Johns row intensifies

Disgraced NSW assistant coach Andrew Johns let fly with several offensive racist slurs including “coon, Abbo, nigger and monkey” before winger Timana Tahu’s dramatic Origin walk-out, an Aboriginal leader said.


Sol Bellear – an NRL Indigenous Council board member – told AAP he had spoken to senior members of Tahu’s family who revealed the full extent of Johns’ comments during a Blues bonding session in northern NSW last Wednesday.

“It was all the usual things: `you back “c”, Abbo, coon, nigger, monkey’ – they were were all used,” said Bellear.

“It wasn’t just directed at (Israel) Folau and GI (Greg Inglis) it was at (Sam) Thaiday and JT (Johnathan Thurston).”

John’s manager denies claims

But Johns’ manager John Fordham dismissed Bellear’s allegations.

“These claims are totally refuted and rejected,” he said. NSW skipper Kurt Gidley also came to Johns’ defence on Tuesday, saying his former Newcastle teammate was not a racist.

He also denied the NSW Origin set-up had a racist culture, dismissing the suggestion as “outrageous”.

“It is definitely not acceptable to make a racial slur – to label NSW that is ridiculous,” Gidley said.

Tahu said he had no regrets over his actions as he spoke briefly with reporters in Newcastle on Tuesday, but did reveal he had been in contact with Johns and was eager for another meeting.

“This has been a rough couple of days but I have made my stand,” he said. “I have spoken to Joey. I hope to speak to him again very soon.”

NRL CEO David Gallop urged Johns and Tahu to settle their differences sooner rather than later.

“I would like to see him get together with Andrew Johns, perhaps with some professional help as the next step,” Gallop told reporters.

But former international Steve Renouf – who believed Johns should be banned from rugby league coaching and commentary roles – demanded more from the NRL, urging them to show some “bollocks” and tackle racism head on.

“As a body, the NRL can do something about it and this is a perfect time to push ahead with it,” Renouf told AAP on Monday.

“There’s been no co-ordinated response (from rugby league) and what has been done, has come from outside the league.

“That’s poor.

“This wasn’t just a one-off. “If they have to resort to using racism to get the boys up for a game, then they’re in very deep trouble.

“To use that in a team bonding is disgraceful.

“If what Timana is saying is true, and I’ll take Timana’s word for it, then it needs to be addressed urgently.”

Bellear said Tahu’s family favoured a mediation process where three or four people, including Tahu, sat down with Johns and explained to him why his comments were so hurtful and disrespectful.

“Rather than him do community work in an Aboriginal organisation, he should go out and talk to some former players and other non-Aboriginal players because they have no idea how hurtful it is when those things are said,” he said.

Bellear said he would also take a proposal by Penrith captain Petero Civoniceva to play a “round against racism” to an Australian Rugby League board meeting in Brisbane on Thursday.

Bellear, who was the inaugural manager of the Indigenous All Stars earlier this year, said NSW team management also had a case to answer for after attempting to cover-up the Tahu affair.

“Right from the beginning this has been covered up,” he said.

“The ARL I don’t think knew about it for quite some time later but the (NSW) team management has really got something to answer for.”

Meanwhile, NRL club Parramatta said they were reviewing Johns’ assistant coaching role and would meet with Fordham in the next 48 hours “at which time a decision will be reached”.

The Nine Network has already pledged its support for its commentator while another of his employers, Austereo, has also backed Johns.

School narrowly avoided crash tragedy

It was a miracle that scores of children were not at ground zero when a light plane crashed next door to a school in Sydney’s southwest and burst into flames, killing its pilot and sole passenger.


Canley Vale Public School principal Cheryl McBride was 20 seconds from serious injury or death when the Piper PA-31P twin engined plane smashed into the front yard of a house about 8.10am on Tuesday.

Pilot Andrew Wilson, 27, and nurse passenger Kathy Sheppard, 48, died at the scene.

Mr Wilson had declared an emergency just 20 minutes after take-off from Bankstown Airport and was returning from the Richmond area before the plane went down about 5km from the runway.

Narrow escape

Next to the crash site is a school driveway that teachers use, and which students cross on their way to school.

Ms McBride was just 150m away in her car when the plane struck a power pole and exploded on impact.

“Had I been 20 seconds earlier it would have been different matter for me or for another teacher waiting to go into that driveway,” she said.

She was also amazed that no one was closer to the crash site.

“You’d literally have up to 50 children at a time walking along that road, waiting to cross over,” Ms McBride said.

“Even at five past eight in the morning I am still stunned that there was not a teacher or a family seriously injured or in fact killed.”

Teachers in the vicinity grabbed every child they could and rushed them to the back of the school, Ms McBride said, before emergency crews evacuated everyone to a nearby park.

“The absolute fortune and luck and timing is just incredible,” she said.

Premier’s tribute

NSW Premier Kristina Keneally expressed her condolences and hoped witnesses were coping with the experience.

“This is a truly tragic incident and my thoughts are with the families (of those killed),” Ms Keneally told reporters in Sydney.

“And it certainly would have been distressing for those people who witnessed the accident, particularly young children who witnessed or were involved in the accident.”

Seven people, four adults and three children, were taken to Liverpool Hospital suffering emotional distress after witnessing the explosion.

Ms Keneally would not pre-empt the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s findings and refused to comment on media reports that safety standards at Bankstown Airport were substandard.

The safety bureau expects to release a preliminary report on the crash in 30 days after examining official automatic voice recordings from Air Services Australia and weather conditions at Richmond.

Difficult investigation

Asia-Pacific Aerospace Report editor Peter Ricketts said the ATSB might have difficulty determining the cause of the crash.

“How they’ll ever sort out that stack of molten metal is beyond me,” Mr Ricketts said.

He also said it would be rare for both engines on a plane to fail and did not rule out a possible fuel problem.

“It is very unusual ever to see an aeroplane with real engine trouble,” Mr Ricketts said.

On Wednesday, the school held a general assembly of students and made counselling available to those affected by the crash.

Police made an appeal on Wednesday to anyone who may have witnessed the plane’s movements to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

What price for Aboriginal food sources?

Ground-breaking research is under way in north Queensland aimed at putting a dollar value on rivers and the wild food sources they provide.


Aborigines from Cape York’s Kowanyama community have teamed up with the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to value the Mitchell River delta.

Under the program they’ll record harvests of wild food sources such as Magpie Goose eggs and fish.

A direct comparison will then be made on how much it would cost to buy replacement items from the local store.

The Mitchell River delta is a food bowl for the people of Kowanyama, but it has not been declared a wild river under Queensland legislation, leaving it open to development pressures.

Locals oppose mining

Rodney Whitfield from the Kowanyama Aboriginal Land and Natural Resource Management Office said the community had long been concerned about the impacts of a range of activities on the delta.

He said there were grave concerns about a parade of mining applications locals fear could damage the environment and affect wild food sources.

“Every year we’re having to combat mining applications and exploration applications,” he said.

“It’s like a broken record at the moment. The indigenous people here just don’t want mining, full stop.”

Mr Whitfield said the research project would establish the importance of the food chain to the health and welfare of local people.

Siltation from mining and exclusion from mining lands would mean people had to buy food from the government-run shop at Kowanyama, which he said “doesn’t mind charging”.

“That becomes costs which (the people) don’t need,” Mr Whitfield said. “(Also) you start losing various aspects of your culture and tradition in hunting and food-gathering methods.”

“The other impact mining would have is on the wildlife side – birds, fish turtles, the list goes on.”

Decision makers ‘don’t understand’

The river delta and surrounding bushland also provide materials for the manufacture of traditional artefacts, Mr Whitfield said.

CSIRO researcher Dr Sue Jackson said Aboriginal people had a large stake in water resource planning and management based on their distinct cultures, ways of life and substantial land holdings.

“Their interests and values in water are poorly understood by decision makers,” Dr Jackson said.

“With the results from this research Aboriginal people will be able to sit at the table with other water users such as farmers and mining companies and have their water requirements factored into land-use decisions and water planning.”

Abbott to teach refugee to surf

Tony Abbott might be hoping to ride the wave of public opinion on boat arrivals all the way to the election – but now he’s set to ride a real wave with a refugee.


Left-wing activist group GetUp pooled members’ resources to successfully bid for a surfing lesson and breakfast with the opposition leader on eBay. It cost $16,100.

The federal parliamentary press gallery auctions off dates with the nation’s leaders every year as part of its Midwinter Ball charity fundraising effort.

GetUp says refugee Riz Wakil will have the surfing lesson with Mr Abbott on Sydney’s northern beaches. Five fellow refugees will join the Liberal leader and Mr Wakil afterwards for breakfast.

Mr Wakil fled Afghanistan aged 18. He came to Australia in 1999 and spent nine months in the Curtin immigration detention centre.

“Mr Abbott can teach me a thing or two about surfing and I’ll teach him about what refugees go through to build a new life in Australia,” Mr Wakil told AAP in a statement.

He’s now an Australian citizen and runs a printing business in Sydney.

Earlier this year, Mr Wakil featured in a GetUp TV advertisement on border security.

The group used its website to ask for donations to fund the successful eBay bid.

“Tony Abbott is expecting a big corporate donor to win the bid, but if we all chip in we can make sure he hears a different voice: refugees who’ve experienced Australia’s cruel immigration system first hand,” the website said, adding “the successful bid (money) goes straight to charity not Tony Abbott”.

Communications director Sam Mclean told AAP that GetUp was “very excited” to have won the online auction.

“Both political parties have hardened their stance on refugees this election year,” he said.

“But Mr Abbott’s recent announcement would take us back to the very dark days of the Howard era of cruel immigration policy in terms of temporary protection visas.”

The coalition announced its new border protection policy late last month.

It includes a promise to turn asylum seeker boats back wherever possible and reintroduce offshore processing.

A date with Mr Abbott was the most expensive item in this year’s charity auction.

Also on offer was the chance to play barefoot bowls with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan.

Punters could also bid to break bread with Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard or dine with the entire parliamentary party of the Australian Greens.

Full auction results are to be revealed at the Midwinter Ball at Parliament House on Wednesday night.

Obama still keen to visit Australia

Australians should not take offence that US President Barack Obama has twice cancelled trips Down Under, the American ambassador says.


Obama was expected to fly into Canberra on Thursday with his family, but he’s postponed the trip to deal with the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The president also cancelled an Australian trip in March.

US ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich stepped into the gap, telling Canberra’s National Press Club that Mr Obama “wants to come out here so badly”.

“It’s just unfortunate timing,” Mr Bleich said.

“We understand that this isn’t a reflection on the commitment to the relationship.”

Mr Bleich said there was no pattern of rain cheques, although US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton abandoned an Australian trip in January because of the Haiti earthquake.

He said dates had already been set, but not made public, for a visit by Mrs Clinton by the end of the year. It is believed the visit is not imminent, and there is speculation she may come in October or November.

And the president would come to Australia “soon”.

“We’re already working on new dates, so definitely it won’t be a long time,” Mr Bleich said.

It’s expected that Mr Obama will come after the federal election, perhaps early in the new year.

Mr Bleich said the events forcing the cancellations had been serious ones, and that Mr Obama had tried to come to Australia early in his term.

When asked about Australia’s involvement in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, Mr Bleich said Australia’s troop numbers were “about right” and there was no pressure to increase them.

He would not be drawn on how the US would respond if Australia decided to withdraw its troops, saying only that the US and Australia recognised their shared interest in defeating terrorists.

On climate change, Mr Bleich made it clear Mr Obama wanted action.

“The president’s commitment is to put a price on carbon,” he said.

An emissions trading scheme (ETS) is one way of putting a price on carbon; Australia is struggling with the task. Federal Labor has delayed the ETS while the Liberals say a price on carbon is not needed.

Mr Bleich said a price on carbon was the most efficient way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and would put incentives in place to encourage clean energy.

Cup fans break TV watching record

Australia’s loss to Germany may have dampened some spirits, but it didn’t deter two Sydney sisters from catching every single moment of World Cup action.


Joanne and Alanah Argyrou, 22 and 24, set a new world record on Thursday morning after watching 87 hours of uninterrupted television.

The women, from Sydney’s inner west, called it quits about 6am today after beating the previous record of 86 hours held by Dutchman Efraim van Oeveren.

The feat needs to be verified by officials from Guinness World Records, but organisers are confident the record will be recognised.

The sisters, self-professed soccer fanatics, outlasted two other couch potatoes in the marathon session at Star City Casino that began more than three-and-a-half days ago.

The other contenders – Tim Chan and Joel Martinot – dropped out as the hours wore by, leaving the young women with the screen to themselves and a world record in sight.

24-hour soccer

In between live World Cup matches, most of which were broadcast in the early hours of the morning, the contestants had a choice of watching recorded matches or soccer documentaries.

The epic task was monitored by a team of officials who ensured the girls never broke the rules by taking their eyes off the screen for more than five seconds.

They were allocated one five-minute break every hour during the marathon, and were allowed no more than five cups of coffee per day.

On completing the task, the Argyrou sisters called it a day and went home for a well-deserved rest.

The sisters will receive an entertainment package worth $7600 and have the chance to compete against former Socceroo Steve Corica in a virtual penalty shootout.

Kewell backs coach’s call

Harry Kewell is as frustrated as all of Australia that he hasn’t kicked a ball at the World Cup, but refuses to blame the manager who has glued his backside to the bench.


A feisty Kewell says he is raring to go and capable of playing the full 90 minutes in Saturday’s must-win showdown against Ghana.

Yet doubts persist that beleaguered coach Pim Verbeek will start Australia’s finest talent in Rustenburg, and some wonder if Kewell might again watch helplessly from the bench as he did in last weekend’s 4-0 drubbing by Germany.

“Of course I was disappointed (not to play against Germany) but it was the manager’s choice,” Kewell said as the Socceroos resumed training at Ruimsig, on Johannesburg’s western outskirts.

“He had a plan, he stuck to it and we all agreed to it.

“It’s his decision and I fully support him.

“He is the boss, and at the end of the day you do what your boss says.

“People have to get it into their thick heads that it’s his rules. You accept that.

“We all want to play but we all can’t play.”

It was one thing for Verbeek not to play Kewell in any of Australia’s three World Cup warm-up matches, as he nursed the 31-year-old star back from a persistent groin injury.

But fans were stunned when Verbeek kept Kewell and Josh Kennedy on the bench for the whole match against Germany, opting instead to throw the almost wholly untried Richard Garcia up front.

With Australia needing a win against Ghana, and midfield goal-poacher Tim Cahill suspended, the time is over-ripe for Kewell to enter the fray.

Kewell said there were no doubts at all about his fitness.

“I’m as fit as I can be,” the animated attacker said.

Asked if he could last the entire 90 minutes against Ghana, he replied: “If I have to. That’s what I am here for. I have been training (with the World Cup squad) for four weeks now, and I feel good.”

Kewell is upbeat about Australia’s chances.

He concedes the Socceroos were “destroyed” by Philipp Lahm’s magnificent young German team in Durban.

But he said: “Anything can happen at the World Cup.

“There are still two games to go (in the group stage) and we can win them.”

Verbeek says he didn’t take Kewell to South Africa for a holiday, but many are wondering if that’s the way it will pan out.

Senior Socceroos like Scott Chipperfield expect Verbeek to make further changes after the poor performance against Germany.

“All spots are under pressure,” Chipperfield said.

“I don’t think anyone can put their hand up and say they were happy with the performance.”

Chipperfield said Germany’s midfield ran riot to the extent that he sometimes had two or three runners to contend with at left-back.

“It makes you look bad, but there’s not much you can do about it,” he said.

Tea lovers warned about arthritis risk

Drinking a lot of tea increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, US researchers said on Friday.


A US study on more than 76,000 women found consuming tea raised the risk while drinking coffee had no impact.

Tea lovers who enjoyed more than four cups a day had the highest risk – being 78 per cent more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those who drank none.

But drinking any amount of tea increased the chance by 40 per cent, compared with people who never drank tea.

The findings were presented at the Annual Congress of the European League Against Rheumatism in Rome.

Professor Christopher Collins, from Georgetown University Medical Centre in the US, said he was surprised by the differences between coffee and tea.

He said: “We set out to determine whether tea or coffee consumption, or the method of preparation of the drinks was associated with an increased risk of (rheumatoid arthritis).

“It is surprising that we saw such differences in results between tea and coffee drinkers.

“This does make us wonder what it is in tea, or in the method of preparation of tea that causes the significant increase in risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.”

The researchers also examined whether filtered coffee versus unfiltered coffee affected the results, and also looked at the impact of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.

However, they found no significant associations with rheumatoid arthritis or the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

The women in the study were aged 50 to 79 and filled in questionnaires on their daily intake of coffee and tea.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, progressive and disabling auto-immune disease which affects millions around the world.

Three times more women get it than men and it usually starts between the ages of 40 and 60.

The disease can cause swelling and damage to the cartilage and bone around the joints, most commonly the hands, feet and wrists.

Children under the age of 16 have the juvenile form of the disease.

Prof Collins said he did not recommend that people change their tea-drinking habits based on the research.

“This was an unusual and complex finding but, from the data we have, there is a relationship between tea and the disease.

“There have been other studies which have either stated that tea has no effect on risk of arthritis, and one study which found tea had a protective effect.”

He said the team had looked for supporting information that could explain their own findings.

“We found a study which said that an increased intake of flavonoids – which are in tea – from various sources resulted in an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis.”

The team had analysed data on caffeine separately and had found no link, suggesting it was something specific to tea, he added.

“It’s definitely an association but the risk is very small.

“Nevertheless, when you look at enough people, a very small relationship can still be meaningful.”

Prof Collins said women were only asked about their consumption of tea, and so no detail was available on whether they had drunk black tea, tea with milk or herbal teas.

His team analysed the results to find out how many women who were tea drinkers had developed rheumatoid arthritis during the course of the study.

“We did not ask if they had been lifelong tea drinkers,” he said.

“Some may infer that if they drank four cups at that point in time, they may have done so in the past.”

Experts revise rate rise prediction

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is expected to deliver just one more interest rate rise this year as households adjust to the central bank’s rapid series of hikes in recent months, economists at investment bank Citi say.


The RBA left the cash unchanged at 4.5 per cent this month, after delivering six rate hikes worth a total of 150 basis points, or 1.5 percentage points, since October last year.

Citi had tipped three more interest rate rises between now and the end of 2010, but has scaled that back to just one more by the end of the year.

But the investment bank’s forecast for the cash rate at the end of 2011 is unchanged at 5.5 per cent, meaning three rate hikes during 2011.

Citi chief economist Paul Brennan said the slower pace of monetary policy tightening reflected the rise in household debt levels and the fact rates faced by borrowers were already back around “normal”.

“While lending rates are back to normal, if you look at the debt service levels that households are having to carry at the present time, they are actually well above average and that’s because debt has been going up,” Mr Brennan told journalists.

“So we think that the rapid normalisation of lending rates will mean the Reserve Bank will pause for longer.”

The minutes of the RBA’s June meeting, published this week, noted the concerns on financial markets concerning Greece, Spain and Portugal.

Moreover, “disinflationary forces” in the domestic economy were not as strong as previously expected, with the economy continuing to expand and recent employment growth solid.

The nation’s unemployment rate was expected to fall slightly below five per cent by the end of 2010, which Mr Brennan said was generally regarded by policy advisers as a level “pretty close to full employment”.

Citi has forecast global growth of four per cent this year and next year.

Chief execs spend night on streets

Snoring and soreness were their biggest gripes, but for many Sydney chief executives who swapped plush beds for a piece of cardboard and the chill of a winter night the world was a different place this morning.


About 180 executives bedded down at Luna Park overnight for the annual Vinnies CEO Sleepout, a fundraising initiative aimed at raising awareness of homelessness.

They were part of a group of 684 CEOs from companies including Citibank Australia, McDonald’s and Fairfax Media taking part across Australia.

Dawn mutterings aside, the CEOs were humbled by the stories of homelessness they heard the night before, St Vincent de Paul Society spokeswoman Marion Frith said.

“A number of them are saying `this has changed how I see the world’,” Ms Frith said.

Before turning in late on Thursday, the CEOs were addressed by former homeless men who had managed to turn their lives around in the past year.

One man, Gary, fell on tough times during the 2008-09 global financial crisis.

This time last year he was staying at a Vinnies refuge when entrepreneur Dick Smith handed him $10,000 so he could pay rent for a year at a private residence.

“He now has full-time work and his children are fine,” Ms Frith said.

Michael McLeod, the CEO of media business Message Stick, was also at Luna Park last night.

One of the stolen generation, Mr McLeod had a difficult childhood, leading him into heroin addiction and alcoholism.

How he transformed his life was the subject of another address.

The event raised $2.6 million for homelessness services, including $950,000 generated by executives in Sydney.