Hawks veteran Hodge guilty of striking

Hawthorn launched an impassioned ‘steel arms’ defence at the AFL tribunal on Tuesday night but it wasn’t enough to get veteran Luke Hodge off a one-game suspension.

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Hodge was charged by the match review panel with striking Sydney’s Tom Papley during the second quarter of the Hawks’ six-point win over the Swans at the MCG on Friday night.

But Hawks legal counsel Peter O’Farrell argued Hodge was simply moving to block Papley as he ran toward an open goal.

“We’ve got a saying – ‘steel arms’ – so if someone goes through you try to hold them or get a hand in to slow them down,” Hodge told the tribunal.

“If I had let someone go past Clarko (coach Alastair Clarkson) would have roared at me at halftime.

“If I think I’ve done the wrong thing (over my career) I’ve copped the whack – in this incident I didn’t punch or strike him so that’s why I’ve challenged.”

But the jury – consisting of Paul Williams, Stewart Loewe and Richard Loveridge – deliberated for 21 minutes before finding the four-time premiership star guilty.

The 33-year-old, who will retire at the end of the season, will miss Sunday’s clash against Richmond, which is also good mate Jarryd Roughead’s 250th game.

“We disagreed with it being (assessed as) a strike … we didn’t think it was but they didn’t agree with that,” Hodge told reporters after the hearing at AFL headquarters.

“It’s disappointing with Rough playing his 250th this week. I guess that was part of the reason behind (the challenge) as well – to try and get out there to play with him.

“But that’s footy – you take what they give you and I look forward to the week after.”

The 302-game veteran didn’t risk missing any extra matches if he was unsuccessful at the tribunal, but was slapped with a $2,500 fine in addition to the ban.

The Hawks, a game-and-a-half outside the eight in 12th, must beat the Tigers at the MCG if they are to keep their faint finals hopes alive.

Criminals trying to ‘corrupt’ visa system

Authorities are concerned that organised criminals are using bribery and other means to try and corrupt Australia’s visa system – potentially for terrorism or fraud.

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It’s also feared some businesses are establishing inappropriate relationships with public officials in a bid to bypass the country’s strong biosecurity controls.

The head of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity on Tuesday warned a parliamentary committee looking into Australia’s border arrangements that both were significant issues.

Michael Griffin, who oversees a number of agencies including federal police and Border Force, said organised crime groups are motivated by the fact Australia is one of the world’s most profitable markets for illicit drug importations.

He said there were a lot of indicators of criminals attempting to corrupt the visa issuing process both domestically and offshore to enable organised crime, possibly terrorism and commercial fraud.

“They are the traditional methods of corrupting officials through the use of influence, through extended family relationships, through bribery, through entrapment processes – we are seeing that,” Mr Griffin said.

“It is of such significance to draw our attention and to have us focused very closely on it.”

He also expressed concern about the possibility of unscrupulous businesses circumventing Australia’s border regulations through forming corrupt or inappropriate relationships with public officials.

“It is premature for me to say much more in public, although it is enough to say that this type of corruption may introduce significant biosecurity risk through lax procedures in the screening of agricultural imports,” he told the hearing in Canberra.

The watchdog has uncovered a number of cases of officials accepting “very substantial bribes”.

Mr Griffin noted 26 matters had been prosecuted and convicted recently, ranging in punishments of up to 14 years in jail.

The AFP is also concerned organised crime figures are getting work at airports and ports and exploiting their security passes.

It has identified drug importations facilitated by “trusted insiders” in aviation.

“Airport criminal infiltration may exploit vulnerabilities across a lengthy supply chain from airport logistics and functions, air freight logistics, security, baggage handling and even air crew,” AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan told the inquiry.

More than 60 organisations and companies can issue aviation and maritime security identification cards, with the AFP warning the more people who can dish them out, the more vulnerable they become.

The Office of Transport Security, which regulates Australia’s airports, ports and and offshore oil and gas sites, is pursuing a raft of measures to crack down on staff security.

Anyone with links to serious or organised crime would be blocked from getting identification cards under legislation before parliament.

The agency is boosting screening of airport staff working in restricted areas, expanding the scope of background checks and forcing those who issue ID cards to verify identities face-to-face.

They’re also looking at the design of the aviation and maritime ID cards, including their security features.

OTS executive director Sachi Wimmer told the inquiry the agency was investigating the possibility of introducing biometrics into the cards and cutting the number of people who can issue them.

Trump’s new communications director gone in 10 days

This time, newly appointed Anthony Scaramucci is out as communications director.

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He had spent a little more than a week in the job.

Anthony Scaramucci is no longer communications director for the Trump administration, having lasted just 10 days in the job.

It marks the latest turn in a string of tumultuous staffing changes at the White House.

An official statement says Mr Scaramucci is leaving because “he felt it best to give chief of staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders has confirmed he is out.

“He does not have a role at this time in the Trump administration. And we put out a statement earlier announcing that. And I don’t have much else to add beyond that.”

The announcement came just hours after President Trump swore in John Kelly, a retired Marine general, as his chief of staff following Reince Preibus’s dismissal.

Mr Trump had tweeted there was “no chaos in the White House” and later said it was a “great day!”

While Mr Scaramucci’s reign was brief, he had made headlines with profanity-filled comments to The New Yorker magazine about some key staff figures.

He attacked Mr Priebus, chief of staff at the time, and Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

Sarah Sanders says the comments worked against him.

“The President certainly felt that Anthony’s comments were inappropriate for a person in that position. And he didn’t want to burden General Kelly, also, with that line of succession. As I think we’ve made clear a few times over the course of the last couple of days to several of you individually, General Kelly has the full authority to operate within the White House, and all staff will report to him.”

In the first six months of Donald Trump’s presidency, a national-security adviser, a communications director, a press secretary and a chief of staff have all come and gone.

CNN commentators Brian Stelter and Gloria Borger have speculated President Trump may not have enjoyed the attention Mr Scaramucci was garnering.

(Stelter:) “Of course, Mooch became bigger than Trump, and haven’t we seen this before? The fact that I’m using the word Mooch, using the name Mooch, he was in the tabloids all weekend. He was the centre of attention.”

(Borger:) “But not in a good way. I was just texting with a source, who said to me, ‘Look, he was getting too far out front, and in a bad way,’ and that the President realised it. And I’m sure family, by the way, realised it. I’m sure Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner did not like the language that Scaramucci was using. And to your point, there is only one star in this constellation, and that is Donald Trump.”

House Intelligence Committee member Jim Himes has told CNN Mr Scaramucci’s behaviour was unacceptable for the White House.

Mr Himes says he is hopeful General Kelly can bring some order to Washington.

“Well, I’m not at all surprised. I think, look, Kelly in and Scaramucci out is nothing but good for this White House and for the country. Mr Scaramucci showed on about Day 3 that he was all about himself, that he was willing to step well beyond the bounds of anything acceptable in the most powerful building in the land. And, you know, John Kelly, a Marine, well-respected, he … if anyone can bring order to what has been a chaotic White House operation, I would expect it would be a four-star Marine. I think he’s respected around town, around Washington. I think he’s going to be respected within the White House.”

Former press secretary Sean Spicer had stepped down on July the 21st in response to Mr Scaramucci’s appointment.

Mr Spicer said he would continue to serve until the end of August, but it is unclear what his status will be now.

 

 

Border agencies under pressure as plane plot investigation continues

How much do we know about the people looking after our borders?

According to national border protection and security agencies, not enough.

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An inquiry into Australia’s border integrity has revealed serious gaps within vetting procedures and a lack of checks on border employees.

It follows the breaking up of a plot to bring down a passenger plane, with police arresting several men in Sydney following raids over the weekend.

The group is being held without charge under special terror-related powers while investigations continue.

Passengers passing through Australian airports are adjusting to longer wait times and heightened security arrangements, which could be ongoing.

The Australian Federal Police says it will maintain a presence at airports as long as deemed necessary by intelligence agencies.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan says while the organisation realises the demands of national security, its resources are being tested.

“We’re stretched, there is no spare capacity. We do not have people ready to respond to something. If something happens, I have to risk-manage other activities. It’s like asking a senior police officer who already wants more resources a bit of a vexed question because the answer is always going to be ‘yes we do’, but it’s a matter of priorities across government, which I understand. If we’re going to police more designated airports within the current funding environment, that will mean something else we’re doing is not going to be done.”

The A-F-P merged its aviation portfolio into its protection operations in March 2016.

Assistant Commissioner Gaughan says he’s particularly concerned about staffing in the industry, and who is given clearance to receive an aviation or maritime security identification card, known as an ASIC (A-sik) or MSIC

“We know that individuals with links to criminal groups have been able to gain employment at Australia’s ports, and obtain ASICs or MSICs. These employees were able to exploit processes, procedures, and their access to restricted areas within the airport because of their ASIC/MSIC status – I think it would be very naive to suspect this is not ongoing.”

On Monday the courier company DHL voiced concern over the continued use of paper documents for security and background checks, and recommended a biometric system.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission agrees the current vetting system is inadequate.

The Commission’s executive director of intelligence, Col Blanch, wants continuous checks.

“Someone may come in to an organisation with pure intentions and work well for five or six years and then find themselves in a situation later on in life where things have changed or they’re related to a person perhaps doing the wrong thing. It’s not necessarily the initial vetting, that’s certainly important to make sure you get the right people in, but people’s circumstances change.”

The organisation has also called for domestic travel to be tightened, to stop organised crime exploiting a loophole where travellers don’t need identification.

Australian Border Force says controls are in place for those who break the rules.

James Watson, from Border Force, says there are disciplinary avenues.

“We have a number of mechanisms to ensure the right people are in the right place at the right time. If we detect breaches, we have a number of options that are available to us as an issuing authority, and that might be issuing a warning, for instance, to an individual or to individuals if they have not complied with the requirements of an ASIC to move in and out, we could issue an infringement, or indeed an exclusion or, where necessary, prosecutions can occur.”

 

 

 

Worries of more conflict following Venezuela vote

President Maduro has declared a sweeping victory in the election of the new legislative body, which grants his party the power to rewrite the constitution.

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But much of the world — and many of his own citizens — are refusing to recognise the results, calling it an assault on democracy.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is celebrating the results of Sunday’s vote for a new Constituent Assembly as what he calls a “vote for the revolution.”

“The Venezuelan people have shown that, when fate challenges us, when the stateless oligarchy challenges us, when imperialism challenges us, it is when we make known the blood of the liberator that runs through the veins of men, women, children, youths.”

The victory means the President’s ruling socialist party will replace the current legislative body, the National Assembly, with a new, 545-member Constituent Assembly.

The new assembly, all nominated by the Maduro administration, will have virtually unlimited powers, including the ability to rewrite the constitution.

It was hoped the vote would lead to peace in Venezuela, which for months has endured violent protests that have killed more than 120 people.

But it appears to have further divided the country, with many Venezuelan citizens incensed.

“There cannot be peace when there aren’t legitimate things. Like this constitutional assembly. The constitution clearly states you have to consult the people to decide on a constitutional assembly, and they didn’t do it.”

Venezuelans have taken to the streets for months to challenge the vote.

It prompted the government to ban protests and promise punishment for anyone disrupting the electoral process.

Despite that, violence marred the voting day, as many boycotted the election and a number of polling stations were attacked.

At least 10 deaths have been reported in new rounds of clashes between protesters and police.

The country’s elections authority, the National Electoral Council, says more than 8 million people voted, more than double the turnout estimated.

But members of the opposition are disputing the count, saying only 2 to 3 million ballots were cast.

The president of the opposition-led National Assembly, Julio Borges, is calling for fresh protests.

“No-one can think that, because the government, through blood and fire, literally, his fraudulent process … no-one can think that the regime got away with it.”

And it is not just those in Venezuela refusing to recognise the results.

The United States has labelled President Maduro a “dictator,” imposing sanctions on his administration for undermining democracy.

Under the sanctions, US firms and individuals are banned from doing business with him.

US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchi says it sends a clear message to his government.

“Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuela people. By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and the support for the people of Venezuela, who strive to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”

Latin American nations from Argentina to Mexico, which usually do not side with the United States in regional disputes, are sharply condemning the vote.

Spain and Canada have also joined in the condemnation, and the European Union says it is unlikely to acknowledge the result.

European Commission deputy chief spokeswoman Mina Andreeva says the recent violence has cast doubts over the state of Venezuela’s democracy .

“The Commission has, indeed, grave doubts as to whether the election result can be recognised. The events of the past 24 hours have reinforced the European Union’s preoccupation for the fate of democracy in Venezuela.”

Analysts say Venezuela is heading towards becoming a pariah state.

Economist Luis Vicente León is president of the Venezuelan data-polling centre Datanálisis.

He warns, while the results may consolidate President Maduro’s power, they are also likely to deepen the country’s political crisis.

“This is not a typical election. It’s an election that doesn’t resolve a problem but, rather, amplifies it. And that’s not normal.”