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CIA must convince moderate Muslims it has turned away from torture

Barack Obama with former White House counterterrorism advisor John O. Brennan, right, as the president nominates him to become the next CIA chief in 2013.Fifty-five years ago, when work began on the CIA’s new headquarters at Langley, Virginia, Allen W. Dulles, the spy agency’s first civilian director, stipulated that its motto, taken from St John’s Gospel, should be inscribed at the building’s entrance. To this day, anyone who enters the vast complex is confronted by the engraving: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
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It is unlikely that the thousands of employees who work there are feeling particularly liberated in the wake of the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s damning report into the agency’s controversial programme to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects after the September 11 attacks.

President Obama insists that Americans should continue to consider CIA officers as “patriots” to whom the country owes “a profound debt of gratitude”. But there will be many at Langley who feel a deep sense of betrayal that, yet again, the agency has found itself caught in the crosshairs of a bitter political battle between Republicans and Democrats over how best to confront the threat posed by Islamist terrorists.

Indeed, there are many current and former CIA officials who are already questioning the veracity of the committee’s account. Within hours of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s chairman, releasing the report, John O. Brennan, the agency’s current director, who was appointed by Mr Obama only last year, launched an attack on the findings, claiming they were “incomplete and selective”.

Mr Brennan was particularly keen to reject the report’s assertion that the CIA had deliberately misled politicians and the public about its activities. “The record does not support the study’s inference that the agency systematically and intentionally misled each of these audiences on the effectiveness of the programme,” he said. These sentiments were echoed by one his Republican predecessors, Michael Hayden, who, writing in yesterday’s Telegraph, denounced the report as reading like “a shrill prosecutorial screed rather than a dispassionate historical study”.

As Democrats enjoy a clear majority on the intelligence committee, it was clear from the outset that their primary motivation was to settle old scores against the Bush administration. Consequently, the end product can hardly be hailed as a truthful and full account of what actually happened during one of the darker episodes in the agency’s troubled history.

If political malice was the objective, the outcome has been to inflict enormous damage both to the CIA’s reputation, as well as its ability to maintain its effectiveness in dealing with terrorist groups.

By far the most damaging passages in the report concern the brutal methods some CIA operatives used against a small number of suspects after the September 11 attacks. At times these were so extreme that even the CIA officials involved tried to stop the interrogations because they were “on the point of tears and choking up”.

In one particularly gruesome session, when a detainee called Abu Zubaydah was being waterboarded in Thailand, he became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth”. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged chief planner of the 9/11 attacks, was subjected to a series of “near drownings”, while other prisoners who went on hunger strike were subjected to “rectal feeding” and “rectal hydration”, a technique that the CIA’s then head of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee”.

Equally damaging are the findings that, when serious concerns arose within the agency over the efficacy of using these “enhanced interrogation techniques”, senior officers deliberately withheld details and lied about their effectiveness.

It is here, moreover, that the CIA’s rogue activities have a direct bearing on Britain, which remains one of Washington’s closest allies in terms of intelligence-gathering and sharing. During the presidency of George W Bush, administration officials frequently sought to justify their unorthodox methods by claiming they had thwarted terror plots against the UK, such as a 2003 plot to bomb a number of transatlantic flights leaving Heathrow Airport and to blow up Canary Wharf. But the report concludes that most of these threats were foiled by other intelligence channels unconnected with the maltreatment of prisoners held at secret detention facilities throughout the world.

Arguably, it is the suggestion that elements within the CIA were, in effect, concealing certain operations from their political masters that will cause most concern. For all its considerable accomplishments over the years, the reason the CIA is the subject of so many conspiracy theories is that it remains tainted by several episodes when it went “rogue” – that is, undertook operations without proper authorisation.

In the ’70s, during the Nixon era, it was publicly castigated by the Church Commission for a series of misdemeanours, including spying on domestic critics, botched assassinations and dosing unsuspecting victims with hallucinogenic drugs. This resulted in the introduction of new laws and restrictions on CIA activities. But the agency found itself in the dock again in the ’80s after William Casey, its then director, was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, which nearly destroyed the Reagan administration.

It is unlikely this week’s report will have the same devastating effect, not least because both the intelligence community and the Republicans have succeeded in portraying the Senate’s findings as a partisan hatchet job.

The real problem the CIA and other intelligence agencies face – British intelligence officers have also been accused of complicity in the CIA’s interrogation programme – is dealing with the undisputed evidence that operatives systematically abused their Muslim captives in a manner most civilised people will view as torture. The CIA and its allies in the West must now persuade moderate Muslims that these mistakes are firmly confined to history, and assure critics that their default position will always be to abide by the rule of law, rather than indulging in knee-jerk responses.

In the CIA’s defence, the main reason any of the abuse happened was because, like other intelligence agencies, everyone was caught off guard by the enormity of the September 11 attacks. If the comparisons with Pearl Harbour made by Mr Bush at the time now seem an exaggeration, they nevertheless induced a mood of blind panic that led the CIA to respond in ways it now regrets.

But if any good is to come from the past decade’s controversies, it is that the West has learnt from its mistakes. As it focuses on the new threat posed by IS, it is seeking to maintain the moral high ground against a foe that thinks nothing of publicly beheading its captives, and then distributing grisly videos of their deaths on the internet.

Yet while it is unlikely that detainees will in future be subjected to the same level of abuse, concerns must remain about some of the more recent techniques the Obama administration has introduced to tackle Islamist militants.

Mr Obama is proud of the fact that, in the week after his election in 2008, he put an end to the Bush administration’s interrogation policy. But he has been less than forthcoming about the dramatic rise in drone strikes against Islamist targets in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. To many, particularly those living in the countries most affected, the attacks are a cowardly and immoral way for America to confront its enemies, particularly when they incur civilian casualties.

So before Mr Obama and his supporters get too carried away crowing over the conclusions of the intelligence committee’s report, they should take a closer look at what is taking place on their own watch. For it would be a tragedy for the West if, having succeeded in ending the nightmare of “enhanced interrogation procedures”, it were to find itself accused of carrying out extra-judicial executions through the Obama administration’s increased use of drone strikes.

The Daily Telegraph 

Government still in denial on Manus

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Alex EllinghausenThe most troubling aspect of the Senate report into the violence that engulfed the Manus Island detention centre in February is not the finding that the government failed to protect asylum seekers like Reza Barati from harm.
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That has been evident since Mr Barati’s brutal murder in February.

Nor is it that Scott Morrison took too long to correct his initial statement that Mr Barati and others would have been safe had they stayed inside the centre.

Again, we have known that since the immediate aftermath and, in any case, the report makes clear that there were conflicting reports.

What is most concerning is the thrust of the minority report, signed by Liberal senator Ian Macdonald which apportions most blame for inadequacies on the former government and asserts that all is now all OK.

How would he know? Senator Macdonald asserts that “since September 2013” the Australian government has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that the facilities at the centre are “of a standard that would satisfy the expectations of the Australian people”.

To support this contention, he reports that two of the recommendations of the departmental inquiry into the violence (handed down in May) have been implemented and the remaining 11 are “well progressed”.

Yet everything is clearly not OK. Little more than a handful of the more than 1000 asylum seekers being held on Manus have been moved into accommodation outside the centre after being found to be refugees.

According to locals, they still do not have freedom of movement and the notion that they can rebuild their lives, find suitable work and sponsor immediate family members to join them is just that – a notion.

Meanwhile, reports of misery, hunger strikes and deteriorating mental health of the single men in the centre continue, while access to the centre for human rights advocates, non-government agencies, journalists and lawyers remains costly and at the whim of the PNG government.

Moreover, the picture painted by those agencies that have been granted access, from Amnesty International to the United Nations refugee agency, is a highly disturbing one and the human rights inquiry instigated by a PNG judge was shut down by the PNG government after consultations with the Australian government.

Western Sydney Wanderers close to solving pay dispute surrounding Club World Cup prizemoney

Pay dispute: Wanderers players during a training session. Photo: James BrickwoodWestern Sydney Wanderers are inching closer to striking an agreement with their players over a bitter pay dispute that had threatened their participation in the lucrative Club World Cup tournament in Morocco.
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For the first time since the stand-off became public, the players and the club’s management are set to open peace talks in Rabat aimed at finding a common ground for the players’ share of the minimum $1.2 million in prizemoney for competing in the tournament.

Fairfax Media understands the Wanderers’ management verbally indicated to the players its intent to double its initial offer though will not reach the squad’s demand of a 50 per cent cut.

It is the first time the club’s hierarchy has budged from its offer of a 10 per cent share of the minimum prizemoney, which also includes a progressive cut depending on results and additional winnings. The club is yet to formally submit its new offer to the players but sources close to negotiations are hopeful of finding an agreement within the next 24 hours.

The players and management were scheduled to meet on Wednesday evening local time but this was delayed after Wanderers chief executive John Tsatsimas was required to attend the tournament’s opening ceremony and the first match between local side, Moghreb Tetouan, and Oceania champions Auckland City.

The New Zealand club sealed its passage to the quarter-finals after winning 4-3 on penalties after neither club was able to score in 120 minutes of football.

Auckland City will play African champions’ ES Setif from Algeria and are now guaranteed $1.2 million in prizemoney. They will now have a chance to play Western Sydney Wanderers if both teams lose or both win their quarter-final fixtures. The Wanderers face North American champions Cruz Azul from Mexico on the morning of December 14.

How Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou is closing the Silicon Valley gender gap

Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou is shaking up Silicon Valley gender stereotypes a percentage point at a time. Photo: Josh Robenstone Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou in Melbourne. Photo: Josh Robenstone
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Pinterest has a secret weapon. Her name is Tracy Chou.

Thanks to this 27-year-old, the social scrapbooking site has lifted the number of female software developers it employs by 5 per cent in one year. It’s not a huge increase but she had no particular target, quota or even affirmative action in sight.

And now other technology companies are taking notice.

“We’re very much against having quotas or trying to set ratios around hiring targets,” Chou told Fairfax Media while in Melbourne for the Above All Human conference this week.

“Being a female engineer in an environment that’s primarily male dominated can be a little bit lonely at times.

“In the past, I felt very personally frustrated and dejected. I wasn’t really sure why I wanted to be in the industry, even though I loved the work.”

Chou says affirmative action is an invitation for employers to “lower the bar” for women, and would only compound the problem of negative stereotyping of female coders.

Instead, Pinterest – where Chou has been a lead engineer for three years, after a stint at Q&A site Quora – is targeting strong female coding graduates by visiting universities and encouraging women to apply for jobs and internships.

To address the retention issues that disproportionately affect female hires, the company is also promoting a policy of equal opportunity for advancement. This is supported internally by initiatives such as training for managers about unconscious bias in the promotion process.

This year, Pinterest’s summer intern program was 29 per cent women. Three of those were hired full-time as engineers.

Yet it was Chou who pushed Pinterest’s management to publicly disclose, for the first time, the number of female software engineers it employed. In October last year, the answer was 12 per cent.

And it was Chou who encouraged more Silicon Valley companies to do the same, with the aim of better quantifying the gender gap in her profession.

Nearly 200 technology companies have since contributed to her ongoing data collection project. Among them, the average  of female engineers on the books is 15 per cent.

A Code上海龙凤419 analysis of United States Department of Labour statistics predicts there will be 1 million more coding jobs than graduates by 2020 in the US.

It’s pretty clear the sector needs the women.

Chou’s efforts have helped push Pinterest above the female coder average to 17 per cent.

But she admits there’s a long way to go, and is well aware of the pressures.

Female coders are expected to “uphold the reputation of an entire minority class”, she says, are frequently stereotyped, and often feel isolated.

These feelings begin early, when aspiring female coders realise they are an anomaly in computer science classes.

There are far less subtle factors, too, such as the recent “GamerGate” controversy when threats of rape and murder were directed at women gamers online. It’s enough to make every parent tell their girls to run a mile from the tech industry.

Dr Marian Baird, who heads the University of Sydney’s Women and Work Research Group, commends Chou for attempting to quantify the issue, but says having targets is helpful in pushing back against the pressures.

“There’s quite a body of literature that talks about the need for a critical mass of women in order to change the culture of a place so they will stay, and unless they have targets, it’s very easy for the issue to drop off the agenda,” she says.

That magic number, Dr Baird says, is 30 per cent.

Thirty-one of the companies that participated in Chou’s project – or just 16 per cent – have achieved this “critical mass” of 30 per cent female engineers. However, each of these has a relatively small engineering team, generally fewer than 10 developers. .

However, 30 companies on the list employ no female developers.

Among the 20 largest developer teams on the list – those with 65 or more engineers, including Pinterest, Mozilla, Dropbox, Yelp, Etsy, Foursquare, Wikimedia and Airbnb – all fall short of the 30 per cent target.

ThoughtWorks, with the largest developer team at 1425, is tipping 23 per cent women; while GitHub, ironically, where Chou is hosting the project, has just 6.25 per cent in its 160-strong engineering team.

Other tech giants are conspicuously absent from the data. Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter, have, instead, published overall diversity figures, which show their female workforce at about 30 per cent across the board.

But these do not reflect the percentages of women in high-paying computer engineering jobs, as they include all departments.

Twitter, Apple, Amazon and other household tech names came under fresh fire this week for refusing to disclose detailed diversity statistics to the US Department of Labour.

With mammoth employers like these reluctant to even face the size of the problem, Chou sees there’s much to be done.

But she believes the most powerful thing she can do is to stay put.

“I still really enjoy being a software engineer,” she says.

“I don’t just want to be talking about the gender gap. It is more impactful for me to be an advocate for gender diversity while still working.”

Justin Bieber’s mate Cody Simpson most followed Australian on Twitter

Cody Simpson, Australia’s most popular tweeter, at the Nickelodeon Slimefest 2014 in Melbourne. Cody Simpson with on-again, off-again Sports Illustrated model girlfriend Gigi Hadid.
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Cody Simpson, Australia’s most popular tweeter, at the Nickelodeon Slimefest 2014 in Melbourne.

Cody Simpson, Australia’s most popular tweeter, at the Nickelodeon Slimefest 2014 in Melbourne.

Cody Simpson, Australia’s most popular tweeter, at the Nickelodeon Slimefest 2014 in Melbourne.

A sandy haired 17-year-old boy from the Gold Coast is the most followed Australian on Twitter.

Singer Cody Simpson topped the official end of year poll by the social media platform, with 7.2 million followers. Actor Hugh Jackman came in equal second with 5 Seconds of Summer singer and guitarist Luke Hemmings, both of whom have 4.8 million followers.

Model Miranda Kerr and singers Iggy Azalea and Kylie Minogue were the only women in the top 10. Lorde, with 2.7 million followers, was included but given she’s a proud Kiwi we’re not too sure why.

However the New Zealand-born singer, whose real name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor, is the owner of the “golden tweet of 2014”. Her post which included a photoshopped image of herself compared to an untouched image and the message “flaws are ok” was retweeted 73,619 times by Australian Twitter users.

Simpson came in at number two for his tweet, which featured a photo of the La De Dee singer arm-wrestling Justin Bieber, along with the poignant message “let’s go!”. It was shared by more than 41,200 of his fans.

The teenager, who sings and plays guitar, was discovered in a similar fashion to Bieber in 2009 – via YouTube by Jay-Z’s producer Shawn Campbell. His EP Coast to Coast debuted at No. 12 on the US Billboard Top 200 chart.

His family relocated to Los Angeles so he could work with some of the biggest names in music, including Flo Rida and other producers and songwriters who worked on Bieber’s early albums.

“I didn’t really worry too much about meetings with important record executives, it was kind of like just having a meeting with my teachers at school,” he said of his initial thoughts of the music industry.

Within his first year of landing in the United States, Simpson recorded his first album and toured North America.

During an interview with Fairfax Media in 2011, he said a meeting with a “chilled out” President Obama at the White House and a performance on the Ellen show were his career highlights.

Talk of a duet or joint venture with the then world’s biggest teenage star, Bieber, was in the works. Three years later and it has now come to fruition, with the pair releasing a duet called Home To Mama.

Unlike his songwriting, Simpson subscribes to the “less is more” theory with his Tweets. His most popular musings are monosyllabic and feature (the unofficial) Brat of the Year, Bieber.

His popularity with the tweens, teens and young ladies is also due to his on-again, off-again relationship with 19-year-old Sports Illustrated model Gigi Hadid. The two are prime targets for paparazzi in LA and New York.

Simpson’s fashion sense adds to his appeal. His favourite accessories are an homage to Guns N’ Roses. His off-duty look usually features a head band or Axl Rose-like bandana, while red carpet appearances are all about the Slash inspired top hats.

The 10 tweets which made Cody Simpson the most popular Australian on Twitter in 2014: studio flow with @[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected] — Cody Simpson (@CodySimpson) July 28, 2014 so stoked for what is to come!! — Cody Simpson (@CodySimpson) July 28, 2014 if I had a guitar w/ only 1 string, I could only play one song. a simple melody, simple enough to make the world sing pic.twitter上海龙凤419m/4ZXaJdzvcy — Cody Simpson (@CodySimpson) July 22, 2014 chill studio session last night with @justinbieber. wrote a beautiful guitar track. able to relate when it comes to love & women. good sht! — Cody Simpson (@CodySimpson) June 11, 2014 new music on its way, so stoked — Cody Simpson (@CodySimpson) September 6, 2014

Diverse 2015 Victorian Premiers Literary Award Shortlist features itinerant novelist Ceridwan Dovey

Ceridwen Dovey. Photo: Peter Rae Ceridwen Dovey. Photo: Peter Rae

Ceridwen Dovey. Photo: Peter Rae

Ceridwen Dovey. Photo: Peter Rae

Itinerant novelist Ceridwen Dovey’s imagined stories of animals living with humans joins a diverse fiction shortlist for the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

In one of the first major arts announcement by the new Victorian Labor government, with Creative Industry Minister Martin Foley announcing the 21-title shortlist across five categories, with a total prize pool of more than $200,000.

Dovey is in company with multiple-award winner Sonya Hartnett for Golden Boys, former National Gallery of Australia curator Mark Henshaw for The Snow Kimono, short-fiction specialist Wayne Macauley for Demons, poet John A. Scott for his speculative historical thriller N and former winner of a Vogel award for unpublished manuscript Rohan Wilson for To Name Those Who Lost.

Dovey grew up between Australia and South Africa and lived in New York before settling in Sydney. With her second work of fiction, Only the Animals, she has been hailed as part of a new generation of Australian literary voices that also includes Hannah Kent, winner of the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

Notably half of the books nominated in this category come from independent outfits – Text Publishing and Brandl and Schlesinger, publisher of literary magazine Southerly.

Editor of The Saturday Paper Erik Jensen has been shortlisted for his colourful biography of the late Sydney artist Adam Cullen, Acute Misfortune.

Two titles from academic publisher NewSouth are also in the non-fiction shortlist: The Europeans in Australia: Volume Three:Nation by Alan Atkinson and Darwin by Tess Lea. Yet Sophie Cunningham’s Walkey long-listed book on the city up north has been ignored by judges, Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy.

Don Watson’s The Bush, a well-reviewed exploration of our regional obsessions and Julie Szego’s breakdown of the troubling conviction of a young Somali man in The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama are also listed for non-fiction.

Unlike other categories, the drama prize is solely populated by locals: Alison Croggon for a libretto on Stalin’s favourite poet, Mayakovsky, Angus Cerini for abstract work Resplendance and Daniel Keene’s defence force collaboration The Long Way Home.

Justine Larbalestier’s historical thriller Razorhurst gets a gong in the young adult category along with solid crowd favourite Jaclyn Moriarty (The Cracks in the Kingdom) and Inky Award-listed Claire Zorn (The Protected).

Small publisher Puncher and Wattman will be celebrating too, with two titles in the poetry shortlist, Jill Jones’ The Beautiful Anxiety and Andy Kissane’s Radiance. Susan Bradley Smith’s Bed For All Who Come has also been nominated, following positive international reviews.


Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin)

Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Penguin)

The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw (Text Publishing)

Demons by Wayne Macauley (Text Publishing)

N by John A. Scott (Brandl & Schlesinger)

To Name Those Lost by Rohan Wilson (Allen & Unwin)


The Europeans in Australia: Volume Three: Nation by Alan Atkinson (NewSouth)

Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen by Erik Jensen (Black Inc.)

Darwin by Tess Lea (NewSouth)

Where Song Began by Tim Low (Penguin)

The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama by Julie Szego (Wild Dingo Press)

The Bush by Don Watson (Penguin)


Resplendence by Angus Cerini (Cerini/Doubletap)

Mayakovsky by Alison Croggon (Carriageworks/Sydney Chamber Opera)

The Long Way Home by Daniel Keene (STC)


Bed For All Who Come by Susan Bradley Smith (Five Islands Press)

The Beautiful Anxiety by Jill Jones (Puncher and Wattman)

Radiance by Andy Kissane (Punchman and Wattman)


Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)

The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan)

The Protected by Claire Zorn (UQP)

Telstra chief David Thodey backs government’s piracy plan

Blessing: David Thodey has urged the industry to ‘step up and put a code together’.Telstra chief executive David Thodey has backed the federal government’s latest plan to tackle illegal downloading, which gives internet service providers 120 days to propose a code of conduct.

Mr Thodey said the government’s decision to handball the onus of tackling piracy back to the telecommunications companies was correct, when speaking at an American Chamber of Commerce in Australia event.

“The industry should step up and put a code together, that’s both sides – Foxtel and the telecommunication companies,” he said.

“The question is who should be responsible for policing the illegal downloading of information.”

On Wednesday Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis issued a letter to industry leaders saying the code must be registered with the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

It must also include “a process to notify consumers when a copyright breach has occurred and provide information on how they can gain access to legitimate content.”

The telecommunications companies have until April 8, 2015, to develop the code of conduct.

Mr Thodey said the industry needed to work with rights holders to find a “workable solution”.

“The big issue is around who pays and I think we have to find some complementary way to do that,” he said.

“This is a big issue and I think a lot of people aren’t aware necessarily what’s going on in the home. There are serial offenders, but there are also people who just don’t know it’s going on.”

If the telecommunication companies fail to agree on a code within 120 days, the government will impose binding arrangements of its own prescription.

The government will also be able to block overseas websites with pirated content if rights holders obtain a court order, under amendments to the Copyright Act.

Mr Thodey said he did not want to have to block websites, but the government had the right to do so.

“The reality is there are sites which propagate illegal behaviour and the government has a right to do that,” he said.

In his speech Mr Thodey also announced Telstra’s newest network 4GX would be available to 94 per cent of the population by mid-2015.

In late November Telstra switched on the 4GX network in Melbourne, giving some customers access to “extreme speeds” with its 700Mhz spectrum.

Mr Thodey said customers would have speeds of 70 to 100 megabytes a second and it would have a peak of 350 megabytes a second.

“We need to keep building this core technology because your consumption and your expectations around when you use a mobile phone is that it just goes like that, no matter where you are,” he said.

He said the network would cover 250,000 square kilometres.

Research by Credit Suisse last month said Telstra would start losing its mobile market share and profit growth to Sing Tel-Optus and Vodafone Hutchinson Australia.

Credit Suisse telecoms and media equity research director Fraser McLeish said Telstra currently made 53 per cent of the mobile market’s total revenue and that this would grow in 2015, but he predicted this would start to fall in 2016 because of greater price and network competition.

Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi said Telstra would need to continue to maintain its network leadership to keep dominating the market.

“Currently Telstra has a clear advantage with non-metro Australians,” he said. “People outside of metro areas are by and large on Telstra networks.

“But it has to be first to have Wi-Fi handover and it has to have the fastest network in Australia to maintain its position.”

Boo Weekley leads Australian PGA Championship on Gold Coast

 As it happened: Day one blog

There is a lone deer that has been loitering around the fringes of Boo Weekley’s Florida property that should be feeling very nervous.

Next week, the American will head home, put down the driver and pick up a rifle. This is a shotgun start of the most menacing kind.

Before he indulges his passion for hunting – “I like smelling gunpowder” – Weekley has a golf tournament to take out.

On a rain-interrupted first day of the Australian PGA Championship on the Gold Coast, the 41-year-old made the most of early conditions to card a six-under 66, good enough for two-stroke lead over a group that included defending champion Adam Scott.

After a pair of 15th-place finishes at the Australian Masters and the Open, Weekley found conditions to his liking in Queensland. The kind of humidity that makes the air feel like a woollen jacket reminded him of his native South, while Royal Pines shares similarities with the resort courses he encounters in the American version of the Sunshine State.

He would eagle the par-four 17th, holing out an eight iron from 135m, before a more conservative approach paid off on the new drivable eighth, a deliciously tempting hole sure to undo some of the bigger-hitting contenders over the weekend, or those in search of rapid birdies.

Weekley had set himself a goal to finish in the top 20 of all three of his Australian events. He is two from two on that front and now finds himself in the box seat at the PGA in a tournament that looks certain to be plagued by storms and torrential rain throughout the weekend.

With three hours of play lost on day one and the forecast looking dire, a Monday finish remains in play.

“It’s very similar [to Florida], the way the weather is right now, it’s hot and steamy and feel like it’s going to rain again. I played well. I struck the ball solid, kept it in play, hit one bad drive and kind of got away with it. I kind of kept my game or my momentum going on the backside,” Weekley said.

“It felt like it all came together. The first week I didn’t make no putts, hit it pretty solid, just didn’t make no putts and the next week made some putts but to me didn’t hit my irons as well. So now it was kind of like they both came together.”

With his penchant for calling journalists “sir” and his endearing southern drawl, Weekley has become a media and fan favourite since he touched down in Melbourne for the Masters. And while he has enjoyed his time in Australia, his trigger finger has started to itch as he plans a post-golf hunting trip with friends and family.

With sponsors such as Federal Premium Ammunition, it’s no secret Weekley enjoys blasting away on the open range just as much as the driving range. It’s a hobby that won’t be to the taste of many Australians but something Weekley has grown up with since he was a boy.

“I like smelling gunpowder. You know, people got drug problems – that’s my drug problem,” Weekley told some slightly bemused reporters. “I can shoot something up to 500, 600 yards [away]. It all depends on what we’re shooting.”

Scott birdied his final hole to remain firmly in contention, saying he was more than content to find himself in the mix early after sluggish starts over the past few weeks in Melbourne and Sydney.

“It was a pretty solid start. I can always find reason to be better but I think I’ll take that, considering the starts I’ve got off to the last couple of weeks,” Scott said.

“It’s certainly not quite as demanding a golf course as what we’ve seen in the other weeks and we had beautiful conditions this morning, so somewhat taken advantage of that,”

Marc Leishman and Nick Cullen looked to be the likely duo to make up some ground after play resumed at 4.30pm but neither man could close the gap with Weekley.

Leishman, the tournament second favourite, briefly moved to four under with a birdie on 11 but gave it back two holes later. Cullen followed a similar path, while both men will have to make up four holes on Friday after their round was cut short.

South Australian Tom Bond was the other late mover, sinking three straight birdies to be three under after eight holes before rain and storms ended play for good.

Friday’s groups are scheduled to be out at 5.30am local time to try and make up for lost time but with rain and storms on the radar, it shapes to be another day of start-stop golf.

Ian Rixon quits as Maitland Liberal conference boss after Steve Thomson set to be candidate

Steve Thomson will be the next Liberal candidate for Maitland. Maitland state electorate conference president Ian Rixon is quitting his post, saying he could not support the party endorsing a brand new member who only moved to Maitland a couple of years ago. THE president of the Maitland state electorate conference has quit his role and the Liberal Party altogether to help an independent campaign for the seat against the party’s candidate.

It emerged on Wednesday businessman Steve Thomson would be the next Liberal candidate for Maitland, after two other nominees withdrew before a preselection ballot could be held.

On Thursday, Maitland state electorate conference president Ian Rixon advised the party’s state director he would be quitting. He was a member for about seven years.

‘‘I was proud to help Robyn Parker MP though her treatment by the Premier and decision not to run again are part of my reasons,’’ Mr Rixon’s letter, seen by the Newcastle Herald, said.

‘‘Mainly I cannot support the party endorsing a brand new member who only moved to Maitland a couple of years ago.’’

Mr Rixon will instead support independent Philip Penfold, who himself previously resigned from the party. Under party rules, Mr Thomson is unable to comment on his preselection until officially endorsed.

The former president of the Maitland Business Chamber has lived in the area about three and half years, but is understood to have joined the party in October.

Sitting MP Robyn Parker announced that month she would be retiring at the March election. She was dropped from cabinet earlier this year when Mike Baird became Premier.

Newcastle City Councillor Lisa Tierney withdrew her nomination for candidate last week for family medical reasons.

Port Stephens Councillor Ken Jordan is believed to have withdrawn on Wednesday because he wants to nominate for the seat of Port Stephens instead, after sitting MP Craig Baumann announced he would not stand as the party’s candidate there.

A boundary redistribution has reduced the Liberal margin in Maitlandto less than five per cent.

In 2007, the anti-Labor vote split between prominent independent Peter Blackmore and Liberal candidate Bob Geoghegan, helping Labor’s Frank Terenzini over the line.

He lost his seat to Ms Parker amid the state swing to the Liberals in 2011.

Businesswoman Jenny Aitchison is contesting the seat for Labor this time.

Giant nudibranch heads Nelson Bay Nudi festival

Giant nudibranch heads Nelson Bay Nudi festival SEA SLUG: Nellie the Nudibranch will push the conservation message at the Nelson Bay Nudi festival on Saturday. Picture supplied

SEA SLUG: Nellie the Nudibranch will push the conservation message at the Nelson Bay Nudi festival on Saturday. Picture supplied

SEA SLUG: A real nudibranch. The north side of Port Stephens is home to some of the best shore diving in Australia,and it’s not hard to find nudibranchs there. Picture supplied.

TweetFacebook Sea slug stars at festivalADD it to the list of big things.

This three-metre-long painted nudibranch, or sea slug, named Nellie, in Nelson Bay is the latest addition to the nation’s obsessive collection of comparatively large objects.

Set to be unveiled on Saturday, it’s the headline act of the ‘‘Nudi Festival’’ being held in the Bay for the first time.

The festival, part of a push to help conservation efforts of the invertebrate sea slug, includes contests for the best nudi spotter during the festival, and prizes for divers who take the best photographs of the invertebrate.

The east side of Port Stephens is renowned for having some of the best shore dive sites in Australia, and the slugs’ bright colours and intricate patterns regularly draw divers from throughout the country.

In December last year researchers from Southern Cross University and the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park began working to officially record nudibranch diversity in the surrounding region, recording more than 200 species in the process.

Talks on the nudibranch will be held at the Tomaree Library in Salamander Bay at 6.30pm and 7.30pm on Friday, and Saturday, while touch tanks and other nudibranch displays will be at d’Albora Marinas from 11am-3pm on Saturday.

World-renowned nudibranch expert, Dr Richard Willan, curator of molluscs at the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, will also give public lectures.

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