I knew nothing of bribery until after ISL collapse: Blatter

BERNE, July 14 –

“I did not know until later, after the collapse of ISL in 2001, about the bribery,” the head of soccer’s world governing body told Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick in an interview to be published on Sunday.

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“It was FIFA who then filed a claim at that time and set the whole ISL case in motion,” he added, referring to May 29 2001 when, after ISL collapsed, FIFA filed a claim for ‘suspicion of fraud, embezzlement as well as misappropriation of funds’.

“When I now say that it is difficult to measure the past by today’s standards, this is a generic statement. To me bribery is unacceptable and I neither tolerate nor seek to justify bribery. But this is what I am accused of now.

“The Swiss Federal Court has this week proven wrong all those people, who for years have accused me of having taken bribes. Now it is on record what I have always said: I have never taken nor received any bribes,” said Blatter.

“Now the same people are trying to attack me from a different angle: ‘Okay, he has not taken any bribes but he must have known.’

“Once again, I only knew after the collapse of ISL years later. And this is because we instigated the whole matter. The people who attack me now know this is the case but still they persist. They want me out.”

A Swiss prosecutor said in a legal document released this week that Havelange and former FIFA executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira took multi-million bribes on World Cup deals in the 1990s from ISL.

ISL sold the commercial rights to broadcast World Cup tournaments on behalf of FIFA. It collapsed with debts of around $300 million in 2001.

Blatter, who has been with FIFA since 1975, and succeeded Havelange as president in 1998, said on Thursday he knew that payments were being made. He referred to them as “commission” and said they were not illegal at the time.

Asked in a question-and-answer session with FIFA’s own website (www.fifa.com) on Thursday if he had known of payments, Blatter replied: “Known what? That commission was paid? Back then, such payments could even be deducted from tax as a business expense.

“Today, that would be punishable under law. You can’t judge the past on the basis of today’s standards.”

Havelange is still FIFA’s honorary president while Teixeira quit his post earlier this year, shortly after resigning as president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). (Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Syrian conflict engulfs university campus

“There are many arrests and raids, especially against Sunni students excelling at their studies,” said an engineering student who gave her name only as “Amira”.

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“The atmosphere is tragic… it is not easy to study when people are being killed everywhere,” she said.

“Emotionally, it is a feeling of daily humiliation because of inspections by our peers of the ‘loyal sect’,” she said, referring to the minority Alawite community to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

The complex sectarian make-up of the campus reflects that of the central city itself.

Sunnis consider themselves the true natives of Homs and never took kindly to the mass influx of Alawites, who adhere to a branch of Shiite Islam, in the late 1960s when a military coup brought Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father and predecessor, to power.

Another student, Abu Baha, 23, said the sectarian faultlines began to surface soon after a revolt against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011, quickly morphing into a civil war in which according to the UN more than 60,000 people have died.

“With the beginning of the revolution, the university devolved into a fifth column of the security forces,” said Abu Baha.

The engineering student described plain-clothes security agents patrolling the campus while the army was deployed on rooftops to bombard neighbouring Baba Amr district in a fierce assault last year.

A disturbing phenomenon, he added, was the arming of pro-regime students.

“The student union became real shabiha (pro-regime militiamen), each one given a weapon and free reign to insult or arrest fellow students for uttering a single word about freedom,” he said.

Mainly divided along confessional lines, Homs has experienced the worst sectarian violence of the 22-month revolt.

Activists accuse the authorities of deliberately fomenting sectarian strife, pointing to a day in July 2011 when some 30 people from various confessions were killed in a bloodbath the regime blamed on the opposition.

All the students quoted in this article, interviewed online in coordination with an Al-Baath student in Beirut, said they had lost friendships during the conflict ravaging Homs, where opposition areas remain under army blockade.

Divisions became “more pronounced after repeated arbitrary arrests, usually because of reports by pro-regime students, most of them Alawite,” said engineering student Abu Mohammed.

“My relations with Alawite students were completely finished after I realised what they were doing.”

“On the days of massacres you find opposition students are upset while pro-regime students are ecstatic with victory,” Amira said grimly.

Professors too are embroiled in the conflict, whether in interrogating students or working to conceal their own personal views.

“Most are afraid to speak about the situation, but in my faculty there is an Alawite professor who spends 70 percent of his lectures provoking opposition students. No one dares challenge him because we would not graduate,” said Abu Baha.

One Al-Baath University professor, himself displaced from Homs, said he went into early retirement due to the prevailing stressful atmosphere and fear of being kidnapped or killed during his daily commute.

“Many students have dropped out. The only ones left are pro-government. The rest are called ‘those from traitorous areas’,” he said during an interview in Beirut, refusing to be named for fear of his safety.

Abu Mohammed naively thought the academic sphere was a safe zone to discuss the uprising when it first erupted.

“In December 2011 I was arrested on several charges, including collaborating with an armed group to kill the dean of the architecture faculty, because of a heated debate with a loyalist Alawite student.”

He was expelled from university and said he was imprisoned for one month without evidence. “Only then did I become truly conscious about the injustice in my country.”

But despite the difficulties, some students, among them Abu Qusay, remain hopeful about the future.

“Employment opportunities were always limited due to nepotism and most young Syrians had been planning to work abroad after graduation, but after the success of the revolution I expect job opportunities to be equal between all Syrians,” he said.

“I am optimistic about a bright future for me in my country.”

NRL season all but over, Cowboys concede

North Queensland co-captain Matt Scott concedes the Cowboys chances of making the NRL finals are almost dead, saying only something special in the final six weeks of the season will steal them a top eight spot.

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After a disappointing 18-16 loss to fellow Queensland strugglers Brisbane on Friday night, a result which appears to have ended Neil Henry’s chances of coaching at the club next season, Scott said the Cowboys would need to win out to give themselves a hope.

But rather than calling it a miracle, the Queensland and Test prop said he believed anything was possible if they could win their last six games.

The Cowboys host competition front-runners South Sydney next week before a tough run home which includes finals aspirations Penrith, Cronulla, Gold Coast and Newcastle.

“It’s not impossible,” Scott said.

“I think we’ve certainly made it tough on ourselves and I think we’re at times playing footy that will get us into the eight if we maintain it.

“At the moment it’s just stupid individual errors that’s really hurting us.

“Win the next six and it’s possible but we’ve got to play a lot better than we did tonight.”

Next week North Queensland chairman Laurence Lancini will reportedly tell Henry, who signed a contract extension earlier this year, that the club will be looking elsewhere for a head coach next season.

Henry said his side had been made to pay for defensive misreads and communication breakdowns, and some players deserved better from their teammates.

The Cowboys were exposed repeatedly down their right edge defence, with all three Broncos tries coming from combinations down that side.

“We’re putting a lot of effort in to the game and we dominate field position for large parts of it,” Henry said.

“The players deserve better decisions off each other.

“They’re the men out there doing the hard yards, they’re working their backsides off for each other and they’re committed but they deserve better for each other in crucial parts of the game.

“And they didn’t do that for each other (against Brisbane) and that’s the difference, simple as that.

“It’s not a lack of confidence, it’s not a lack of will out there, it’s a couple of crucial decisions.”

Henry said he could do little if the Cowboys board decide to terminate his contract.

“I hope not but we’ll see what happens,” he said.

“We’ve got six games to go and potentially six wins and then we’ll all be marching into the finals, hopefully.

“We’ve got a big game against Souths next week and we can’t repeat (Friday night) or the season is well and truly over.”

Government urged to fund Indigenous health

On National Close the Gap Day, Indigenous leaders have warned of dire consequences if funding to vital health programs does not continue.

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They say the progress that has been made will be threatened.

The $1.6 billion funding package for Closing the health gap expires in June.

It’s underpinned many programs which deal with the crisis affecting all levels of Indigenous health around the nation.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda says that funding must continue beyond June.

“What we’re looking for is a commitment by the governments, all levels of government, to keep the effort going” said Mr Gooda. “Particularly in this health space where we’re just starting to see some really good results come through.”

The leaders stress that while there is a long way to go to Close the Gap, real progress has been made so far.

For example, infant mortality rates in Indigenous communities have begun to fall. Also, initiatives to combat smoking and chronic diseases are starting to have an impact.

“The trend lines are heading in the right directions now,” said Mr Gooda.

“So it’s taken a big effort to turn those indicators around but we’re getting there. And again, it’s not time to reduce the effort. It’s time to ramp the effort up and keep this going.”

Mr Gooda’s sentiment was echoed by other leaders attending a National Close the Gap Day event in Sydney.

Justin Mohamed, Chairperson of the National Aboriginal Community and Child Health Organisation said “this funding is one part, an important part, that if it does not get continued we’ll see a lot of the hard work and the planning and the gains that we have made so far will be lost. And we can’t afford to do that because we’re talking about people’s lives.”

There are also signs that the gap is slowly closing in education. New figures show that for the first time 50 per cent of indgenous students finished school at the end of Year 12.

Killing video sparks hunt for porn star

Interpol posted the picture and profile of Luka Rocco Magnotta, 29, who is being hunted across Canada over the killing, first brought to light when a human foot was sent to the headquarters of Canada’s ruling Conservative Party.

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A hand was later found in the mail at an Ottawa post office, and a torso was discovered in Montreal. Police believe the remains belong to a man who was dating Magnotta — and that Magnotta is to blame.

Authorities say they believe the suspect, also known as Eric Clinton Newman and Vladimir Romanov, may have fled the country.

Interpol said it had issued a “Red Notice” wanted persons alert for Magnotta to its 190 member countries.

“There is no country in the world that is not talking about him,” Montreal police commander Ian Lafreniere told public broadcaster CBC Thursday, adding that police have evidence he fled North America.

“There’s a lot of heat on him. There’s a lot of pressure on him, so we believe that it’s going to be hard for him.”

The video circulating online shows a man repeatedly stab another man with an ice pick and dismember him, as a song from the soundtrack of the film “American Psycho” plays in the background.

“It’s a video of the murder,” police told the daily Globe and Mail. The newspaper also reported that the footage showed acts of cannibalism.

Despite efforts to take it down, frustrated police said Thursday the gory 10 and a half minute video first brought to the attention of Canadian authorities by a Montana lawyer has kept popping up all over the Internet.

US civil litigation lawyer Roger Renville told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) he came across the video last Saturday, and informed police in the United States and Canada.

“What I saw in that video exceeds your worst nightmare. It’s Jeffrey Dahmer-esque,” he said.

When Renville spoke to Canadian police on Sunday, he said they were “very skeptical.”

A police officer “suggested that whatever I was seeing must be fake. And he suggested that special effects are pretty good these days and it’d be hard to tell if it was real or not,” said Renville.

An investigation was launched Tuesday when a package sent from Montreal was partly opened by the receptionist at the Conservative Party office in Ottawa, who called police after seeing blood stains and being overwhelmed by the smell.

Hours later, a second suspicious package was intercepted by Canada Post at a nearby mail sorting facility. It “contained a human hand,” said police.

The probe soon shifted to Montreal, where a torso was discovered by a janitor in a suitcase in a pile of garbage. Police said the torso belonged to a white male but was difficult to identify because of the missing body parts.

The investigation quickly brought police to a studio apartment overlooking an expressway in the neighborhood where the torso was found.

After combing it for evidence, the doors and windows were left open to air out the “pungent” smell of death, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

A CBC reporter, who was let in by the building superintendent, said he saw blood stains on a bed mattress where police say the victim may have been killed, around a bathtub drain, and on other furniture.

Only two months ago, Magnotta wrote in his last known public comments on a blog: “It’s not cool to the world being a necrophiliac. It’s bloody lonely.”

Police have not said whether there was evidence of sexual assault on the victim.

Several websites describe Magnotta as a washed-up porn star and hustler, who allegedly posted videos online of himself torturing kittens.

Online reports also said Magnotta once dated Karla Homolka, who was convicted in 1991 of manslaughter following a plea bargain in the rape and murder of two teenage girls and her sister.

Homolka had claimed in testimony that helped send her husband Paul Bernardo to prison for life that she was abused and an unwilling accomplice to the grisly murders.

But videotapes of the crimes later surfaced showing that she was a more active participant than she had claimed. She was released from prison in 2005 and moved to Montreal.

In a 2007 interview with a Toronto newspaper, Magnotta denied knowing Homolka, who is reportedly now married with three children.

‘No three-way odd things going on’, polygamist says

“There are two separate relationships here: there’s no three-way odd things going on in bed.

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They are sisters after all, that that would be a bit too weird,” explains Marc Glasby, the Perth man who is in a polygamist relationship with twins, Dorothy Loader and Belle Glasby.

Insight: Polygamy

Marc is legally married to Belle and says he had been in a monogamous relationship with her for 27 years before Dorothy joined them.

Belle and Dorothy were separated at birth in Malaysia and adopted out to separate families.

They met for the first time in 2008 when Belle tracked her down.

Marc says he realised 15 days after Dorothy’s arrival that he was attracted to his wife’s twin sister, who was also married at the time.

“It just seemed obvious that if he saw another me, he would [also] fall in love with her,” Belle said.

“All I said to Marc was go tell her,” she said.

But the jealousies introducing a new member to the relationship soon came.

“I didn’t think I would go through that but I did. But Marc assured me that he loved me just as much and that there would be no discrepancies between us,” Belle said.

For Marc, having two partners seems perfectly natural.

“I’m a bit boring really. Our lives are just like everyone else’s: chores like shopping gardening,” Marc said.

“I spend one night with Dorothy and one night with Belle. That just seems to work,” he said.

Dorothy and Belle are both Christians who say that God would be pleased that the relationship makes them all so happy.

“We kiss each other good night and whoever Marc is with, he goes to that room” Dorothy said.

She is happy to tell people about their unique relationship, despite the fact that the law forbids another marrige between her and Marc.

“We tell them that we are both Marc’s wives,” Dorothy said.

Nauru detainee tells of hunger strike

Up to 15 asylum seekers at Nauru have been given medical aid as a hunger strike at the processing centre enters its fifth day.

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One detainee told SBS News around 300 men were refusing to eat.

A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration disputed this number, saying it was difficult to determine how many people were on hunger strike, but confirmed between 10 and 15 people had been given medical treatment on-site.

“We’ve confirmed there is a group of people who are missing meals, however we do refute the scale and the numbers claimed by refugee advocates.

“Given that there are large amounts of food being taken at meal times, including snacks, fruit, that sort of thing, that assumes there are a large number of people eating.”

The spokesperson said detainees had access to food and water “at all times”.

The Pakistani asylum seeker who spoke to SBS – and did not want to give his name – said the hunger strike, along with a peaceful protest held at the centre yesterday evening, was intended to send a message to Australia.

“We are just trying to get the word out, we are showing our feelings to the media and the people of Australia we are not happy here.”

The man also spoke of poor conditions at the camp, saying overcrowding and heat exposure were particularly problematic.

A Salvation Army representative recently visited the camp, and said via a statement: “Heat is a constant drain on both staff and transferees.”

“The Transferee Internet Room and Education Room are air conditioned, and fans are available elsewhere.

“Improvements to the facilities continue to be made, and the Salvation Army continues to develop a range of educational and recreational programs available to transferees.”

The Pakistani asylum seeker said the strike would continue at Nauru until the Department of Immigration provided more information about the status of their cases.

“We want our cases to be heard in Australia, that is what we want,” he said.

Obama asks court to overturn gay marriage ban

The Barack Obama administration has formally asked the US Supreme Court to strike down a 1996 law defining marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman.

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The request was contained in a legal brief filed to the US high court, whose nine justices plan next month to review whether or not to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bans marriage between homosexuals.

According to the filing, the law “violates the fundamental constitutional guarantee of equal protection” before the law stipulated by the US Constitution.

DOMA “denies to tens of thousands of same-sex couples who are legally married under state law an array of important federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex couples,” read the brief signed by US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.

The administration’s decision to challenge the Defense of Marriage Act is not surprising, since Obama has signaled on various occasions recently that he is that he is in favor of gay marriage.

During his second inaugural address last month, the president likened the struggle for gay rights and the Civil Rights movement of past decades.

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Obama said.

He also drew a parallel between several watershed struggles in US history — that of women at the landmark Seneca Falls convention in 1848, the 1960s civil rights battles and the Stonewall riots of June 1969, which are widely seen as having sparked the gay rights movement.

Another nod to the homosexual community during Obama’s second inauguration was the selection of gay poet Richard Blanco to read a poem composed for the occasion.

In 2011, Obama abolished the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy requiring military recruits to hide their homosexuality, or risk being expelled from the service.

Last year, he became the first sitting US president to speak in favor of gay marriage.

As a result of DOMA, gay marriage is banned at the federal level. However, after gay rights advocates won several local referendums, it is now legal in nine out of 50 US states and in Washington DC.

Burke unveils marine reserves

Environment Minister Tony Burke released the final plan for 44 marine parks, including the Coral Sea and the southwest coast of Western Australia, this morning.

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“It’s time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans,” Burke said. “And Australia today is leading that next step.

“This new network of marine reserves will help ensure that Australia’s diverse marine environment, and the life it supports, remain healthy, productive and resilient for future generations.”

The network will increase the number of marine reserves from 27 to 60, expanding protection of creatures such as the blue whale, green turtle, critically endangered populations of grey nurse sharks, and dugongs.

Mr Burke told ABC radio the government’s created a national park system for the ocean with the Coral Sea as the “jewel in the crown”.

Commercial fishers will be compensated for losing access to the reserves, but Sunfish Queensland chief executive Judy Lynne believes the ban on commercial use will result in more foreigners fishing illegally.

Fishing, oil and gas exploration have been limited with the federal government introducing a world-first network of marine reserves around Australia.

Environment Minister Tony Burke released the final plan for 44 marine parks including the Coral Sea and the southwest coast of Western Australia on Thursday.

The new reserves will cover 3.1 million square kilometres, or a third of Australian waters.

The reserves will limit fishing and some oil and gas exploration.

Mr Burke unveiled the marine reserve maps at Sydney Aquarium on Thursday morning.

“This new network of marine reserves will help ensure that Australia’s diverse marine environment and the life it supports, remain healthy, productive and resilient for future generations,” Mr Burke told The Australian Financial Review beforehand.

The marine reserve announcement comes on the eve of the United Nations Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Brazil and will give Prime Minister Julia Gillard a public relations boost.

Environment group Pew described the marine reserve plan as a “turning point” in marine protection.

Spokeswoman Michelle Grady said establishing large marine sanctuaries would lead to rapid growth in eco tourism and increased stocks of marine life.

“But critical areas remain vulnerable to the threat of oil spills, including the tourist mecca of Margaret River, the blue whale feeding grounds off South Australia’s Kangaroo Island and the extraordinary coral reefs at Rowley Shoals off the Kimberley coast,” she said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Don Henry said the plan would make Australia a “global leader” in ocean protection.

“Although the reserve network bans oil and gas exploration in the Coral Sea, the northwest region has been left vulnerable to these threats,” he said.

Commercial fishers are set to receive compensation from the federal government.

“We’ve got an adjustment policy where we will work case by case with the different companies involved,” Mr Burke told ABC Radio on Thursday.

Psychopaths can ‘switch on’ empathy

An ability to empathise at will may partly explain the evil cunning of psychopaths, a study suggests.

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Scientists had thought psychopaths, such as movie serial killer Hannibal Lecter, could not feel compassion because of their brain wiring.

But new research indicates that although naturally unaffected by other people’s feelings, they can turn on the empathy when required.

“Psychopathy may not be so much the incapacity to empathise, but a reduced propensity to empathise paired with a preserved capacity to empathise when required to do so,” study leader Dr Valeria Gazzola, from Groningen University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, said.

The ability to “switch on” empathy may contribute to the famous social cunning of psychopaths, the scientists said.

On a more positive note, the fact that psychopaths had empathy potential raised the possibility of harnessing it as a form of treatment.

The research, reported in the journal Brain, involved 18 convicted criminal psychopaths and a group of ordinary individuals who watched movie clips of one hand touching another in loving, painful, socially rejecting or neutral ways.

At certain points the volunteers were asked to “empathise with one of the actors in the movie”.

Their responses, shown on brain scans, were compared with those seen when they engaged in similar hand interactions themselves.

The tests showed that when watching the film clips, psychopaths generally displayed a reduced level of brain responses linked to empathy.

But when explicitly asked to empathise, they were able to activate the circuits.

The study focused on the brain’s “mirror system” which helps us feel other people’s pain, almost literally.

The same brain regions that contribute to our own pain and distress are activated when we see another person suffering the same way.

In psychopaths, the mirror system does not seem to be a “default” mechanism but can be deliberately brought into play.

BSkyB extends TV deal with English soccer’s lower level

Sky Bet, the online betting arm of BSkyB, will also become the title sponsor of the Football League under the new agreement which runs until 2018.

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The Football League, made up of the 72 professional clubs below the elite Premier League, was only a year into its current three-year TV deal with BSkyB.

The new TV agreement will be worth between 85-90 million pounds per season when it starts in 2015, according to a source close to the talks, up from 65 million pounds under the current deal.

BSkyB will show 148 live matches, an increase from the 111 it shows at present.

The sums involved pale in comparison with the one billion pounds a year that BSkyB and BT are paying for domestic TV rights to the 20-team Premier League.

“It’s the biggest deal the League has ever done,” said Chief Commercial Officer Richard Heaselgrave.

Heaselgrave had told Reuters earlier this year that the League planned to make an early start on contract renewal talks to capitalise on the growing sporting rivalry between BSkyB and BT.

Telecoms provider BT is launching new sports channels in August, having bought a share of the Premier League rights as a second broadcaster alongside BSkyB.

BT wants to use sports rights to maintain its leadership of the market for broadband services, with many consumers now looking to buy bundles of pay TV, telephony and broadband.

BT underlined its challenge to BSkyB on Wednesday when it did a four-year deal to screen the FA Cup, the leading domestic knock-out competition in English football.

The Football League, which has former champions Nottingham Forest and Leeds United in its top tier, had been looking for a sponsor after German owned energy company Npower dropped out at the end of last season.

(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

Q&A: Julia Gillard’s national security strategy

The Prime Minister today outlined a national security strategy that aims to build closer links with Asia and toughen Australia’s cyber security defences.

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At the same time Ms Gillard warned that the budget for domestic security will only get tighter.

SBS reporter Rhiannon Elston asks Peter Jennings, Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, what the new strategy will mean for Australians.

This speech is really the first time we’ve heard Julia Gillard make a definitive address on the issue of national security – is this report overdue?

It’s been in the offing for several years to be honest; Prime Minister Rudd in late 2008 tabled a national security statement in parliament and said that this was going to become a regular thing. Since then there’s been nothing until the Prime Minister’s speech today and the release of her national security strategy, so it has been a long time in the making.

There was much mention of building stronger links with Asia, of maintaining strong links with the US and at the same time of the need to get ‘value for money’ from the national security budget. How difficult is it going to be for the federal government to balance these outcomes?

The budget issue I think is the most critical thing here because it’s clear from the Prime Minister’s statement that there’s going to be, as she describes it, a period of austerity in coming years for spending in the national security area, and frankly I think this is a problem. We’re sort of hearing in some ways mixed messages here. One the one hand, a message that the strategic environment is becoming more complex and more difficult, and on the other a message that there is no more money.

And, in fact, that there’s less money into the national security parts of government and this is a problem. I think the fact that the national security statement doesn’t really deal in precise terms with funding issues is a disappointment. And in a sense what that points to is the enormous difficulty that the government has in making decisions about what the right spending priorities should be.

The PM identified effective partnerships, cyber security and regional engagement as the biggest priorities for national security today. Are these the right priorities for Australia, in your view?

They’re all pretty obvious things. When she talks about effective partnerships I think she’s talking about a more effective integration of different parts of the public service and the national security community working together and these reflect in some way I think quite obvious priorities, but no less important for that.

Julia Gillard has certainly set her sights on cyber security in recent weeks and it was a big topic in today’s national security announcement. How serious is the threat of cyber-attacks for Australians?

It’s a real threat. I think it needs to be taken very seriously and what you see here is that clearly the government has seen a change between the Rudd statement of a few years ago and now. So I think that it’s appropriate more emphasis is given to cyber security. Of course with these things, the devil is in the detail. It’s not completely clear what this new cyber centre is going to do, whether it’s actually going to be involved in the nitty-gritty of cyber security — which is actually performed by a number of Australian agencies already — or if it has some sort of higher policy function than that. But on the face of it, it seems like a sensible initiative.

Have there been specific incidents that may have prompted more action in cyber security?

There’ve been a number, it is publically known for example the parliamentary computer network early last year had been infiltrated, and in the private sector I think there are many, many attacks against Australian companies, Australian banks, the resources sector; and government departments (who) regularly find their cyber security tested by maligned cyber activists seeking to infiltrate government systems. So yes, it’s a constant risk and it’s something that I think is only going to become more of a problem in coming years.

If we look at international comparisons, are there any cyber safety initiatives around the world that Julia Gillard might be looking to emulate?

Well I think within Australia’s closest defence partners the US, the UK and Canada to a slightly lesser extent, these are the countries which probably reflect best-practice in terms of cyber defence systems. In many ways both those countries have been investing more deeply in cyber – as we have — over the last few years. So this is a trend. I think increasingly now Asia Pacific countries are looking to do the same thing. If last decade was the national security decade, as Julia Gillard described it, maybe this decade will become known as the cyber security decade.

The federal opposition also made note of government cuts in this area.

Well I know the opposition has been making those comments, but they too are declining to make any commitment to increasing expenditure in the national security space. I would say both to the government and to the opposition that strategy without dollars attached to it is really wishful thinking. I think we have a right to expect better from both. The government and the opposition need to think harder about just what the right priorities should be for the national security budget in the coming years.

You mentioned earlier Kevin Rudd’s statement on this topic back in 2008. One issue the then PM targeted was climate change – something we also saw US President Barack Obama mention in detail in his inauguration speech yesterday. Do you think it’s significant that Julia Gillard has not referred to it here?

There may be other political reasons which is driving the Prime Minister’s approach on that. What I can say is one doesn’t need to describe the causes of climate change to realise the impact of climate change is one which does require a national security response. Be that domestically through bushfires and floods and through the region, it does look as though we have to deal with the consequence of an increasing number of extreme climate events and that’s going to be a cost to not only defence, but to state police and emergency management services. And if one sees that as part of the national security approach, then clearly this is something that has to be factored into funding and planning for the future.

Opposition defence science spokesman Stuart Robert also made a point of noting asylum seekers were not mentioned today. To what extent do asylum seeker issues constitute a national security threat?

Well I think partly the politics of asylum seeker issue has turned it into a national security threat, because the challenges and the costs of maintaining that naval and customs capability to track vessels is obviously highly expensive. It may well be that there are other more cost-effective ways with which we can deal with that particular issue. But certainly at the moment I think it’s fair to say that it has been cast as a national security problem.

What was missing from Julia Gillard’s national security strategy presented today?

Money. It’s big talk, but where are the dollars to make it happen? What’s clear is that the government is actually giving a lower priority to national security and you can tell that by tracking what’s happened to the budget in that area over the last few years. So it’s a bit of a tricky sell for the PM to, on one hand, state how just critical this is but at the same time deal with the fact that spending in this area has been reduced significantly in recent years.

Australian navy search for missing asylum boat

Australian authorities were Saturday scrambling to locate an asylum-seeker boat feared to have sunk off the remote Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island, officials said.

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The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the search, said a navy vessel and two merchant ships along with three aircraft were searching the area about 65 nautical miles northwest of Christmas Island following a tip-off from customs and border protection officials on Friday morning.

“They advised us that there was a potential vessel there,” an AMSA spokesman said. “It is believed to be an asylum-seeker vessel.

“We had a warship out yesterday, didn’t find it. And today there are three aircraft conducting searches and also three vessels… (which) happened to be passing by,” the spokesman told AFP.

“We don’t have any information to suggest it’s sinking now… but there is a belief that it may have.”

AMSA said the search may last until Sunday in the area off Christmas Island, a remote territory closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland and home to the country’s main processing centre for boatpeople.

“When we are in situations like this we do seek medical advice about the survivability of people in the water. At the moment, there’s a significant search underway, they will review that at the end of the day,” the spokesman added.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare confirmed through a spokesman that the search for a “possible foundered vessel” was underway.

No details were available on the number of people onboard the boat, but vessels carrying asylum-seekers are regularly overcrowded with scores of people.

Australia is facing a steady influx of asylum-seekers arriving by boat, many paying people-smugglers for passage from Indonesia on leaky wooden vessels after fleeing their home countries.

Hundreds have drowned at sea over the past few years while trying to reach Australia, with about 90 thought to have died when a boat carrying about 200 people capsized in June 2012. About 50 were killed in a horrific shipwreck on the cliffs of Christmas Island in December 2010, including 15 children.

Late last month, Australian authorities found an unexplained batch of life jackets washed up on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands off Western Australia state, a discovery that prompted fears that another asylum-seeker boat had struck trouble while making the journey. No evidence of a vessel was found.

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said he had no details on the latest missing boat, but that vessels were arriving regularly, with more than 10,000 people landing by boat with the aim of seeking asylum in Australia since the beginning of this year.