 1992.Driven mad by isolated confinement and suffocating routine, the 65-year-old has convinced himself the justice system has conspired against him. His waking hours are spent writing letters to courts and judges from the ”dark side” – his Supermax cell in Goulburn jail – urging a review of his trial, the evidence and his conviction.”I have been denied natural and judicial justice continually,” he writes, referring to his incarceration as “a legal anomaly” and a “miscarriage of justice”.His frustration turned to grisly self-harm in January when he gnawed the little finger off his left hand, wrapped it in newspaper and placed it in an envelope addressed to the High Court’s Chief Justice Robert French.”The court refused to acknowledge my correspondence,” he writes. “I end up chew finger off and put it in mail address to High Court.”A lot of nasty things were said of me for doing that act but what else could I do?”In the past nine months, Milat has been in correspondence with the High Court in Canberra, the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney, the DNA Review Panel, the Attorney-General’s Department and the Independent Commission Against Corruption.”I have written to the Chief Justice of NSW, Justice Jim Spigelman, about the matter and requested that I go to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal about the matter and I await His Honour’s reply,” he writes, using his trademark drawing of The Saint next to his signature.At the heart of Milat’s increasingly desperate appeals are two issues:1. None of the DNA evidence collected by the police at the murder scenes produced any match with Milat or any member of his family.2. The police maintained at his 1996 trial that Milat acted alone and offered no evidence that he was in a criminal conspiracy with accomplices. Yet in his final address to the jury, Justice David Hunt canvassed the Crown’s “alternative case” that “there was a small group consisting of at least two persons involved in the murders of these seven victims. Each person may have been involved in all seven or in just some of the murders”.During the course of his relentless letter writing, Milat has obtained a letter from the Supreme Court’s Justice Peter McClennan quoting from the ruling it was “no part of the Crown case that others may have been involved” in the slayings.But he has also received a letter from the DNA Review Panel saying “the Crown case was that another or others were also involved in the murders” and, therefore, a re-examination of the DNA evidence would not assist in any claim of innocence.”I have two legal decisions which contradict each other,” he writes. “I have raised a legitimate legal matter about the Crown’s primary evidence to prove my guilt.”Of the DNA evidence, he writes: “The Crown said no DNA implicated Ivan Milat. Yet it throws off the DNA evidence by suggesting it was ‘contaminated’ but I have never seen any proof of it being contaminated.”Milat’s brother, Bill, who has long campaigned for his brother’s release, told The Sun-Herald: “The police obtained two separate DNA samples from the crime scenes and neither of them match or belong to any of the Milat family.”The police say that anyone who appeals against their conviction is in denial and that their legal actions are about wanting to be in control.”What about the five people in the past two years who have been released after serving more than eight years for crimes they did not commit? They were not in denial, they were stating a fact about their innocence.”Bill Milat also referred to “100 per cent accurate evidence” that on the day two of the backpackers were murdered, Ivan was at his mother’s home. NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham told The Sun-Herald Milat’s appeals for justice were obscene because he had shown no mercy to his victims.Commissioner Woodham said Milat was old, fragile and losing touch with reality. ”He’s in his right place and he’ll be staying there,” he said.
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