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Senate launches asylum seeker inquiries

CANBERRA, March 5 AAP – The Australian Greens and Labor have launched two Senate inquiries into asylum seeker policy, one into violence on Manus Island and the other into navy incursions into Indonesian waters.

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Both were passed over government objections.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the Manus inquiry would be the only genuinely independent investigation into the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati, killed in on Manus Island.

“Through this inquiry the workers who were there that night and the refugees who were attacked will have the opportunity to tell their stories, free form the government’s gag order,” she said in a statement.

Assistant immigration minister Michaelia Cash said there were already inquiries into events on Manus Island and the government didn’t believe another was necessary.

“We are confident that the existing inquiries in partnership in with the government of Papua New Guinea will get to the bottom of these matters,” she told the Senate.

But it will go ahead, conducted by the Senate legal and constitutional affairs references committee which will report back by June 26.

The second inquiry will be conducted by the Senate foreign affairs defence and trade which must report by March 27.

It will examine the circumstances behind the six breaches of Indonesian territorial waters by navy and customs vessels engaged in Operation Sovereign Borders between December 1 and January 20.

Senator Cash said defence and customs had already completed a review which found the breaches were inadvertent, not authorised and the government had apologised to the Indonesian government.

“The motion is once again nothing more and nothing less than a greens political stunt,” she said.

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California gold find spurs theory rush

Word that a Californian couple found $US10 million ($A11.

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21 million) in gold coins while walking their dog has set off a rush of theories over who left them behind.

One is that Jesse James’ gang deposited it in hopes of someday financing a second Civil War. Another postulates that the gold originally belonged to gentleman robber Black Bart, who wrote poetry when he wasn’t sticking up stagecoaches.

But the theory gaining the most traction is that the hoard is made up of most of the $US30,000 in gold coins Walter Dimmick stole from the US Mint in San Francisco in 1901. They were never recovered.

That theory, from fishing guide and amateur coin historian Jack Trout, set off a flurry of calls to the US Mint after it was reported by the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday.

The Northern California couple’s coins are being called the Saddle Ridge hoard after the area of their land where they were discovered.

“We do not have any information linking the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins to any thefts at any United States Mint facility,” mint officials said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Although Trout acknowledges he can’t prove his theory, he still thinks he’s right.

“There is no real direct proof, but I am getting more research in on this,” he told The Associated Press by phone from Chile, where he lives part of the year.

Dimmick is said to have spirited six sealed bags – each filled with 250 $US20 gold pieces – out of the mint, where he was the chief cashier.

The Saddle Ridge Hoard contains 1400 $20 gold pieces, 50 $10 gold pieces and four $5 gold pieces, with a range of dates beginning in 1847 and extending to 1894.

Don Kagin is a rare coin dealer who represents the couple who stumbled upon the coins, which have a face value of about $28,000. He said the San Francisco Mint heist was one of the first possibilities he and his staff checked out.

Even if the mint had coins on hand covering a span of 47 years, which is unlikely, those in the hoard include some so badly worn they wouldn’t have been there, said David McCarthy, Kagin’s chief numismatist.

Another coin, dated 1876, was in such pristine condition it wouldn’t have been there either.

“It doesn’t have a single marking on it,” McCarthy said.

“That coin couldn’t have sat in a bag in the San Francisco Mint and looked like that. It would have had what we call ‘bag marks’ all over it.”

As for some of the other theories:

– The Jesse James one fails to account for the fact the Missouri outlaw died 12 years before the last coin was struck and was born the year the first one was.

– Black Bart robbed stages only between 1877 and 1883, when he was caught and sent to prison.

The finders, who have chosen to remain anonymous, have their own theory.

They’ve done some research, Kagin said, and believe their property in California’s Gold Rush country was occupied at the time by someone in the mining industry. That person must have squirreled away the coins over time.

Why the owner never came back for the coins, well, that’s another mystery.

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Qantas wields the axe as union anger grows

Qantas has started carving up its workforce, with unions fuming over a lack of information about the struggling airline’s bid to shelve 5000 jobs.

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The flying kangaroo began its purge on Wednesday with a number of senior managers the first to be shown the door.

It is understood some workers will finish up at the company before the end of the month.

Union leaders met with Qantas bosses on Wednesday in Sydney but ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said the airline’s chief executive Alan Joyce refused to provide any clarity on where the job cuts would come from.

The ACTU asked whether any jobs could be saved if employees could drive more revenue into the business or agree to a wage freeze or cut.

“And the answer we got back was `no’,” Mr Oliver said.

Mr Oliver was also disappointed when he sought a commitment from Qantas about separating the domestic and international arms.

“We have had no commitment that they would not do that,” he said.

“What they said was basically everything is still on the table. And that is a concern for us as well.”

Qantas last month announced a $252 million half-year loss and detailed its $2 billion cost-cutting exercise.

Qantas chief financial officer Gareth Evans said the meeting addressed the wage freeze, and Qantas explained it was not appropriate to give pay rises in the face of significant losses.

“The wage freeze will help return the company to profitability,” he said.

The federal government wants to repeal the section of the Qantas Sale Act that governs foreign ownership, enabling majority international ownership of the airline’s domestic arm.

Labor and The Greens oppose the move and say it will lead to Qantas jobs being moved offshore.

Meanwhile, Mr Joyce says he hasn’t changed his position on the impact of the carbon tax despite the airline’s apparently differing statements about the levy’s effect on its financial woes.

On Monday, Qantas denied the government’s claim that the carbon tax had contributed to the airline’s difficulties.

But on Wednesday, the company said: “We have said that the price on carbon is a cost to our business that we have not been able to recover” and Mr Joyce told a lunch forum in Sydney that the carbon tax “has been a big cost for us, it’s $106 million last year”.

“It is absolutely one of the factors that’s impacted the airline, along with the fuel price,” Mr Joyce said at an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch.

Mr Joyce said he had always been clear about the effects of the tax.

“There was some commentary, maybe misunderstanding, out there about what our position was on this,” he said.

He also told the lunch he will maintain his strategy of holding 65 per cent of Australia’s domestic air travel market despite criticism the capacity war is damaging the airline.

Mr Joyce blamed rival Virgin Australia for the glut of cheap seats in Australia, saying that in absolute seat terms Virgin had added more.

“And they are losing money. Proportionally they are losing more money than Qantas,” he said.

Mr Joyce said he was not surprised by the federal government’s decision to refuse a debt guarantee for Qantas in favour of changing elements of the Qantas Sale Act.

Treasurer Joe Hockey on Wednesday ruled out any chance of reconsidering Qantas’s request for either a debt guarantee or $3 billion unsecured loan, saying neither option was on the table.

“If you give someone an unsecured loan, you work on the basis that you won’t see it again,” he said

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Pistorius forced to look at ‘exploded’ head of girlfriend

In a dramatic opening to his cross-examination of Pistorius,

prosecutor Gerrie Nel made him say that he had killed Steenkamp

then later confronted him with the photograph showing the side and back of her skull matted with blood and brains.

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“Take responsibility for what you have done,” Nel said, drawing gasps from the public gallery and causing Pistorius to bury his head in his hands in the witness stand, rock from side to side and weep.

The double amputee sprinter, once revered across the world for his triumph over adversity, faces life in prison if convicted in the Pretoria High Court of the murder of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate and model.

His defence hinges on his contention that he thought he was firing at an intruder when he shot Steenkamp through a toilet door in his luxury Pretoria home on February 14 – Valentine’s Day – 2013.

Nel, renowned as one of South Africa’s toughest state attorneys, sought to show the 27-year-old was a hot-headed character who loved to play with guns.

He asked Pistorius, well-known as a weapons enthusiast, if he knew what a “zombie stopper” was, to which the defendant answered no.

After a brief adjournment, the court then viewed video footage broadcast before the trial by Britain’s Sky News of Pistorius firing a .50 calibre handgun at a watermelon at a shooting range.

As the melon disintegrates, Pistorius says off-camera: “It’s a lot softer than brains. But (bleep) it’s like a zombie stopper.”

Nel then pushed the track star, saying he had shot the melon because he wanted to see what a bullet hitting a person’s head looked like.

“You know that the same happened to Reeva’s head. It exploded. I’m going to show you,” he said, before projecting the forensic photograph of Steenkamp’s head on the court monitors.

Steenkamp was hit by three of four hollow-point rounds fired by Pistorius through the toilet door. One hit her behind the right ear, killing her almost instantly, pathologists had earlier told the court.

Pistorius acknowledged responsibility but said between sobs: “I will not look”.

Television stations carrying the feed from the court apologised to viewers as the graphic image was broadcast live.

“MODEL SPORTSMAN”

With no direct witnesses, Nel’s main task is to pick holes in Pistorius’ testimony and cast doubt on his statements about a perceived burglar.

He opened his questioning by asking Pistorius about his reputation as a global athletics star and strong Christian beliefs before hitting him with the reality of what took place.

“You are a model for sportsmen, disabled and abled bodied sportsmen, all over the world?” Nel asked.

“I think I was, My Lady. I made a mistake,” replied Pistorius, answering to Judge Thokozile Masipa.

“You killed a person, that’s what you did,” came the reply.

“I made a mistake. My mistake was that I took Reeva’s life,” said Pistorius

“You killed her. You shot and killed her. Won’t you take responsibility for that?” Nel said.

Earlier, Pistorius described his frantic attempts to revive Steenkamp after he found her lying on the toilet floor and how she had died in his arms, her blood pouring over his body.

“I checked to see if she was breathing and she wasn’t,” he said. “I could feel the blood was running down on me.”

After several attempts, he managed to carry Steenkamp down stairs where neighbours tried to administer first aid before paramedics arrived.

But Pistorius said he knew that Steenkamp – with whom he said he was planning to buy a house – was already dead.

“Reeva, Reeva had already died whilst I was holding her, before the ambulance arrived, so I knew there was nothing they could do for her.”

(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa and Angus MacSwan)

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Mundine loses to Clottey

Anthony Mundine’s world title hopes took a potentially fatal hit and raised questions over his boxing future after he was knocked down five times in a 12 round points loss to Joshua Clottey on Wednesday.

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Mundine, the No.3 ranked fighter in the WBA’s International super welterweight division, was felled twice in the sixth and once in the third, eighth and tenth rounds at Newcastle Entertainment Centre.

The three Australian judges scored the Ghanaian the winner by margins of six, eight and nine points.

The Australian showed enormous heart to make it through to the end of probably the most punishing fight of his career.

“I got caught early and I couldn’t recover,” Mundine said.

“Full credit to Joshua, he put me on my back a few times, but I finished the fight.

“I’m not going to think about it (fighting on). Right now I’m going to take some time off.”

Former IBF welterweight champion Clottey dictated the inside exchanges, frequently forcing Mundine back and punishing him on the ropes.

Mundine did his best work when fighting in centre ring and putting some space between Clottey and himself

However the Australian didn’t use his jab as much as expected.

Both men complained to referee Anthony Shipley about the other’s tactics in the first round.

Clottey fell to the canvas near the end of round two after being hit on the back of the head, which caused Shipley to caution the Australian.

He put Mundine down late in the third with a straight right to the top of the head.

Mundine lost his right boot in the fourth when Clottey again scored well at close quarters.

Clottey put his stamp on the fight in the sixth, felling Mundine twice, tagging the Australian with a number of shots.

Mundine fought back gamely in the seventh, enjoying one of his better rounds.

Clottey continued to land blows are the fight dragged on, earning further knockdowns in the eighth and tenth rounds to remove any doubt about the outcome once the bout went the distance.

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Crystals and classics at Fashion Week

Victoria’s Secret Angel Shanina Shaik has shone in more ways than one during Australian Fashion Week.

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Modelling exclusively for Swarovski on Wednesday, the Melbourne-born beauty drew enthusiastic applause from the crowd as opened the show for the luxe jewellery brand.

Wearing an extravagant necklace made of crystal and metal rings over a flannel shirt, which was teamed with baggy trousers, she led the team of models down the runway.

“My first outfit is very structured but the clothes work with the jewellery,” Shaik told AAP backstage before the show held at Carriageworks in Sydney.

It is the first time Swarovski has showcased their work at Australian Fashion Week and their Facets of Light collection on Wednesday night had no shortage of the brand’s typical glamour.

Swarovski’s sparkling crystals adorned dresses and tops in gold, black and deep purples, and were used in accessories such as bracelets, watches and a stunning headpiece that wrapped around one ear.

“It’s all about light,” creative director Nathalie Colin said. “Light gives life to crystals in a way.”

Colin said Aussie supermodel Miranda Kerr, who became the new face of Swarovski in 2013, was partly the reason to why the brand decided to hold their first Australian Fashion Week show this year.

“Miranda is an Australian so we wanted to pay a special homage to her home country and celebrate Fashion Week,” Colin said.

“To me, and to the brand and the Swarovski family, she really is a multifaceted woman – being a super mother and being a business woman. She has so many facets.”

Kerr, who was unable to attend the event, made an appearance in a pre-recorded welcome video played at the beginning of the show.

In stark contrast, earlier on Wednesday, the 1980s made a comeback at the Emma Mulholland show.

Models danced along to Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, wearing glittery pastels and wild prints in a collection that was an eclectic mix of swimwear, dresses, jackets and jumpers.

The Newcastle-based designer collaborated with Pared Eyewear and Celeste Tesoriero to design the accessories for her line.

“It was all super casual, just two buddies wanting to make cool things together,” Tesoriero said.

“The jewellery was designed to work with the theme already established for Emma’s Spring range. It is created specifically to complement the apparel collection.”

Jayson Brunsdon brought his warm and open energy to the unveiling of his Rio collection, attended by Ita Buttrose.

“I love Rio, the beach, the energy, the lifestyle is what I really wanted to embody,” he said.

“We go every summer and the vibrant culture is infectious. With the focus on the World Cup and the Olympics, all eyes are on Rio de Janeiro.”

The designer had more classic cuts in his new range, but brought spice and diversity with ruffled skirts, metallic brocade, sequins and tropical fruit prints.

“It is a very leggy collection, and I highlight the new (trending) erogenous zones – the lower hips, the back. The summer collection celebrates a sexy femininity spiced with a rich Brazilian flavour.”

On the runway at the former Fratelli Fresh warehouse in Sydney’s newly trendy Waterloo, Dion Lee impressed fashionistas with a superb collection based around 24-hour outfits.

“It’s mixing daytime and evening wear elements with tailoring and street wear,” Lee said.

Simply called line two, the designer’s spring/summer 2014 collection featured classic textiles – wool, leather and silk – all of those wardrobe staple fabrics.

There were hip bikie leather jackets, menswear-inspired oversized white shirts with buttons at the back, low-hanging harem pants worn with cropped skivvy jumpers, a women’s version of a men’s suit jacket, and tight fitting dresses with cut-outs.

Lee has become the wunderkind of Australian fashion design, having exploded onto the scene after his debut solo show at Australian Fashion Week in 2009.

His designs have already been seen on Hollywood clotheshorses Kate Bosworth and Charlize Theron.

Alice McCall will kick off the events on Thursday, the last day of Australian Fashion Week. Other highlights include Hayley Elsaesser, Macgraw, Zhivago and Song for the Mute.

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UK woman jailed for leaving dog to die

A trainee solicitor in England who locked her pet dog in a kitchen and left it to die has been jailed for 18 weeks.

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Katy Gammon, 27, moved out of her home in Bristol, leaving five-year-old boxer Roxy trapped inside without food or water.

The dog’s remains were not discovered until 10 weeks later, when neighbours reported a large amount of flies around the property.

A post-mortem examination found Roxy suffered a “prolonged and painful” death over a six-day period.

Bristol Magistrates Court heard RSPCA inspectors were forced to remove Roxy’s decaying remains from the kitchen floor with a snow shovel.

Roxy had shredded part of the door in an attempt to escape and emptied mops and buckets from cupboards to find water.

Shockingly, Gammon had piled tins of dog food and dog treats outside the kitchen – just feet away from where Roxy was locked inside.

Gammon later admitted causing unnecessary suffering to the dog and failing to prevent causing unnecessary suffering to an animal.

The solicitor, dressed in a black suit, remained emotionless in the dock as she was told her actions were “deliberate”.

Rod Mayall, chair of the bench, told Gammon: “This was prolonged neglect of a dog where she was locked in a house and left to die of starvation and dehydration.

“You have shown limited remorse. Although you were somewhat depressed, you failed to take up at least two offers of alternative housing for the dog. You failed to act as any normal person would.”

Farah Rasid, representing Gammon, said her client had been “hounded” by animal campaigners following Roxy’s death.

Ms Rasid said: “She is a young lady who has lost a career she was waiting to start.

“She is her own critic of herself.”

Gammon remained emotionless as she was led to the cells.

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Ba’s turn to shine as never-say-die Chelsea prevail again

Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba had only scored 23 goals between them in 48 matches in all competitions this season before Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final second leg ended with Ba’s late strike putting Chelsea in the semi-finals for the seventh time in 11 seasons.

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“I wasn’t out for revenge,” said Ba, referring to Mourinho’s comments of last week when he said he had “no real strikers.”

He continued: “Maybe he (Mourinho) doesn’t have the strikers he likes but I know that we have three great strikers and I think a lot of clubs would like to have them.

“I’m happy to have liberated us. I haven’t been given much of chance this season, but I’ve taken this one.”

Ba, the only Parisien on the pitch and a boyhood PSG fan, added: “It’s the first time I’ve ever wanted PSG to lose, and it’s me who scores the goal, luckily for Chelsea.”

His effort, bundled home three minutes from time after PSG defender Maxwell deflected Cesar Azpilicueta’s shot into his path, tied the scores at 3-3 on aggregate, giving Chelsea a memorable comeback victory on the away goals rule.

Ba, who has started just three matches for Chelsea this season and only scored five goals in his 23 appearances in all, earned a lasting place in Chelsea folklore for the goal that epitomised everything about the side’s never-say-die spirit.

Two years ago, they became champions of Europe after Didier Drogba saved them from defeat in the final against Bayern Munich with an 88th minute headed equaliser before scoring the decisive goal in a penalty shootout.

Last season, they won the Europa League final when Branislav Ivanovic headed in a stoppage time winner to give them a 2-1 victory over Benfica in Amsterdam.

And the longer the edgy, tense match lasted on Tuesday, there was an air of inevitability that another Chelsea goal was on its way.

Ba, as he has done so often this season, started the match on the bench but replaced midfielder Frank Lampard in the 66th minute to join Eto’o in a two-pronged attack.

LAST ROLL

Mourinho then threw his last roll of the dice by introducing his under-performing 50 million pound ($83.75 million) man Torres with nine minutes to play and with the PSG defence creaking under pressure… eventually crumbling.

Mourinho, who has now won all nine quarter-finals he has contested in European competition raced down the touchline to urge his players to cut short their celebrations as they needed to concentrate for the final few minutes.

“It was not to celebrate,” he said of a dash that evoked memories of his famous sprint at Old Trafford in 2004 when Porto scored a late equaliser to knock out Manchester United on aggregate.

“It was to tell the players how to play in the last few minutes. I did not want them to think the game was over.”

Andre Schuerrle, who replaced the injured Eden Hazard early in the match, put Chelsea ahead when he was left unmarked in the centre of the penalty area after 32 minutes and swept the ball home to give Chelsea renewed hope.

PSG dominated the opening spell but with the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic missing, they lacked a cutting edge up front and when they finally did create an opening, Edinson Cavani missed two chances, lashing one fierce drive over the bar when he should have scored.

But it was not only in attack that Chelsea’s battling qualities earned them their victory, their defence kept a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge for the ninth successive match in all competitions.

Last week, goalkeeper Petr Cech was at fault for allowing Javier Pastore to squeeze a late shot past him on his near post that gave PSG their 3-1 first leg lead.

On Tuesday, Cech made amends for that mistake with a save seconds from the end at his near post from PSG substitute Marquinhos.

“We don’t mind who we face in the semi-finals” said Mourinho afterwards. The one thing that the other semi-finalists have in common is that they all probably want to avoid Chelsea in Friday’s draw.

(This story has been refiled to fix typo in Andre Schuerrle in paragraph 17)

(Editing by John O’Brien)

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Cipriani gets Healey backing for NZ

Austin Healey has called on England to end the Test exile of Danny Cipriani after the fly-half was named the Premiership’s player of the month for March.

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Cipriani’s form has helped guide unheralded Sale to the brink of the play-off and led to calls he be included for England’s tour of New Zealand in June.

The 26-year-old was once the rising star of English rugby but won the last of his seven caps back in 2008, a combination of injuries and concerns about his ‘celebrity’ lifestyle off the pitch seeing him sidelined.

But a year out from the 2015 World Cup in England, former Red Rose back Healey said on Wednesday that now was the time for the national team management to bring Cipriani back in from the cold.

“The fortunes and abilities of Danny and Sale seem to have run in tandem over the past 18 months and the comparisons are no coincidence,” said Healey, who won 51 caps between 1997-2003.

“He has successfully transformed his game from a reckless talent to an influential and controlling number 10 and now warrant serious consideration for further honours.

“Danny has always had a maverick inside waiting to break out at any stage, which he still has.

“A maverick playing within a structured game plan is very dangerous,” said Healey, who often performed that role for both Leicester and England.

Owen Farrell is England’s first choice fly-half with George Ford providing bench cover during the recent Six Nations Championship, where Stuart Lancaster’s men finished runners-up to champions Ireland.

England will be missing their Premiership finalists for the first Test against the world champion All Blacks on June 7 and also play a midweek game against the Crusaders – a schedule that could create an opening for Cipriani.

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Ground crew work nights to keep planes up

As the brilliant orange glow of another Australian sunset fades and the raucous engines of the search planes stop whirring, the men and women who keep this high-profile operation in the air switch on the floodlights and get busy.

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The ground crews at this air force base near Perth typically work on the tarmac through the night so the planes are ready to fly again by daylight, as the international effort to find some trace of missing Flight 370 continues.

While the pilots at Royal Australian Air Force Base Pearce have been getting plenty of attention – including Australian Flight Lieutenant Russell Adams who quickly became a heartthrob for some in the mould of the movie Top Gun – the ground staff here play an equally vital role.

“We might not get all the limelight,” said Leading Aircraftman Andrew Smith, an aircraft technician who works on the four Australian P-3 Orion planes involved in the search, “but definitely the right people in the right places know and appreciate the work that we do.”

After every flight, the planes need to be refuelled and run through a full inspection. Oils and fluids are topped up, and dangerous equipment aboard, such as smoke locator beacons, are carefully removed and stored in a secure spot. Repairs can range from plugging a minor leak to replacing a propeller assembly.

Something as simple as a clogged air pressure gauge could have a catastrophic effect on a flight, but Smith said they take such responsibility in stride.

“We are trained and briefed all the time not to feel pressure, and to do whatever changes we can in our own time,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of people who will inspect our work after us. And inspect it again.”

Most of the work holds no glamour. Getting rid of the salt spray that can rust a plane, for instance, is similar to washing a car. It requires soap, water and brushes. The only difference is that a crew of 20 needs five solid hours to fully clean a plane, a process they undertake every six weeks.

In all, about 50 ground staff work on the Australian Orions. Crews from other countries involved in the search work on their own planes, which continue to scour the Indian Ocean for signs of debris from the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing one month ago.

The Australian crew, normally based in the city of Adelaide, don’t have suitable hangars at Pearce. That means all their maintenance is done on the tarmac and in any type of weather. Two-thirds work nights, typically 7pm until 7am, while the lucky ones get to work day shifts.

“One of the big challenges of the deployment so far has been the short notice,” said Squadron Leader Nathan Poyner, the senior engineering officer with the Australians.

“The effect on the guys of saying, ‘OK, we are all going to Perth. Pack your bags, we are leaving tomorrow.’ They have no idea how long they are going to be here.”

Poyner said the crews brought with them enough spare parts to fill three military transport planes. He said the search has offered an unusual opportunity to collaborate with other nations.

“Occasionally they’ve had a request for spare parts, and we’ve been able to help them out, loan them stuff,” he said.

Leading Aircraftman Jason Savage, an avionics technician, said the age of the planes, which date from the late 1960s, but which have been upgraded over the years, means they need to keep a close eye on them.

“Imagine a car that’s 50 years old,” he said. “Absolutely anything can break down.”

Smith said his friends have been asking him for inside details on the search, but he doesn’t have much to tell them, even if he were permitted. They’ve also been wishing him luck, he said, because they want the family and friends of those aboard to get answers and find some closure.

“We may not be famous,” said Savage, “but we certainly do get some good feedback.”

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Savile ‘haunts’ PR guru’s assault trial

The spectre of shamed TV presenter Jimmy Savile has haunted the trial of Britain’s top public relations guru Max Clifford, his lawyer has said as the sex assault case neared its conclusion.

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Richard Horwell told London’s Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday that wealthy people like Clifford were being branded predators due to the “Savile effect”.

The prosecution has told the trial that the claims from Clifford’s alleged victims emerged following revelations in 2012 that Savile – a household name in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s – had been a serial sex offender.

Clifford, 71, denies 11 counts of indecent assault against seven girls and women.

In his closing speech, Clifford’s lawyer told jurors: “This trial has been haunted by the spectre of Jimmy Savile.

“The Jimmy Savile effect cannot be ignored.

“Why are wealthy celebrities the subject of these accusations?

“Why does the defendant always have to be a ‘predator’ when the evidence indicates he is not?”

He said the trial had been “obsessed” with Clifford’s sex life, but his extra-marital affairs were not on trial.

“If Mr Clifford was this Olympic-standard sexual athlete, having sex with any woman of his choosing, what on earth was he doing troubling himself with unattractive and forced sexual liaisons in his tiny office, in his car, in a taxi? It doesn’t make sense, does it?”, he asked.

Horwell said it amounted to “grubby voyeurism”.

“It’s fifth-rate fiction that not even Mills and Boon would countenance,” he said.

While the defendant’s accusers “enjoyed anonymity” and faced no financial cost, Clifford’s name had been “published in newspapers and on television screens across the land” as he faced “many months of misery”.

Earlier, in her closing speech, prosecutor Rosina Cottage described Clifford as a “master in the art of intimidation and manipulation”.

“In every case his actions were sudden, unexpected and, frankly, in some cases so bizarre you may think these young women and girls have no idea how to react,” she said.

Clifford was a “risk-taker” and had an “arrogant confidence he could get away with almost anything”.

“Don’t be fooled,” she told the jury.

The judge is shortly expected to begin summing up the case, before asking the jury to consider their verdicts in the trial, which began on March 6.

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Putin warns Ukraine on gas supplies

President Vladimir Putin has warned Russia may begin requiring advance payment for gas supplies unless Ukraine comes to the negotiating table over its unpaid energy bills.

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Russia’s state-controlled natural gas company “Gazprom will only send gas in the amounts that the Ukrainian side has paid for a month in advance” under the changed sale terms being contemplated, Putin said at a government meeting according to televised excerpts on Wednesday.

“They will receive as much as they have paid for,” he said.

Russia says Ukraine now owes it $US2.2 billion ($A2.4 billion) for natural gas supplies, and Gazprom last week demanded that Ukraine “take immediate measures” to settle the debt.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev insisted during the meeting that the situation was “critical” and urged the government to switch to a system of advance payments.

Putin, however, said that for now Russia would refrain from doing so, citing Ukraine’s economic difficulties and Moscow’s ongoing talks with the European Union.

Earlier this month, Gazprom announced it was raising the price of gas exports to Ukraine by more than a third, scrapping a previous discount amid soaring political tensions between the two ex-Soviet countries.

Ukraine now has to pay $US485 dollars for 1,000 cubic metres of gas, the highest price of any of Gazprom’s clients in Europe.

Kiev charges that Moscow is punishing it for its Western ambitions and vowed to take its energy-rich neighbour to court.

Speaking at the government meeting, Putin added that Russia was not in a position to prop up Ukraine’s struggling economy indefinitely.

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No ordinary museum trip for Kate and Will

Like many international tourists, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have included a trip to the museum in their itinerary.

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But with exhibits designed by Weta’s special effects workshops, filmmaker Peter Jackson as a tour guide and no long queues, the museum’s founder is promising it won’t be a stuffy affair.

Prince William and Kate will jet over to Blenheim on Thursday to check out Sir Peter’s 21 World War I planes and memorabilia at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre – and director Jane Orphan has no doubt the duchess will like the experience.

Ms Orphan, who set up the museum in 2006 with her husband Graham, says dubious wives always end up enjoying the planes which are arranged with manikins and props to create memorable war scenes.

A World War II Avro Anson bomber – the only one still flying in the world – will fly overhead as the royals arrive.

The royal couple will then wander around the exhibits with Sir Peter, Prime Minister John Key, his wife Bronagh, Labour leader David Cunliffe, and his wife Karen Price-Cunliffe.

Afterwards Kate and William will get a chance to sit inside the bomber, look at other vintage warplanes, and meet the public who pop along to the open day.

Before the museum trip, Will and Kate will visit Blenheim’s Seymour Square where they’ll lay a wreath to commemorate WWI which began 100 years ago.

On Thursday evening, they’ll return to Wellington where Prince William will have one-on-one chats with Mr Key and Mr Cunliffe.

Then the duke and duchess will eat canapes with MPs and ministers at a Government House state reception where a portrait of the Queen by local artist Nick Cuthell will be unveiled.

Governor-General Jerry Mateparae and Prince William are expected to speak, a Government House spokeswoman said.

Baby George will stay in Wellington with his Spanish nanny Maria Borrallo while his parents fly to Blenheim and back.

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