Sydney tech hub plan a shambles: Foley

The NSW government’s plan to create a Silicon-Valley in inner-Sydney “lies in a smoking ruin” after Google decided not to base it’s new headquarters there, the state opposition leader says.

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Luke Foley says the plans, originally proposed by former premier Mike Baird, to transform rundown areas in White Bay, Glebe Island and Rozelle into a tech hub were an “utter shambles”.

“All the plans that have been touted by the government, today lie in a smoking ruin,” he said on Wednesday.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the government was still working closely with Google to find a more appropriate location for the tech giant.

“They are actually looking at a number of sites … certainly they are looking to increase the size of their workforce here which is welcome news to me,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Google, currently based in Pyrmont, said the government’s planned upgrades to the precinct wouldn’t be completed in time to accommodate the company.

“Through the genuine and productive negotiations in the last few months we’ve come to realise that achieving that vision isn’t possible within our time frame,” a Google spokesman said.

Ms Berejiklian said she understood short-term solutions to public transport were necessary for a prospective tech company to base itself in the area and her government had plans to solve the transport issues. She refused to give specific details.

Mr Foley said overall he supported the move to transform the areas but it needed better short-term plans for increasing accessibility, such as reopening a pedestrian bridge at Glebe Island.

Doubt over offshore detention centres as contracts near end

The people living inside Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres are inured to uncertainty.

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But there’s a new question mark now hanging over the management of the centres themselves.

Broadspectrum and its parent Spanish company, Ferrovial, who currently run both the Manus Island centre in P-N-G and the Nauru centre, say they won’t be continuing after October.

In six months from now their current contract ends and the Australian government is yet to open a tender to find a replacement company.

University of Melbourne professor of public management Janine O’Flynn has been studying government outsourcing for almost 20 years.

“There is going to have to be a substantial transition period from one provider to another. You don’t just literally walk out on one day and a new provider walks in the next. Given the scale and the political importance of this arrangement, I would have thought we are probably cutting it a bit fine already.”

There are currently almost 1,500 people in offshore detention centres, according to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Hundreds of those people may be eligible for resettlement in the United States under a refugee deal made with the Obama government, if it is to go ahead.

But some will remain.

There’s no clear indication how many will got to America, and at least several hundred aren’t eligible for the program.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week confirmed the centre on Manus Island would close by the end of the year.

But Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on Sunday said there is an ongoing need for the centre on Nauru.

A statement from the Department says proper process will be followed: “The Department is considering next steps to ensure service delivery continues in regional processing countries. Any new procurement process will be conducted in accordance with the Commonwealth Procurement Rules.”

Professor O’Flynn says there needs to be closer scrutiny of the government’s management of the detention centre contracts.

She says it’s particularly necessary after a series of reports by the Australian National Audit Office which criticised the way the government had in the past procured, and managed, the contracts.

“The Australian government had now had two decades of experience in procuring and managing offshore detention and still encounters the same problems that it has shown there is a massive issue in terms of feasibility to manage that relationship and to really contract effectively in a best-practice way.”

The Audit Office reports, from September last year and January this year, highlighted poor Departmental oversight of the contract provider and examples of mismanagement and wasteful spending.

Labor’s immigration spokesman, Shayne Neumann, says an open tender process for a new service provider should have already begun.

“Potentially hundreds of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru will miss out on the opportunity to resettle in the United States and could be left to languish in Regional Processing Centres for years to come. The new tender process for garrison and welfare services in offshore centres has been suspended by the Turnbull Government. The Minister is cutting it fine with these contracts.”

The Greens’ immigration spokesman, Nick McKim, says this government has repeatedly failed to follow proper procurement processes.

“It would be no surprise if the Immigration Department and Minister Dutton once again played fast and loose with tax payers money and failed to follow a proper process, which is what they have done so many times in the past. And this basically give the government a fantastic opportunity to do what they should have done a long time ago and that is close the camps on Manus and Nauru and bring the people in them here to Australia.”

The current provider has come under pressure from human rights groups, including a recent report from Amnesty International, which also issued a warning to potential bidders.

No companies have publicly expressed interest yet in taking up the contracts, but Professor O’Flynn says private negotiations are likely already taking place.

She says there may be interest from companies who run immigration detention centres in the United States or Europe, where the industry has been growing over the last few years.

“One of the big challenges internationally is that many countries are looking to Australia for inspiration for how to deal with these issues, and that’s a sort of commercial conundrum, because what we know from the audit is that they haven’t been managed very well at all.”

 

Roberts claims ABC colluding with IS after Afghanistan trip cancelled

A One Nation senator has accused the ABC of colluding with Islamic State and risking the lives of Australian soldiers.

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Pauline Hanson and her bloc of senators have launched an extraordinary attack against the national broadcaster for “leaking” details of a trip to the Middle East.

One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts is the latest to weigh in after a planned parliamentary delegation to Afghanistan was scrapped after the trip was flagged on the ABC.

“Their ABC put our digger’s lives at risk so as to execute a political hit on Senator Hanson. The ABC have declared Jihad on Aussie diggers. They have a fatwa on Pauline Hanson,” Senator Roberts posted to Facebook on Wednesday.

One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts launched an extraordinary attack on the ABC on Wednesday. (Malcolm Roberts Facebook)Malcolm Roberts Facebook

“The ABC’s actions in revealing the ANZAC day visit to diggers shows their willingness to collude with ISIS and other terrorists in identifying Australian targets, including troops.

“The ABC has for a long time been harbingers of terror apologists. This proves their Jihad sympathy.”

Senator Roberts claimed the ABC had gone to ground, refusing to comment on the “gross security breach”.

“Just like an ISIS attack, the cowards make their hit and then scuttle away into the sand. Like snakes,” he said.

Senator Roberts’ spray followed his One Nation colleague Brian Burston threatening to oppose government bills if ABC funding was not slashed in the May budget.

The ABC has been contacted for comment.

Watch: Malcolm Roberts on climate change

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More Aust kids surviving leukaemia: study

More children than ever are surviving leukaemia in Australia and New Zealand but the outlook is much bleaker for children in poorer countries.

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A study of 90,000 children diagnosed during 2005-2009 in 53 countries published in The Lancet Haematology has found the five-year survival in some countries is nearly twice as high for children in some countries compared to others.

The chances of a child still being alive five years after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) in Germany was 92 per cent, compared to 52 per cent in Colombia.

In Australia, between 1995-1999 and 2005-2009, five-year survival for childhood ALL – the most common childhood cancer – increased from 82.8 per cent to 88.8 per cent, according to the research.

Survival increased from 82.8 per cent to 89.3 per cent in New Zealand.

For acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), the five-year survival increased from 53.4 per cent to 68.5 per cent in Australia, and from 67.6 per cent to 74.9 per cent in New Zealand.

Survival has improved for most age groups but remains lowest for babies under one.

Overall, children aged one to nine at diagnosis had higher survival for both types of leukaemia than those aged 10-14.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch says it is great news that Australian ALL patients are on par with the rest of the world, a result of treatments more tailored for children rather than adults.

“We are fortunate in Australia to have specialised paediatric cancer treating centres and the Leukaemia Foundation’s supportive care framework which all children with a leukaemia diagnosis can access, regardless of where a child lives,” Mr Petch told AAP.

According to the latest data on global childhood cancer incidence, published in The Lancet Oncology, leukaemia is the most common cancer in children aged 0-14 worldwide, accounting for a third of cancer cases in children aged nine and under, and a quarter of cases in 10-14 year-olds.

The rare disease, which accounts for an estimated 0.3 per cent of all cancers in Australia, leads to an overproduction of immature white blood cells, called lymphoblasts or leukaemic blasts. These cells crowd the bone marrow, preventing it from making normal blood cells.

One in 10 children diagnosed with leukaemia in Australia will not survive, and more needs to be done to improve survival rates, says Mr Petch.

“The Leukaemia Foundation is not satisfied with this statistic and is committed to investing in improving treatments and outcomes and to reduce side-affects, so there are fewer longer-term side effects for children.”

Gravedigger’s body photos no crime: lawyer

A gravedigger accused of taking photos of dead bodies and sharing them with friends did not commit a crime, police and law experts say.

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The allegations emerged last month about the former employee of the Cheltenham Cemetery in Adelaide’s west.

They caused Planning Minister John Rau to order the Adelaide Cemeteries Authority to prepare a report, which was handed to police to investigate.

“Police have no evidence of any criminal offence having been committed,” they said in a statement on Wednesday.

The gravedigger allegedly took photographs of bodies, skulls and bones while working at the cemetery and later showed them to friends.

Prominent Adelaide lawyer Craig Caldicott says while this is a ghoulish thing to do, it’s not technically illegal.

“I think it’s immoral and reprehensible conduct but in the eyes of the law it’s not an offence,” he said.

Mr Caldicott’s firm researched some potential charges relating to the accusations, including the production or exhibition of offensive material.

“But we formed the view that you wouldn’t be able to stick the charges,” the lawyer said.

He said it was an awkward area of law because people often take photos of their deceased loved ones in a coffin.

“And there are textbooks all over the place with pictures of dead bodies in them,” Mr Caldicott said.

He said lawmakers might wish to review the relevant charges to make this specific behaviour illegal in future.

The allegations were made during an unrelated investigation into the man, who later resigned from his job at the cemetery.

Biotech sector fears govt cap on R

The Australian biotechnology sector fears the federal government may move to cap tax refunds on research and development expenditure at $2 million in the upcoming budget, which it says will stymie the clinical development of medical treatments and cost jobs.

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AusBiotech, the umbrella group for the local sector, says it opposes a recommendation of a 2016 review of the R&D Tax Incentive that proposes a $2 million cap on the annual cash refund payable.

The R&D Tax Incentive’s refundable component is a pivotal enabler of clinical trials, especially for smaller biotechs, AusBiotech said.

Chairman Julie Phillips says the biotech sector has received no information on how the recommendation for a cap is being treated, and it is causing uncertainty in the biotech, medtech and pharmaceutical sector.

“The uncertainty around it is already having an impact, and it will be really quite devastating to our sector and the momentum that it’s getting,” Ms Phillips said on Wednesday.

Companies in the global biotechnology sector consider where to run clinical trials over a period of two to five years, and they are not going to wait to see what happens in Australia with the proposed cap.

“We’ve got companies reconsidering whether they run trials in Australia – these are international as well as local companies,” Ms Phillips said.

“That affects jobs, and secondarily to that, there’s all the infrastructure and support that goes around conducting clinical trials, where there are also jobs.

“Reductions in trials also mean that patients don’t get access to those earlier-stage medicines that you tend to get through the trials.”

Ms Phillips said the cheapest clinical trials cost between $3 million and $5 million, and could cost up to $25 million per year.

“So a $2 million cap is just going to take the edge off our competitiveness in that area,” she said.

As an alternative to the $2 million cap, AusBiotech has proposed an $8.5 million limit.

Ms Phillips said the biotechnology sector needs encouragement, as it is an innovative, sustainable sector creating high value jobs, and employs about 45,000 people.

The current R&D Tax Incentive offers small and medium-sized firms a 43.5 per cent refundable credit on R&D expenditure, and large firms a 38.5 per cent non-refundable credit on R&D expenditure, to a cap of $100 million.

Turkey referendum: Erdogan eyes expansion of powers

If there was a global contest for winning elections, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would see himself as the undisputed – and undefeated – heavyweight champion of the world.

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In one-and-a-half decades since his ruling party came to power, Erdogan has taken part in 11 elections – five legislative polls, two referenda, three local elections and a presidential vote – and won them all.

On Sunday, Erdogan faces his twelfth and arguably biggest ballot box challenge since his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, in a referendum on expanding his powers. 

His supporters see the new system as a historic change that will create efficient government. But for detractors, it is a dangerous step towards one-man rule in the NATO member and EU candidate state. 

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Fighting for votes in every corner of the country, Erdogan has kept up a punishing schedule of daily rallies seeking to woo doubters with his indefatigable campaigning.

Prowling around the stage with a wireless microphone like a rock star, Erdogan bellows at the crowds: “Do you want a strong Turkey?”.

Known to his inner circle as “beyefendi” (sir) and to admirers as “reis” (the chief), Erdogan is supreme on stage, holding the audience in the palm of his hand with near-matchless public speaking skills.

Watch: Campaigning ahead of the election

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Balancing act

Yet while Erdogan is seen in Western media as a near omnipotent sultan, there are constraints to his rule, according to Asli Aydintasbas, senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“Erdogan has to continue to win votes in order to stay in power and campaign round the clock,” she said.

In order to win the referendum Erdogan has to perform a “delicate balancing act” of winning votes from both Kurds and nationalists, she added.

Erdogan also comes to the referendum after the most turbulent year of his political life which saw a slew of terror attacks, worsening relations with Europe and above all the July 15 failed coup. 

He appeared on the FaceTime app on live TV to urge supporters to flood streets and defeat the coup, saying he escaped being killed by just 15 minutes before returning in triumph to Istanbul. 

The president has courted ever more controversy as authorities jailed over 47,000 under a state of emergency which has lasted nine months so far.

There has even been talk of fissures within the ruling AKP and with his two other party co-founders – former president Abdullah Gul and ex-deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc – both deafening in their silence by failing to endorse the new system. 

Watch: Turkey, voices of protest

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If the new constitution is passed, Erdogan could stay in power until 2029, by which time the energetic president, 63, would be aged 75. 

Erdogan appears determined to leave a legacy at least as significant as Turkey’s modern founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk whose picture hangs next to his at rallies. 

He has embarked on a hugely ambitious drive to modernise Turkey’s infrastructure with a new bridge and two tunnels spanning the Bosphorus, high speed trains and the construction of a third airport for Istanbul, schemes he affectionately refers to as “my crazy projects”. 

But critics worrying of a creeping Islamisation of Turkey’s officially secular society with a surge in mosque building, use of Islamic schools and the abolition of all restrictions on the headscarf in public life.

Born in Istanbul but brought up by the Black Sea, Erdogan is intensely proud of the humble origins from which he rose to be Turkey’s most powerful politician since Ataturk. 

He gained prominence in the nascent Islamic political movements that were starting to challenge secular domination, becoming a popular mayor of Istanbul in 1994. 

He was jailed for four months for inciting religious hatred when he recited an Islamist poem, a term which only magnified his profile.

Founding the AKP after the previous Islamic party led by his mentor Necmettin Erbakan was banned, Erdogan spearheaded its 2002 landslide election victory and became premier less than six months later.

It was in these early days that the AKP, lacking allies, forged an alliance with the movement of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen that would end with the sides becoming sworn enemies and Gulen blamed for masterminding the coup bid.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip wants to amend the constitution so he can expand his powers. (AP)AP

Return to pragmatism? 

Protests in 2013 over plans to build a shopping mall on an Istanbul park provided a rallying cause for secular Turks but Erdogan came out fighting, famously slamming the protesters as “capulcu” (“hooligans”). 

In 2014 Erdogan was elected president in the first ever popular vote for the post and moved into a vast new presidential palace opponents denounced as a needless extravagance. 

In June 2015 elections the AKP won the most votes but lost its overall majority for the first time. But Erdogan swatted away any proposal of a coalition and called new elections in November where the majority was restored.

Whatever the April 16 referendum’s outcome, all eyes on April 17 will be turned to whether Erdogan softens the campaign rhetoric and adopts a more conciliatory stance, especially on the EU membership bid and the shattered peace process with Kurdish militants.

“He has been extremely pragmatic in the past, often when you least expect it,” said Aydintasbas.

Watch: Turkey’s rage

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Fan suspended as racial issues continue to concern AFL

It comes after the Adelaide Crows’ Eddie Betts and Port Adelaide’s Paddy Ryder were both vilified by spectators on the weekend.

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But the AFL’s National Diversity Championship is a move to teach younger players the importance of inclusion.

Port Adelaide has suspended a fan’s membership after the alleged racial abuse of Adelaide Crows player Eddie Betts in Saturday night’s match in Adelaide.

The club says the fan was removed from the venue and it has indefinitely suspended his membership.

Port Adelaide says a Crows supporter also racially vilified its ruckman Paddy Ryder during the game but ran away before security officials were alerted.

The AFL’s general manager of inclusion and social policy, Tanya Hosch, says the league must continue to act when such incidents occur.

“What we can’t do is turn away from the fact that these incidents continue to happen, and we’ve got to remain vigilant in dealing with them. But what we also know (is) there will always be a few people who will push the boundaries, who will want to argue about whether it is racism or whether it isn’t. Racism is not okay in any form, and it’s something that we just have to continue to act on and to call it out when we see it.”

The AFL is the first sporting code in the world to put a racial-vilification policy in place.

But Ms Hosch says racism still exists, particularly in the spectator base.

“It is a problem. We’ve got to take it really seriously, and we’ve got to keep thinking about what we can do to further educate the community and just make it very clear that it’s unacceptable.”

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan, who has spoken with Ms Hosch about fixing the problem, says he agrees more needs to be done.

“We’re going to continue to front up on this issue until we get change. There are a lot of different ideas. But we need to, I think, double down on our efforts. And she’s going to come back to the commission with a series of recommendations.”

Both current and former stars have thrown their support behind the two players.

Former Sydney star Michael O’Loughlin, says the AFL is mostly a diverse and inclusive sport but a select few sometimes spoil it.

“AFL football’s a game for everyone to play, and it doesn’t matter where you come from and what colour your skin. It’s an unbelievable game. It’s a brilliant game to bring everyone together, and, unfortunately, we still have some clowns out there that make these silly, silly comments.”

The AFL’s National Diversity Championship, which includes 200 participants from Indigenous and multicultural backgrounds, is celebrating the sports’ diversity.

Musician and diversity ambassador L-Fresh the Lion, the son of Sikh immigrants who became a hip-hop star, has been a mentor in the program.

He says the game should simply be free of any bullying or intimidation based on gender, race, religion or skin colour.

“It’s a safe space, it’s an encouraging space, and it’s one where people can be them(selves) without having to feel like there are any barriers limiting them. You know, it’s a space for them to shine.”

Troy Duckett, an Indigenous teenager who lives in the New South Wales coastal city of Coffs Harbour, is one of this year’s participants.

He says he has seen racism but never in sport.

“Yeah, around school, there was always racial discrimination and stuff like that, just from other kids. Around sport, there was not much for me, like nothing racially, nothing like that.”

But his teammate, James Rene, describes a different experience for him.

“As a kid, I guess, when I was playing footy a little bit, I was called a few names and racial slurs, but I would just carry on. Sometimes I’d get into fights, but I learned from that about you just don’t worry about what people say against you. You just have to stick up for yourself and play your best game and play for yourself.”

The AFL is trying to eliminate that kind of prejudice by educating emerging players on the importance of preparing mentally for a sporting career, to be resilient, not retaliatory.

Michael O’Loughlin, also a mentor in the program, described his own experiences of racism.

“As a kid, going (through) school was really difficult. The one thing I said to the kids was, obviously, the way I reacted to it as a youth, both in the classroom and on the footy field as a junior player, was with my fists, and that was the wrong way to go about it.”

He says education is the key to defeating racism.

“We’re doing our absolute best to educate these young guys that they’re going to have to be better than some other people out there who, for whatever reason, think it’s okay to say the things that they say.”

 

Shoelace study unravels knotty problem

You could call it shoestring theory – scientists have finally solved the knotty problem of unravelling laces.

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Why and how firmly tied shoelaces free themselves has been a maddening mystery ever since humans first donned footwear.

Research suggests a blend of two forces act like an invisible hand, first loosening the knot and then tugging until the laces trail on the ground and your securely held shoe becomes a wobbly slipper.

Using a slow-motion camera, scientists revealed how knot-failure happens in seconds, triggered by a complex interaction of forces.

Lead researcher Christopher Daily-Diamond, of the University of California at Berkeley, said: “When you talk about knotted structures, if you can start to understand the shoelace, then you can apply it to other things, like DNA or microstructures, that fail under dynamic forces.

“This is the first step toward understanding why certain knots are better than others, which no one has really done.”

The study began with co-author and graduate student Christine Gregg lacing up a pair of running shoes and jogging on a treadmill while a colleague filmed what happened.

This is what was discovered: when running, your foot strikes the ground at seven times the force of gravity.

Responding to that force, the knot stretches and then relaxes.

As the knot loosens, the swinging leg applies an inertial force on the free ends of the laces, leading to rapid unravelling in as little as two strides.

“To untie my knots, I pull on the free end of a bow tie and it comes undone,” Gregg said.

“The shoelace knot comes untied due to the same sort of motion.

“The forces that cause this are not from a person pulling on the free end but from the inertial forces of the leg swinging back and forth while the knot is loosened from the shoe repeatedly striking the ground.”

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A, revealed a high level of acceleration at the base of the knot.

While some laces might be better than others for tying knots, they all suffered from the same fundamental cause of knot failure, the study found.

Landslides killing hundreds in Indonesia

It was raining heavily the night Putu Gede Swastika dug a family out of mud following a landslide in his Bali village.

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“The soil was still wet and we were having difficulties digging … it was very dark.

“There were two siblings, one of them was on top of the other and we could only see their faces. Beneath, they were buried by a big rock.”

They were saved. But nearby a mother along with her one-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter were among seven people who died when the landslide hit Songan Village in northeast Bali at around midnight on February 9.

“Many children have been orphaned,” Mr Swastika told AAP.

Hundreds of people in Indonesia die each year from landslides and floods.

In 2010, 736 people died, followed by 484 deaths in 2014 and 380 casualties in 2013.

So far this year, the death toll stands at 66 dead and missing, with more than 97,000 people displaced.

The frequency and intensity of these disasters are worsening as people clear land to meet farming, industry and housing needs and the country grapples with the effects of climate change, spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster management agency BNPB, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

“The forest destruction rate is about 750,000 to one million hectares each year, while the government’s capacity to rehabilitate forest is only 250,000 hectares each year,” Mr Nugroho explained this month.

More than 40 million people across Indonesia – or 17 per cent of the population – are now estimated to live in ‘medium to high risk’ areas.

In September last year after floods and landslides killed 34 people and left 6300 displaced in Garut, West Java, President Joko Widodo lashed out at companies for undertaking illegal mining and land clearing to build hotels and plantations.

At least six companies are expected to be charged for illegal land conversion.

“When we destroy ecosystems on the mountain, it will have fatal repercussions,” BNPB’s head of warning department Bambang Surya Putra told AAP.

“Before the water could be absorbed, now it goes straight into the river.

“There has got to be a long-term plan. There has to be land restoration … but of course it needs a lot of money.”

Dozens of people witnessed the effects of poor land management when, on the morning of April 1, they heard the “thunderous” crack of a landslide barrelling toward them in Ponorogo, East Java,

The two-kilometre disaster killed four and left 24 buried under 20 metres of dirt and debris.

The warning signs of the disaster to come had been lying there for almost a month on the land they toil for shallots and ginger.

A crack – at first just 30cm long – began expanding throughout March, widening first to nine metres and then to 20.

But a lack of proper education means people rarely take notice of these signals.

Even Putu Gede Swastika – whose Bali village is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes marked by long nerve-like scars where land has previously come hurtling down – missed the pointers.

They didn’t move after days of unrelenting rain.

“Before this year, when the peak of rainy season came, there was only flood. For landslide, it’s totally out of our prediction,” he told AAP.

The 10-million strong capital Jakarta is the only place where SMS warning alerts are used and devices that are placed into land to notify communities of potential landslides are sporadic at best.

“We ask everyone, every stakeholders, all ministries, all institutions to to prioritise (disaster awareness),” Mr Putra from BNPB said.

“Right now, people are indifferent. They don’t know the risk in their own area … as if it is just the government’s responsibility.

“But it is all of our problem.”