Super Rugby: Queensland Reds, Brad Thorn, Sam Cordingley, Wallabies, Crusaders, coffee meeting


To pinpoint the moment where the Queensland Reds’ re-emergence as a rugby powerhouse began, you’ve got to go back to early 2015.

It was over a coffee in March of that year where former Wallaby Sam Cordingley met Brad Thorn in the Brisbane suburb of Aspley, where the giant forward went to school.

The Reds were keen to recruit the World Cup-winning All Black, who won NRL premierships with the Broncos and Origins with Queensland, but couldn’t sign him given they already had their quota of internationals on their list.

But a question from Cordingley, who had only just started as general manager of the Reds, got the ball rolling about what life looked like for arguably the greatest dual international of all time.

“We had a conversation around what does life look like after rugby,” Cordingley tells foxsports.com.au. “He was considering going back to Leicester, but we kept in touch around what he wanted to do post rugby.

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Richmond West Primary School lockdowns linked to safe injecting room prompts crisis meeting of parents


Concerned parents have held a crisis meeting after a series of troubling incidents at Richmond West Primary School believed to be linked to the nearby safe injecting room.

Some residents in the area have long been opposed to the facility’s proximity to the school, but parents say the situation has gone from bad to worse, with the school being forced to lock down three times in one week.

About 70 people attended a meeting on Wednesday night, which was organised by parents of children at the school.

Richmond residents, parents, State Opposition MP Georgie Crozier, Yarra City councillor Stephen Jolly, and a few people who use heroin are among those who spoke at the meeting.

One of the parents at the meeting was Neil Mallet, the father of two boys aged 10 and 12 who have attended the school since grade prep.

Mr Mallet said a man entered the school grounds with a knife last week, prompting the school to lock its students in their classrooms.

While he believed there were issues with the facility’s location from the start, Mr Mallett said both kids and parents were growing increasingly fearful, with incidents “snowballing out of control”.

“It’s putting lives at risk,” Mr Mallet said.

A man died after a suspected drug overdose in this park in Richmond.(

Supplied

)

Mr Mallet also said he saw a woman put a needle in her neck right at the school gate one afternoon, as children were leaving school.

Acting Premier James Merlino said he was open to discussing concerns with parents, but said feedback from the school was that incidents had decreased since the site’s opening.

“The reports back from the school community is that there are less syringes, less drug paraphernalia, there is less anti-social behaviour in and around the school,” Mr Merlino said on Thursday.

‘These events have been traumatising’

Claire, a resident of North Richmond for 20 years, said the school had also gone into lockdown a few days prior when a man “ran around screaming through the school grounds”.

Days later, a man’s body was discovered outside the school, prompting it to advise parents to use a different entrance so children would avoid seeing the body.

Claire said she had called triple-0 the day before after finding a man passed out outside the school.

She said police confirmed it was the same man whose body was found the following day.

“I feel really sad, I don’t know whether to buy flowers,” she said.

“There’s no respect for his last resting place.”

One parent, Katie, said she supported the safe injecting room but said it should be moved away from the school.

“Our children are traumatised,” she told the meeting on Wednesday night.

“I walked past that body the other day and it felt like a failure for everything that we do every day to support it, and it felt like a failure to people [who use the facility], who are there to be supported.”

A man in black unkempt clothing slumped against a brick wall, holding what appears to be a needle near his leg.
Some parents told the meeting their children had witnessed people using drugs near the school.(

Supplied

)

Mr Mallet said he had heard parents in tears over what they and their children had seen.

“These events have been traumatising for kids and for parents alike,” he said.

“We don’t have any issue with the service being provided, it just shouldn’t be provided where a five-year-old can watch it or pick up a needle”.

The parent body, Mr Mallet said, was considering legal action.

‘It saves lives and it protects people’

One man at the meeting, who said he regularly used the safe injecting room, said he supported moving it away from the school but stressed it was an important facility.

Another woman at the meeting, who also said she used the safe injecting room, said broader changes were needed to help address drug issues.

“If you want to do something to address the issues around public injecting, we all need to be advocating for a change in drug policy,” she said.

“We need to be advocating for people to have prescription heroin, so people can take that and use that in their homes.”

Several people gather around a man who is lying in a park.
Parents told the meeting their kids were “traumatised” by some of the incidents they had witnessed near the school.(

Supplied

)

Mr Merlino conceded there was a high level of drug activity in the area, but said that was why the facility was needed in the first place.

“I know this is challenging, I know it’s confronting, but it has been the reality in North Richmond for decades,” he said.

A two-year trial of the facility ended in July last year, with the state government extending the trial for another three years, while planning for a second trial site in North Melbourne. 

An independent review of the North Richmond facility found it had saved at least 21 lives and safely managed more than 3,200 overdoses.

Mr Merlino the data showed the facility was working.

“It works, it has saved lives and it protects people.”

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said “by putting a drug injecting room next to a primary school, the Labor government is putting these kids through hell”.

“Labor MPs wouldn’t have one next to their homes or their kids’ schools. Why should these families?” he said on Twitter on Thursday night.

“Move the drug room.”

Richmond West Primary School and the Education Department have been contacted for comment.

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Brawling parties: in the streets, in the meeting rooms


By KIERAN FINNANE

See you around the table or see you in court?

The Town Council last night took a bet each way: inviting the Chief Minister Minister and Cabinet to meet with council in Alice Springs to address “community safety challenges,” a suggestion coming from Councillor Jimmy Cocking; and supporting Cr Eli Melky to drum up support from other Territory councils for possible legal action to force the NT Government to cut crime, support the NT Police, and to put victims first. 

They also supported Mayor Damien Ryan’s call for the NT Government to conduct a community safety audit while also launching “immediately substantial action” on the matter.

They probably didn’t need A Current Affair’s recent focus on the issues, but its three million views to date are hurting the town’s reputation and have clearly put government and council under pressure.

Cr Melky was galled that it had taken the program to get some movement from the NT Government “when we’ve been calling for action for 10 years”.

Only Cr Matt Paterson challenged the balance of the coverage, saying that he looks around at the town and sees an “amazing place”. The coverage was “unjust and unfair,” he said, while at the same time noting that “people are leaving” in response to the social unrest and crime.

The coverage is built around a brawl in Todd Street, just opposite the council chambers. More critical is that it is also just opposite licensed premises. The focus of the program is entirely on lawless young Aboriginal people – their role in the brawl and more generally.

Cr Glen Auricht bought it, talking of “belligerent youth” who feel they are “untouchable,” and to whom, in the wake of the NT Royal Commission, “free rein” has been given, “with no responsibility and no consequences”.

The program though glossed over the vicious behaviour of adult white males in the melee that erupted outside the bar where they had been drinking. It recognised that trouble was brewing with the “drunk party-goers” but it was the “youngsters” who were “intent on doing damage”. (See screen shots from the program at top.)

Attention to the behaviour of the adults might have lead to more complicated questions about relationships between black and white people in town, and in particular with black youths.

ACA’s report dismisses this from the outset: “Oppression” in the town comes “not from racism but from fear”, according to unidentified residents, and that fear is expressed in people having to lock their doors at night (tell me which Sydney-sider does not do this) and in being afraid to go out on the streets (like so many women are, everywhere).

From left, Councillors Satour, Cocking, Paterson and Melky. 

In last night’s council debate only Cr Catherine Satour raised the matter of community relationships.

She acknowledged the real fear that people feel, living behind six and eight foot fences – “not the little country town where I grew up” – and said it is “completely unacceptable” that kids as young as six are out on the streets at 2am.

She nonetheless took council to task for talking for and about Aboriginal people, not to and with them.

She asked who among them had ever brought into the chamber a public gallery full of Aboriginal people, as she did in November, 2017, when she invited Traditional Owners to talk to council about community safety.

In the meeting that followed they were “treated with contempt,” she said – no minutes were taken, there was no attendance sheet, and the initiative went nowhere. 

Now the idea of involving them has resurfaced with council trialling a Traditional Owner-led “foot patrol”. But the relationship could be taken further: “I don’t need to be at the table, but I will create the space for conversations to be had with the right people,” she said.

Council’s motions though did not go there. They were entirely focussed on getting the NT Government to the table (or into the dock).

There was considerable frustration over the lack of communication, if not overt hostility, between council and government, centred on Chief Minister’s antagonistic relationship with Mayor Ryan as well as the fractious dealings between the organisations over the location for the proposed national Aboriginal art gallery.

That situation is only going to get worse with the government having served on council a notice to appear in the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal as the latest step towards the compulsory acquisition of Anzac Oval. (A directions hearing is scheduled for March 26.)

Councillors recognised that the government had made a move with yesterday’s announcement on tougher bail conditions for young offenders.

But the government already has many strong laws at its disposal, argued Cr Melky, including the Education Act (implying the need for enforcement of truancy provisions).

He also called for the “industry” built on the back of the “misery of people,” to be held accountable for the millions that are spent. He hoped these matters would be included in any community safety audit.

On the idea of an audit, Cr Marli Banks reminded her colleagues that she had brought such a proposal to council last October and it was not supported.

From left, Councillors Banks, Auricht, de Brenni. 

Her move had followed the death of motorcyclist Shane Powell, allegedly hit by a car driven by a youth (this tragic story is featured in the ACA program).   

Without an audit, council and the community would be “in the dark” trying to right the situation, she had argued.

So how is the situation now different to what it was in October? she asked Mayor Ryan.

He suggested that her motion had not involved asking the NT Government to conduct the audit, the body with the authority to do so, which Cr Banks rejected.

She asked him what he had done to progress the issues in the five months since, suggesting that the timing of his motion was a “knee jerk politicisation of issue” coming “in wake of a national exposé”.

She had sat in the chamber for five months, retorted Mayor Ryan, and they had not heard again from her on the matter. He had brought it to the chamber last night “because of what’s happening in the town”.

The onus to progress issues was on him, Cr Banks argued, “this is your full time job”.

She also asked officers for a report on all the correspondence between council and government on this issue between last October and now. A resolution to this effect was supported by her colleagues.

Cr Cocking recalled a similar national TV exposé during the time of Chief Minister Paul Henderson. It too had resulted in an economic downturn and tourism took years to recover. 

He spoke of the importance of a long term plan, saying the Prime Minister “needs to come out here”. Such a plan would need federal funding, “10 years of concerted investment”.

Other towns across the country, such as Townsville and Broome, are experiencing similar problems: the lessons learned here might be able to help them, he argued.

Deputy Mayor Jacinta Price, attending the meeting by Zoom, advised the chamber that she would be address Federal Parliament today, “on the very issue we are discussing”, which she described as family and domestic violence, child safety, and the safety of women and children.

She offered to raise any points from Elected Members, inviting them to email their thoughts. 

At the end of the meeting, Cr Cocking raised the issue of graffiti removal, by way of “putting victims first”. Graffiti has flourished apparently, particularly along the town’s arterial roads.

He wanted council to review its by-law that requires property-owners to expeditiously remove graffiti and imposes a penalty for failing to do so.

His motion, supported unanimously, was simply that council remove graffiti, which would take effect immediately.

Review of the by-law, along with others, is now also on the agenda.

But Cr Cocking also made a point about the way this issue, as well as the broken windows, the boarded up windows, the unrepaired fence on the Stuart Highway, in short “urban decay”, is impacting on the social malaise in town.

 

Related reading:

Tourism wants independent inquiry into crime

 

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NATO Foreign Ministers hold first meeting of post-Trump era


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Brussels for his first in-person talks with NATO allies on Tuesday after four years of tension under former President Donald Trump.

The State Department said Blinken would focus on concerns over Afghanistan, China, Iran and Russia, climate change, cybersecurity, terrorism and energy security.

“The meetings in Brussels reaffirm the United States’ commitment to our allies and European partners on our shared agenda,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Blinken’s trip is centred on the annual spring meeting of NATO foreign ministers but will also include talks with top EU and Belgian officials.

The Biden administration has placed great emphasis on repairing relations with European allies, strained by Trump’s demands ranging from increasing defence spending to trade rows.

Afghanistan disengagement

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday said “all options remain open” on Afghanistan, as Europe waits for Washington to decide on a looming withdrawal deadline.

Trump struck a deal with the Taliban to withdraw troops by May 1.

Current US President Joe Biden is reviewing the agreement. He said last week it would be “tough” for Washington to meet that deadline.

The comment angered the Taliban, who warned that the US would be “responsible for the consequences.”

NATO allies have said they are willing to stay in Afghanistan longer, if Washington decides to remain as well.

NATO has been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years but has reduced its presence from 130,000 troops to 9,600, including 2,500 Americans, responsible for training Afghan forces.

Russia and China

How to move forward with Russia and China relations will also be high on the meeting’s agenda.

“NATO has done a good job with its forces in eastern Europe, blocking the Russian conventional threat,” Jamie Shea, a former NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary-General, told Euronews.

“But the key issue is what do we do about Russia’s below the radar screen activities, election interference, cyber attacks?” The US is talking about a retaliatory cyberattack against Russia,” Shea went on.

China is a “big issue” for NATO, Shea said. “And I think it’s going to take a bit more time. Does NATO go to Asia or does it basically deal with the Chinese challenge within Europe, particularly, for example, 5G networks and investments?”

‘No concrete decisions’ expected yet

Shea told Euronews that “no concrete decisions” were expected at Tuesday’s meeting, considering the Biden administration was still “carrying out a lot of foreign policy reviews”.

Talks intend to lay the ground for Joe Biden’s first NATO summit, which may take place in June if the coronavirus situation permits.

“I think it’s the NATO summit later this year, particularly in launching a new NATO strategic concept, which will decide about the Alliance’s future,” Shea said.

“But it’s important to get the discussion on these very tricky topics underway and give NATO adequate time to come up with really sound policies.”

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China Celebrates Humiliating Biden Diplomats at Alaska Meeting


Chinese state-run media celebrated the performance of senior diplomats Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi on Thursday in which they berated American counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, on America’s alleged human rights abuses.

The Global Times and China Daily, two of the Communist Party’s loudest English-language mouthpieces, applauded the two Chinese officials for being “firm,” expressing “sincerity,” and offering “vigorous counterblows” to the Americans’ condemning China for its elimination of human rights safeguards in Hong Kong, its genocide of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, and other human rights atrocities.

The four diplomats met in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday, chosen as a halfway point between Washington and Beijing. The Chinese state outlets — and the Foreign Ministry — complained that Alaska was inhospitable, “biting,” and unpleasant for the diplomats to visit.

Wang and Yang personally accused the United States of abusing them as guests at the meeting and flouting diplomatic protocol.

The Global Times, citing its usual stable of Communist Party-approved “experts,” applauded Wang, China’s State Councilor, and senior Politburo member Yang for delivering “vigorous counterblows to condescending U.S. representatives.” It assessed that the opening remarks of the talks, which will reportedly remain ongoing, were “beyond the expectations of observers” in their severity and bitter tone, blaming President Joe Biden’s diplomats for the acrimony.

“So far, the US’ aggressiveness and disregard for diplomatic protocol, and rapid and sharp counterattacks by the Chinese delegation, have made the world take notice,” the Times assessed. It complained that Washington choosing Anchorage as a diplomatic host city was uncomfortable, as it is “one of the coldest places on US soil with a freezing temperature of minus 19 degrees Celsius [-2.2ºF].”

One of the Times‘ experts, former diplomat Yang Xiyu, protested that Washington’s team entered the talks with a philosophy of “putting human rights over sovereignty,” which was unacceptable to the Chinese, who allegedly sought “peaceful coexistence and noninterference in internal affairs.”

The Global Times punctuated its coverage of U.S. foreign policy by showcasing on its frontpage on Friday a political cartoon featuring a shattered Statue of Liberty holding her head in her hands while hands decorated with the flags of several rogue states pointed menacingly at it, apparently a commentary on dictatorships at the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning alleged racism in America.

Chen Xia/Global Times/Chinese government

At China Daily, another state-run propaganda outfit, European bureau chief Chen Weihua shared an animated GIF of eagles and rabbits, the latter presumably representing the Chinese, throwing things at each other. “After four years of Trump’s rogue regime, no one should still think about coercing and blackmailing China,” Chen proclaimed.

Chen Weihua has developed a reputation for profane and sexist posts on Twitter, including repeatedly referring to American Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) as a “bitch” for questioning China’s human rights record and international criminal behavior. While Twitter has branded Chen’s account as a state-affiliated account, it has yet to censor his bigoted remarks.

It remains illegal for Chinese citizens in China not affiliated with the Communist Party to use Twitter.

China Daily described Blinken’s and Sullivan’s opening statements as “unreasonable” and applauded the Chinese diplomats for their replies, citing an anonymous official who traveled to Anchorage with the Chinese.

“The Chinese side, in response to the US’ invitation, traveled to Anchorage in sincerity to have a strategic dialogue with the US side, and China finished preparations for the dialogue in accordance with the procedures and arrangements that were agreed to by the two sides in advance, the unnamed official said,” China Daily reported.

The “official” protested, “this is not the way to treat guests, nor is it in line with diplomatic etiquette and protocols, and the Chinese side has made a solemn response to this.”

In an opinion piece, China Daily accused the Americans of “spew[ing] vitriol at China, taking potshots at its domestic and foreign policies and dictating what it should and should not do.”

“With their grandstanding, US politicians, trampling diplomatic protocol and violating every international relations norm, used the meeting that began on Thursday not to iron out differences and put Sino-US relations back on the right track, but to brazenly interfere in China’s internal affairs,” the propaganda outlet lamented.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry echoed the displeasure of its state propaganda arms during its regular press briefing on Friday.

“The Chinese delegation went to Anchorage for the strategic dialogue with sincerity, fully prepared to engage in dialogue with the US according to the protocols and arrangements agreed on beforehand,” spokesman Zhao Lijian said. “However, as the US side first delivered opening remarks, they exceeded severely the set time limit and wantonly attacked and criticized China’s domestic and foreign policies, provoking disagreements. These are hardly good host manners or proper diplomatic etiquette. The Chinese side has made a solemn response.”

Zhao also complained Alaska was cold.

“Alaska is the northernmost US state. When the Chinese delegation arrived in Anchorage, their hearts were chilled by the biting cold as well as the reception by their American host,” Zhao claimed.

The Chinese communist regime expressed extreme displeasure with the opening statements at the meeting, which will be ongoing through at least Friday.

Blinken vowed to “discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, and economic coercion toward our allies,” without going into individual detail on each.

“Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability.  That’s why they’re not merely internal matters and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today,” Blinken said.

Yang took the opportunity to urge America to stop promoting human rights and democracy on an international stage and to scold the country for its own alleged human rights abuses.

“And the United States has its style — United States-style democracy — and China has the Chinese-style democracy.  It is not just up to the American people, but also the people of the world to evaluate how the United States has done in advancing its own democracy,” Yang insisted. “So we believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world.”

“Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States, and they have various views regarding the Government of the United States,” Yang continued. “[T]he challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated. They did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter. It did not come up only recently.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.



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Biden Administration’s First U.S.-China Meeting Quickly Descends Into Bickering


The first high-level talks between the U.S. and China since President Joe Biden took office descended immediately into bickering and recriminations, with each side sharply criticizing the other over human rights, trade and international alliances.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken began his remarks at the meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, by vowing to raise concerns about recent cyber attacks, the treatment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and Beijing’s increasing control over Hong Kong. He said China’s actions threatened the international order and human rights.

“The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winner takes all and that would be a far more violent and unstable world,” Blinken said.

The Chinese fired back. Yang Jiechi, a member of the Politburo, offered a lengthy monologue in which he said Western nations don’t represent global public opinion and called the U.S. the “champion” of cyber-attacks.

“Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States,” he said, citing the killing of Black Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement. Near the end of his opening remarks, he said Blinken’s comments weren’t “normal” and added that in response “mine aren’t either.”

Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan responded, with Sullivan saying “a confident country is able to look hard at its own shortcomings and constantly seek to improve, and that is the secret sauce of America.”

Things only got worse from there. Cameras were ushered from the room, only to be called back in. Yang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi took the opportunity to follow up with even more criticism.

“Is that the way you had hoped to conduct this dialogue?” Yang asked, according to his delegation’s translator. “I think we thought too well of the United States. The United States isn’t qualified to speak to China from a position of strength.”

Placing blame

While the Chinese officials protested that the opening criticism by Blinken and Sullivan was no way to treat guests, a senior U.S. official said afterward that the Chinese were intent on grandstanding and engaging in theatrics over substance.

The rocky start signaled just how bad the U.S.-China relationship has become and augured poorly for the prospect of an accommodation or rapprochement between the world’s two biggest economies. The two sides scheduled a series of three negotiating sessions on Thursday and Friday, but the opening lowered what had already been a low bar for expectations out of the Alaska meeting.

Before the meeting began, officials in Beijing had raised the possibility of a virtual summit between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping next month, to coincide with Earth Day and turn attention to one area both sides have said they can reach agreement on: combating climate change. It’s not clear if the rocky start to the Alaska talks will derail that effort.

Some tensions were expected at the Anchorage talks. Two months into office, and despite Biden’s criticism of former President Donald Trump, it appears the new American president is unlikely to make major changes to his predecessor’s hard-line approach to China. On human rights in Xinjiang, on Hong Kong’s and even on tariffs, Trump-era policies remain in place.

“At least initially, they’re sticking with what Trump left them,” said Aaron Frieberg, a professor of foreign policy at Princeton University and a national security aide under President George W. Bush. “On concrete things like saying China is committing genocide in Xinjiang — that was a land mine left for them on the way out the door — instead of trying to work around it, they just embraced it.”

China is the most prominent example of Biden’s continuity with Trump so far, but there are others: On Saudi Arabia, Biden held back from sanctioning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even as he went beyond Trump by publicly implicating him in the death of columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Biden is taking up Trump’s push to reinvigorate the Quad alliance of the U.S., Australia, Japan and India. Blinken has praised Trump’s “Abraham Accords,” the rapprochement between Israel and countries in the Middle East.

And while Republicans in Congress accuse Biden of weakness, he is sticking to opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany, is refusing to remove sanctions on Iran unless it returns to compliance with the nuclear accord that Trump abandoned and is keeping up a frequent resort to financial sanctions as a tool to express disapproval.

—With assistance from Linly Lin.



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Albury Wodonga Health chairman Matt Burke convenes special meeting to address “collaboration” with other health services | The Border Mail


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Albury Wodonga Health chairman Matt Burke has stopped short of conceding it is part of a “formal process” to explore a mega merger of regional health services. Two days after publicly stating AWH had not signed up to be part of a feasibility study looking at a merger with Wangaratta and Benalla health services, Mr Burke called a special meeting of directors last Friday to address the ongoing speculation which began when the matter was raised in the Victorian parliament by member for Benambra Bill Tilley. The Border Mail understands Goulburn Valley Health has also agreed to be part of the “formal process” starting this year to explore merging with Albury-Wodonga, Wangaratta and Benalla based services. Late Friday, Mr Burke issued a statement to The Border Mail on the outcome of the board meeting to clarify the board’s position regarding “collaboration” with other health services. “The board continuously reviews models, proposals and options that present opportunities to improve and expand healthcare services for our community,” the statement said.. “However, decisions to pursue any models of care (collaborative or otherwise) will only ever be made on the basis they improve access to and quality of care for both Albury and Wodonga (and local border) communities. “Any future considerations made by the board to progress any type of a structural collaborative arrangement would not occur without undertaking comprehensive stakeholder and community engagement.” IN OTHER NEWS The hastily arranged board meeting followed a visit to Albury the previous day from NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet with health service discussions high on the agenda. Earlier in the week Mr Burke told The Border Mail: “I’ve got no idea where all this merger stuff has come from. “There is no feasibility study. “We haven’t signed up to anything, there is no (memorandum of understanding), there is no nothing.” Mr Burke declined to speak directly to The Border Mail following the release of his statement last on Friday. Albury Council is also seeking a please explain on what is happening. It was also revealed late last week, Northeast Health Wangaratta chief executive Tim Griffiths had resigned after accepting a role at NSW Health. Fiona Shanks will be the interim CEO. Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:

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Joseph Suaalii exemption expected after meeting with Peter V’landys


Fears mounting over Friend

There are concerns Jake Friend may have played his last game in the NRL after suffering another concussion in Saturday’s round one victory over Manly.

The 31-year-old cut a dejected figure after the game on Saturday night, nursing more than just the physical side-effects of his third serious head knock in the past six months.

Roosters veteran Jake Friend is no stranger to concussion.Credit:Getty

Friend, who has seen first-hand the impact repeated concussions have had on good friend Boyd Cordner, last week became a father for the first time and is getting married at the end of the season.

It has provided him with a new perspective that will no doubt come into calculations when he sits down and maps out a potential return to the sport.

The Roosters have led the way when it comes to handling players with repeated head knocks, sitting out Luke Keary and Cordner over the years as precaution. Even Cordner’s indefinite hiatus is precautionary.

There are concerns at how susceptible Friend has become to concussion after repeated collisions, with the off-contract hooker now thinking about life after football and whether he has anything left to prove by continuing on this season.

Rule change requires exemptions for all concussions

Speaking of concussion, the NRL has changed its protocols over the off-season in a move that could have significant ramifications on players’ ability to play the week after knocks.

A player will now be asked to seek an exemption from an independent neurologist if he is to play within 11 days of the concussion.

The previous rule stated that players only required permission if the next game fell within seven days of the knock, however the new protocols has recommended every player will have to go through the process to play the following round.

The rules were rushed in about a week before the competition started, with the club’s chief medical officers all notified of the change.

Clubs will have to find their own independent specialists, not ones with current links to head office.

The NRL has decided against following the AFL’s mandated approach, which states players must sit out for a minimum of 12 days under the league’s revised protocol, regardless of independent analysis.

Not Brad for openers

You wouldn’t know there was any pressure on Eels coach Brad Arthur to hold on to his job based on his half-time pep-talk on Friday night.

Trailing 16-0 at the break, Parramatta players braced themselves for a trademark Arthur spray in light of their horror opening to the season.

Brad Arthur showed a different side to his coaching on Friday night.

Brad Arthur showed a different side to his coaching on Friday night.Credit:NRL Photos

It couldn’t have been further from reality, with a calm and relaxed Arthur taking an approach few had seen from him before.

The criticism of Arthur at the end of last year, after yet another week two finals exit, was a perceived inability to change his ways.

He took the first step in putting that theory to bed, with his new demeanour having the desired impact.

Victor Radley will return from an ACL injury in round three.

Victor Radley will return from an ACL injury in round three.Credit:NRL Photos

Roosters fine with Radley sanction

There are very few at the Sydney Roosters up in arms about the NRL’s punishment of Victor Radley over an incident in Byron Bay over the summer.

On the surface a two-game ban (one of which he bizarrely served while injured in round one) and $20,000 punishment seems over the top for crash-tackling a man who had been physical towards a woman at a party. But the fact Radley accepted the NRL’s breach notice speaks volumes.

Radley misled the Sydney Roosters and the NRL, telling the club that it was his brother who had tackled the man who had not been let into the party.

The NRL Integrity Unit then learned that wasn’t the case, calculating the attempted deception into its sanction. The NRL didn’t disclose that information in a bid to protect Radley’s image, regardless of potential damage to its own for a perceived over-the-top reaction.

Blue over Burton continues

With the Bulldogs and Penrith doing battle this weekend, the talk around Matt Burton’s future is no doubt going to resurface.

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As far as Penrith are concerned, he won’t be leaving this year. The Panthers know they will struggle to win a premiership if Jarome Luai or Nathan Cleary get injured and Burton is in blue and white.

It’s why Canterbury even offered to release Burton back to Penrith if they got an injury to their halves, but Penrith were having none of it. You can’t blame Canterbury for trying.

New case means no change to crowds

The NRL was holding out hope of crowds returning to 100 per cent capacity in round two, however Sunday’s positive COVID-19 case after 55 days of no community transmission in NSW is likely to end that.

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Australia joins US, India and Japan in ‘unprecedented’ deal for coronavirus vaccines after historic Quad meeting


Scott Morrison has joined the first leaders’ summit of Joe Biden’s US presidency, forging a new strategic partnership and vaccination alliance with four of the Indo-Pacific region’s most-powerful democracies.

The US President hosted the video link-up from the State Dining Room of the White House with the prime ministers of Australia, India and Japan.

It was the first time the four-member regional grouping known as the Quad had ever convened with heads of government at the table.

The partnership has had a faltering history and is usually viewed as a bloc to counter China.

But in its latest incarnation, Quad members have given it a new, broader purpose to cooperate on what Mr Biden calls “practical solutions and concrete results” to global problems, including COVID-19, climate change and cyber security.

As an early indication of its intent, the group has outlined plans to harness its enormous medical and manufacturing capacities to lift coronavirus vaccine production and distribution, mostly for the benefit of other Asian and Pacific island countries together with members of the COVAX group of nations.

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The vaccine project will at first involve funding by the US, manufacturing of the Johnson & Johnson shot by India and Japan and help with logistics by Australia.

Australia’s contribution is valued at about $100 million, mainly concentrated around “last mile” distribution in South-East Asia.

“Last mile” activities generally include the steps needed to get shots in arms, from health workforce training to awareness campaigns and helping procure the disposable medical items needed to administer injections.

The goal is to crank up production of up to 1 billion doses by 2022.

Scott Morrison spoke with the three other Quad leaders in the early hours of Saturday morning.(

AP: Dean Lewins

)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who sat in on the summit, declared “these four leaders made a massive joint commitment today”.

“We have taken the Quad to a new level,” Mr Sullivan said from the White House.

As it drives a plan to immunise its population, the US will not be sharing any shots produced in American pharmaceutical plants until domestic needs have been fully met.

After the leaders’ summit, a working group of bureaucrats will be charged with negotiating further details, financing and commercial terms of the deal.

Those who brokered talks behind the scenes say discussions had been held “around the clock” to give the US President and the three prime ministers a “historic, deliverable” announcement for their Summit.

‘Pillar of stability’

A composite image of Scott Morrison, Joe Biden, Yoshihide Suga, and Narendra Modi
It was the first Quad meeting between Mr Morrison and his counterparts in the US, Japan and India.(

ABC/AP

)

In its re-emergence in 2021, the Quad is placing a heavy emphasis on practical actions the four countries can take, rather than narrowly defining itself as a bulwark against Beijing’s conduct as an expanding economic, military and strategic power.

As a measure of the shift, the word “security”, once considered the unifying threat that bound the group together, rated a mention only twice in the summit’s final joint statement, titled The Spirit of the Quad.

Even so, its members have each been confronted by China’s power and the leaders did not hide their angst or their purpose.

During the brief section of the summit open to the media, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga spoke of feeling “emotional” about its re-emergence and the group’s dedication to realising a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

His Indian counterpart, Narendra Modhi, told colleagues: “The Quad has come of age. It will now remain an important pillar of stability in the region.”

Without naming China, Mr Morrison stressed the need for countries of the region to respect and support the “sovereignty, independence and security” of others.

Mr Biden laid down his additional aspiration that nations be “free of coercion”, a feature of Chinese government behaviour that each Quad member is aggrieved by, whether economic, territorial or through forms of foreign interference in their own jurisdictions.

All four leaders have agreed to meet in person at their next Summit before the end of the year.

“The ambition of these engagements is fit to the moment; we are committed to leveraging our partnership to help the world’s most dynamic region respond to historic crisis, so that it may be the free, open, accessible, diverse, and thriving Indo-Pacific we all seek”, the Quad members said in their official written statement after the inaugural talks.

Huawei or the highway

A middle-aged man in a suit at table talks to three elderly men via monitors in wooden boardroom.
Scott Morrison said the Quad marked the arrival of a new dawn in the Asia-Pacific region.(

AP: Dean Lewins

)

In their private talks, the leaders also addressed China’s dominance in, and their growing dependence on, hi-tech information systems.

India, Japan and the US have considerable clout as competitors in those industries, but have struggled to compete against cheaper, mass scale production by state-owned enterprises under the CCP’s command.

Large cyber attacks, a global shortage of microchips and the race to build fast 5G mobile networks have exacerbated those rivalries.

In a likely nod to the cyber security threats posed by Chinese behemoth Huawei, the Quad has pledged to “encourage cooperation on telecommunications deployment, diversification of equipment suppliers and future telecommunications”.

Biden dives into climate diplomacy

An elderly man in a dark suit and face mask sits at white-tableclothed desk in front of US flag.
The Biden administration is starting work to strengthen its partnerships in Asia-Pacific.(

Reuters: Tom Brenner

)

At his first international summit since moving into the White House, Mr Biden offered a hint to the tactics his administration would use to herd major economies towards greater effort on climate change.

It is a personal policy preoccupation of the President.

The issue has been identified as a “priority” for the Quad, beginning with the formation of a working group to “strengthen and enhance actions globally” and keep a “Paris-aligned temperature limit within reach”.

The language used in the joint statement is measured, non-binding and non-specific, but Biden administration officials have said US Climate Envoy John Kerry will engage with countries on their individual commitments to emissions reduction, mitigation, climate finance and more.

To Asia, with haste

Having elevated America’s bonds with like-minded democracies of the Indo-Pacific, the Biden administration is about to embark on a diplomatic blitz of the region in a further statement of its intention to strengthen partnerships and alliances as counter-balances to China’s influence.

Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and Defence Secretary, Lloyd Austin, will visit Japan and South Korea, before Mr Austin ventures on to India.

All three countries have long managed fragile relations with Beijing.

But even as it marshals friends and support, the Biden brand of diplomacy is not to isolate or ignore China.

The foreign ministers of India, Japan, Australia and the US pose for a photo
The foreign ministers of the Quad’s nations met in Japan last year, including Australia’s Marise Payne.(

Reuters: Kiyoshi Ota

)

On return to the US, Mr Blinken and Mr Sullivan will land in Anchorage, Alaska, for the administration’s first face-to-face meeting with senior Chinese officials; Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the overseer of the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign policy settings, Yang Jiechi.

State Department spokesman Ned Price has acknowledged there is a “long litany of disagreements” with China, including “Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet, pressure on Taiwan, broader human rights abuses, the South China Sea, the Mekong, economic pressure, arbitrary detentions, the origins of COVID-19, other issues”.

Washington’s aim in rebuilding the Quad and in the Seoul, Tokyo and Delhi talks is to enable it to “engage Beijing from a position of strength,” the State Department says.

By expanding from a narrow maritime security focus, the Quad has deliberately made a play for even greater clout with smaller, like-minded nations.

Highlighting its “practical” vaccine initiative, the senior US administration official involved in steering pre-Summit negotiations said meeting basic needs of the people within the region is integral to the survival of the grouping.

“If the Quad cannot do that, if it can’t address constructively these issues, we will quickly lose relevance and will be strategically insignificant”, the senior official said.

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Where to now for Australia-China trade?(Bill Birtles)

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In ‘Historic’ Summit Quad Commits to Meeting Key Indo-Pacific Challenges – The Diplomat


In a signal development, the leaders of the Australia-India-Japan-United States Quad met on March 12 in a virtual summit. The Quad summit and joint statement marks a significant milestone in the evolution of the grouping, its agenda now clearer and likely to be received positively across the Indo-Pacific. Since it was revived in 2017 after a decade on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila, the Quad has acquired considerable momentum. The March 12 summit is an indication that that momentum is far from being spent.

In a White House press conference following the summit today, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan noted that each of the four leaders present had described the meeting as “historic.”

Quad talks were elevated to the ministerial level in 2019 with foreign ministers from all four countries holding a meeting on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York in September that year. Since then, Quad foreign ministers have met twice: in-person in Tokyo in October last year, and virtually last month. Australia also joined the India-Japan-U.S. Malabar naval exercises last November after a gap of 13 years.

While the Malabar exercises formally remain disjunct from Quad activities (and it is not known whether Australia’s participation in the 2020 edition was a one-off affair or not), New Delhi’s decision to invite Australia to the exercises amid a tense standoff with China in eastern Ladakh carried symbolic weight, leading adherents to claim that the grouping – widely believed to be held together through common threats posed by an intransigent China – was finally signaling its collective military weight.

Since assuming office in January, U.S. President Joe Biden has enthusiastically embraced the “free and open Indo-Pacific” nomenclature favored by his predecessor Donald Trump, contrary to apprehensions that he would seek to adopt a softer line toward China with the downstream effect that the Indo-Pacific construct would lose salience for the new administration. To the contrary, Sullivan affirmed the “centrality of the Indo-Pacific in U.S. national security” for Biden administration in post-summit press briefing.)

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The Biden administration has also sought to promote the Quad as a key component in the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy almost immediately since it took over, with both emerging as rare points of policy convergence between Biden and Trump, with Biden noting “[t]he Quad is going to be a vital arena for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” in the March 12 summit. In turn, in his own opening remarks at the March 12 summit (March 13 in Australia), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked Biden for his initiative in holding the summit, confirming news reports as well as a March 5 statement by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to that effect.

However, Biden seeks to leave his own distinct, pragmatic, imprint on the Quad, with a focus on the grouping’s “softer” capabilities in line with Indo-Pacific public-goods needs rather than promote a singular counter-China orientation for the grouping. In any event, such a monomaniacal thrust would have had uncertain buy-in from India, not to mention from the 10-nation ASEAN whose “centrality” has become a defining proposition in the Quad’s public billing.

In the run-up to the March 12 summit, media reports suggested that one of the key areas of focus for the Quad would be a vaccine initiative for the region that would see U.S. COVID-19 vaccines being manufactured in India with U.S., Japan, and Australia providing financial and other support. At a press conference following the summit, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla provided further details confirming that India will be manufacturing up to 1 billion single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines, with the U.S and Japan providing financial support and Australia taking care of logistics. Sullivan in his briefing noted that these vaccines will be delivered to ASEAN states, in the wider Indo-Pacific and beyond.

Sullivan also noted other areas of thrust for the quad, including maritime security and cyber issues. While noting that the four leaders had indeed discussed China, “today’s meeting was not fundamentally about” that country, he said. Interestingly, in a response to a question from the Bloomberg White House correspondent, he noted that India and Japan too had been victims of recent cyber attacks.

In terms of the joint statement that followed the summit, its robustness – and straightforward framing and commitments – is likely to surprise some. As preamble to “The Spirit of the Quad,” as it described itself laying out, it noted: “We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion,” suggesting a broad and varied ambit for common action.

As key challenges in front of the Quad, the statement notes “economic and health impacts of COVID-19,” climate change, and “shared challenges, including in cyber space, critical technologies, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment, and humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief as well as maritime domains.”

The joint statement was unexpectedly blunt on the maritime security front. In particular, its spelling out of “collaboration, including in maritime security, to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas” suggests significant future potential for common action — and a surprising degree of formal buy-in for such action from India that has, traditionally, couched its position on the disputes in the Western Pacific in more oblique language.

Interestingly, the joint statement also saw the Quad committing itself to “complete denuclearization” of North Korea. On Myanmar, on the account of India (and perhaps also Japan), the language was unsurprisingly toned-down. “As long-standing supporters of Myanmar and its people, we emphasize the urgent need to restore democracy and the priority of strengthening democratic resilience,” it said.

The joint statement also saw the four countries committing to establishing three new working groups: on vaccines, emerging tech, and climate. (Details about the working groups as well as the Quad Vaccine Partnership are available in this fact-sheet supplied after the summit.)

“Our experts and senior officials will continue to meet regularly; our Foreign Ministers will converse often and meet at least once a year. At the leader level, we will hold an in-person summit by the end of 2021,” it noted.

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