Egypt bombing could end country’s already fragile tourism industry

“The pilgrims always come … but what about the other tourists?”: The Chapel of the Burning Bush Photo: Sandra Harrison “The pilgrims always come … but what about the other tourists?”: The Chapel of the Burning Bush Photo: Sandra Harrison
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“The pilgrims always come … but what about the other tourists?”: The Chapel of the Burning Bush Photo: Sandra Harrison

Sharm el Sheikh: Terrorism has returned to the wild and beautiful Sinai Peninsula, and the region that not long ago was one of Egypt’s most-visited destinations is facing a catastrophic collapse of its already fragile tourism economy.

Businesses reliant on tourism – from restaurants to tour operators, dive shops and souvenir sellers – have only just weathered a deathly quiet winter season after a horror three years of political unrest. They had been counting on better times.

Although the growing Islamist insurgency in North Sinai has stuck several times in the heart of Cairo in recent months, locals held onto the hope that the tourists who dive along the Red Sea coast or the pilgrims who visit St Katherine’s Monastery near Mount Sinai would go unharmed.

Yet Sunday’s bus bombing in the resort town of Taba, which killed three South Korean tourists and the bus’ Egyptian driver and injured 15 others, has dashed all hope that the region would escape the fallout from the country’s political turmoil.

The explosion, thought to have been caused by a suicide bomber who police say boarded the bus and detonated the device, ripped through the coach carrying South Korean tourists returning from a visit to St Katherine’s.

The tourists are believed to have been members of the same church group from Jincheon, Agence-France Presse reported, and were about to cross the border from Taba in Egypt into Israel when the blast occurred.

After two days of speculation, the al-Qaeda inspired Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the attack. “Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has successfully sacrificed one of its heroes to detonate the bus headed toward the Zionists, and this comes as part of our economic war against this regime of traitors,” the group said in a statement.

It is the latest attack in a steadily escalating Islamist insurgency that has gained pace since the Egyptian military forced the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president Mohamed Mursi to step down on July 3 last year.

Until now the wave of bombings and targeted assassinations have been directed at security, police and government installations, killing dozens of police officers, many from the North Sinai.

But as the unrest across Egypt grows, so too does the air of desperation at many of the country’s prime tourist sites.

At the Giza pyramids, animal rights groups have stepped in to feed the starving horses that used to pull tourists in carriages around the site, while along the waterfront of Dahab, tourists are so scarce that businesses are lucky to make one sale in a day.

A restaurant owner in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el Sheikh said business had been slowly picking up after a devastating two years – “last year was the very worst” – but after the Taba bombing?

“Who knows?” he said. “We were slowly getting back to around 70 per cent [capacity] but now, maybe the tours will cancel, maybe people will be scared away again.”

There is precious little traffic on the desert road that winds through the rugged mountains and valleys of the Sinai towards the ancient St Katherine’s Monastery on Monday.

An armed police escort takes a small convoy of tourist vehicles – a mix of sedans, mini-buses and a couple of small coaches – in and out of the World Heritage site and about 60 kilometres along the road towards the Red Sea towns of Dahab, Sharm el Sheikh and Nuweiba.

Security is both overwhelmingly present but alarmingly lax at the multiple checkpoints along the way. Some cars are searched by hand, not a single piece of luggage is electronically screened and buses pass through unchecked.

At the St Katherine’s Monastery, which according to UNESCO dates back to AD560s, tourist traffic is depressingly light despite the clear blue skies.

Men with tattered guidebooks in English, German and Russian compete with young children touting alabaster eggs, but no-one is buying.

“The pilgrims will always come,” a staff member at the monastery’s museum said, gesturing to the dozen or so Russian Orthodox visitors standing in reverent silence in front of the Chapel of the Burning Bush. “But what about the other tourists – they have still not returned.”

Egypt’s Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou recently described the country’s tourist towns as “ghost cities” as he charted the catastrophic drop in the numbers of visitors coming to Egypt.

In 2013 just 9.5 million tourists visited, compared to nearly 15 million in 2010, while some hotels in Luxor, Abu Simbel and Aswan had zero occupancy rates, The Guardian reported.

Many small business owners on the Sinai peninsula were putting on a brave face on Monday, crossing their fingers that cancellations would be at a minimum following the Taba bus bombing.

One hotel manager in Dahab said despite the security concerns he had so far had no cancellations of tours coming from the airport at Sharm el Sheikh. “We will see,” he said, “I hope it will be OK.”

But given tourism provides for 12.5 per cent of Egypt’s employment and 11.3 per cent of GDP in a country where more than one-quarter of its 85 million population lives below the poverty line, even a tiny a downturn in an already dying industry will be devastating.

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Police raid Channel Seven over Schapelle Corby interview

Released from prison: Schapelle Corby covered her face when she left jail. Photo: Justin McManus The offices of Channel Seven were raided by the AFP this morning. Photo: Tamara Dean
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Media gather outside the Pyrmont office of Channel Seven. Photo: Ben Rushton

Mike Willesee: he says Channel Seven has not made any payment to Schapelle Corby. Photo: Justin McManus

The Australian Federal Police raid on Channel Seven’s Sydney office “will find no payment for Schapelle Corby because no payment has been made”, network personality Mike Willesee has declared in Bali.

He also said he had spoken to Corby for the first time and though she had suffered mental illness she had been fine when they spoke.

As police were still searching Channel Seven’s headquarters, Willesee emerged in Bali to say “there is no deal” with the Corby family. Seven, he said, had bought nothing yet: “But we have, through a lot of hard work, positioned ourselves so that if there is an interview, we’ll be first in line”.

Seven’s “hard work” so far includes exclusive access to the paroled drug smuggler, renting luxury villas alongside the Corby family in Bali and providing three or more security guards to protect Schapelle from other media in the area.

Federal police raided the Pyrmont and Eveleigh offices of Channel Seven as part of a proceeds of crime investigation on Tuesday morning. Officers remained inside the building at 1.30pm.

The network is reporting that it is to do with its dealings with Schapelle Corby.

An Australian Federal Police spokesman said: “The AFP can confirm it has executed a number of search warrants in Sydney in relation to an ongoing Proceeds of Crime Act matter. As this matter is ongoing it’s not appropriate for the AFP to comment further.”

Twelve AFP officers arrived at the Pyrmont offices about 8.55am. Channel Seven tried to prevent the officers from coming into their Pyrmont office, where the company’s executive and corporate arms are located.

The network aired footage of a Channel Seven worker refusing them entry, saying “you are on our premises”.

Staff proceeded to film police executing the search warrants, which included taking documents and speaking to employees.

In the footage, an AFP officer became angry that Channel Seven staff were filming them.

“There are rules that, umm, allow us to do our duty and the biggest thing in the search warrant is the hindrance of our duty,” the officer said.

Channel Seven reporters tweeted pictures of police inside and outside the network’s headquarters.

Gus Brusno, who described himself on Twitter as a media student, tweeted: ”Something pretty big is happening #Schapelle Corby wise right now” followed by a picture 20 minutes later of at least eight black-suited officers gathering in the foyer of a Channel Seven building.

Seven reporter Damien Smith tweeted the same picture, saying the AFP officers were ”executing #Schappelle search warrant” at the Pyrmont building.

An AFP spokeswoman confirmed that more than two warrants were being executed but she would not say where because the operation was ongoing.

Police also raided the magazine arm of Seven West Media in Eveleigh and it is believed they searched the office of Kim Wilson, editor of New Idea, which has a rumoured partnership deal with Corby and Sunday Night.

They were also filmed asking where the executive producers of Sunday Night are located. If the Corby interview goes ahead, it will be shown on the Sunday Night program.

An AFP spokesman said Sunday Night’s offices in Paddington had not been raided nor had Seven’s offices in North Sydney and Martin Place.

However, Channel Seven said it expected the Martin Place premises to be visited by police.

Commercial director Bruce McWilliam told News Corp that documents were handed over last week as part of a Proceeds of Crime production order and Monday’s raids were a “gross over-reaction” by “some heavy-handed goon”.

He said a senior government minister called him to apologise for the raids.

#BREAKING: AFP officers are currently raiding Seven West offices in an investigation into #Schapelle Corby proceeds. pic.twitter爱上海同城论坛m/mSUiliNff2— 7News Brisbane (@7NewsBrisbane) February 17, 2014

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37 treated after school bus crashVideo

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive. The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.
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PORT Macquarie Base Hospital has confirmed 37 patients were admitted for assessment following Tuesday afternoon’s bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

Tuesday, 7.40pm:

A spokesman for Port Macquarie Base Hospital said triple triage was required to treat 37 patients through the hospital’s emergency department.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

The hospital’s general manager and network coordinator, Robert Pegram, said extra staff were called into the hospital to assist throughout the afternoon and evening.

“We had to mobilise triple triage, which means we bring in three times the number ofstaff for the patients,” Dr Pegram said.

Nursing and medical personnel were involved in treatment in the acute wards, while social workers and other staff contacted the family of patients.

The gargantuan task did not daunt those waiting to assist at the hospital, Dr Pegram said.

“The training kicks in and the staff just mobilise,” he said.

“We’re lucky because we have exceptional staff who are always ready to go.

“I am honestly the conductor of a truly skilled and talented orchestra.”

Tuesday, 5pm:

A spokesperson for Busways has confirmed the school bus involved was Bus 35 (the bus is howevermarked School Bus 38).

The spokesperson said nine people including the driverwere transported to hospital by ambulance, and a further 25 children were taken via bus to hospital for precautionary assessment.

Tuesday, 4.40pm:

Ambulance officers on the scene have confirmed that six children have been taken to hospital including the bus driver.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

While two children were transported to hospital on spinal boards, police media reports confirm the injuries sustained are not life-threatening.

Hastings River Drive remains closed to traffic.

It is understood all parents are being contacted by telephone.

Busways has not yet confirmed the number of the school bus.

Tuesday, 4.30pm:

CHILDREN are being treated on the side of the road, after a school bus smashed on to its sideand into agully in Port Macquarie this afternoon.

The Port News can confirm the accident has occurred on the corner of Hastings River Drive and Willow Crescent.

Ambulance and State Emergency Services have set up a triage on the edge of Hastings River Drive, where half a dozen or more kids are receiving treatment.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

The scene of Tuesday afternoon’s school bus crash on Hastings River Drive.

At this stage, the extent of their injuries are unknown, but theyappear to be minor.

Police, Ambulance Paramedics and State Emergency Service vehicles are on the scene.

Traffic has come to a stand-still on both sides of Hastings River Drive.

The Port News advises motorists to avoid the area.

Busways has not yet confirmed the bus number.

Tuesday, 3.45pm:

Police have confirmed a school bus accident has occurred at Fernbank Creek Road on Hastings River Drive this afternoon.

Police and ambulance are currently on the scene. There are no reports of serious injury but several students are receiving treatment.

Motorists are urged to avoid the area while the road is closed.

More news as it comes to hand.

Additional reporting:Tracey Fairhurst, Mel Pretorius

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Tony Abbott must achieve ‘concrete results’ or risk losing G20 influence, says Wayne Swan

Former treasurer Wayne Swan says Tony Abbott must achieve results when G20 meets in Sydney. Photo: Louie DouvisFederal politics: full coverage
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Former treasurer Wayne Swan has warned that Australia risks losing global influence unless this year’s G20 summit achieves concrete results on issues such as multinational tax avoidance.

Ahead of this weekend’s meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bankers in Sydney, Mr Swan also urged the Abbott government not to play “tacky domestic politics” while global leaders are in Australia.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has flagged he will press for an international crackdown on tax avoidance by companies such as Google, Apple and resources firms at this year’s G20 leaders’ meeting in Brisbane.

”The G20 simply can’t afford to have an average outcome at this meeting because there are many sceptics and if the G20 loses its way we will be back to the G7, G8 or G10 and you can be sure Australia won’t be at the table in that arrangement,” Mr Swan told ABC radio on Tuesday morning.

”I certainly hope that the larger nations at the table – both developed and developing – put forward a very aggressive agenda to deal with profit sharing and (tax) base erosion.

”You see, there are multinational companies that aren’t paying tax at all. Or there are multinational companies that are avoiding tax in domestic jurisdictions and domestic taxpayers are missing out . . .

”What we need to see is some concrete actions from the larger economies to make sure [a global deal has] got some teeth.

”One thing we could do to put some bite into it is an Australian initiative where you change the law to make sure companies publish not just the tax paid but their taxable income.”

Mr Swan, now a Labor backbencher, acknowledged the G20 had produced some “disappointing outcomes” following its lead role co-ordinating the global response to the 2008 financial crisis.

He criticised Mr Abbott for using a speech at a World Economic Forum meeting in Switzerland last month to criticise Labor’s stimulus spending.

”I think it’s very unfortunate the prime minister would use his first [international] outing on to play partisan domestic politics.

”I’d certainly welcome a more mature discussion free of the really blatant partisanship that we see from Mr Hockey and Mr Abbott not just locally but now internationally.

”That’s got to stop and should stop while we have international leaders in Australia this week. We should be talking our show up not down like the government has been doing every month.”

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One person dead, others seriously injured during violent Manus Island clashes

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media on the Manus Island breakout. Photo: Alex EllinghausenFederal politics: full coverageMichael Gordon: Demonising and secrecy must stop, Mr Abbott
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Serious questions have been raised about Australia’s responsibility to asylum seekers held in offshore detention centres after violent clashes on Manus Island that left one asylum seeker dead, another shot and scores of others severely injured.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed 77 asylum seekers had been injured on the second night of violence in a vicious clash between locals and the PNG police on Monday.

The asylum seeker died on the way to Lorengau Hospital, Mr Morrison said.

Two asylum seekers have been flown to Australia for treatment, one for a fractured skull and another for a gun-shot wound.

Refugee advocates say locals and the PNG police attacked the centre with machetes, knives and other weapons and have again condemned Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention centres, saying Manus Island is dangerous and lawless.

They say Australia has put the lives of people seeking asylum, who have already fled torture, war and gross human rights violations, at risk.

On Monday night, one asylum seeker from Lebanon who is in the Manus Island compound wrote in a Facebook message that the violence had started again.

”Tonight polices [sic] and g4s attack us again. Many peoples in the yard. Injure please we need one to help us. May be till morning they will kill us. We are human or animls [sic].”

Ghulam Murtaza, whose brother is currently in the detention centre, said his brother Ghulam Mustasa had rung him at 11.40pm crying, bleeding and terrified that he would be killed, saying the locals had come inside the compound as it had become dark.

“My brother was inside. He said ‘I am covered in blood’ and a stone hit his head,” Mr Murtaza said.

“He said, ‘they will kill us’. He was in the compound saying ‘I am going to run away to save my life.'”

The security firm G4S, which manages the detention centre, said claims of ”internal attacks” within the centre were unfounded.

In a statement, the firm said it had removed all ”non-essential” staff from the compound with asylum seekers who were not participating in the protest. The statement said that the asylum seekers were injured once they left the detention centre.

Inherently dangerous

Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said it was obvious that Manus Island was an ‘‘inherently dangerous place that the minister cannot secure’’, saying there should be no question that these asylum seekers should be brought back to Australia.

The Refugee Rights Action Network’s Victoria Martin said: ”Last night’s attack was a massacre.”

”It was a pre-meditated attack on unarmed and defenseless asylum seekers some of which have escaped war and are now being put back into, what is essentially a war zone. Manus Island is lawless. These are dangerous people,” she said.

Mr Morrison, however, denied reports that the PNG police entered the compound, saying that asylum seekers who left the centre were putting themselves in danger and ”subjecting themselves to the response of the local law”.

”If people choose to remove themselves from that centre then they’re obviously putting themselves at much greater risk and in an environment where there is violent behaviour,” he told reporters at a media conference in Darwin.

”Those who are breaching the perimeter fence and going out of the centre, then this is a disorderly environment in which there is always great risk.

”When there are people who are charged under Papua New Guinea law to maintain law and order in that situation, now if you behave an unruly way and in a disorderly way, then you subject yourself to the response of law enforcement.”

Mr Morrison said the news of the death was a ”great tragedy” and ”our sympathies are extended to the transferees – that person’s family and friends who would have been in the facility as well”.

Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles has called for an inquiry into the violence at Manus Island, saying it was “melting down” under Morrison’s watch, but maintained he would not back away from the PNG solution.

“I can’t stress enough how important the Manus Island detention facility is to Australia’s strategy for dealing with boats coming from Indonesia,” he said on ABC.

“It is the single piece of public policy which has made the biggest difference in seeing an end to the number of boats coming from Indonesia.”

Close Manus: Greens

The Greens have demanded that the Manus Island centre be closed.

Greens leader Senator Christine Milne accused the government of ”bragging” about poor conditions at the facility and said Mr Morrison needed to provide a full explanation.

”Ministerial responsibility has to mean something and Scott Morrison has to stop hiding,” Senator Milne said.

President of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, said Australia was not upholding its international responsibility to asylum seekers.

”Clearly there needs to be an inquiry into this,” Professor Triggs told Fairfax Media.

”The primary obligation that Australia has is to offer protection for asylum seekers and we cannot abdicate that responsibility by sending people to a third country, in this case Papua New Guinea, but it is clear that responsibility is not being met.”

Professor Triggs said the Australian government had exposed asylum seekers to these conditions and it was inevitable asylum seekers would suffer mental illness, stress and, in some cases, violence.

On Monday evening, asylum seekers said they were fearful of a violent attack by the local PNG police, which have been dubbed as the ”death squad”, and angry locals who they said would be wielding machetes, knives and guns.

At the same time, a spokesman from Mr Morrison told Fairfax Radio that any information about a second attack on Monday was ”completely untrue” and we should be ”more sceptical of stories coming from activists”.

On Sunday night, asylum seekers in Manus Island used pieces of bunk beds as weapons in battles with guards, destroyed fences and pulled down light poles.

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The biggest ship to visit Australia, the Queen Mary 2, arrives in Sydney

The Queen Mary 2 arrives at Circular Quay on Wednesday morning. Onlookers photograph the Queen Mary 2 at Circular Quay in Sydney on Wednesday morning.
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The biggest ocean liner to ever visit Australia, the Queen Mary 2, docked in Sydney Harbour early on Wednesday morning for a whirlwind visit as part of its second circumnavigation of Australia.

Built at a cost of $US800 million ($A884 million), Cunard Line’s 151,400-tonne flagship Queen Mary 2 will carry almost 2500 guests to Sydney, 850 of whom are Australian, along with 1200 staff and crew. The ship is almost twice as large as the original Queen Mary, is two-thirds the length of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and, sitting at 62 metres above the waterline (equal to the height of a 23-storey building), is far too big to fit underneath it.

Seventy-year-old Sydneysider Helen McMaster has cruised on the ocean liner almost every year since it’s maiden world voyage in  2007.

“I used to dream of doing such a voyage when I was young, so I set off for what I thought was a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” said Mrs. McMaster, who ended up meeting her 85-year-old now-husband Andrew during that voyage. The couple got married 12 months later on the Queen Victoria, and now spend “every year on the ship for our anniversary dinner.”

The McMasters, who have done a total of eight world cruises together, including five on the Queen Mary 2, are continuing their journey from Sydney today all the way to their final destination of New York, which they will reach on May 16. “She’s just a beautiful ship, we really do think of her as our home for five months,” Mrs. McMaster said.

By the time the McMasters disembark the QM2 in New York, they will have spent a total of 750 days on the Queen Mary 2.

The 10-year-old ship arrived in Sydney, its ninth visit, from Melbourne and sails to Brisbane on Friday. It won’t return to Sydney until the end of it’s full circumnavigation of Australia on March 14. The voyage is part of the ship’s seventh world voyage over 119 nights, and it will stop off at eight Australian ports including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle, all of which will be visited by the liner twice.

The Queen Mary 2 has 1310 guest rooms, a six-storey grand lobby, 17 decks, the largest library at sea (which houses more than 8000 books), the largest ballroom at sea, more than 10 restaurants and cafes and a spa spanning two decks with 24 treatment rooms. It also has the first planetarium at sea, 14 clubs and bars and four outdoor swimming pools.

During February and March this year, Cunard is sending all three of its Queens (including Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2) to Australia as part of its world voyage program spanning six continents and almost 80 destinations. It will be the first time all members of the royal triumvirate have visited Australia in the same season.

The Queen Mary 2 will depart Sydney at 9pm on Wednesday evening.

Sydney will receive a record 39 visits by 25 cruise ships during “Super February” this year, up from 36 visits last February.

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SES warns on Macleay floods

JUST a yearago, the Macleay was enjoying the lull between two of the biggest rain events of recent times – tropical cyclone Oswald, which swept down from the north in the closing days of January, and an un-named but equally ex-treme weather system less than four weeks later hosed the area with hundreds of millimetres of rain.
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The view of SWR Road from the Kempsey bypass bridge in February 2013.

Evacuations, road closures and emergency call-outs were making the news up and down the Valley, with the Macleay River peaking at 7.1m at the Kempsey traffic bridge – which was still well below the 1949 record of 8.42m.

Twelve months on, things couldn’t be more different, with Kempsey currently in near-drought, despite the respite of the past few days rainfall, and the shire council last week announcing water restrictions.

During the two floods the NSW SES responded to over 354 requests for assistance and conducted a number of critical flood rescues in the Macleay area.

SES members from Kempsey, South West Rocks and Gladstone provided 4240 volunteer hours of work during the two early 2013 flood emergencies.

One year on and the SES is encouraging those businesses and residents in flood-risk areas to stay prepared.

SES controller for the Mid North Coast, Stephen Hart, said it was important people in flood-risk areas were aware of the consequences of flooding.

“By having an understanding of the potential impacts of river heights on their property and having a written flood plan in place, with river height triggers for implementing actions, and maintaining a home emergency kit, you can be prepared for a flood emergency,” Mr Hart said.

Since last year’s floods the SES has been working with businesses in the coastal settlements of Hat Head, South West Rocks and Crescent Head to refine strategies for getting food and other essential supplies and services into the three communities when the next big rain comes.

New SES headquarters in Gladstone

The organisation has also been working with the shire council on the construction of a new headquarters for its Glad-stone unit, which will contain boat and vehicle storage areas, office space, an operations room, a training room and a laundry.

For more information on flood safety go to the SES FloodSafe website www.floodsafe爱上海同城论坛m.au, and for emergency assistance in floods and storms call the NSW SES on 132 500.

Anyone wanting information on how to become an SES volunteer should phone 1800 201000 for an information pack.

What road? Glenrock Drain burst it banks in the 2013 floods, closing the Highway between Kempsey and Frederickton, and leaving at least one car under water

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Best of Sochi: Day 10GALLERY

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
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2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Day 10. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

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Modern Family cast touches down in Australia

Cam and Mitchell ‘together again in Sydney’ … Modern Family actors Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler-Ferguson joked on Instagram.Sandilands can’t be ‘arsed’ over Modern Family roleCast destined for Hayman Island, Queensland
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The stars of the hit series Modern Family have landed in Sydney today, including cast members Sofia Vergara (Gloria), Ed O’Neill (Jay), Sarah Jane Hyland (Hayley), Rico Rodriguez (Manny) and Nolan Gould (Luke).

Executive producer Steve Levitan, co-executive producer and writer Danny Zuker and co-stars Eric Stonestreet (Cam), Jesse Tyler-Ferguson (Mitchell) and Aubrey Anderson-Emmons (Lily) are already in Australia.

Tyler-Ferguson and his “little girl” in the hit show, Anderson-Emmons, were mobbed by fans at the Sydney International Airport.

The cast, including Ty Burrell (Phil), Julie Bowen (Claire) and their on-screen daughter Ariel Winter (Alex), will be filming scenes for the next week around Sydney.

Plans to film the Australian episode were revealed exclusively by Fairfax last September.

The show has established a tradition of filming an “away” episode every season, which involves the Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker-Delgado family travelling as a group.

In past seasons they have visited Hawaii, Florida, a dude ranch in Wyoming and LA’s Disneyland theme park.

“We loved the family vacation episodes we shot in Hawaii and Wyoming. This one is certainly our most ambitious yet,” the show’s co-creator and executive producer Steve Levitan said.

The show has a strong following in Australia. It screens on the Ten Network and Foxtel.

The show’s fifth season is currently in production, and airing in Australia and the US.

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Liberal MPs suspended over corruption probe

Former energy minister Chris Hartcher. Photo: Supplied Suspended: Liberal MPs Chris Hartcher, Chris Spence and Darren Webber.
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Analysis: State Liberals as corrupt as Labor

Former energy minister Chris Hartcher and other central coast MPs Chris Spence and Darren Webber have been suspended from the NSW Liberal Party after being named in two major corruption inquiries.

Acting state director Simon McInnes announced in a statement on Wednesday morning the trio had “voluntarily withdrawn” from the party after the O’Farrell government was dragged into the scandal surrounding the family of former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid, with an announcement that public hearings would begin in weeks.

A senior government source said the Liberal Party had decided on Tuesday night to begin proceedings to suspend the trio.

The MPs had just renominated for preselection in their central coast seats for the March 2015 state election.

But on Tuesday members of Mr Spence’s electoral conference for The Entrance were told a meeting scheduled for next Monday to confirm his candidacy was cancelled until further notice.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption will hold a public inquiry, starting on March 17, into allegations of corrupt conduct by public officials and ”persons with an interest” in the Obeid-linked company Australian Water Holdings.

A second inquiry will be held from April 28 into allegations Mr Hartcher, who is the member for Terrigal, Mr Webber, who is the MP for Wyong, and Mr Spence ”corruptly solicited, received and concealed payments” in return for favours.

Australian Water, which became one of the largest donors to the NSW Liberals before the 2011 state election, was allegedly one of the sources of the payments.

ICAC says the first inquiry, Operation Credo, will look at whether, between 2004 and 2012, interests in Australian Water benefited by inflating charges to state-owned Sydney Water corporation.

It will examine allegations ”public officials and others” were involved in falsifying a cabinet minute relating to a public-private partnership proposal by Australian Water to mislead a budget committee of cabinet.

Mr Obeid and his fellow former Labor ministers Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly are alleged to have ”misused their positions as members of Parliament” to try to influence public officials over the deal.

It is alleged that, in November 2012, Liberal Party identity Nick Di Girolamo – a former chief executive and major shareholder in the company – and Eddie Obeid jnr tried to mislead ICAC’s investigation into whether Mr Obeid snr tried to use his position as an MP to influence public officials over the proposal.

Within hours of the Tuesday announcement, Mr Di Girolamo resigned as a director of the state-owned State Water Corporation.

The second inquiry, Operation Spicer, will look at whether between April 2009 and April 2012 Mr Hartcher, Mr Webber and Mr Spence, along with two former staff of Mr Hartcher – Tim Koelma and Ray Carter – corruptly solicited payments for political favours.

It will also examine whether, between December 2010 and November 2011, the MPs and Mr Carter solicited banned political donations.

The inquiry will consider allegations Australian Water Holdings, through Mr Di Girolamo, made ”regular payments” to Eightbyfive, a company owned by Mr Koelma in return for Mr Hartcher favouring Australian Water interests. The payments were allegedly claimed to be for public relations advice.

Mr Hartcher suddenly resigned from the cabinet in December after ICAC raided his office.

In 2012 Mr Carter and Mr Koelma resigned and Mr Carter was suspended as Terrigal electorate officer after the party referred allegations they had breached donations laws to the Election Funding Authority.

A $5000 payment to Eightbyfive, from Wyong builder Matthew Lusted, sparked the referral by the party.

Mr Lusted was approached for the payment by Mr Carter shortly before the March 2011 election. It is understood Mr Lusted’s name and others were given to Mr Carter by Wyong mayor Doug Eaton, who has refused to comment.

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