Aussie pair plot Pulse revolution

Australian midcourters Jacinta Messer and Chelsea Locke are masterminding a revolution at the Central Pulse this season.

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In combination with another trans-Tasman product, goal attack Ameliaranne Wells, the duo are creating a Kiwi-Australian hybrid which melds the best of both netball worlds.

The results haven’t quite matched expectations: the Pulse opened their season with a one-goal win over the Magic, flatlined with a 16-goal loss to the defending champion Queensland Firebirds, then battled to a 52-52 draw with the Northern Mystics.

Now they face an intriguing battle with the New Zealand conference-leading Southern Steel in Invercargill this weekend.

Both Messer, 29, and 27-year-old Locke say despite the up-and-down nature of the season to date, the Pulse’s new combinations are slowly starting to gel.

Messer is learning the ropes at wing defence for the Pulse after a year off netball to concentrate on her career in corporate relations at Brisbane Airport Corporation.

Prior to that she spent a three-year term with the Firebirds at goal defence, and has combined that close knowledge of the Australian one-on-one defending with the Kiwi model revolving around space marking.

“What we’re trying to do in this team is find a balance between the two, keeping it fresh and mixing it up,” she told AAP.

“It’s a great opportunity to have maybe a bit of a new style of netball that brings the two together quite nicely.”

Locke kick-started her trans-Tasman career with the Tactix in 2008 before also shifting to the Firebirds, before joining Manchester Thunder in the English Superleague last year.

She is relishing the chance to learn from a new team, and a new coach in former Silver Ferns defender Tanya Dearns at the Pulse.

“I’m always looking to learn and be a sponge, because I don’t know everything,” Locke said.

“I’m not the best, and I want to be. I need to make sure I’m always looking for those little one-percenters I can add on the court.

“It’s about always learning – you should never accept that that’s good enough.”

Syrian peace talks in quagmire

Syria’s fragile peace talks might not resume for at least a year if they are abandoned now, a senior Western diplomat has warned, as the opposition urged more military support for rebels after declaring a truce was over.

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Intense fighting has left Syria’s partial ceasefire in tatters. The truce was brokered by the US and Russia to pave the way for the first peace talks attended by rebel factions since the crisis began five years ago.

Those talks, taking place under UN auspices in Geneva, also appear to have collapsed this week. The opposition says it has called a “pause” to negotiations, although it is reluctant to accept blame for the collapse by walking out altogether.

“If this ends now, it will be over for at least a year …. The Russians will steamroll – taking advantage of a US vacuum,” the Western diplomat said, referring to fears Washington will be preoccupied by November’s US presidential election.

“There will be three million more refugees and thousands more dead,” said the diplomat, who declined to be identified while describing a scenario world powers still hope to avoid.

“If we all leave Geneva, I don’t see the process continuing.”

Damascus negotiators say the presidency of Bashar al-Assad is non-negotiable while the opposition sees removal of the president as a prerequisite and complains of no progress on an end to violence, humanitarian access and political detainees.

The Geneva talks aim to end a war that has killed more than 250,000 people, created the world’s worst refugee crisis, allowed for the rise of the Islamic State group, and drawn in regional and major powers. Russia’s intervention in the conflict beginning late last year has swayed the war in Assad’s favour.

The already widely violated truce began fraying more quickly some two weeks ago near Aleppo, where the Syrian army accused rebel groups of taking part in assaults by Islamists who are not covered by the ceasefire. Rebels say they were defending themselves from attacks by the army and its Shi’ite militia allies.

A total collapse of the Geneva talks would leave a diplomatic vacuum that could allow a further escalation of the war that is being fuelled by rivalries between foreign powers including oil producers Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Seeking to ease that rivalry, US President Barack Obama met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on a visit to Riyadh on Wednesday and discussed the need to reinforce the partial truce in Syria and support a transition from Assad’s rule.

France said it would consider with other European powers and the US on Monday the idea of convening a ministerial meeting of major powers in the next two weeks to work out the next steps for Syria.

As fighting raged and air strikes on rebel-held areas intensified, the opposition urged foreign states to supply them with the means to defend themselves, a thinly veiled reference to the anti-aircraft weapons long sought by insurgents.

Anas Al Abde, president of the Turkey-based opposition Syrian National Coalition, said the Geneva talks were “futile” and there was no hope in discussing political transition.

Speaking in Istanbul, he urged “qualitative support” for rebel groups, and said the solution must be a “political-military” one.

On Wednesday experts were meeting in Geneva but the opposition’s Riad Hijab, chief co-ordinator of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee, had quit the talks with senior delegates while de Mistura had left for personal reasons.

About half of the HNC delegation remained.

The Syrian government negotiator Bashar Ja’afari poured contempt on the opposition for its partial walkout, accusing it of sulking and political immaturity.

“By leaving they may be taking away a major obstacle that will allow us to reach a solution,” he told reporters.

The US State department rejected that view. “We do not believe that the way forward is any removal by the opposition from these talks. In fact, quite the opposite,” spokesman John Kirby said in Washington.

Kirby called on the government delegation to explain what it meant by its proposed broad-based government of national unity.

Strong Priceline sales drive API growth

Strong sales at Priceline stores have lifted owner Australian Pharmaceutical Industries’ half year profit by 7.

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7 per cent to $22.9 million.

The company’s revenue in the six months to February 29 rose 4.4 per cent to $1.79 billion, while earnings before interest and tax rose more than 15 per cent.

API, the parent company of the Priceline, Soul Pattinson and Pharmacist Advice chains, attributed the gains to growth in the Priceline business, including increased demand for new franchises.

The company also declared an improved operating cost performance over the half year, delivering a decline in overall operating costs as a percentage of revenue.

It was the fourth consecutive reporting period in which they did so.

“The continued focus on cost control has helped deliver another pleasing result, with cost as a percentage of revenue falling 16 basis points,” chief financial officer Peter Mendo said.

API paid an interim dividend of 2.5 cents per share, fully franked, up 25 per cent on the previous half year.

“There are currently sufficient franking credits to maintain fully franked dividends into the forseeable future,” Mr Mendo said.

Chief executive Stephen Roche said he was very pleased with the results, which “reflect a business in a strong phase of growth” despite a competitive market.

Mr Roche said the average API customer considered his company’s stores a “playground destination” due to its offerings in cosmetics, skin care, vitamins and medicine.

“She knows what we stand for. Essentially, our formula remains the same,” Mr Roche said.

“We have the great range she wants and provide the right service to match it.”

Mr Roche also said Priceline’s customer engagement strategy was delivering results.

Sales from the six million-strong “Sister Club” loyalty program constituted more than 40 per cent of total sales, he said.

API shares were up 0.5 cents, or 0.26 per cent, at $1.895 at 1408 AEST.

HEALTHY GROWTH FOR AUSTRALIAN PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRIES:

* Revenue up 4.4 per cent to $1.79 billion

* Net profit up 7.7 per cent to $22.9 million

* Dividend of 2.5 cents per share, fully franked, up from 2 cents in the previous half

System let Vic murder victim down: Coroner

The victim of a murder-suicide at the hands of her ex did everything she could to stop it from happening, but Victoria’s family violence system let her down.

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Kelly Thompson, 43, was sleeping in her Point Cook home when her former partner, Wayne Wood, stabbed her to death with a hunting knife in a murder-suicide in February 2014.

Her death was the subject of a coronial inquest in 2015 and Coroner Ian Gray delivered his findings on Thursday.

Judge Gray found Wood had been considering murder-suicide since October 2013, had always been controlling, possessive and jealous, and had no intention of complying with an intervention order Ms Thompson had taken against him.

During the inquest, the court was told a neighbour called police with concerns the night Ms Thompson was murdered, but no patrol was sent.

Ms Thompson had also called police 38 times in the weeks before her death to report breaches of the order by Wood.

Judge Gray found failings by police to properly record violent incidents and order breaches by Wood.

Police also failed to properly investigate whether charges could be laid against Wood and failed to adequately act on a call by her neighbour.

“Ms Thompson took all the right steps,” Judge Gray wrote in his findings.

“The family violence system, as it operated at the time of Mr Thompson’s death, failed to recognise that the risks were escalating.”

However, he found that despite failings in the system, it was Wood alone who was responsible for her murder and even if police had acted on the neighbour’s call, it probably would not have saved Ms Thompson.

Outside the court on Thursday, Ms Thompson’s mother Wendy hoped the findings lead to change so her daughter’s death would not be in vain.

“It should never have happened, it was preventable, like so many other women it was preventable,” she said.

Thompson family solicitor Paula Shelton said it was important that Judge Gray had found Ms Thompson had done everything she could to put an end to the violence she was being subjected to.

“She did everything she could and the system let her down,” she said.

Ms Shelton said with Judge Gray’s findings and the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, there was now a political will to fix the sector.

Judge Gray made six recommendations, including that front line workers provide all family violence risk assessments to applicants, applicant legal representatives, family violence services, magistrates and police.

He also recommended better information sharing between police and courts.

Milford’s NRL form tip of iceberg: Bennett

Brisbane coach

Glenn has been ruled out of Friday night’s Suncorp Stadium clash with South Sydney.

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Herman Ese’ese will make his Broncos debut off the bench.

Bennett wasn’t happy after Glenn failed to recover from a hip flexor injury sustained when he copped a knee from Newcastle’s Sione Mata’utia in Brisbane’s 53-0 last round win.

Bennett said injuries caused by knees were becoming a huge concern and he wanted it addressed by the NRL.

“That’s the third one for the season for us, that type of incident,” Bennett said.

“I didn’t like any of the ones I have seen and Saturday night was in the category.

“I wanted to see if they (match review committee) did anything about it (Mata’utia’s tackle) but I am going to make a phone call today.”

Glenn finished the game against Newcastle but at one stage spent more than 20 minutes off the field receiving treatment for the injury.

Bennett admitted he did not know how long Kiwi backrower Glenn would be sidelined.

“Another week, I don’t know,” he said.

“There is a huge bruise from his ribs down to his lower leg.

“Everyone knows that the two hardest parts of our bodies are our elbows and our knees.

“Players have to take more responsibility for their actions in certain situations.”

Sam Thaiday will move into the starting backrow while Ese’ese – who made his NRL debut at the Bulldogs last year – will slot onto the interchange.

Form winger Corey Oates (knee) was cleared to play after completing Thursday’s training.

Ladder leaders Brisbane are aiming for their fifth straight win.

Shorten undecided on tax deficit levy

Labor may yet keep a budget repair levy on high-income earners after leader Bill Shorten declined to rule it out.

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The additional two per cent tax on Australians earning more than $180,000 was introduced in Joe Hockey’s controversial 2014 budget.

Successor Scott Morrison has repeatedly said the levy will cease to exist in 2017 as legislated.

But Mr Shorten wants to see the May 3 budget before committing Labor to a decision.

“We want to see what mess Scott Morrison has made of the books and, let’s face it, we are not holding our breath for great news,” he told reporters in Sydney.

However, a Labor government would put health, education and pensions first and the issue of tax cuts for the top end of town second.

Mr Morrison dismissed the suggestion that keeping the levy voters would give Labor a quicker path for reducing the deficit.

“We are definitely not,” he told reporters.

The treasurer said Labor was increasing taxes because it could not control itself on spending.

“That’s not a plan for jobs and growth; doesn’t come anywhere near one,” he said.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has weighed into the debate, saying Labor had not learned from the Rudd-Gillard years and “would do it all again” if it returned to office.

“If the opposition were to sneak back into government after just one term … our country is doomed to the economic stagnation that now characterises continental Europe,” Mr Abbott wrote in News Corp papers.

In defending his government’s 2014 budget as necessary, he said Labor had committed to unfunded spending.

That was why the coalition’s continued commitment to savings was so important.

Non-shooter gets 14yrs for Sydney murder

A hammer-wielding armed robber whose partner in crime shot dead a fruit shop employee will spend at least 14 years behind bars – despite a veteran judge saying his culpability was the lowest she had ever encountered in a murder trial.

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Jame Phan, also known as Van Linh Dang, did not fire the shots that killed “extremely courageous” Villawood shop hand Kamran Yousaf but was convicted by a jury of his murder.

Phan had already pleaded guilty over a spate of armed robberies, after ransacking the till at a southwest Sydney Subway, a Chinese restaurant and a FoodWorks shop in the days leading up to Mr Yousaf’s death.

Members of Phan’s family wept in the public gallery of the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney on Thursday as the judge sentenced him to a 20-year jail term, with a 14-year non-parole period.

Acting Justice Jane Mathews described how Phan and gunman Lance Lachlan Murdoch arrived at the Villawood Value Fruit Market on October 12, 2013, wearing surgical masks and hooded tops.

Murdoch carried a small silver pistol, while Phan was armed with a hammer, and the pair approached two shop employees who were having lunch in the rear lane behind the fruit market, demanding to be taken to the tills.

Inside the shop, as Saturday afternoon shoppers including an 11-year-old girl watched on, Phan had taken hold of one of the tills and made a run for the rear lane – but Mr Yousaf would not let him go.

As Phan and Mr Yousaf struggled in the lane behind the fruit market, Murdoch doubled back and shot the “extremely courageous” worker in the stomach and back, Justice Mathews said.

Even as he was dying, Mr Yousaf maintained his grip on Phan and, along with a co-worker and a customer, managed to drag him back into the shop and tie him up to await police.

Justice Mathews said the jurors’ verdict and their questions during deliberation made it clear they believed Phan thought Murdoch might fire his pistol during the robbery, perhaps as a warning shot.

“I can safely say that in my long experience of murder trials, his is the lowest level of culpability I have ever encountered,” Justice Mathews said.

The judge said Phan, now 30, had an “extremely difficult” life after emigrating to Australia as a young child.

At school, Phan had struggled with poor English skills; at home, he was physically and emotionally abused by his father and, later, his stepfather.

He had struggled with drug addiction since his teens and his crimes were committed to “feed his drug dependency”.

“If Mr Phan can refrain from reverting to substance abuse, he is unlikely to re-offend,” the judge said.

Murdoch will be sentenced at a later date.

Vic trio killed by man who snapped: court

Moments after stabbing his neighbour to death over a feud about dust, Ian Francis Jamieson told himself he might as well kill his victim’s elderly parents too.

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“I thought ‘bugger it, I’m gone, I might as well clean the other ones up’,” Jamieson, 65, said later in his police interview.

“They pushed, pushed, pushed and I had enough.”

Jamieson then gunned down his dying neighbour’s parents, because he reasoned he was going to jail anyway.

He appeared without legal representation in the Victorian Supreme Court in Bendigo on Thursday having pleaded guilty to murdering Greg Holmes, 48, and Mr Holmes’ parents Mary, 75, and Peter Lockhart, 78.

The court heard Jamieson, 65, has made multiple confessions to killing his former friends.

Crown prosecutor Andrew Tilley SC told the plea hearing Mr Lockhart had helped Jamieson rebuild his house after it burned down.

But things soured between the Lockharts, their son and Jamieson over the use of a dirt road close to their properties near Wedderburn in central Victoria.

“Jamieson claimed the use of that road resulted in dust affecting his property … and dust going into his drinking water,” Mr Tilley said.

Jamieson told police he went to Mr Holmes’ house on October 22, 2014 armed with a knife because the last time they’d argued, the younger man had pulled a gun on him.

“One thing led to another and the next moment it was fisticuffs,” he told police.

Jamieson stabbed Mr Holmes and decided he might as well kill the others too.

He shot Mr Lockhart four times – twice in the head – and Ms Lockhart three times, once in the head.

The New Zealand-born man then told triple-zero: “Just send the cops around, alright. I should be put in jail, I’m a c***”.

He told police he wished it hadn’t ended that way.

“They didn’t give me any choice,” Jamieson told police.

“I’m not a violent person normally.”

The court heard Jamieson also rang a friend and told him: “Wally, I’ve killed three people. I want you to come down and look after Janice, I’ll never see the light of day again.”

After members of the Lockhart and Holmes families read their victim impact statements to the court, Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth adjourned the hearing because Jamieson did not have legal representation.

The case will return to court on April 29.

D-day looms for Palmer’s Qld Nickel

Sacked workers and other creditors of Clive Palmer’s Queensland Nickel will gather in Townsville on Friday to decide if the company should be wound up.

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Administrators say about $200 million is owed to creditors and liquidation gives them the best chance of seeing some of their money.

But the company’s sole director Clive Mensink – who is Mr Palmer’s nephew – has said they “probably” won’t get paid, due to a complex corporate structure that allows Mr Palmer to legally sidestep the company’s debts.

At best, they’ve been told the best they could hope to receive is 52 cents in the dollar on what they’re owed, though the federal government has promised to cover the entitlements of the refinery’s 787 axed workers through its Fair Entitlements Guarantee Scheme.

In the meantime, the government is pressing ahead with efforts to ensure taxpayers won’t be left to foot what it says is very clearly Mr Palmer’s entitlements bill.

It’s seeking the appointment of a special-purpose liquidator to target assets held by the Fairfax MP and his companies, in the hope it can recover money paid out under the scheme.

One former worker, who is owed more than $100,000 after a decade working at the Townsville refinery, says his former colleagues realise liquidation is the only viable option.

He says they’re happy too that the government is going after Mr Palmer.

“The workers want him to be held accountable,” the worker, who doesn’t want to be named, told AAP.

In a report last week, Queensland Nickel’s administrators FTI Consulting said there was evidence of gross, and possibly criminal, mismanagement by Mr Palmer and the company’s sole appointed director, his nephew Clive Mensink.

It said Mr Palmer appeared to have used the company as a piggy bank to fund his other business and political interests, and there was evidence the company had been trading while insolvent last year.

FTI also said there was evidence the MP and businessman had acted as a shadow director, something that if proven goes to the issue of his personal liability for any debts arising from insolvent trading.

Mr Palmer denies being a shadow director and says that at no time did he or any of his associated companies take money “beneficially owned by Queensland Nickel for any purpose”.

He has commissioned PriceWaterhouseCoopers to test FTI’s claims Queensland Nickel may have been trading while insolvent.

A capacity crowd is expected at Friday’s meeting at Townsville’s Ville Resort Casino, where the vote on liquidation is scheduled for 11am (AEST).

Target stores facing a smaller future

Struggling retailer Target will live on but its worst performing stores are set to be rebirthed – as Kmart stores.

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The company behind the discount chain, Wesfarmers, has rejected pressure to replace Target with its more successful department store business, Kmart.

Instead, it plans to have fewer but stronger Target stores and more Kmart outlets, Wesfarmers chief executive Richard Goyder says.

“We will continue to operate both businesses in the market,” he said.

“We have a strong pipeline of new stores going to open for Kmart in coming years and we are not planning on opening as many new Target stores.

“There will be some Target stores converted into Kmart, and probably some Kmarts converted into Target, but I would expect over the next five years that the representation will be greater Kmart stores than Target.”

Target currently has more than 300 stores in Australia, while Kmart has more than 200 stores in Australia and New Zealand.

Two loss-making Target stores have already been converted into Kmarts.

Wesfarmers created a single department stores division to oversee both Target and Kmart in February, headed by former Kmart boss Guy Russo, fuellimg speculation the two retailers would be merged.

Mr Goyder said there would always been an overlap in what Target and Kmart offered, and hinted at possible category changes for Target.

Sales figures for the three months to March show Kmart continued to outperform Target, with its like-for-like sales rising 15 per cent to $1.1 billion.

Target suffered a fall of 0.8 per cent in like-for-like sales to $678 million, with womenswear, underwear and homewares the worst performing items.

There’s no immediate signs of improvement, with Target expected to suffer from higher clearance activity in the final quarter of 2015/16 due to a backlog of summer stock, and the added risk of excess winter stock due to unseasonably warm weather.

The embattled retailer’s head office, tainted by an accounting scandal where supplier rebates were used to artificially boost its half year results, is also set to be relocated from Geelong to Melbourne, and Mr Goyder confirmed there will be a number of job losses.

More details on Target’s turnaround plan will be revealed by Wesfarmers in a strategy day on June 22.