Qld father’s bones found in shallow pit

Police are keeping an open mind about possible links between a young father’s suspected murder and a headless torso found north of Brisbane last year.

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A skull found in the Tin Can Bay area, north of the Sunshine Coast, has been identified as that of missing Gold Coast father Shaun Barker.

Forestry workers made the discovery on April 10 in a remote location dotted with hoop pine plantations. A subsequent search uncovered other skeletal remains in a shallow pit about 95m from where the skull was found.

Police confirmed on Friday that the remains belonged to Mr Barker, 33, who was last seen on December 10 with friends and associates at a service station at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast.

His family reported him missing about a month later, after he failed to get in touch over Christmas.

Police have not ruled out possible links between the Barker case and another presumed murder – that of an unidentified man whose charred torso was found on a roadside several kilometres away.

The headless remains, with arms severed at the elbows and nothing left below the rib cage, were found burnt at Cedar Pocket, near Gympie, on September 19, 2013.

“We have been liaising with Sunshine Coast detectives,” Gold Coast Detective Acting Superintendent Brian Swan told reporters on Friday.

“At this point in time, we have no link between Mr Barker and that particular investigation, but of course we are keeping an open mind.”

Police have no firm leads in the suspected murder of Mr Barker.

Officers have reviewed CCTV footage of him with friends and associates at the Broadbeach service station, but the footage provides no clues about how he left and ended up dead hundreds of kilometres away.

“They are of interest to the investigation but they are not suspects,” Det Supt Swan said of the people who last saw Mr Barker alive.

It has not been revealed how Mr Barker, who was the father of a young child, died.

Police are urging anyone with information about his final movements to come forward. They are also searching for his blue Kia Rio, with Queensland registration 518 TBV.

Det Supt Swan said police were looking into Mr Barker’s background, but at this stage there was “no confirmed connection” with criminal bikie gangs.

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Fears for families separated by militant violence

They are living a “half happy” life in Australia amid fears for family and friends left behind in Iraq, which is in crisis as militants seize large swathes of the country in the north.

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Ali Mohamad told SBS his wife lives close to Mosul, but is safe for now as the military crisis unfolds.

“I call my wife [and] she say that it’s OK,” he said.

“She says school is stopping, everything because [of] the situation.”

He said this country’s government was not strong, leaving him “half happy” as he waits for his wife to finish her studies and apply for a visa.

Australia is home to some 50,000 people who were born in Iraq, many of whom came here themselves as refugees.

Now some of those who have remained in Iraq through more than a decade of conflict are again facing displacement.

More than 500,000 civilians have fled the Mosul region since fighting began.

Essam Zaki is another local worried about his family, who are living in Baghdad.

“The place you’re born, place you’re raised, and you see it’s collapsing,” he said.

The 29-year-old, who came here as a refugee six years ago, said many people in the country have grown used to conflict.

“Last 10 years ago, because bombing everywhere, assassination, killing people, everyone, the first time they were surprised they were shocked,” he said.

“But now during this time everyone’s taking it like naturally.”

Though he can’t believe the government capitulated so quickly in Mosul.

“This time they’re taking over big cities, so that’s a big concern to the Iraqi people,” he said.

Aid agencies in the region have been forced to suspend their day-to-day operations to respond to the growing crisis.

Mohammad Kandil from Islamic Relief Australia said his agency was already delivering non-food items, clean water and food to the displaced.

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New Wyldfire dating app promises to weed out creeps

LOS ANGELES — They said it couldn’t be done.

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But in the year and a half since its launch, Tinder has successfully established itself as the first hook-up app that women actually want to use. The app’s achievement is due in large part to its opt-in chatting system: Daters can only exchange messages when they’ve mutually pre-approved each others’ profile photos, saving them from reading unsolicited missives from people they want absolutely nothing to do with. But the scheme isn’t foolproof. As soon as a woman swipes right on a guy who looks up her alley, she’s still liable to get slapped with an unwelcome message. Tinder’s system ostensibly blocks the cavalcade of creeps by submitting them all to a snap judgment before they’re allowed to open their mouths. And yet, they persist.

Enter Wyldfire, a more curated mobile dating experience that positions women as the gatekeepers to sexual innuendo. When Wyldfire launches in the coming months, women will be free to join, but men must secure an invite from a female friend to start browsing. (The app is a kind of lovechild between Tinder and man-rating app Lulu.) “Everyone has that one friend who they think is a great-quality guy but they either don’t want to date themselves or want someone else they know to date,” Wyldfire brand manager Jesse Shiffman told Allison P. Davis at the Cut. As Davis notes, that type of eligible bachelor — the single, straight guy you don’t want to date, don’t want to set up with any of your friends, and yet are eager to recommend to all female strangers in your general area — may be even more elusive than the guy who actually sparks your interest.

But let’s say we all have these men in our lives: Identifying a guy as an obvious creep isn’t easy, either. The Wyldfire system operates on the assumption that men who text aggressively crude material to strangers on the Internet have no female friends in real life. While it’s tempting to believe that such men have simply never had any contact with female human beings, who really knows what lies in the dark recesses of your friend’s Tinder messages? Not you — you just hang out at parties.

One more thing: Women can be creeps on online dating sites, too. (They’re just less creepy on average than men are.) They also have wildly different tastes in who they’re attracted to, and what types of messages they like to see. But because most of these sites and apps suffer from a deficit of female users, they don’t have much incentive to start weeding out women based on subjective markers of “quality” — whether that means the perceived quality of their looks, their messages or their taste in men. Perhaps what dating sites really need are more robust mechanisms for discouraging rude behavior overall — not arbitrary standards for men, or gatekeepers who are all women. As of now, the objective creep test does not exist. There is no app for it.

Hess is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. She blogs for DoubleX on sex, science and health. Tweet at her @amandahess.

(c) 2014, Slate.

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Colin Sylvia honoured to get Freo debut

It’s taken half the year for him to get up to speed, but former Demon Colin Sylvia finally has the chance to become a vital cog in the Dockers’ premiership push.

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Sylvia will make his long-awaited Dockers debut in Saturday’s AFL clash with Richmond at the MCG.

The 28-year-old arrived at Fremantle with much fanfare on a three-year deal last October, but reality hit soon after as he struggled to adapt to the club’s unrelenting work ethic under coach Ross Lyon.

Sylvia has hardly set the WAFL alight this year.

In his seven appearances for Peel Thunder, Sylvia has averaged 17 possessions and a goal per game.

But importantly, Sylvia’s work ethic on the training track and in games has improved, and he’s even taken the Ross Lyon lingo on board.

“(I want to) just play my role and work on my defensive side of the game. Just really give a lot of effort,” Sylvia told the Fremantle website.

“I’m really looking forward to getting out there. It’s a great opportunity for me.

“I’m very honoured.”

Key defender Alex Silvagni returns to the side to help fill the void left by injured backmen Luke McPharlin (knee) and Michael Johnson (knee), but Lyon resisted the urge to recall wingman Anthony Morabito.

Richmond recalled Chris Newman, Aaron Edwards, Shaun Hampson and Dylan Grimes, but Matt Thomas and Ty Vickery couldn’t be considered due to suspension.

The Tigers’ finals hopes appear over after coughing up a 36-point lead on the way to a 28-point loss to North Melbourne last week.

Although Richmond (3-8) need a miracle to get back into the finals mix, coach Damien Hardwick is refusing to wave the white flag.

Fremantle are banging on the door of the top-four following three straight wins, but Lyon says his team can’t afford to take the struggling Tigers lightly.

“We’ve seen them at their best and they’re really challenging,” Lyon said. “The competition is so even. North are 7-4, and Richmond were up on them by six goals.

“Richmond represent a significant challenge and opposition.

“We need to improve because we’re in the middle of the pack and the only way to get to where we want to go is to improve our football.”

Showers are forecast for Saturday’s match – not that Lyon minds.

“We’re not a big team. We’re not super tall,” Lyon said.

“We’re a really athletic, mobile, hard-running team. We can really run and work, and we play really well in the wet.

“That’s my view and that’s our players’ belief.”

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Abbott lays wreath at war cemetery

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, as his government drops the idea of creating a national war cemetery in Canberra to commemorate the Anzac centenary in 2015.

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The tomb is in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Mr Abbott on Friday viewed the elaborate changing of the Army soldier guard ceremony at the tomb, before laying the wreath.

“It’s fitting that I should lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier here,” Mr Abbott told reporters.

“I should pay tribute to the Americans who have fought for their country because many of them have been fighting for our country.”

He said Americans, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and Britons had all made sacrifices over the past century.

The cemetery is the final resting place of more than 400,000 active-duty service members, veterans and their families.

Mr Abbott raised the idea of creating a similar cemetery in Australia in 2013 at Legacy’s national conference in Brisbane, describing it as “Australians’ Arlington”.

The concept would involve interring significant ex-soldiers.

But it is understood the concept has now been ditched after feedback from the veterans’ community.

The prime minister, who will host the G20 summit in November, also on Friday discussed financial and economic issues with US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen.

Mr Abbott will receive a military welcome when he visits the Pentagon for talks with Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

He will then head to Houston, where he will deliver a speech to the Asia Society. Liquefied natural gas is also likely to be discussed during Mr Abbott’s visit, with the biggest project occupying the minds of LNG industry figures being the Panama Canal expansion.

It will allow massive Post-Panamax ships to take American LNG to the booming markets of Asia to compete against the Australian product.

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Man gets bond for SA scissors attack

A teenager has been spared jail time for attacking his former girlfriend who lost consciousness before waking up to find a pair of scissors sticking into her back.

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Louis Nicholai McGee also used the scissors to attack his brother, probably because of “a perceived relationship” between his sibling and his ex-girlfriend.

“What you did was vicious and unprovoked,” said Judge Geraldine Davison while sentencing the 19-year-old in the South Australian District Court on Friday.

McGee, of Dover Gardens, pleaded guilty to two aggravated counts of causing harm with intent in February last year.

The judge handed down a jail term of three years six months but suspended the sentence and placed him on a three-year good behaviour bond.

She said it was not entirely clear why McGee launched the violent attacks, noting he and a number of people at the home had been drinking heavily.

McGee’s lawyer told an earlier hearing that his client acknowledged that he became “angry and emotional and irrational” before assaulting the pair “likely because of a perceived relationship” between them.

McGee had pushed the girl, then 16, before punching and kicking her, and stabbing her in the back with the scissors.

She lost consciousness and awoke with a pain and discovered the scissors sticking in her back.

McGee was holding the scissors when he punched his brother, causing serious injury to his eye and face, leading to his being hospitalised for weeks.

“Your actions have clearly had a serious and long term impact on both of your victims,” the judge said.

“They have ongoing physical and mental damage as a result of your behaviour.”

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Roberts can be X-Factor for Titans

Gold Coast’s sputtering NRL attack may finally have its spark in young recruit James Roberts.

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The highly-rated outside back, already cut loose by South Sydney and Penrith for off-field issues, will make his debut for the Titans in Monday night’s clash with Melbourne at Cbus Super Stadium as both teams look to turn around recent poor form.

Titans coach John Cartwright believes Roberts’ ability to break the line could be the key to his team finally finding some cohesion and punch with the ball in hand.

Only one team, 15th-placed Cronulla (155), have scored less points than the Titans (197) so far this season.

Cartwright’s men have only scored 20 or more points on three occasions this season, and he’s hoping 21-year-old Roberts can change their fortunes as they try to end a four-game losing streak.

“Some of his touches, not many players can do,” Cartwright said.

“His tackle breaks are very high and that’s something we’ve been lacking, someone with genuine tackle breakers and genuine speed.”

Roberts is one of several inclusions to the Titans who are missing State of Origin trio Greg Bird, Nate Myles and Dave Taylor, while Paul Carter has been suspended by the club following his midweek drink-driving charge and Albert Kelly (calf) is injured.

Ashley Harrison has been rushed back into the team following his recovery from a neck fracture, while Beau Henry comes in for Kelly at halfback.

There will also be an NRL debut for Caleb Binge following Carter’s suspension which left the Titans short on backrowers.

The Storm are also patching together a team with Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman all on Origin duty while halfback Cooper Cronk is sidelined with a broken arm.

Centre Will Chambers could play if he is released from Queensland duties early and Cartwright says he’s still wary of his opponent regardless of their absentees.

“You look at their pack and it looks like Will Chambers will play, they’ve still got four Kiwi internationals in their pack,” he said.

“We’re certainly not underestimating them. We’ve got the best possible side out there because we realise how difficult it’s going to be.

“It’s a crunch game for both clubs.”

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Australia see in foe Chile the team they want to be

Postecoglou said the Australians can handle the minimal expectations the football world has for his team, the lowest ranked at the World Cup in Brazil.

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But the Socceroos can also get a glimpse on Friday of what the future may hold.

“I don’t want to keep coming to World Cups and have people saying ‘you’ve got no chance’,” Postecoglou said at a news conference on Thursday at the match venue Pantanal arena in the western city of Cuiaba.

“I’d rather they talk about us like they are talking about Chile now. I think they are a good example of a country that has worked for the last four or five years to become a force, and that’s our goal.”

Postecoglou, 48, took over in October with a five-year contract and got stuck in the December draw with the impossibly difficult Group B, along with defending champions Spain, 2010 runners up Netherlands and the South American team that some rate a surprise contender for the 2014 Cup.

“I feel like they can have a real impact in this tournament,” Postecoglou said of Chile. “They are an exceptionally strong unit.”

Australia captain Mile Jedinak chimed in, saying: “I think the boss summed it up. It’s going to be a very tough opposition. They are in great form.”

Earlier in the day, Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli had lavished praise on Postecoglou for wanting to “play in another way, which means a great evolution for Australian football.”

Postecoglou has a reputation for rebuilding teams and getting them to play in an adventurous, attacking style. He likes to play a 4-3-3 formation.

In his transition away from Australia’s “Golden Generation,” the core of players that swept the nation into the two previous World Cups, Greece-born Postecoglou has brought up younger players from his days coaching domestic teams.

Yet, he was asked about the team’s continuing reliance on veteran striker Tim Cahill, who many consider the only player in the Socceroos camp that might be termed ‘world class’.

“I’m not worried,” said Postecoglou. “At least we’ve got someone there is who is very threatening. I don’t think that’s our only avenue. We certainly believe we can be a threat in other areas.”

(Editing by Rex Gowar and Ian Ransom)

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IMF analysis of Australian housing bubble is wrong

By Ross Guest, Griffith University

Australia’s house prices are grossly overinflated – if you believe the International Monetary Fund’s recent analysis.

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It says radical policies are required to deflate this emerging housing bubble, such as a stamp duty on house purchases by foreign residents and government imposed controls on bank lending for housing.

The IMF’s analysis of global house prices – especially with respect to countries like Australia – is misleading. It has focused on two measures of housing affordability: the ratio of house prices to household incomes and the ratio of house prices to rents. On both measures Australia’s house prices are one of the highest in the developed world – higher than the US and almost all of Europe.

In Australia the house price to income ratio is 30% above its historical average, behind only Canada and Belgium among the 22 advanced countries chosen by the IMF. Similarly, the current growth in house prices of 7% in Australia is the 7th highest among the 22 chosen countries.

But the IMF has ignored the preferred measure of housing affordability, at least in Australia, which is the proportion of income spent on housing costs. For home buyers (not renters) this is best measured by repayments on hew housing loans as a percentage of household disposable income. This measure is now around the average of the last 30 years for Australia at a little over 20%, and falling due to low and stable interest rates.

The typical standard variable housing rate has been at 5.95% since August 2013, which is the lowest rate on record except for a brief period at the depths of the global financial crisis (GFC) in 2009.

Also households are not piling up debt to buy houses like they were before the GFC. Household debt has been flat as a proportion of income since 2007. And household saving is at the highest level for 25 years.

What’s wrong with this picture?

This is not a picture of unsustainable house price growth in Australia. The same generally applies globally given that interest rates are typically even lower than they are in Australia.

It is true that house prices are going up globally, having slumped after the GFC. But even on the IMF’s figures global house prices are still 5% to 10% below their peak in 2007 – and even lower relative to other prices which have gone up over that time.

The IMF is wasting its time asking central banks to worry about house price growth. Central banks in the US, Europe and now Japan are deliberately pumping new money into the economy, and have cut their official interest rates to virtually zero in the hope of stimulating spending and jobs growth in the face of anaemic economic growth. Australia’s Reserve Bank has not had to resort to this, but for others, cheap money and plenty of it is the only policy they have left, given that government debt has reached unsafe levels in most countries preventing them from spending their way to stronger growth. Average government debt in OECD countries is now 110% of national economic output of goods and services.

However, as the famous analogy goes, cheap money is like pushing on a string. It won’t make households spend or businesses invest if they don’t have confidence in their economic prospects. Instead the money goes into assets like housing and the stock market, pumping up those asset prices. Central banks are relaxed about this. Indeed it is deliberate in the hope that rising wealth (on paper at least) will encourage consumption and investment spending. The risk of a housing or stock market bubble is seen as the lesser of two evils – the price that must be paid to try to stimulate spending on goods and services and to create jobs.

Foreign investors are not to blame

One of the IMF’s suggestions – a stamp duty on foreign purchases of investment properties – may have populist appeal to Australians who are worried about Chinese buyers inflating house prices here. It may appeal to the Australian government for this reason as well as being a revenue raising measure – and it is something they could do independently of any Reserve Bank action. But such a policy has dubious merit on balance.

Foreign investment, whether it is in domestic real estate or manufacturing or mining, tends to increase national wealth. If a foreign resident is willing to pay an Australian owner more for their asset than any Australian resident, why shouldn’t the owner sell? The owner’s, and Australia’s, wealth rises. The Australian dollar also rises which transfers income to all Australians since they can now buy goods and travel overseas more cheaply.

Of course not everybody wins. Potential buyers of Australian assets – in this case houses – find that they are more expensive than they otherwise would be. In simple dollar terms, the gains to the winners outweigh the losses to the losers – so in principle the losers can be compensated through the tax and subsidy system.

In short, Australia doesn’t have a house price bubble. Nor probably does the rest of the world at the present time. However even if it did, central banks would not likely do anything about it until their economies start to grow more strongly.

Ross Guest does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Malaysia vows no let-up in MH370 search

 

Extended coverage: MH370 search

Malaysia says there will be no let-up in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, in a statement to mark 100 days since the plane disappeared.

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“We cannot and will not rest until MH370 is found,” Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Sunday.

The Beijing-bound aircraft, with 239 people on board, including six Australians and two New Zealanders, disappeared about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 8.

“We cannot and will not abandon the families of the crew and passengers of MH370,” he said, following criticism of how the search operation was handled, particularly from relatives of the passengers.

Hishammuddin expressed gratitude to Australia, China and all the countries that have joined the so far fruitless search.

“Indeed, as the search transitions to a more challenging phase, we reaffirm our commitment with renewed vigour to locate the missing MH370,” he added.

Hishammuddin said he was confident, despite the criticisms aimed at the Malaysian authorities, that “Malaysia will be credited for doing the best to our abilities under near-impossible circumstances and history will judge us favourably for that”.

On Thursday, seven relatives of people aboard the missing plane received $US50,000 ($A55,000) as an initial payout from Malaysia Airlines’ insurers.

The insurers are processing the papers of the other relatives in preparation for receiving the initial compensation, said Hamzah Zainuddin, chief of the government committee dealing with the families.

He said a final payment would be determined only after the search operation is concluded.

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