John Longmire gives backing to AFL rookies

Sydney coach John Longmire is convinced his youthful AFL team doesn’t suffer from a lack of experience, but admits the winless Swans need to get going quickly.

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Languishing in 16th place and sitting on 0-3 for the first time in 18 years, Sydney’s next two games are against competition heavyweights West Coast in Perth on Thursday and Greater Western Sydney at the SCG the following week.

“It’s a lot of little things that add up to one big thing which is not a consistent performance,” Longmire said on Tuesday.

“We’ve been in front in the last two games in the last quarter and haven’t been able to get over the line and we haven’t been consistent in any part of our game over the four quarters.”

Longmire wasn’t wasting time on worrying about whether Sydney’s poor start would jeopardise their prospects of a top four finish.

“That’s not as important as this Thursday and that’s all we can focus on,” he said.

Sydney fielded nine players with no more than 15 games experience against Collingwood last week, while omitting the more experienced Jeremy Laidler and Harry Cunningham.

Longmire emphasised form counted more than experience in selection matters and was adamant the Swans had the right team balance.

“Whilst we’ve exposed a lot of young players over the first three weeks of the season, we still feel as though we’ve got enough senior players in our team to be able get it right, to be competitive,” Longmire said.

“We’re very much looking at the players that are playing well at the moment.

“A lot of those young players have been playing well, so they have earned their spots in the team.”

Longmire wasn’t concerned about the six-day turnaround for his side, pointing out West Coast had one day less and had also had to travel across the country.

Origin Energy secures more SA solar power

Origin Energy has formalised an offtake agreement with the Bungala solar plant in South Australia as it looks to boost capacity in the blackout-hit state.

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The energy producer and retailer in February signed a conditional power purchase agreement with Reach Solar to buy electricity from the project.

It has now reaffirmed its agreement to buy the entire 220 megawatts generated from the solar plant, after the project achieved financial closure.

The solar farm 10 kilometres north east of Port Augusta, is being developed by Tony Concannon, the former head of GDF Suez Australia, which operated the Hazelwood coal fired power plant in Victoria.

The deal is Origin’s largest ever solar power offtake agreement and takes to 550 MW the new renewable energy capacity it has contracted over the last year.

“By putting in place a long-term contract to purchase all of the solar power Bungala produces, we have played an important role in helping it reach financial close,” Origin chief executive Frank Calabria said.

Bungala’s development will mean more jobs in Port Augusta and will also contribute to improved energy security in South Australia, as solar is a more predictable form of renewable energy than wind, Mr Calabria said.

The company has set a target of signing up new renewables capacity of up to 1500 MW by 2020, to almost entirely replace the recently retired Hazelwood plant’s capacity.

Hazelwood, considered Australia’s most polluting power plant, was shut down last month after 52 years, as operator Engie said it was uneconomical to operate.

The loss of capacity has, in part, led to power outages and soaring electricity prices in South Australia, which relies on renewable energy for more than a third of its total power needs.

A blackout in September 2016 has been estimated to cost the state about $450 million.

Origin signed two separate agreements in March with Engie to buy power from the gas-based Pelican Point power station in Adelaide for three years, allowing the plant to return to full capacity.

The energy retailer has simultaneously targeted renewables capacity, with the sector’s contribution expected to jump to 30 per cent of its total energy mix by 2020, from 12 per cent now.

Origin expects to start receiving power from the first 110 MW stage of the Bungala solar farm by December 2017, while the entire 220 MW is expected to be operational by August 2018.

Academic accuses Australia of ‘war crimes’ in Syria

The federal education minister has branded a Sydney academic, who believes the US missile strike in Syria is a “false flag” attack, as an apologist for “grievous” crimes against civilians.

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But the University of Sydney academic himself has hit back, saying the Turnbull government is guilty of war crimes in Syria last year over a botched coalition bombing raid.

Tim Anderson, a senior lecturer at the university’s political economy department, believes there is no credible evidence Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has ever used chemical weapons against his people.

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He blamed rebels for the recent gas attack in Idlib province which killed scores, including children.

He felt “sad” there would be more false flag attacks and said he believed most of the Idlib victims were “hostages” killed by chemical weapons.

“No motive, no evidence,” Dr Anderson told AAP on Tuesday.

Dr Anderson, who’s written a book blaming “western-backed jihadists” for massacres in Syria, also described Mr Assad as “well-spoken, polite and diplomatic” having met him in person.

But Education Minister Simon Birmingham says the university should examine whether the academic has breached any rules.

“Although universities are places where ideas should be contested, that’s no excuse for being an apologist for grievous crimes against innocent civilians,” he told AAP in a statement.

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“I trust the university will take a close look whether those comments and any course content breach their code of conduct and academic standards.”

Dr Anderson pointed to an operation last year when RAAF aircraft were involved in air strikes on what was believed to be an IS fighting position in eastern Syria, killing dozens of Syrian military personnel.

“Australia has committed major war crimes against Syria,” he said.

“Imagine if the Syrian army killed 80 Australian soldiers.”

The university said, while it did not endorse the statements expressed by Dr Anderson, it remained committed to the expression of free speech.

“Academic staff are free to contribute to public comment in their area of expertise under terms outlined in the University’s Public Comment policy,” a spokeswoman told AAP.

“This means tolerance of a wide range of views, even when the views expressed are unpopular or controversial.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has reiterated his support for the recent US missile strikes, describing it as swift, just and calibrated – and the chemical attack as a shocking war crime.

Watch: No peace in Syria under Assad: US 0:00 Share

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Who is France’s surging far-left candidate Melenchon?

Who is he?

He’s a 65-year-old veteran politician who quit the Socialist party after 30 years in 2008 and is now head of his own movement “La France Insoumise” (Unbowed France).

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Long known for being aggressive and acid-tongued, he has toned down his rhetoric for this campaign but is still able to deliver a zinger or a witty putdown when required.

“I’m becoming a reassuring figure,” the divorced father-of-one told the Journal du Dimanche on April 2. “I’m less of a hothead.”

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After refusing an alliance with Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, he appears now to have eclipsed him as the main voice on the left.

“He invented political stand-up. He’s become a showman,” according to a former colleague in the Socialist party Julien Dray.

Melenchon ran for president in 2012 and won 11.1 percent of the vote, lower than polls had forecast.

Watch: France election candidates go head-to-head in TV debate

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Why so popular?

His climb appears linked to strong performances in two televised debates on March 20 and last Tuesday during which he delivered some memorable soundbites, particularly when clashing with far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

“Leave us alone with your religion!” he shouted at her last week at one point.

In an election marked by high levels of anger and people wanting to kick out the established political class, he has emerged as a charismatic alternative to Le Pen and the other “outsider”, pro-business independent Emmanuel Macron.

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From the beginning of the campaign, he has also built up a loyal core of supporters on Twitter and via his own YouTube channel — a way for him to circumvent the traditional media, which he accuses of being biased.

In a sign of nervousness, Macron supporters spread an online video over the weekend highlighting Melenchon’s tax plans while party secretary general Richard Ferrand urged voters to delve into his radical programme.

How leftwing is he?

He’s backed by the French Communist Party, is an admirer of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and has a huge tax-and-spend economic programme.

He wants to reduce France’s working week to 32 hours from its current 35 hours and lower the retirement age back to 60.

He proposes increases in the minimum wage and social security payments paid for in part by greater taxation of the rich. Any earnings beyond 33,000 euros a month would be taxed at 100 percent.

He wants to quit nuclear power, which produces around 75 percent of France’s electricity, and renationalise the partly-privatised national power group EDF.

Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon has compared German Chancellor Angela Merkel to war-mongering Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck.AAP

In foreign affairs, he wants to pull France out of the market-friendly European Union as well as the Western military alliance NATO, and he has supported Russia’s military action in Syria and Ukraine.

He has also compared German Chancellor Angela Merkel, current President Francois Hollande’s closest ally, to war-mongering Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck.

“I’m the candidate for peace,” he said on Sunday with an olive branch in his jacket pocket.

One of his signature domestic proposals is constitutional reform. He wants to scrap the existing powerful executive presidency and return France to a parliamentary system.

He wants to legalise cannabis and welcomes immigration.

“Today as yesterday, I am delighted that France is a mix of races and all the children are our children,” he said on Sunday.

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Oroton founder’s grandson replaces CEO

The grandson of Oroton founder Boyd Lane has been handed the reins of the struggling handbag retailer after the immediate resignation of chief executive Mark Newman.

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Mr Newman’s four years as OrotonGroup CEO came to an end just weeks after the retailer reported a steep fall in half year sales and profit.

Board member Ross Lane, a former managing director and chairman of the company who owns a 21.85 per stake in Oroton with his father and siblings, will serve as interim CEO.

The retailer’s net profit plunged 52 per cent to $1.8 million in the six months to January 28, as like-for-like sales dropped 11 per cent from the same period a year earlier.

Oroton blamed weaker sales on its shift away from women’s apparel, shoes and lingerie, lower sales at its factory outlets and a decline in sales at its seven GAP stores.

Chairman John Schmoll offered no explanation for Mr Newman’s sudden departure, but thanked him for his loyal service and for leading the group during the early stages of its transformation.

He said Mr Lane has an intimate knowledge of the business and its current initiatives, which include a shift towards targeting younger women that will result in the company ending its relationship with actress Rose Byrne and building its use of young, social media-savvy “influencers”.

“This knowledge together with Ross’s broad retail experience from active participation in the successful growth of a number of other retail businesses means Ross is ideally qualified to lead the company during this important period of transition,” Mr Schmoll said.

Mr Lane’s base salary will be $610,000 a year, including superannuation, and a short term incentive of 50 per cent of his base salary.

Mr Newman joined Oroton in 2010, initially as vice president of Ralph Lauren Australia and New Zealand, when Oroton had a partnership with the luxury clothing label before being appointed chief executive in August 2013.

Oroton shares were up one cent at $1.62 nearing the close of trade, after hitting a 10-year low of $1.45 in February.

Roos, Dogs mull selection for Good Friday

North Melbourne’s big-man stocks are set to be further boosted with Majak Daw to press his claims for inclusion in the Good Friday AFL clash with Western Bulldogs.

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Daw was a late withdrawal from the Roos side beaten by Greater Western Sydney by 42 points last week but is expected to be passed fit to return.

Coach Brad Scott faces a selection conundrum as he ponders how best to utilise his tall timber.

Daw would likely spend most of his time in attack if selected, with Scott then to consider if up-and-coming ruck Braydon Preuss and star veteran Todd Goldstein can play effectively in the same team.

“I think it’s a really good problem … to have two genuine ruckmen fighting for a spot in the side,” North midfielder Nathan Hrovat said on Tuesday.

“On the weekend Goldy went forward and was really influential.

“It’s probably a luxury that we have that some other clubs don’t in having a few ruckmen that we can choose from and can rotate through there.

“Both of them can kick goals and be really influential down forward, they’ve got that versatility and they’ll be really important for us.”

Hrovat’s take on Goldstein’s performance was understandably generous, but questions remain over the 28-year-old’s ability to spend more time in attack if Preuss is preferred in the lead ruck role.

North will also regain important defender Scott Thompson from a one-game suspension.

The Bulldogs are licking their wounds after their shock loss to Fremantle and face a quick turnaround having played in Perth on Saturday night.

Bulldogs’ midfielder Liam Picken continues to be monitored, but faces a race against time to play at Etihad Stadium after he was concussed against the Dockers.

“Obviously he got ruled out of the game with concussion early on,” Bulldogs veteran Matthew Boyd said.

“But he’ll go through all of the tests during the week and the doctors will make the right call for Liam’s health, which is the most important thing.”

Bulldogs forward Stewart Crameri is set to resume playing after missing the loss to Fremantle with a sore hip.

Full extent of executions in China a ‘deadly secret’: Amnesty International

China conducted the most executions in 2016, according to an Amnesty International report into the death penalty around the world.

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Amnesty International China researcher William Nee said while execution figures remained a state secret, he estimated China had executed thousands.

“There’s still a mentality of harsh punitive justice, and in many cases the death penalty is seen as a default option,” Mr Nee told SBS News.

Amnesty International arrived at its estimate by evaluating information from people sentenced to death and their families or representatives, non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations, field research, news reports and occasional semi-official disclosures in Chinese state media.

For example, in late 2016, Professor Chen Guanzhong, from the China University of Political Science and Law – who’s helping reform China’s criminal procedure law – was reported as saying: “From what I understand, in the last 10 years the overall number of death sentences [with immediate execution] has gone from a figure above 10,000 to a four-digit number.”

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Mr Nee lauded China for introducing reforms to uphold transparency, such as the Supreme Court, which approves death penalty sentences, launching a website in 2013 called ‘China Judgment Online’. The database compiles death penalty verdicts and court documents from around the country.

“It was heralded as a breakthrough for transparency, and to be fair to the website, it is improving the way in which we know Chinese justice works,” he said.

“What we found, unfortunately, is that in terms of death approvals, it probably only contains a small fraction of the true estimate.”

Amnesty found 85 execution cases on the database, but between 2014 and 2016, it calculated 931 people were executed by trawling media reports.

“There are literally hundreds of cases in the Chinese media that are not in their database,” Mr Nee said.

The database also does not contain foreign nationals handed death sentences for drug-related crimes, contrasting media reports of at least 11 executions.

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Mr Nee said Amnesty International recognised exeuctions in China were on the decline.

Historically, the death penalty has played a big role in the country, with capital punishment one of the Five Punishments during Dynastic China.

In the modern era, 24,000 were executed in 1983 alone, when provincial courts were given power to hand down the death penalty, said Mr Nee.

“The Chinese government itself has said it’s going to be transparent, and based on [its] principle of complete openness, if it wants people to take it seriously it should [be transparent],” Mr Nee said.

“[Until there’s transparency] it’s really difficult to know how to reform, whether or not [reforms are] effective… the public doesn’t have the information they need to have an informed public debate about the death penalty.”

Report sheds light on Vietnam executions

Vietnam classifies its figures on the death penalty as state secrets, but for the first time a report from Vietnam’s Public Security Ministry, made public in February 2017, led Amnesty International to believe there were more executions than initially believed.

A total of 429 prisoners were executed between 8 August 2013 and 30 June 2016 – an average of 147 per year, according to the report.

These figures make the country the third-highest executor in the world.

“The magnitude of executions in Vietnam in recent years is truly shocking,” Amnesty International’s Salil Shetty said. 

“This conveyor belt of executions completely overshadows recent death penalty reforms.

“You have to wonder how many more people have faced the death penalty without the world knowing it.” 

Executions around the world

Amnesty International calculated the global figure of recorded executions at 1,032, down from 1,634 in 2015.

Iran recorded the second-largest number of executions with 597, although it dropped by 42 per cent (977) from the previous year.

It is followed by Saudi Arabia (154, compared to 158 in 2015), then Iraq (88) and Pakistan (87, a decrease from 326 in 2015).

Together, these countries comprise 87 per cent of the total number of executions.

The US, for the first time since 2006, fell from its place in top five executors to seventh place behind Egypt.

There were 3,117 death sentences across 55 countries in 2016, Amnesty International calculated. In 2015, there were 1,998 sentences across 61 countries.

DATELINE (2015): The Painter and The Pastor

Cats’ Taylor still finding way in attack

Geelong defender-turned-forward Harry Taylor admits he’s still fumbling in the dark in attack for the Cats, but remains confident his difficult transition will pay dividends.

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Taylor, an All-Australian and two-time premiership key defender, hasn’t kicked a goal in three games since being redeployed inside attacking 50 to help out full-forward Tom Hawkins.

In his own inimitable style, the 30-year-old did his best to explain how he is dealing with the late career change on Monday night.

“Imagine your own bed, your own house – you know where all the light switches are, everything’s in the right place,” Taylor told Fox Footy’s On The Couch.

“(Then) when you go interstate to a hotel … you sort of have an idea where they are but you’re not quite sure — that’s probably how I’m describing it at the moment.”

Coach Chris Scott’s decision to reinvent Taylor as a key forward has been hotly debated but the man himself is comfortable with where the situation sits.

“I’m pretty laid back … I’m pretty open to hearing opinions,” he said.

“It’s one thing I’ve always been about – hearing other ideas. (But my) teammates and my coaches are probably the guys who I go to the most.

“At the moment they’re happy with me playing forward and although I haven’t had any impact on the scoreboard, there’s probably other things that, hopefully, are helping us win some games of footy.”

Geelong, although unconvincing over the past fortnight, are one of three unbeaten teams heading into round four.

The Cats’ inability to capitalise on inside 50s last year was at the heart of Scott’s decision.

“We’re pretty clear on what we’re doing,” Scott told Fox Footy’s AFL 360.

“What’s best for Harry may well be just to play as a key defender, but it may well be that what’s best for the team is for him to play forward.

“So in that scenario Harry wants to play forward because he … is a quintessential team man.”

Third-placed Geelong take on winless Hawthorn, currently in last spot, at the MCG on Easter Monday.

#putyourbloopersout: Outrage as ABC drops newsreader over on-air gaffe

The ABC has come under fire after apparently dumping casual newsreader Natasha Exelby after her shocked expression video went viral.

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Exelby’s stunned reaction at realising the camera had cut back to her attracted widespread attention, with many fellow broadcasters expressing empathy and outrage after it was reported the ABC had dropped her.

The ABC says Exelby is a casual who’s used on an on-need basis, but Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was among many who demanded she be given another chance.

It’s live TV. This is just ridiculous.长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/xy6dp7nKwi

— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) April 10, 2017

Media personalities from around Australia have shown support by sharing their own bloopers under the hashtag #PutYourBloopersOut.

“Thank you all for your generous support,” Ms Exelby wrote. “Not my finest hour. Myself and my mesmerising pen honourably salute you!”

Yep. It happens… @MarcFennell @NatashaExelby pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/Ov79vpZRfn

— Janice Petersen (@JaniceKPetersen) April 9, 2017I started eating a Tim Tam live on air during rolling coverage of a leadership spill #putyourbloopersout

— Ashleigh Gillon (@ash_gillon) April 10, 2017On live radio, I accidentally read the funerals and deaths section of the newspaper from last year. #PutYourBloopersOut

— Sam Murden (@notmmansam) April 10, [email protected]_Gilbert @byrnesh I once broke down in childish giggling on Sky News after Tony Abbot said he was “between two stools”.

— Malcolm Farr (@farrm51) April 10, 2017I once said “sadly we lost Simon Townsend from Wonder World a few years back” only for people to email me Wikipedia pointing out he’s alive. 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/9cximjLLDQ

— BenFordham (@BenFordham) April 10, [email protected] @NatashaExelby I fainted twice and said “fuck” once. To paraphrase @billybragg reading live news is an Accident Waiting To Happen. #putyourbloopersout

— Tracey Spicer (@TraceySpicer) April 10, 2017#PutYourBloopersOut @NatashaExelby SBS News – Lee Lin Chin blooper: “Who is that handsome…?” 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/ghXn9VJB3M

— Flick (@flick2001) April 10, 2017

ABC responds to public backlash following newsreader’s on-air gaffe

The ABC has issued a statement saying media reports saying newsreader Natasha Exelby has been “banned”, “barred” or “fired” are untrue after she slipped up on live TV.

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Ms Exelby looked stunned as she realised the camera had cut back to her, and attracted widespread attention with many fellow broadcasters expressing empathy and outrage after reports the ABC had dropped her.

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But ABC News director Gaven Morris said in a statement on Tuesday that Natasha was a freelance journalist who worked as a contributor. 

“She has been rostered for various shifts and has been assured since yesterday that we want that to continue,” he said.

“While she is not currently doing any on-air shifts, this will be subject to normal performance management. I have spoken to Natasha and conveyed our regret that this has attracted such attention.”

The ABC came under fire for reportedly dumping Ms Exelby after a video of her gaffe went viral.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was among many who demanded she be given another chance.

It’s live TV. This is just ridiculous.长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/xy6dp7nKwi

— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) April 10, 2017

Media personalities from around Australia have shown support by sharing their own bloopers under the hashtag #PutYourBloopersOut.

“Thank you all for your generous support,” Ms Exelby wrote. “Not my finest hour. Myself and my mesmerising pen honourably salute you!”

Yep. It happens… @MarcFennell @NatashaExelby pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/Ov79vpZRfn

— Janice Petersen (@JaniceKPetersen) April 9, 2017I started eating a Tim Tam live on air during rolling coverage of a leadership spill #putyourbloopersout

— Ashleigh Gillon (@ash_gillon) April 10, 2017On live radio, I accidentally read the funerals and deaths section of the newspaper from last year. #PutYourBloopersOut

— Sam Murden (@notmmansam) April 10, [email protected]_Gilbert @byrnesh I once broke down in childish giggling on Sky News after Tony Abbot said he was “between two stools”.

— Malcolm Farr (@farrm51) April 10, 2017I once said “sadly we lost Simon Townsend from Wonder World a few years back” only for people to email me Wikipedia pointing out he’s alive. 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/9cximjLLDQ

— BenFordham (@BenFordham) April 10, [email protected] @NatashaExelby I fainted twice and said “fuck” once. To paraphrase @billybragg reading live news is an Accident Waiting To Happen. #putyourbloopersout

— Tracey Spicer (@TraceySpicer) April 10, 2017#PutYourBloopersOut @NatashaExelby SBS News – Lee Lin Chin blooper: “Who is that handsome…?” 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/ghXn9VJB3M

— Flick (@flick2001) April 10, 2017