Mitchell Barbieri pleads guilty to the murder of policeman Bryson Anderson

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The family of Bryson Anderson leave the Supreme Court on Wednesday, led by his parents Rex and Shirley. Photo: Paul BibbyA Sydney man has pleaded guilty on what was to be the first day of his Supreme Court trial to murdering decorated NSW police officer Bryson Anderson.
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The man’s mother has pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the crime, and this has been accepted by prosecutors.

Mitchell Barbieri, 21, and his mother, Fiona Barbieri, 47 admitted to their crimes on Wednesday in a courtroom packed with the officer’s family and his former police mates

Mitchell Barbieri now faces life in jail, as a life sentence is mandatory in cases where a police officer is murdered in the course of his or her duty.

Barbieri cried and hugged his mother before standing to enter his guilty plea.

Both mother and son had originally been charged with murder over the crime.

But the court heard on Wednesday, that the Crown accepted the plea of manslaughter for Ms Barbieri on the grounds that she had been suffering “a substantial impairment brought about by an abnormality of mind”.

Inspector Anderson was murdered on December 6, 2012, at the Barbieri’s Oakville home after police received an urgent call from neighbours to attend the property.

Officers allegedly found the Barbieris barricaded inside their brick bungalow and firing arrows at officers.

It is alleged that, when Inspector Anderson went to the back entrance of the house to negotiate with the pair, he was attacked with a knife by Mr Barbieri, while his mother swung a block hammer at other officers who tried to intervene.

The pair will return to court for sentencing next week.

Mitchell Barbieri cried and hugged his mother before standing to enter his guilty plea.

Speaking outside court, Inspector Anderson’s brother, Warwick Anderson, said his family were relieved that the guilty pleas had brought them “closer to the public resolution of this matter”.

“Privately there’s still a significant way to go of out family as we try to come to terms with the senseless tragic loss of Bryson,” Mr Anderson said.

He acknowledged the “strength and thoroughness” of the police investigation into the murder, the support of the public and those who served alongside Inspector Anderson on the day of his death.

“Our family is very mindful of the fact that there were a number of police who were with Bryson on that day, some of whom have not recovered from the events of that day and the injuries they suffered both physically and psychologically,” he said.

“The prayers of our family go out to them.”

Returning to TV after a year in the wilderness

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Have I outgrown TV? Should I just switch off? Carrie Bradshaw gets one thinking. Photo: Supplied
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Have I outgrown TV? Should I just switch off? Carrie Bradshaw gets one thinking. Photo: Supplied

Survivor, without the good bits: The Big Adventure. Photo: Supplied

Have I outgrown TV? Should I just switch off? Carrie Bradshaw gets one thinking. Photo: Supplied

Have I outgrown TV? Should I just switch off? Carrie Bradshaw gets one thinking. Photo: Supplied

Last Saturday night I stayed up to watch Carrie Bradshaw accidentally fart while in bed with Mr Big.

It was not the first time I’d seen/heard this happen – I’d caught this Sex and the City episode once or twice before – but I followed the repercussions nonetheless, nursing my little goblet of cleanskin shiraz as Carrie and her mates discussed the etiquette of gas-letting and she went home to tap-tap-tap out her ruminations.

When the credits rolled – cue jaunty piano-trickle theme tune – I watched another episode, the one where they go to a baby shower in the burbs.

I don’t think I properly laughed once for the 50-odd minutes that I sat watching. There may have been a wry smile but no sudden “ha!” or even a real chuckle. Truth be told, while I may fit the mould of what many imagine to be a Sex and the City fan – gay, white, impressed by shoes – I don’t really like the show.

And yet I watched.

It’s been this way since I re-entered the world of the television-havers this weekend. After 12 months of living in an apartment with no free-to-air outlet, on a salary that laughed in the face of even the most basic Foxtel packages, I moved into a new place on Saturday morning and, for the first time in a year, reacquainted myself with channels Two to Ten and their ever-multiplying offspring.

The world of not-on-demand has been an adjustment.

I’ve spent the past year having to hunt down everything I wanted to watch; first searching for the right streaming link on some disorienting foreign website and then having to close a dozen pop-up ads just to get to the very bottom of the rabbit hole where my 52 minutes of unethically obtained Game of Thrones lie waiting. TV was an effort, and I only watched the things I would make an effort for.

With free-to-air in my hands again – and no internet connection for now – I’ve found myself just . . . watching; plonking myself down, switching on the telly and up-downing with my remote until I find something good enough to stop on. Good enough like The Big Adventure, a show that’s basically Survivor without the good bits (what madness convinced them to replace Tribal Council with digging in a sandpit?), but a show I’ve now seen two episodes of nonetheless. And good enough like Gold Coast Cops, a show about cops . . . on the Gold Coast . . . that I have also watched.

Good enough like Beverly Hills 90210 – the remake.

There were things I’d completely forgotten about free-to-air in my year away, too, like that one channel completely devoted to infomercials. And the fact that networks give themselves over to Elvis movies during sunshine hours on weekends.

I’d also forgotten that it wasn’t all rubbish. British property TV, for instance, is the greatest gift the world’s received since God gave us his only son (I’ve also been watching early morning mass on channel 11). And SBS’s brilliant Pop Asia would be my new favourite thing if it wasn’t for stumbling across SBS’s even better If You Are the One, a cruel and magnificent Chinese dating show that puts one man in front of 24 women to be rejected by them one by one because he is too old/fat/balding.

I’d also forgotten the joy of drunk-tweeting Q&A, something few others seem to have forgotten if the show’s live Twitter feed is anything to go by.

But then a drop in quality has not been the most jarring part of returning to the TV-having world. In my year in the TV wilderness, I happily made the effort to stream what some might (wrongly) consider trash: everything from Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (before recent revelations, of course) to the British version of The X Factor. What’s been most jarring about returning to television, in the traditional sense, is how weird it feels to watch television in a traditional way.

After 12 months of being, by necessity, a completely active viewer, life at the mercy of programmers who assume I want my news at 6pm and my mysteries solved at 8.30pm feels all too constricting. Not being able to dig around the internet for the latest episode of American Dad to watch before bed feels ludicrous. Not having my usual background noise playing while I cook – QI, courtesy of iView – feels almost cruel. It’s like I’m back in the 1990s, a decade I spent circling things in TV Week and rushing home from school to watch Bewitched because it started at 4.30pm and if I missed the start time then that was that.

It was also a decade when television really was a mindless pursuit, when I sat in front of the cathode ray tube and flicked around in the hope of something good flashing up. I’ve time-travelled back to that point in my life again this week, flicking around at night in something of a trance until settling on watching people digging in a sandpit or a New York columnist farting in bed.

It’s a way of watching television I’ve outgrown, along with many others.

I’ve got a week until the internet is connected. In the meantime, I guess I’ll keep watching whatever I end up watching, even if I’m not laughing.

Iraq update: Australian fighter jets fly 144 missions against Islamic State

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Australian Super Hornet fighters.Australian special forces are expected to be deployed to Baghdad within the next week as the final roadblocks to the deployment, which will see diggers advisers join Iraqi troops in the fight against Islamic State, are cleared.
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And Chief of Joint Operations Vice Admiral David Johnston says Australian forces are prepared to deliver strikes against Australian citizens fighting for Islamic State, also known as ISIL, provided they are a legitimate target.

About 200 troops will be armed to defend themselves on the deployment and the soldiers may, if they move to forward operating bases, be more heavily armed and will be able to fire back if attacked.

At the same time, Australian fighter jets have flown 144 missions against the Islamic State and dropped twenty-five 500-pound laser and GPS-guided bombs in October.

Bombs have been dropped on 14 ISIL targets, with 11 destroyed and three damaged.

On Wednesday, Vice Admiral Johnston also confirmed some terrorists may have been killed in the strikes as the RAAF has participated in and, in one case, led a mission targeting ISIL.

An Australian KC-30 tanker aircraft has now also refuelled US jets that may, while on operations, been deployed to strike targets in Syria, rather than Iraq.

Vice Admiral Johnston said the final issues holding up the deployment of Australian advisers had been resolved.

“Our force is ready to deploy. We are in the last stages now of going through the arrangements in order to achieve that deployment,” he said.

“The government of Iraq has asked that we don’t reveal the nature of the arrangement between the two countries… There were a series of administrative actions that we had to take and we are right at the end of those and that’s why I’m confident that the deployment will occur.”

After nearly two months of delays, Vice Admiral Johnston said “I am hopeful that within the next week we will achieve it”, though Australian forces will not be going on patrol.

The Australian Chief of Operations said that as with other similar operations, Australian forces would follow through with its mission regardless of the nationality of enemy combatants.

“In all our work we look to make sure it’s a military objective, that we minimise the impact for those not involved in fighting and if there were Australians that met that criteria…if we saw people that were fighting, they were a legitimate target and the engagement authority was there to do so, we would conduct the mission we were sent there to do.”

An estimated 71 Australians have fought in Iraq and Syria, with 15 killed.

The entry of Australian special forces had been delayed by visa requirements, the need to issue diplomatic passports and by the need to secure the requisite legal protections to stop Australians soldiers being prosecuted under local law if they accidentally kill or injure an innocent Iraqi.

Vice Admiral Johnston said that one of the operations had seen Australian fighter planes strike ISIL to help stop it diverting dams in the Fallujah area of Iraq, which had caused loss of water used for power generation, drinking and irrigation.

Australia had played a part in stopping that by targeting the earth moving used to create the berm that had diverted the water.

There have been a total of 437 strike operations in Iraq by the Coalition.

The Australia task group comprises about 400 people, 6 F/A 18 Super Hornets, a Wedgetail command and control aircraft and a KC-30A tanker.

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Pat Rafter steps up to new role at Tennis Australia

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Tennis legend Pat Rafter. Photo: Michael DodgeDual US Open champion Pat Rafter will retain the Davis Cup captaincy for at least one more year in tandem with his powerful new role as Tennis Australia’s director of performance, while also pledging to share his time equally with the less buoyant and familiar women’s side of the local game.
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Following months of deliberation and negotiation, Rafter, 41, will formally fill the long-vacant high-performance position on February 1, reporting directly to TA chief executive Craig Tiley. Before then, he plans to feel his way into the full-time management post the former world No. 1 believes is a natural expansion of the Davis Cup leadership role he assumed at the end of 2010.

The appointment is believed to have been recommended in a recent review of tennis operations carried out by experienced American coach Paul Annacone, with whom Rafter intends to remain in ongoing advisory contact. The Rafter family is likely to move from the Sunshine Coast to either Sydney or Melbourne in due course.

While the four-time grand slam finalist does not claim to have all the answers – “Far from it. I am going to take my time, listen, watch and learn,” he said – one of Rafter’s first tasks will be to start asking questions.

Some, clearly, will involve the subject of why the improving depth in Australian men’s tennis is not being matched in the women’s game, with veteran pair Sam Stosur and Casey Dellacqua continuing to dominate, and a dearth of exciting prospects in the Nick Kyrgios mould.

“The women is an area that I’ve got to get more into,” Rafter said. “Over the next two months I’m going to have to really dig deep into that, because it’s probably an area that I have not been exposed to very much. With the Davis Cup role I’ve just been dealing with the men, so now I’ve got to focus as much on the women as I do on the men.”

Rafter said he considered the “massive” role a challenge which would be about both learning about and for himself and contributing to a sport that has treated him so well. After his 2002 retirement, he initially stepped back from tennis to raise his young family with wife Lara, but said the time was right to take an expanded role.

“I needed to find out whether or not I could do it, just with my family, with what I’ve got going on, also the Davis Cup, how I mix it all in together,” he said. “So it went back and forward for quite a while, actually, and at one stage I didn’t think I could do it, and I let them know, and Paul Annacone came out and did the review on things, and along with Craig thought it was very, very do-able for me, and I thought … ‘well, maybe it’s a good opportunity for me to try my hand at something a little bit different’.”

Having led Australia back into the Davis Cup world group in 2013 for the first time since 2007, the uncompromising Rafter has made a positive and passionate impact as captain, and is widely respected for both his leadership and organisational skills; unafraid, for example, to suspend the likes of wayward pair Bernard Tomic and Marinko Matosevic.

Tennis Australia president Steve Healy welcomed the appointment, saying in a statement: “It is extremely rare for one of the greats to take on a role such as this. In fact, this could be a first. That just exemplifies Pat Rafter the person and this great Australian’s commitment to the sport of tennis.”

Little evidence childcare quality boosts outcomes: report

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The report questions the quality reforms that were implemented under the Gillard government in 2012. Photo: Peter BraigThere is little evidence to suggest that the push to improve the quality of childcare will bring benefits to children when they reach school and bring value to the taxpayer’s dollar, a report from a free-market think tank says.
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The report by the Centre for Independent Studies questions the quality reforms that were begun under the Gillard government in 2012 and aim to see a reduction in carer-to-child ratios and a boost in staff qualifications.

Policy analyst Trisha Jha said the “jury is out” on whether or not the reforms will create improved outcomes for children. After doing a survey of international and Australian studies, Ms Jha said that to date, people have been “too optimistic” with the evidence.

Her report examines a recent study from the United States that suggests improvement in preschool outcomes “fade” by the third grade. She also finds that three out of four Australian studies examining the effects of carer qualifications on childcare reported no relationship to child outcomes.

“I think that what the government should be focusing on is taking a long, hard and sceptical look at the qualification requirements and the staff-to-child ratios,” she said.

Ms Jha said that research suggested that early childhood programs most benefited children from disadvantaged backgrounds. For the vast majority, it was enough for parents to drop their kids off at childcare, “and know that they’re safe and happy and being looked after, so that they can go to work”.

Ms Jha said that it was potentially inefficient to pay the childcare sector to perform educational and developmental roles to do things that parents would do anyway.

“If more money is to be spent on early childhood education, the focus should be on ensuring access to high-quality care for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, rather than spreading the expenditure to achieve marginal increases in quality for all children.”

The federal and state governments are currently undertaking a review of the national quality framework and in its draft report, the Productivity Commission suggested that carer qualifications and staff-to-child ratios could be watered down.

There has been significant pushback from parents on the issue of quality. An online survey by advocacy group The Parenthood found that 95 per cent of the 3000 parents surveyed did not want the qualification levels reduced for those working with children aged under three.

Ninety-seven per cent of parents surveyed did not support the suggestion to “average out” the ratios of educators.

A study by children’s peak body Early Childhood Australia on Tuesday found location was just as much – if not more – of a factor than quality standards in terms of childcare fees.

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Alex from Target and the danger of internet fame

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The picture that started it all: Alex from Target. Photo: Twitter
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The picture that started it all: Alex from Target. Photo: Twitter

The picture that started it all: Alex from Target. Photo: Twitter

The boy now internationally recognised as “Alex From Target” had a very peculiar Monday evening. High school student Alex Christopher LaBeouf, his reported name, emerged from relative obscurity to claim hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers through no act of his own.

A handsome young man, Alex had been working at Target when someone surreptitiously snapped his photograph. The user then beamed the image out to her 14,000 users — with an emphatic “YOOOOOOOOOO” — igniting an utterly bizarre, cautionary tale of internet fame. From that moment, Alex lost control of events in which he never had any say. His image is now given over to the whims of the internet, more known for its malevolence than magnanimity.

Alex, who seems befuddled but amused by the turn of events, now has more than 550,000 followers on Twitter. Target tweeted at him. So did Ellen DeGeneres. Alex delighted in the attention, but his apparent acceptance of the situation belied a sobering reality: He never asked for this. As The Washington Post’sCaitlin Dewey put it: “The internet owns him. He doesn’t own his fans … and he certainly isn’t the agent of his own enormous, newfound fame.”

Such flashes of internet fame burn hot and fast, and it’s very likely Alex from Target will depart from centre stage as quickly as he arrived. But for now, there’s something distinctly voyeuristic, if not exploitative, about his celebrity. He is powerless as hundreds of thousands pass judgement on his appearance.

“Alex from Target is so ugly!!!” one user on Twitter wrote. “HES ACTUALLY UGLY STOP,” added another. “Why does #alexfromtarget look hot in some pics but ugly in others I want answers,” one more Twitter user asked.

Some sleuths tracked down his apparent girlfriend and sent her threatening messages. “Alex from target as a girlfriend damn, we must execute her,” one person wrote on Twitter. Another wrote: “I will find you, and I will kill you.” One more: “B—, no one likes you we want #AlexFromTarget.”

The callousness of such messages reflects the earliest days of spontaneous, random internet celebrity. An earlier incarnation of Alex from Target was 18-year-old Allison Stokke, now called the “hottest pole vaulter ever.” Her tale of internet fame, which she did nothing to encourage, began when she was a student at Newport Harbor High School and someone snapped an apparently innocuous image of her at the track.

“At 5 feet 7, Stokke has smooth, olive-coloured skin and toned muscles,” The Washington Post’s Eli Saslow wrote in 2007. “In the photo, her vaulting pole rests on her right shoulder. Her right hand appears to be adjusting the elastic band of her ponytail. Her spandex uniform … reveals a bare midriff.” The picture, which a blogger uploaded, went viral at a time when “going viral” was a new phenomenon.

Stokke got 1000 new messages on MySpace, a video of her posted to YouTube collected hundreds of thousands of views and an impostor created a fake Facebook profile of her. A fan page, www.allisonstokke上海龙凤论坛m, materialised and rolled out a dozen images of her. On chat forums, “hundreds of anonymous users looked at Stokke’s picture and posted sexual fantasies,” The  Washington Post reported.

Stokke felt like a victim. “Even if none of it is illegal, it just all feels really demeaning,” Stokke said. “I worked so hard for pole vaulting and all this other stuff, and it’s almost like that doesn’t matter. Nobody sees that. Nobody really sees me.”

The same thing happened to Caitlin Seida, but for very different reasons. Last year, she logged onto Facebook to discover a new message from a friend. “You’re Internet famous!” the message said. Somehow, an image of her wearing a Halloween outfit from “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” had splashed across the Internet — but written over the image was “Fridge Raider.”

Seida, who said she’s “larger than someone my height should be,” at first thought it was funny. Then she saw the comments. One told her to “kill herself.” Another: “Heifers like her should be put down.”

“We all know the awful humiliation of a person laughing at you,” she later wrote in an emotional column for Salon. “But that feeling increases tenfold when it seems like everyone is laughing at you. Scrolling through the comments, the world imploded — and took my heart with it.”

It’s tragic, but expected. The harassment of internet celebrities is a natural progression in their narrative. When Buzzfeed broke the story of Alex from Target, it wrote: “BuzzFeed News reached out to Alex to see if he’s received any harassment after becoming Internet famous in under 12 hours.”

Alex didn’t respond.

Then Alex’s girlfriend was asked the same. “How many threats have you gotten?” one user asked.

Finally, she had enough: “OK, people are going way too far with this.”

But it’s likely they’ll go even farther.

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Kevin Andrews branded ‘pasty faced and pooncy’ by NT MP Kezia Purick

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Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews. Photo: Andrew Meares Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews. Photo: Andrew Meares

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews. Photo: Andrew Meares

Federal political news: full coverage

A Northern Territory Coalition MP has launched an extraordinary attack on Kevin Andrews’ pro-marriage stance, labelling the federal Social Services Minister “pooncy” and “pasty faced” and suggesting he should be castrated.

Country Liberal Party MP Kezia Purick, who is Speaker in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, made the attack on Facebook on Tuesday evening, in response to Mr Andrews’ argument that marriages are more stable than de facto relationships.

“Listen here you pooncy, pasty faced person from some pissant place that no one cares about, half my electorate are probably in de facto relationships and they are happy, normal living people who do their very best for their families and their communities,” Ms Purick wrote.

“They work hard, try their best and believe that you judge people by their deeds not some piece of paper …

“Go away Kevin Andrews and if you ever come to the rural area and try to tell us how to live, three words for you, green rubber ring!” in an apparent reference to a device to castrate livestock.

When contacted by Fairfax Media, Mr Andrews’ office had no comment about Ms Purick’s outburst.

But a spokeswoman did point to a recent article by the ABC’s FactCheck that found while the majority of marriages start with a de facto relationship, for those that never marry, the chance of separating is six times higher.

On Wednesday morning, Ms Purick told ABC Radio in Darwin that Mr Andrews was “trying to force his particular Christian values on how we go about living our lives”.

On Tuesday, Mr Andrews told a families conference in Adelaide that “the family, built on stable marriage, is central in our society and is the first and most important building block in a child’s life”.

He said that while parental break up does not automatically “spell adversity” for children, they face greater risks than if they were in an “intact family”.

Ms Purick has recently used her Facebook page to criticise fellow CLP MP Dave Tollner for joking about people’s sexual preferences.

Yesterday, she also posted that she was “fed up with these bastard snakes helping themselves to my silkie chooks and chickens”.

Fairfax Media has contacted Ms Purick’s office for comment.

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Killer of NSW Police inspector Bryson Anderson pleads guilty to murder

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A Sydney man has pleaded guilty on what was to be the first day of his Supreme Court trial to murdering decorated NSW police officer Bryson Anderson.
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The man’s mother has pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the crime, and this has been accepted by prosecutors.

Mitchell Barbieri, 21, and his mother, Fiona Barbieri, 47 admitted to their crimes on Wednesday in a courtroom packed with the officer’s family and his former police mates

Mitchell Barbieri now faces life in jail, as a life sentence is mandatory in cases where a police officer is murdered in the course of his or her duty.

Barbieri cried and hugged his mother before standing to enter his guilty plea.

Both mother and son had originally been charged with murder over the crime.

But the court heard on Wednesday, that the Crown accepted the plea of manslaughter for Ms Barbieri on the grounds that she had been suffering “a substantial impairment brought about by an abnormality of mind”.

Inspector Anderson was murdered on December 6, 2012, at the Barbieri’s Oakville home after police received an urgent call from neighbours to attend the property.

Officers allegedly found the Barbieris barricaded inside their brick bungalow and firing arrows at officers.

It is alleged that, when Inspector Anderson went to the back entrance of the house to negotiate with the pair, he was attacked with a knife by Mr Barbieri, while his mother swung a block hammer at other officers who tried to intervene.

The pair will return to court for sentencing next week.

Mitchell Barbieri cried and hugged his mother before standing to enter his guilty plea.

Speaking outside court, Inspector Anderson’s brother, Warwick Anderson, said his family were relieved that the guilty pleas had brought them “closer to the public resolution of this matter”.

“Privately there’s still a significant way to go of out family as we try to come to terms with the senseless tragic loss of Bryson,” Mr Anderson said.

He acknowledged the “strength and thoroughness” of the police investigation into the murder, the support of the public and those who served alongside Inspector Anderson on the day of his death.

“Our family is very mindful of the fact that there were a number of police who were with Bryson on that day, some of whom have not recovered from the events of that day and the injuries they suffered both physically and psychologically,” he said.

“The prayers of our family go out to them.”

Ebola: Tony Abbott to support Australian volunteers’ fight in West Africa

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Prime Minister Tony Abbott Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Prime Minister Tony Abbott Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Prime Minister Tony Abbott Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

On top of the $18 million already committed, Australia will now contribute a further $24 million to the fight against Ebola. Photo: Samuel Aranda/The New York Times

The Prime Minister said that Australia had previously used private providers to tackle health emergencies such as cholera. Photo: Jessica Hromas

PM to send Australian volunteers to treat Ebola victimsPolitical news: full coverage

Australia will step up its response to the Ebola virus by contracting a private company to operate a hospital in Sierra Leone and deploying technical experts to support the international effort.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Wednesday that Australia would contribute a further $24 million to the international fight against Ebola, on top of $18 million it has already committed.

The latest commitment includes $20 million to staff a British-built Ebola treatment facility in Sierra Leone over the next eight months.

The government will outsource the job of managing the 100-bed facility to a private provider, most likely Aspen Medical, an Australian company thathas been running a clinic in Liberia for several months.

Mr Abbott said about 240 staff would be required, most of whom would be engaged in West Africa, but it was likely some paid Australian volunteers would also  be hired.

Mr Abbott said he expected Aspen to have staff on the ground in West Africa “within days” and he hoped the treatment centre would be up and running by the end of the month.

In addition, the government has committed $2 million to the humanitarian agency RedR Australia to fund the deployment of technical experts to non-frontline roles in the United Nations response.

The government has committed a further $2 million to improving the readiness of countries near to Australia such as Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea to deal with an Ebola outbreak.

Mr Abbott’s announcement follows weeks of pressure by Labor and the Greens, medical groups and aid agencies, and requests by the United States, the United Kingdom and Ebola-affected nations for Australia to supplement its financial contribution with practical support.

Until now the government has resisted these calls, citing the absence of arrangements to provide treatment to any Australian personnel who maycontract the virus.

Mr Abbott said in recent days the government had received assurances from Britain that any Australians who contracted the virus in West Africa would be treated as if they were British citizens.

Defending the decision to outsource the operation of the hospital, Mr Abbott said Australia had previously used private providers to tackle health emergencies such as cholera.

“This is a public health emergency, it’s not a security emergency. It’s certainly not an economic emergency,” he said.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman welcomed the announcement, but questioned why the government had chosen not to directly deploy Australian volunteers.

“What is a little confusing about this decision is that the many hundreds of Australian skilled personnel who have said they wish to help, continue to be knocked back by this government.”

Tanya Plibersek said she did not understand how enough staff would be found in Sierra Leone, which before the Ebola outbreak had just 100 doctors for a population of 6 million people.

In the current outbreak, the largest in history, more than 13,500 people have been infected across eight countries, and about 5000 people have died.

The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the number of cases in the two worst-affected nations, Sierra Leone and Liberia, is doubling every 20 days, and by January could reach 1.4 million.

CSR profit rises by almost half, boosted by home builders

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CSR’s managing director Rob Sindel. Photo: Brendan Esposito CSR’s managing director Rob Sindel. Photo: Brendan Esposito
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CSR’s managing director Rob Sindel. Photo: Brendan Esposito

CSR’s managing director Rob Sindel. Photo: Brendan Esposito

CSR managing director Rob Sindel said the building products supplier is set to capitalise on years of underbuilding as he handed down a 48 per cent rise in half-year profit to $68.4 million.

Mr Sindel has said that after years of failing to build enough new homes in NSW, the state is now catching up. He pointed to Stockland’s quarterly update last month where the property firm said it had its strongest first quarter for land sales in four years.

“We don’t want to overtalk it, but if you go through a few years of underbuilding you will get a few years of good construction,” Mr Sindel said.

Buoyed by resurgent housing construction and stronger earnings in its aluminium and property businesses, CSR on Wednesday reported a 15 per cent rise in revenue to $1 billion for the six months ended September 30.

Earnings before interest and tax rose 86 per cent to $114.1 million. The strong result helped push CSR into a net cash position of $5.7 million.

Given its pristine balance sheet, Credit Suisse analyst Andrew Peros estimates CSR has up to $350 million of firepower to spend on acquisitions.

Mr Sindel said there are lots of opportunities to deploy capital in pursuit of growth. Acquisitions in the range of $20 million to $100 million will be part of the strategy, as well as innovation and product development.

In the year to June, Australian housing commencements rose to 181,000, the highest annual result since 1994.

However, the trend suffered a reversal in September as building approvals for the month fell 11 per cent on the same period last year, the sharpest decline since June 2013.

“Despite the most recent decline, building approvals have improved for 21 of the past 24 months. Allowing for lags, this suggests materials demand should continue to gather pace,” CIMB analyst Andrew Scott told clients.

Strong house price rises in Sydney and Melbourne have added to the need for more new homes, but also raised the possibility that the Reserve Bank could use macro-prudential restrictions to take the heat out of the market.

But Mr Sindel is not concerned.

“The overheating, if there is any, is in the established market. The pricing for new houses in western Sydney is very competitive and you can get a lot of value for money,” he said.

“I don’t think there is any short-term risk. If it [prices] keeps going up 10 or 15 per cent they [the Reserve Bank] might be forced to act, but often prices jump and then stabilise for a few years.”

He also downplayed any impact regulatory restrictions could have on demand for CSR products. “The new build detached market has not got the same drivers as superannuation investors buying up apartments,” he said.

Alongside other energy intensive manufacturers, CSR faces a big increase in gas costs when massive new LNG export terminals on the east coast come online. CSR’s annual gas costs are expected to rise from about $30 million to about $55 million in 2017-18.

After the Senate passed the first part of the federal government’s direct action climate policy last week, the $2.55 billion emissions reduction fund, CSR rival Brickworks said it has a line of projects to cut emissions and reduce its dependency on gas.

Mr Sindel said he is also looking for ways to tap into the fund. “As soon as I saw that direct action looked like passing, I sent out our energy teams to see where our opportunities are. I think the scheme could work well,” he said.

“If you look at something like a drier or a plasterboard factory you can always improve the efficiency, but the payback [to recover project costs] might be six or seven years. Direct action allows you to bid for abatement that could reduce the payback period to four or five years.”

CSR’s troubled Viridian glass division showed signs it is starting to stem its losses. Viridian reported EBIT of $500,000, up from a $10.6 million loss.

“It was a good outcome for glass to break even ahead of expectations, despite a number of attempts to turn the business around,” Mr Peros said.

Earnings in the aluminium business rose 71 per cent to $41.4 million, primarily due to the strong premiums being paid for physical aluminium.

Mr Sindel said the company is continuing its discussion with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission about its proposed east coast brick joint venture with Boral.

Last month the regulator raised a red flag over the deal in its statement of issues. Mr Sindel would not comment on CSR’s course of action if the merger is blocked, but he said returns in the brick business are unacceptable.

CSR declared an interim dividend of 8.5¢ per share, up 70 per cent. CSR shares rose 10¢ to $3.60 on Wednesday.