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Inquiry into HSU to begin in Sydney

Health Services Union (HSU) whistleblower Kathy Jackson will be among witnesses called to give evidence at the royal commission into union corruption, starting on Monday in Sydney.

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Two former high flyers, disgraced ex MP Craig Thomson and former HSU boss and ALP national president Michael Williamson have already been sentenced over fraud relating to the misuse of members’ funds.

Williamson, who was HSU general secretary from 1995 to 2012, was sentenced to at least five years in jail earlier this year for “leeching” almost $1 million from the union and then recruiting others to hinder a police investigation.

During the hearing, Judge David Frearson labelled him a “parasite” motivated by “pure greed”.

In March, Thomson was sentenced in the Melbourne Magistrates Court to 12 months jail for spending more than $24,000 of members’ money on prostitutes and personal expenses while national secretary of the HSU.

The HSU’s acting national secretary Chris Brown said the union would be pursuing Thomson to recover the misused money, including funds linked to matters dealt with by a Fair Work investigation but not brought to court.

As well as blowing the whistle on Williamson and Thomson, Ms Jackson has been accused of using $1 million in union funds to pay off two personal credit cards, which she says were used for work expenses.

It’s further alleged she also withdrew $220,000 in cash using union bank cheques.

Seven witnesses are listed to appear before the commission, which is scheduled to run from Monday to Thursday.

The commission’s focus shifts to the HSU after last week examining an alleged slush fund legally established in the early 1990s by Julia Gillard and run by her ex-boyfriend and former Australian Workers’ Union official Bruce Wilson.

The inquiry will be held before Commissioner Dyson Heydon.

Bishop moves to calm Jerusalem furore

The federal government will advise Islamic counterparts there is no shift to its Middle East policy as it seeks to calm an “overreaction” to its decision to stop calling East Jerusalem “occupied”.

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Islamic nations are furious at the change, which they say was made without consultation, and there are fears a diplomatic row could affect Australian exports.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is blaming Labor for what she says is a “complete and utter overreaction”, while she prepares to meet ambassadors in Canberra in coming days to try to quell tensions.

“We support a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace behind internationally recognised boundaries,” she told Network Ten on Sunday.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb stood by the government terminology, which he said was “most fitting” for the long-disputed section of the ancient holy city.

“There was a misunderstanding or an overreaction,” he told Sky News.

“Once it’s clarified that our position on Israel has not changed one iota then hopefully this issue will pass.”

A group of ambassadors from Islamic countries – including key cattle and sheep export markets – have warned they could block Australian farm exports to the Middle East if the position isn’t reversed.

The move would be disastrous for Australian farmers and could jeopardise the government’s efforts to break into new export markets in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Ms Bishop will meet ambassadors in Canberra to explain the government position and advise them there had been no change in policy.

“There’s been a terminological clarification,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Houston in the US on Saturday.

“We absolutely refuse to refer to ‘occupied’ East Jerusalem.”

Mr Abbott said people were reading too much into what began merely as an argument between Attorney-General George Brandis and Greens senator Lee Rhiannon.

“In the end, given the particular sensitivities in the Middle East right now … we all have to be conscious of being constructive,” he said.

Some Islamic nations are reportedly considering a motion in the United Nations General Assembly condemning Australia.

The issue comes just a few weeks out from a yet-to-be formally announced visit to Australia by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Netanyahu, who will be the first sitting Israeli PM to visit Canberra, told the opening of his most recent cabinet meeting that Australia’s change of words was “courageous” and “refreshing”.

He said Australia had refused to “sanctify a lie”, and anyone who was interested in a peaceful resolution should realise it must be based on truth, and not “historical lies”.

Taylor set to be let off Origin leash

A teammate has affectionately compared him to a big Labrador but Queensland will hope for a lot more than a few licks when they unleash Dave Taylor in State of Origin game two.

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In the past Taylor’s bark had been worse than his bite, and the hulking Gold Coast utility’s attitude has been questioned as he failed to reach his obvious potential.

Considered to be in the Origin doghouse in recent times, Taylor seems poised to cap a turnaround by ending a two-year exile and coming off the Maroons bench in Wednesday night’s must-win clash with NSW in Sydney.

Queensland coach Mal Meninga appeared to reveal his hand when Taylor, Ben Te’o, Jacob Lillyman and Chris McQueen started on the bench in the team’s Origin dress rehearsal, Sunday’s opposed session against the Maroons Under-18s at their Gold Coast camp.

Taylor was considered such a lost cause in his last Origin campaign in 2012 that Meninga contemplated never picking the Gold Coast giant again.

But Gold Coast and Queensland teammate Nate Myles predicted Taylor would be a howling success in game two after witnessing his transformation first hand.

“You can never question Dave’s heart. He is like a big Labrador,” Myles said.

“He’s always got the right intentions.

“But he’s always going to be the one who decides his own fate.

“He’s changed a few things at training and you can just see how his form is getting better and better.

“I try to help him because of the person he is.

“A lot has been said about his talent but, once he realises that he can decide his own destiny, his potential will be endless.”

Apart from his attitude, Myles believed his teammate had also collared his on-field unpredictability, at least partly.

“You know what he can do. You just don’t know if he is going to do it at the right time and situation,” he said.

“Hopefully he gets on when we are in a good position and then he can do some good things to help the team.”

Queensland backrower Sam Thaiday could barely recognise the man he first met as a cocky – but still very large – 17-year-old at the Broncos.

“His wife and his two girls have really settled him down and he is enjoying the Gold Coast lifestyle,” he said.

“When I first met him at the Broncos he was a child superstar.

“He was really good in the junior ranks and thought he could just walk into the NRL but he’s learned lessons and hard ones over the years.

“It’s good to see the big fella back.

“In Origin you need that spark and an X-factor.”

Heart recipient Compton in mix at US Open

Erik Compton, twice a heart transplant recipient, has put himself in contention to win the US Open with the round of his life.

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On a baked and difficult Pinehurst No.2 course, Compton and Rickie Fowler shot three-under-par 67s – the only sub-par rounds of the day – to be tied second, five strokes behind Germany’s Martin Kaymer (72).

“This is obviously a very special week to be playing well,” Compton said. “To be in the mix at the US Open, it’s a dream come true. Tomorrow is a big day.”

The 34-year-old American, whose mother is Norwegian, is playing in only his second major after missing the cut at the 2000 US Open in Pebble Beach. He has played 13 pro seasons but never won a US PGA Tour title.

“Doesn’t mean I can’t compete because I’ve had a few detours in my life,” Compton said. “I’m looking forward to getting out there.”

Facing tension-packed putts is less intense for someone who received his first heart transplant at age 12 in 1992 and a second in 2008 after driving himself to a hospital following a heart attack.

“I have been through a lot in my life, a lot more pressure situations than hitting a tee shot on 18,” Compton said. “Putting things in perspective may help me.”

“I had lunch with Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield last week and he winked at me and said I would have a special week. It was neat.

“So maybe it’s just kind of a self-fulfilling thing that I brought on myself but I felt like I was going to have a great week.”

Compton practiced with South African major winners Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Ernie Els and realized he could do well.

“We had a great money game. I felt comfortable,” Compton said. “I joked around with them.”

Compton said that if his fairytale golf story should have a major win as its next chapter on Sunday, it might just be the end for him.

“I might just sail off and never play golf again,” Compton said.

“If I were to win the tournament, it would be obviously something that would be extremely special, not only for me, but for my family, those who have been around me and those who have been through some tough times.”

Emissions cuts still on target: Hunt

Environment Minister Greg Hunt says Australia will hit greenhouse gas reduction targets easily, despite his government’s push to dismantle the carbon tax and a reported backflip on funding for solar energy.

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Climate change mitigation was a focus during Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent visit to the White House, where US President Barack Obama said he accepted the government’s mandate to repeal the carbon tax.

But Mr Obama urged Australia and other nations to adopt “ambitious domestic climate policies as the basis of a strong international response”.

“The big point here is that the carbon tax hasn’t been doing its job,” Mr Hunt told Seven Network on Sunday.

“Why did the Australian people vote to get rid of it? Because you had a $7.5 billion tax on electricity and gas … [and] emissions went down by 0.1 percent in the first full year of the carbon tax.”

New modelling by energy advisory firm RepuTex suggests Australia can expect to fall well short of its target of five per cent emission reductions by 2020.

Its analysis predicts that by 2020 the emissions reduction fund alone will purchase between 30 and 120 million Australian carbon credit units, leaving a carbon shortfall of more than 300 million tonnes.

Mr Hunt says the country is still on track.

“We will hit our targets and we’ll do it easily,” he said.

The assurance comes as Fairfax Media reports Mr Hunt was forced to back down from a promise to the Clean Energy Council last November that the coalition was still committed to its $500 million “1 million solar roofs” program, a policy leftover from the 2010 election.

Mr Hunt reportedly described the flagship solar rebate program as a “shining beacon” of the government’s direct action climate policy – though the policy had not been reaffirmed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Asked to respond to the report, Mr Hunt said: “We’ve added $1 billion during the course of the budget process to the emissions reduction fund … we’ve had to make some difficult choices.”

The solar “debacle” is the latest in a string of broken government promises on renewable energy policy, opposition climate change spokesman Mark Butler said.

“When Greg Hunt talked about this the Australian people [and] the solar industry were of the view that the renewable energy target was a bipartisan position,” he told Sky News.

We’ve got lots to learn: Port coach

Things are only going to get harder for Port Adelaide, and coach Ken Hinkley says there’s still a lot to learn.

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The AFL ladder leaders had their eight-game winning streak snapped on Saturday with a narrow four-point loss to premiership rivals Sydney.

The Swans went into the contest odds-on favourites – and, although pushed, they delivered.

In front of their biggest SCG crowd since 1997, John Longmire’s men fended off a late charge from the Power with three crucial goals in the final quarter from superstar forward Lance Franklin.

“I think that’s why you pay him a million dollars,” Hinkley said.

“We lost and I don’t like that.

“I was pleased with their performance but we’ve got lots to learn.

“We’re not a club that sits back and gets happy with a good performance.

“We need to get better and we know that.”

Brad Ebert (40 possessions, one goal) was among the best for the visitors, taking the fight to the Swans’ star midfield alongside Robbie Gray (35 possessions) and returned skipper Travis Boak (26 possessions).

Kane Cornes successfully kept Dan Hannebery at bay, limiting the All Australian to just 13 touches, while Jay Schulz nabbed four goals and Angus Monfries three.

But for Hinkley, that doesn’t cut it.

“In some crucial moments, they get it right. In some crucial moments, though, we perhaps got it wrong,” he said.

“And to Sydney’s credit they made us pay.

“We know we’ve just got to keep going to work and working hard because we know our best stacks up really well.

“We’ll get another opportunity really soon to play Sydney – (round 20, August 9) – with the way the draw works out.

“Hopefully we’ll learn a bit more for that and we’ll be better prepared to play them next time.”

Hinkley refused to comment on the situation surrounding Monfries, who is yet to confirm or deny whether he was among the 34 current and former Essendon players issued with show-cause notices from ASADA.

Port return home to face the Western Bulldogs next Saturday, but could be without midfielder Hamish Hartlett after rolling his ankle in Saturday’s blockbuster.

Defiant LeBron eyes NBA history

History is piled high against him but LeBron James insists his Miami Heat can conjure a turnaround and snatch a third consecutive NBA championship title.

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It must start on Sunday (Monday (ASK) when they meet a rampant, revenge-seeking San Antonio Spurs who lead 3-1 and need just one more win to clinch the best-of-seven final series.

No team in NBA Finals history has ever rallied from 3-1 down to win the title.

“History is made to be broken, and why not me be a part of it? That would be great,” said a defiant James.

“That would be a great story line, right?

“But we’ll see what happens. I’ve got to live in the moment, though, before we even get to that point.”

With their fifth championship in sight, the Spurs don’t plan to let up for even a second.

Bruised egos won’t let them forget last season’s loss to the Heat in seven games — especially the final 28 seconds of game six when they had the lead and then let it slip away.

“We just have to think about last year,” said guard Tony Parker of the Spurs who led the series 3-2 before dropping the final two games. “We don’t need any more motivation than that.”

The Spurs took command of this series in spectacular fashion with two blowout wins over the Heat in Miami in the last two matches.

“We go back to last year and we learn from that,” said San Antonio centre Tim Duncan.

“We feel that we have it in the bag and it slips out of our fingers.

“So I think we learn from that, and we draw on that, and we say, at’s not over till it’s over.’

A win would give the Spurs Big Three of Duncan, Man Gumboil and Parker their fourth championship together since they were assembled for the 2002-03 season.

They became the most successful trio in post-season history in these playoffs and now have 116 playoffs victories.

Their leader, through all the ups and downs, has been Duncan, who would become the first player in league history to win championships 15 seasons apart with the same team.

This year the Spurs finished with a NBA best 62-20 record, extending their streak of winning at least 50 games to a record 15 straight seasons.

“Whatever success anyone has is due to a lot of factors,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Saturday. “Some of it is not even your doing. Sometimes things just happen. So success is a pretty complicated thing.”

Religions are a key to understanding ‘Game of Thrones’

But one question few people seem to have asked lately is how, exactly, the religions of Westeros are playing into the “Game of Thrones” saga at this point.

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Should we be paying attention to these competing belief systems? Or should we focus on more important things, like who Jon Snow’s mother might be?

It’s easy to brush off the religions of “Game of Thrones” as nonessential, as something you needn’t give any thought to. But you may want to reconsider. The books, not surprisingly, depict the religions in greater detail than the show goes into, but even those of us who are only watching the HBO version of the saga can comprehend the characters and storylines better by understanding this key aspect of life in its world.

George R.R. Martin has spoken of the religions quite a bit, often noting that while the religions themselves are fictional, they are based on real-world faiths that have been “tweaked or extended.” (Most obviously, the Faith of the Seven has a real-life corollary in the medieval Christian Church.)

In Westeros, there are four major religions that correspond to four of the major houses that have vied for power: the Lannisters, the Starks, the Baratheons and the Greyjoys (Daenerys Targaryen, who has, of course, not yet entered Westeros, does not seem to have any firm religious beliefs, though she dabbled in the Dothraki faith while married to Khal Drogo). These religions thus help to explain the worldviews of many of the show’s major characters.

The Old Gods

Westeros was originally inhabited by a nonhuman race called the Children of the Forest. They worshiped the Old Gods, which had no names and were manifest in trees, rocks and streams. There were no temples or priests. In the show, this religion is often symbolized by the white weirwood trees. (When you cut such trees, they appear to bleed.) When men first came to Westeros from Essos, they accepted these gods, which is why the Starks worship them. The Old Gods are roughly equivalent to the sort of pantheistic nature worship that has existed in Europe in one form or another for millennia.

The Faith of the Seven, or the New Gods

When the Andals came to Westeros, they not only ended the kingdoms of the First Men, they also brought their own religion, the Faith of the Seven, also referred to as the New Gods or simply the Faith. Catelyn Stark — who was born Catelyn Tully and is from the Riverlands in central Westeros — and the Lannisters believe in this religion, in which everything is built around seven facets of one god: three male aspects, three female aspects, and a seventh aspect, the stranger, which represents the unknown and/or death. This religion has an obvious Christian parallel in its one multifacted God, and its ceremonies, conducted often in King’s Landing, are reminiscent of medieval Christianity.

The Lord of Light (R’hllor)

This religion is the one that’s been most closely tied to the plot of the show, thanks to the priestess Melisandre, who converted Stannis Baratheon and all his men. The Lord of Light comes from Essos, and his worshippers hold that the other gods are demons and must be destroyed.

Sometimes the Lord of Light faithful decide that nonbelievers must be killed — hence that terrifying crucifixion scene in Episode 2 of this season. Unlike the Old Gods and the New Gods, the Lord of Light has no interest in coexistence and poses a real threat to any kind of religious harmony.

The Lord of Light is connected with fire, which Melisandre uses in many of her rites, such as throwing leeches into flames while saying the names of the “three false kings.” (Two of those men subsequently died, for what it’s worth.) Perhaps the most confusing religion — it seems to be constantly growing and changing — it’s also the most absolutist, as it espouses hard distinctions between light and dark and good and evil. As others have noted, there are clear similarities to Manichaeism, which also emphasized the good of light and the evil of darkness and envisioned the world as a battlefield between this duality.

The Drowned God

The Iron Islanders are seafarers who believe their god lives under the sea. That’s where their heaven is, so they don’t fear the sea or drowning. Their holy water is seawater, and if you’re an Iron Islander, when you’re young, “they drown you and you’re brought back to life,” to quote Martin’s explanation of their baptism ceremony, which evokes the baptismal practices of some Christian sects (though the faith of the Drowned God is generally thought by fans to echo Viking practices — and water was also used in Viking naming rituals).

This is why, when Theon Greyjoy returns to the Iron Islands, his father, worried that the Starks have converted him, makes him get baptized again. During the ceremony, Theon speaks the common prayer of the Iron Islands: “What is dead may never die.”

This is not a comprehensive list — there are hints of other religions on the series, such as the Dothraki’s faith in the Great Stallion and the creed of the Faceless Men, who worship Him of Many Faces. And spotting such religious differences can help a viewer understand where characters fit in relation to the principal protagonists on the series. Just don’t expect Martin to come down on the side of one of these religions over the others — and don’t expect anyone to be saved by their gods. As he told i09:

I don’t think any gods are likely to be showing up in Westeros, any more than they already do. We’re not going to have one appearing, deus ex machina, to affect the outcomes of things, no matter how hard anyone prays. So the relation between the religions and the various magics that some people have here is something that the reader can try to puzzle out.

‘Korean village’ planned for Hobart suburbs

On the eastern shore of Hobart, property developer Moon-bae Kim has big plans for a tranquil patch of bushland close to his family home.

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He hopes to transform the site into Tasmania’s own Korean village, housing a residential complex, a language school as well as cultural and recreational facilities.

“This project won’t just be for the Korean community or just for Asian people,” he says.

“It will be a place where anyone can come together so that it becomes a cultural place.”

The 158-hectare development, called Paranville, will eventually be home to around 2,000 residents.

The $900 million project in the suburb of Rokeby was given planning approval more than two years ago with 10 out of 11 local councillors voting in favour of the precinct.

Clarence City Mayor Doug Chipman says the project could hold many benefits for the local community.

“This proposal is quite massive in terms of a development proposal,” he says.

“It involves 327 houses and hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a great opportunity for jobs, not just in construction but ongoing.”

Trade with Asia is an increasingly important part of the state’s economy, but it’s also the state with the fewest residents with Asian language skills.

A government White Paper examining Tasmania’s place in the Asian Century, released last year, found the state was the furthest from reaching its trade potential with the continent.

Mr Chipman believes Paranville could help Tasmania build closer links with Asia.

“Tasmania has missed out on the migration to Australia as a whole, but [the state] has a huge amount to offer and projects such as this, I think, will start to turn the tide, and see more migrants coming.”

Paranville is being marketed to investors in South Korea, China and Japan, as well as Australia.

Clarence City councillor Richard James voted against the development. He is concerned it could become what he calls a cultural enclave, and he says there are other local residents who share his views.

“When I actually voted against it, I didn’t foresee how it could blend in with the community, how it could be an integrated development within the community.”

Developer Moon-bae Kim is not concerned by these fears. He imagines a place where cultures are shared, not isolated.

“If Tasmania was to block a project like this, there are those who would say it’s cutting itself in a way that they’re stopping economic development at all.”

Construction is expected to commence at the site by the end of the year.

Surgery rules Genia out for eight weeks

Axed Wallabies halfback Will Genia’s season of woe has worsened with ankle surgery to sideline him for the next eight weeks.

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Genia has been playing with ligament damage since injuring himself playing for the Queensland Reds in Wellington on April 26 but carried it through their faultering Super Rugby campaign.

Scans last week showed he needed an operation to fix the worsening problem and the 55-Test half has been booked in for surgery on Tuesday.

It means Genia will miss the rest of the Reds’ season and significantly hurts his chances of a Wallabies recall when the Rugby Championship kicks off against the All Blacks on August 16.

With no rugby under his belt, it’s hard to see the Reds vice-captain unseating Nic White and Nick Phipps for the opening two Bledisloe Cup Tests.

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, who last week shocked all and sundry by dumping Genia from his team to play France, admitted the injury had played a part in his form.

“There’s no doubt the nature of the injury he’s got wouldn’t have helped his football,” McKenzie said on Sunday.

“He’s showed a bit of toughness to carry that for some time.

“It’s getting worse gradually so we needed to get it fixed.

“We’ve seen before how committed Will is when undergoing rehab and I would expect him to work hard to be available for selection when we begin our Rugby Championship campaign.”

McKenzie has called Melbourne Rebels half Luke Burgess into his squad ahead of Saturday’s third Test in Sydney.

Queensland coach Richard Graham hailed Genia for coping with the injury, shown by his man-of-the-match display in his last appearance for a 38-31 upset of the Highlanders.

“It’s a credit to Will’s toughness and character that he was willing to continue playing through the injury for the remainder of the season, but in his best interests we have all come to an agreement that surgery is the best option,” Graham said.