Melbourne deaf trio to be tried for murder

Three deaf people who were allegedly seen using sign language to plot a murder while on a Melbourne train have been committed to stand trial.

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Georgia Fields, 19, Warwick Toohey, 37 and Jake Fairest, 26, are accused of killing Toohey’s former flatmate Robert Wright, 36, who died in hospital after falling from his Ringwood balcony in January.

A committal hearing has been told a woman who knew the trio from the Victorian College for the Deaf witnessed them have a discussion about killing a man in Auslan sign language while on a train.

“They were planning on killing a man,” Michelle O’Neill said in a statement tendered in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

“They were planning on having a pole and hitting him on the head when he was asleep.”

Another witness told the court Fields had initially blamed Fairest for pushing Mr Wright over the balcony, before saying all three were involved but that his death was an accident.

Acquaintance Elise Clausen said Fields made admissions in a Facebook conversation saying: “Yes, we did (it) but it was accident (sic) but no more now.”

When Ms Clausen put to Fields that she, Toohey and Fairest had all pushed Mr Wright off the balcony, Fields replied “yes”.

The court also heard Fields had been in relationships with both Toohey and Wright and that at times the flatmates had “shared” her.

Vicdeaf supported accommodation assistant co-ordinator Tamas Elliott said after Mr Wright broke things off with Fields he became frustrated Toohey was still seeing her.

“Robbie and Warwick’s relationship was breaking down,” Mr Elliott said.

Toohey, Fields, and Fairest will face the Victorian Supreme Court on Thursday for a post-committal directions hearing.

Mortgage Choice expects more loan growth

Mortgage Choice expects booming demand for home loans in Sydney and Melbourne to continue despite recent efforts to put the brakes on investor lending.

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The mortgage broker’s loan book grew to a record $49.5 billion in the year to June, and has forecast further solid growth as home loan approvals and settlements rise in number.

That’s despite moves from the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority to limit further growth in investor lending – a key factor driving soaring property prices, particularly in Sydney.

“It’s still a significant market out there and demand is demand,” chief executive John Flavell said.

“Generally speaking, approximately 30 per cent of all loans written by Mortgage Choice are for investors – slightly lower than the market average of 40 per cent.

“The fact that we are slightly underweight when it comes to investor business would suggest we are somewhat sheltered from the threat of a reduction in investor volumes.”

A loss of almost $400,000 from Mortgage Choice’s product comparison website Help Me Choose, and its sale in the previous year of mortgage aggregator LoanKit, contributed to a five per cent fall in net profit to $18.9 million in 2014/15.

Mr Flavell said the performance of Help Me Choose, which offers mortgage and health fund comparisons, would be addressed as a matter of urgency.

“The financial performance of our Help Me Choose business was not as it should have been,” he said.

Staff were recruited too early and improved results in May and June were not enough to offset higher costs, Mr Flavell said.

Mortgage Choice shares gained one cent to $2.01.

MORTGAGE CHOICE DENTED PERFORMANCE OF NEW BUSINESS

* Net profit down 5pct at $18.9m

* Revenue up 3pct at $184.8m

* Fully franked final dividend unchanged at eight cents

Marshall set to go for Panthers NRL clash

St George Illawarra halfback Benji Marshall is set to return for Thursday night’s must-win NRL clash with Penrith.

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A hamstring injury kept Marshall out of the Dragons’ heavy defeat to Brisbane last start but the key playmaker trained solidly throughout the week and completed Wednesday’s captain’s run.

Provided he pulls up healthy on Thursday morning, the former New Zealand international will take his place in the line-up against the Panthers.

“He completed the full session and run at top speed. I haven’t looked at his GPS yet but, by the eye, he looks really good,” coach Paul McGregor said.

“Usually, when you’ve done your back or hamstring, it’s the next morning that could give you a bit of grief, so we’ll just see in the morning.

“But the way they finished off training then, there’ll be no problem.”

McGregor has copped some criticism this week for starting with forward Jack de Belin ahead of rookie halfback Drew Hutchinson against the Broncos.

However, the second-year coach again defended his decision to shield Hutchinson until the second half.

“I had four players that had less than 100 games between them,” he said.

“To put a kid into that environment, in front of 35,000 people, another inexperienced player on the field … I don’t think I’ve done the wrong thing.”

With three games remaining in the regular season, the 8th-placed Dragons need to keep winning to stave off a hot Manly side, equal on 24 points but trailing on for-and-against and waiting for the Red V to stumble.

McGregor said the team were well aware of their predicament and prepared for a Penrith side who had nothing to lose.

“We need to win two of the three and possibly three,” McGregor said.

In an added boost, veteran winger Jason Nightingale, who has been out since round 21 with an ankle injury, is on track for a return in the final game of the year.

STATS THAT MATTER:

* The Dragons have lost their past five against Penrith, the only team they have failed to defeat since 2012

* Penrith’s win in Wollongong last year was just their second at WIN Stadium in more than 20 years

* Tyrone Peachey’s five line breaks against the Warriors last week was the first time a player had achieved the feat since Melbourne’s Will Chambers in round 24, 2014

Clubs need slice of AFL TV deal: Leppitsch

Brisbane coach Justin Leppitsch hopes the AFL will use its rich new broadcast deal to help strengthen clubs in frontier markets and close the gap between rich and poor.

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As the game’s stakeholders began lining up for a slice of the AFL’s historic $2.5 billion war chest, Leppitsch took the opportunity on Wednesday to put forward the Lions’ case for a cash injection.

The Lions are among the lowest spenders in the AFL on their football department, and their training and administration base at the Gabba is light years behind some of the more-newly constructed club headquarters in the competition.

Crowds and general interest have also dropped off in south-east Queensland this year on the back of Brisbane and Gold Coast’s struggles.

Leppitsch said the new TV deal presented the AFL with a rare opportunity to tick longstanding items off club wishlists.

“There’s so many things in clubland that need to be fixed up,” he said.

“There’s things that money can’t buy that we can fix ourselves but there’s things that money can only fix that we need as well.

“We’re not the only ones, I’m sure.

“There’s some things in the background that hopefully the industry understands that needs to be evened up so the playing field gets even as well.”

Leppitsch said the AFL should be aiming for both the Lions and the Suns to be self-sufficient by the end of the next broadcast arrangement in 2022.

“(Interest) does fluctuate in Queensland and NSW so we need to make sure it’s solid and strong,” he said.

“I’m really confident with Gil (McLachlan) and the AFL, they’ve been up here a lot and they’re really conscious of what we need to do to get this club right.

“And get it right for a long history – not just come up, win some premierships and go back to the bottom.

“We don’t want to do this again.”

Reject Shop says profit growth will return

The Reject Shop expects to return to profit growth for the first time in four years as it pins its hope on everyday items and trendy products driving sales.

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The discount retailer has increased its range of staples, including toiletries, confectionery and pet products, to turn around its struggling business.

It has also jumped on the hipster bandwagon, introducing products including artisan shampoos and conditioners and pillow cases made from bamboo fibres.

In a sign the new strategy is working, The Reject Shop’s same store sales rose 2.3 per cent in the six months to June 30, compared to a 3.3 per cent decline in the first half of the 2014/15 year.

Sales increased 4.7 per cent in the final three months of 2014/15, and growth continued in July.

Net profit fell slightly to $14.2 million, the third consecutive year of weaker earnings, but the company has forecast a return to growth in 2015/16.

Investors were pleased, with The Reject Shop shares gaining $1.04, or 16.35 per cent, to $7.40.

“Any same store sales growth is always going to be rewarded, particularly given the tough retail environment,” OptionsXpress market analyst Ben Le Brun said.

“The headline numbers appear to have beaten market expectations and the outlook is positive.”

Managing director Ross Sudano said stationery, craft accessories, food, pet products, toiletries and iPhone chargers sold strongly in the second half of the year.

“Our strategy is to use everyday items to build trust and bring customers in,” he said.

“Once they are in, we then want to show them other opportunities such as a big brand sold below market price, such as Nescafe Gold.”

Customers also liked to be surprised with new and trendy products they don’t expect to find at The Reject Shop, Mr Sudano said.

“Bamboo fibre is the evolving trend in textiles and we introduced bamboo fibre pillow covers much below specialty retailers’ prices and it flew out of our cupboards,” he said.

“Another one is Argan oil shampoo and conditioner, which grew out of the hairdressers and specialty retail market and is an evolving trend.”

Mr Sudano has been at the helm for about a year, and said changes in the company’s supply chain, management and marketing still had a long way to go.

REJECT SHOP SAYS NO MORE PROFIT FALLS

* Profit down 1.9pct to $14.2m

* Revenue up 6.4pct to $757m

* Fully franked final dividend up five cents to 13.5 cents

Clarke can’t wait for life after cricket

Michael Clarke is over it.

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The headlines and hype; the hubris and hyperbole.

The good and bad.

The practice, the pain and politicking.

Pretty much everything about international cricket.

Some dread the end of their careers, given playing the game has been the central theme since childhood.

Clarke, who will play his 115th and final Test when Australia face England in an Ashes dead rubber, isn’t scared of life without cricket.

“I can’t wait,” Clarke quipped on the eve of the fifth Test, which starts on Thursday at The Oval.

“I think I’ll be fine.”

Clarke’s reign as captain might only have a few days left, depending on how the tourists fare on the green strip in London.

Already, the 34-year-old, for so long the symbolic heart, soul and mind of Australian cricket, is emotionally detached.

Take for example Clarke’s indifference when asked if some teammates were playing for not only pride, but their spots in the side.

“Wouldn’t have a clue,” he offered.

When it was pointed out that his absence would create at least one vacancy in the middle order when the side tours Bangladesh in October, Clarke remained aloof.

“Someone can have it,” he laughed.

Clarke is expected to land a gig in the Channel Nine commentary box this summer, while he will captain the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League.

What comes after that remains unclear.

Regardless of the path he takes, it is unlikely to involve Cricket Australia.

Clarke didn’t speak of any strained relationships but made it clear it was time for the two parties to take a break.

“For now, I won’t be involved with Australian cricket,” he said.

“I think it is best that I have some time; it is best for the team as well.

“When you retire, you retire for a reason … there are some fresh ideas and some fresh energy from a lot of the young players.”

However, it would be wrong to suggest Clarke is not committed for the final fling.

Since lobbing in London last week, the right-hander has been training every day.

Clarke is yet to reflect on what has been a marvellous Test career, featuring 8628 runs and 28 tons.

“This week has been about being focused on this last Test match, so I haven’t looked backwards at all yet,” he said.

Incoming captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner have been given a remit of rebuilding the side after a miserable Ashes loss.

It’s not entirely dissimilar to 2011, when Clarke stepped up after Ricky Ponting’s resignation.

“I don’t think it is right for me to sit here and give advice,” he said.

“Davey has played enough cricket; Smithy has played enough cricket. They’ve got a good relationship.

“They’ll be fine – they’ll do a great job.

“I’ve spoken to them both and congratulated them both and I’m really happy for them.”

As for Clarke, his back and hamstrings are ready for some overdue rest.

Tim Sherwood looking to trim Villa squad

“There are still some players here who know they can find other clubs,” the British daily quoted the manager as saying.

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“But I think the balance of the squad is getting a lot better.

“There are some encouraging signs but it’s very early days,” Sherwood added.

Villa could allow the likes of Philippe Senderos, Charles N’Zogbia and Kieran Richardson to leave before deadline day, the Mail said.

The club were boosted by the return of midfielder Jack Grealish, who returned from a hamstring injury to play the full 90 minutes and score for the U21s in a 1-0 win at Derby County on Monday.

The 19-year-old could be available for Villa’s league trip to Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Midfielder Carles Gil also featured in the game but went off in the second half with a tight groin.

“The Derby match was a good workout for the boys. I thought Jack was very good. He played to the last minute,” Sherwood said.

“He looked fit enough to maybe be up for selection this weekend,” the manager added.

Sherwood is also confident that midfielder Ashley Westwood, who recently signed a new five-year contract with the club, will play for England this season.

“I will be very surprised if Ashley doesn’t play for England this season. He’s as good as that,” Sherwood told the club’s website (杭州桑拿网,杭州桑拿,avfc.co.uk/)

“He’s very much in the Michael Carrick-mould. Michael is not getting any younger. I am not sure they have found a replacement for him yet,” the manager added.

“I think Ashley has got every chance. If he keeps on with his consistency — and the level of his performances — I am sure it won’t be too far around the corner.”

(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Indonesian adviser seeks Montara solution

A senior Indonesian government adviser and former diplomat is encouraging Australia to join talks on investigating the environmental problems festering in West Timor since the Montara oil spill.

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Friday marks the sixth anniversary of the Timor Sea disaster, when thousands of barrels of oil burst from a Thai-owned wellhead and flowed towards Indonesian waters.

Hasjim Djalal, a senior adviser to Indonesia’s maritime affairs and fisheries minister, and a respected voice in international affairs, says economic, environmental and health problems that began after the spill still persist in West Timor today.

“I’m worried about this because it has impacted the lives of so many people, their fisheries and their seaweed industry,” he told AAP.

“The government of Indonesia did not pursue this seriously enough at the time.

“It might be because they didn’t want to create problems with Australia, which is strange to me, because the issue is with the company.”

Montara’s owners, PTTEP Australasia, have always denied oil reached Indonesia, contrary to eyewitness reports.

Australia only investigated for environmental damage within its own waters.

Jakarta has requested Australian help to compel PTTEP to discuss environmental impact research, with the director-general for sea transportation writing to Canberra as recently as July.

“It is imperative that the Australian government become involved as the spirit of national co-operation between Indonesia and Australia,” Bobby R. Mamahit wrote.

Canberra has rebuffed past requests, saying it is an issue for the Indonesian government only.

Dr Djalal acknowledged part of the problem was that no one Indonesian ministry had taken ownership of the issue.

But he says it’s not beyond the neighbours – now on friendlier terms after months of turmoil over the executions of two Australians – to work together.

“If we cannot settle this, it will only create unnecessary unease between our countries for years to come,” he said.

Dr Djalal was Indonesia’s ambassador to Germany, Canada and the United Nations.

East Nusa Tenggara communities have lost up to 90 per cent of seaweed production since the spill, as well as experiencing skin and respiratory illnesses.

Lawyers for West Timor Care Foundation, a non-government group representing affected communities, are considering a class action if a solution cannot be mediated.

Refugee ship leaves island for Greek mainland

Authorities struggling to cope with arrivals21,000 people landed on Greek shores last weekAthens asks EU to come up with migrant strategy

The Greek coast guard’s office said the ship, which has acted as a floating accommodation and registration centre since Sunday, was heading for the northern port of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second biggest city.

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On Tuesday, Athens appealed to its European Union partners to come up with a comprehensive strategy to deal with the migrant crisis after 21,000 people landed on Greek shores last week alone.

Many of the arrivals have escaped the Syrian civil war, making their way through Turkey before crossing the narrow stretch of water to Kos and other Greek islands in inflatable dinghies and small boats to seek refuge in the EU. 

With conditions on Kos becoming increasingly chaotic, the Greek government chartered the car ferry Eleftherios Venizelos last week to accommodate up to 2,500 Syrians and ease the pressure on the island.

Thousands of other migrants from Asia, Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East are sleeping in abandoned buildings or in the open. 

Many migrants have already made it to Thessaloniki, often crossing by foot into neighbouring Macedonia. From there, they try to head for northern Europe in the hope of finding more help and jobs that are not available in Greece, which is gripped by economic crisis.

Last week’s arrivals in Greece were equal to almost half the number for all of 2014 and bring the total for this year to 160,000. This has strained an ill-prepared reception system that relies heavily on volunteers. The Syrians got priority in boarding the ship as they are regarded as refugees due to their country’s civil war.

Arrivals from other countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, regarded as economic migrants, are camping out in filthy conditions, leading to sporadic clashes and brawls.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in Geneva said Greece needed to show “much more leadership” in dealing with the crisis.