Archive for January, 2019

Cowboys cut Bowen from NRL ranks


The agonising call to cut favourite son Matt Bowen has finally been made by North Queensland but a huge decision still looms for the Cowboys veteran.


Emotional North Queensland football manager Peter Parr admitted the task of filling the ex-Test No.1’s shoes at the Cowboys would be like “coming in after Bradman”.

However, he reluctantly backed the call to end the injury-plagued fullback’s 13-year tenure at the NRL club at the end of the season.

Yet the 31-year-old Bowen still has some big decisions ahead of him after “a couple” of English Super League clubs left the door open for the electric No.1 to extend his career overseas.

A Cowboys office job is on the table for North Queensland games record-holder Bowen but the livewire fullback admitted it was tempting to break his golden “one club player” rule and take his young family to England for one final season.

Bowen cheekily described England as “freezing” when asked about the first and last time he had visited during Australia’s 2004 Tri-Nations series but stressed he would make a final call on his playing future in coming days.

“I have always wanted to be a one club player. I obviously love the Cowboys,” Bowen said.

“I am not going to play for any other NRL club so I am looking at a couple of offers overseas.

“But in saying that, there is work here post-footy so we will see what happens.”

Persistent knee problems had plagued Bowen, yet the veteran could still not see the writing on the wall ahead of his very public tap on the shoulder on Friday.

“It was hard getting told I was not going to be here next year,” he said.

“I was lucky enough to play here 13 years with the club that I love.

“I have always loved putting on the Cowboys jersey and it is going to be hard not coming back to training and not doing the pre-season with the boys.

“I will definitely miss it. But I am not going to scream and shout about the decision they have made.”

Bowen made his NRL debut in 2001 and has played 267 games for the Cowboys – making him the club’s games record-holder and one of only four life members.

He has also featured in 10 State of Origin matches for Queensland and a single Test for Australia during his 2004 England tour.

Parr hoped Cowboys fans understood the “complex, difficult, emotional” decision to cut Bowen.

“No one wanted the day to come where Matthew didn’t wear the No.1 jersey for the Cowboys,” he said.

However, Bowen might yet have another chapter to write in his already inspirational tale.

Bowen looms as the key to North Queensland winning their last two NRL games and squeaking into the top eight despite coach Neil Henry being told his services won’t be required at the end of the season.

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Russia demands Belarus release potash CEO


Russia has protested to Belarus over the “unacceptable” arrest of the chief executive of the leading Russian potash producer, who was detained in Minsk just hours after he met the country’s premier.


Uralkali chief executive Vladislav Baumgertner was arrested at Minsk airport on Monday after visiting Belarus on the personal invitation of Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich.

He was detained three weeks after Uralkali severed links with its Belarussian partner Belaruskali, triggering a crash in the share prices of global manufacturers of the fertiliser.

In a rare diplomatic row between Minsk and Moscow, Russia summoned the Belarussian ambassador for a meeting at the Russian foreign ministry.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Belarus’ ambassador Igor Petrishenko in Moscow that “the arrest of the businessman… is unacceptable,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The arrest and information campaign surrounding it does not reflect the allied nature of our relations and could affect the scheduling of Russian-Belarussian contacts at a political level,” it added, demanding Baumgertner’s release.

The spokesman of the Belarus foreign ministry, Andrei Savinykh, hit back by saying the arrest should be “examined in the spirit of the law and not based on emotion and linkages to politics”, a statement said.

Russia’s ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov subsequently had a meeting at the Belarussian prosecutors’ office in Minsk to discuss Baumgertner’s arrest, Belarus state media said.

Belarussian investigators claim to have uncovered an illegal scheme by Baumgertner and other Uralkali managers to enrich themselves at a cost of $US100 million ($A111.36 million) to Belarus.

Baumgertner can now be held in custody for two months, although that can be extended, the spokesman of the Belarussian Investigative Committee, Pavel Traulko, said on Tuesday.

“The accused is currently being interrogated,” he said in Minsk.

Belarussian state-controlled media have played up the arrest, with daily newspaper Belarus Segodnya (Belarus Today), which is run by the presidential administration, saying Uralkali’s behaviour was similar to the “bandit capitalism” of the 1990s.

State television in a report entitled “Crime of the year” showed Baumgertner after his arrest being searched by security officers with his arms and legs spread apart and face against the wall.

Four other managers at Uralkali have also been put on a wanted list by Belarussian authorities, but they are currently all believed to be in Moscow.

The Belarussian Investigative Committee also said that it is looking into Suleiman Kerimov, the billionaire owner of Russia premier league team Anzhi Makhachkala and a major Uralkali shareholder, for unlawful activities.

The arrest of Baumgertner shocked observers, given the regime of strongman Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko is hugely dependent on cheap energy imports from Russia and Russian credits to keep its economy afloat.

A source close to Uralkali told Russia’s Kommersant daily that the approval for such an arrest could only have come from Lukashenko, who has been in power for almost two decades.

The source added that Baumgertner’s meeting with Myasnikovich had been “far from constructive”.

“Of course (Mikhail) Myasnikovich knew about it (the impending arrest). The meeting with him was used as bait,” the source told Kommersant.

Described as running Europe’s last dictatorship by the United States and again treated as a pariah by the EU after the 2010 polls, Lukashenko is greatly bolstered by Russian support.

Uralkali accounts for about 20 per cent of global potash production and the severing of its joint venture with Belaruskali was seen as marking the end of a cartel that has supported global potash prices.

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Consumers buoyed by political certainty


The certainty of majority government has given consumer confidence a much needed fillip, which retailers hope will turn into spending.


But Thursday’s jobs data could dim the optimism should the unemployment rate continue to trend higher.

The Westpac-Melbourne Institute consumer confidence index on Wednesday jumped by 4.7 per cent in September to its highest reading since December 2010.

While the survey was conducted over September 2 to 8, taking in only one day after the election result, media coverage and opinion polls had pointed to a solid win for the coalition.

“I think it is reasonable to conclude that the election result played an important, if not leading role in this strong boost to consumer sentiment,” Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia economist Gareth Aird said the election has brought certainty, ending a “protracted and tiresome” campaign which effectively began in January when former prime minister Julia Gillard called for a September election.

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman hopes increased confidence will directly impact retailers’ tills heading towards the end of the year.

An analysis by Deloitte Access Economics believes the performance of the housing sector will play a key role in any recovery in retail spending.

“When people are bidding up the price of housing they are also lifting their rate of retail spending,” Deloitte Access partner David Rumbens said in the report.

He said housing affordability has improved from two years ago, and home building is also lifting on the back of population growth and low interest rates.

The rise in consumer sentiment confidence followed Tuesday’s National Australia Bank’s business confidence data, which was at its highest level since May 2011 and also linked to the end of minority government.

“If we get to implement our program, the Senate and others co-operate in that regard, it will be positive for jobs, positive for workers, positive for business, positive for everybody,” Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos told ABC radio.

Senator Sinodinos has been tipped as a future finance minister, but his upper house seat remains uncertain, as do a number of others, as the count continues.

Thursday’s labor force report for August is the first major economic data to be released since the election.

Economists expect the number of people employed to have grown by 10,000 in August compared to July but not by enough to stop the jobless rate rising to 5.8 per cent from 5.7 per cent.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations’ leading employment index fell for an eighth consecutive month in September.

“This now confirms that employment is likely to continue to grow more slowly than its long-term trend rate of 1.4 per cent per annum over coming months,” it said on Wednesday.

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Aussies at Olympic fore for 2020 vote


Wrestling is tipped to regain its Olympic status when the IOC votes on the 2020 Games program, but two Australians will be doing their utmost to cause an upset in Buenos Aires.


Having chosen the host city of the 2020 Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will meet again in the early hours of Monday morning (AEST) to vote on the three sports hoping to make the cut for the Tokyo Olympics.

Wrestling is up against squash, bidding for the third time, and a joint bid of baseball/softball, both of which last appeared at the Olympics in 2008.

Victorian ex-MLB player Justin Huber will present on behalf of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), while Australian squash great Sarah Fitz-Gerald is part of the World Squash Federation (WSF) delegation.

Wrestling is an incumbent Olympic sport, but has been in purgatory since the IOC’s 15-person Executive Board (EB) shocked many by voting it off at a meeting in February.

The International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) has since made a series of changes to bouts, and the expectation is the IOC will turn to its most ancient sport while voting on something new.

“What I am hearing makes me optimistic but a vote is another matter,” said Nenad Lalovic, elected FILA president after his predecessor was ejected following the EB decision.

The WBSC was only formed in December 2012, with the joint bid from baseball and softball coming a long way in a very short space of time to make the shortlist of three.

“It’s a marriage of commitment and it’s no surprise the union has been seamless,” Huber told AAP.

Huber, who played for three MLB franchises and in competitions across four continents, was slated to be Australia’s starting catcher at the 2004 Athens Games but suffered a knee injury.

The 31-year-old is desperate to ensure other Australian baseballers have the chance to fulfil their Olympic dreams, and was upbeat about the joint bid’s hopes of winning over the IOC.

“I’ve never paid much attention to tags,” Huber said of the WBSC’s underdog status.

“We are happy with our presentation … for our chances, I think it’s anyone’s guess still.”

Squash has fought a 10-year battle – in 2005 it topped the list to be part of the Games but failed because it did have a required two thirds majority, which has since been replaced by a simple majority.

It has the endorsement of many global sporting superstars including Roger Federer and Andre Agassi.

“We are now more than ready,” Fitz-Gerald said.

“Our sport has been on a journey of innovation in recent years, especially in the way it is broadcast and presented.”

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In-law lied about Hackett run-over attempt


Grant Hackett’s former brother-in-law has been released on a good behaviour bond for making up a story that the Olympic gold medallist tried to run him over, months after the swimmer split up with his wife.


Jason Zurzolo, 37, has admitted making a false statement to police that Hackett tried to run him down in his black Mercedes as he crossed a street in the inner Melbourne suburb of South Yarra last November.

Zurzolo pleaded guilty to making the false report to police in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Monday.

Zurzolo’s wife is the sister of Hackett’s former wife Candice Alley.

The false report followed Hackett’s marriage split in May last year and his drunken trashing of the family apartment in Melbourne in late 2011.

Defence lawyer Natalie Tenaglia told the court when Zurzolo told police the lie, the two families were not on good terms.

Ms Tenaglia said Hackett and his former wife no longer speak.

Security footage showed Zurzolo crossing the road without incident, contradicting his claim that Hackett had driven at him, the court heard.

Ms Tenaglia said Zurzolo acknowledged his actions were wrong and was sorry for making the false statement.

“It is out of character for him. He is apologetic,” Ms Tenaglia said.

Magistrate Mary Robertson said making false reports to police is a serious offence.

“It is a shame to see you here today,” she told Zurzolo.

“False reports not only waste their time, it means somebody else’s crime is not investigated.”

Zurzolo was released on a 12-month good behaviour bond, ordered to pay $2184 compensation to police and make a $1500 contribution to the court fund.

Hackett was not in court for the hearing.

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Concern over death threats to \’garrotte\’ AIG execs


AIG boss Edward Liddy says he fears for his employees\’ lives if Congress goes through with a threat to name and shame recipients of lavish bonuses awarded by the bailed-out insurer.


Amid rising public anger, several Democrats and Republicans in Congress sought to force AIG to disclose details about the bonuses, and proposed taxing them so heavily that the recipients could wind up with nothing.

Representative Barney Frank, the Democrat who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, pressed Liddy to release the names of those who received bonuses, and said he intended to subpoena the information.

Liddy refused, citing concerns for the safety of his employees, and read aloud what he said were examples of violent threats that had been received.

“All the executives and their families should be executed with piano wire around their necks- my greatest hope,” read Mr. Liddy.

“If the government can\’t do this properly, we the people will take it in our own hands and see that justice is done. I\’m looking for all the CEOs\’ names, kids, where they live, etc. You have a legitimate request. We want to protect the well-being of our employees,” Mr Liddy said.

“I would hope that it doesn\’t take a subpoena. I\’m just really concerned about the safety of our people,” he told the hearing in the House of Representatives.

But financial services committee chairman Barney Frank said he could not guarantee confidentiality and said he would press ahead with subpoenas if needed.

“Clearly those threats are despicable. But this is an important public subject,” the Democrat said.

“I will consult with the federal law enforcement people and if they do say there\’s a credible threat, we will have to take that into consideration,” he said.

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Turkish PM wants scarf reform


Turkey's Prime Minister is calling for a controversial ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves in universities to be overturned as part of wider constitutional reform.


Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks look set to reignite a fierce debate between the country's secular elite and devout Muslims.

"The right to higher education cannot be restricted because of what a girl wears," Mr Erdogan said in an interview with the Financial Times.

"There is no such problem in Western societies but there is a problem in Turkey and I believe it is the first duty of those in politics to solve the problem."

The PM's Islamist-based AK Party won a new five-year mandate in July's elections, but many have accused him of wanting to boost the role of religion in Turkish society.

Social pressure

Secularists regard the headscarf as a symbolic threat to Turkey's separation of state and religion.

They also fear any lifting of the ban would put social pressure on uncovered women to start wearing the headscarf in the overwhelmingly Muslim country.

The AK Party says it is a question of freedom of expression, and notes that the garment was only banned from university campuses in 1982 after a military coup.

Mr Erdogan's government has pledged to replace Turkey's military-era constitution with a new charter that puts the focus on individual rights and freedoms.

Constitutional reform

The reforms are part of a plan to bring the country more into line with the European Union, which Ankara hopes to join.

"We want a constitution that is going to provide and protect a state that is a democratic, secular, social state of law," Mr Erdogan told the FT.

"This constitution is going to point Turkey in a certain direction and it is our duty to debate it and consult with people in the widest possible sense," he said.

The AK Party is currently debating a draft text drawn up by a team of legal experts but it is still said to be divided over how to broach the headscarf issue.

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REPORTER: Ginny Stein

DEMONSTRATORS CHANT: We want justice! We want peace! We want out of the Middle East!

Despite growing domestic opposition to a war on Iraq, the American President has not waivered from his resolve for regime change.


For the last few months, the United States has been preparing for war. 65,000 troops are already engaged in combat exercises in Qatar and Kuwait and are ready for action.

SOLDIER: The soldiers are motivated, the morale is high and our soldiers are doing a great job here.

A further 87,000 troops are on their way to the Gulf, after the customary farewell from the Commander in Chief.

GEORGE W. BUSH, US PRESIDENT: We are ready, we are prepared, and should the United States be compelled to act, our troops will be acting in the finest traditions of America. You will be fighting not to conquer anybody, but to liberate people. See, we believe in freedom.

Even though the United Nations weapons inspectors have found no smoking gun, or indeed anything yet that would trigger a Security Council vote to go to war, the Republican administration seems determined to topple Saddam Hussein militarily.

ROBERT McFARLANE, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Can you afford not to do this given the maturity and lethality of these biological systems that are on the shelf, truly. And systems that, given to al-Qa’ida or terrorist group, could inflict horrendous damage.

This belligerent mood is shared by the Democrats.

SANDY BERGER, FORMER DEMOCRAT NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think that the belief on the part of the Administration is that – and I share this – that an Iraq with weapons of mass destruction, particularly in my mind with nuclear weapons, is strategically dangerous in a very important region of the world.

But critics warn that such aggression may have profound consequences.

PHYLLIS BENNIS, US INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: I think it’s absolutely a moment of extraordinary danger in the relationships between the Western countries led by the United States, but certainly including all those countries that go along, whether it be Tony Blair and the UK, whether it be Australia, whether it be any of the European countries that are dragged along by right-wing governments against the wishes of their own population, they will be held accountable and their people will be held accountable for tremendous antagonism in the region towards this arrogance with which this policy is imposed.

HANS BLIX, UN CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Inspections is not a prelude to war. It is an alternative to war.

Next Monday, Hans Blix, the head of the UN inspection team will release his interim report on Iraqi compliance. But George Bush has already indicated that his patience is wearing thin.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Time is running out on Saddam Hussein. He must disarm. I’m sick and tired of games and deception.

Bush’s cabinet includes the hawkish Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Vice-President Dick Cheney. They’re prepared to take unilateral action against Iraq. But Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged the President to seek allies, like Australia, in any war – and for one key reason.

SANDY BERGER: How this unfolds is important to the American people and to the Australian people. I think there is a way to do this that increases risk, and there’s a way to do this that decreases the risks. And to me, internationalising this to the greatest extent possible is the way to decrease risks.

So far only Australia and Britain have announced extra troop deployments to the for the Gulf in support of America. Sandy Berger fears this could have dangerous consequences.

SANDY BERGER: If this is essentially seen as United States, Britain, Australia, and a handful of essentially Western countries moving into Iraq, overthrowing the government and establishing their own government, I think it’s going to be…there’s going to be unrest in the region. The old colonial powers and the new colonial powers dividing up Iraq.

The threat of wider instability in the region is a concern shared by supporters and critics of Bush’s strategy.

ROBERT McFARLANE: I believe that there could well be a wider conflict in the Middle East emerging from a move into Iraq. For example, it is likely that Saddam would act against Israel, launching Scuds or some other violence, and that indeed Israel is certain to respond militarily. That could, in fact, lead to wider conflict, bringing in other Arab states. So yes, there is a potential for a much wider conflict.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: The consequences in the region are going to be horrific. The irony is, of course, the United States is asking its allies in the region for support for a war that could end with the overthrow of those same allies. In countries like Jordan, even Saudia Arabia, you have a scenario where the government is facing a huge crisis of legitimacy.

REPORTER: So ultimately it could lead to greater instability if it’s not carefully controlled?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Absolutely. US policy in the region has always been based on a triplet of three things – oil, Israel and stability. And one or another of them always had to give. You can’t really have them all. And right now, what’s going to give it looks like is stability.

So why is America once more moving down the road to war? Increasingly, America’s conservative foreign policy thinkers are prepared to justify a war in order to ensure American access to oil and to thwart Saddam’s dangerous ambition.

ROBERT McFARLANE: To have gone into a sovereign state 10 years ago, to have intended to go into Saudia Arabia, and then to have been able to dominate the fuel which underwrites the entire global economy expresses an ambition that’s truly towering. And he hasn’t changed. If he could do it, he would.

REPORTER: You mentioned just now about oil. How much is that a motive, though, in this whole issue?

ROBERT McFARLANE: The primary motive is to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction. To be able to change the regime and hold the promise of a more stable Iraq would, of course, make world oil markets and the global energy balance a much more stable one. But this is not a matter of economic or financial ambition by the United States.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: This is very much about oil. It’s about oil and it’s about empire. It’s about control of the region, both politically, militarily, and economically and through control of oil. The issue of Saddam Hussein is a very new thing. Saddam Hussein has always been a brutal dictator, but for years he was our guy.

But whatever the motivation for invading Iraq, there remains the problem of what to do after the battle is over. Superior technology is likely to deliver victory, but does the Administration have the stomach for the prolonged task of rebuilding Iraq?

ROBERT McFARLANE: Well, the conflict, I believe, could be relatively short – a matter of 60 days, perhaps. However, the day after, which is a nation-building challenge to put in place institutions worthy of the name, is going to require a matter of years.

REPORTER: Do you believe the Bush Administration is also committed to the millions of dollars and years that it’s going to take to stabilise Iraq?

ROBERT McFARLANE: I think that’s unresolved at this point in the Administration. I think there are differing views within the Administration. There are some who believe that our job, should conflict become necessary, is to dislodge Saddam Hussein, work to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction without much obligation thereafter. I think there are others who believe that if we are in fact involved in a war in Iraq, we have a long-term obligation. I tend to believe the latter.

But even friends of the Administration doubt the government’s resolve.

ROBERT McFARLANE: The Bush Administration is going to have to accept that they, along with allies, need to nurture, teach, indeed occupy Iraq for a long, long time until the fundamentals of stability are established.

REPORTER: From the pattern of what we’re seeing so far in terms of Afghanistan, that’s not the case, is it?

ROBERT McFARLANE: Well, the United States has, in Afghanistan, relied on the donor community from Europe and Japan, Australia to do the follow-on heavy lifting. And it isn’t going terribly well. We have an obligation, not only in Afghanistan, but wherever we change the status quo to make the successor climate better. And I think that’s a fundamental change that has to be accepted in the Bush Administration, and I believe it will be.

REPORTER: And if it isn’t?

ROBERT McFARLANE: If it isn’t, we’re likely to see not only turmoil in Iraq, but in the neighbouring countries that could be quite harmful to our own interests.

But it’s not only America’s interests that are at stake. Instability in the Middle East is unlikely to be in Australia’s best interests either.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: It’s not, I can’t imagine, in Australia’s self-interest to have massive instability in the Middle East region. It can’t be in Australia’s best interest to have Australians and the Australian Government hated throughout the region. This is not something that is going to help protect Australians from terrorist attacks. It’s not going to prevent something like the terrible thing that happened in Bali from happening again. It’s going to make all of that worse.

As America flexes its muscles in the Gulf, war seems almost inevitable.

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Dramatic changes at North Pole


The Arctic sea ice has never been as small as it is now.


This year, it shrank to less than five million square kilometres — a grim record for the planet.

"And there is still a month of melting in September," says an alarmed Nalan Koc, head of the Norwegian Polar Institute's polar climate program.

In Svalbard, a Norwegian territory twice the size of Belgium which is home to the northernmost permanent population in the world, the effects of climate change can be seen with the naked eye.

For the past two years, the fjords on the west coast have been totally ice-free, even in winter.

In Longyearbyen, the capital, the lack of ice means residents can no longer race their snowscooters on Isfjorden (Ice Fjord), which may have to be renamed one day.

Meanwhile the Esmark glacier, a mass of white ice jetting into Isfjorden, has shrunk by 3.5 kilometres since 1966, though researchers are unable to say whether the change is due to global warming or the glacier's normal cycle.

Ice cap 'disappearing'

Despite its remote location in the far north, Svalbard, which was located near the equator 250 million years ago, is habitable today because of the Gulf Stream which raises the region's temperature by 10 degrees Celsius.

But the temperature could soon get too warm.

Scientists predict the mercury could rise in the Arctic by between 3.5 and six degrees Celsius by the end of the century, or "two to three times as much as the global rate", Koc said.

By 2050, the ice cap may have entirely disappeared in summer.

Oil companies eye Arctic

The melting ice is a blessing for oil companies which see a potential treasure opening up before their very eyes.

According to the US Geological Survey, 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas is thought to lie under the Arctic seabed.

The melting ice could also open new maritime routes, such as the Northwest Passage, to year-round international shipping, offering a much shorter route than the Suez and Panama canals.

But the change would be a catastrophe for many Arctic species and risks disrupting the entire ecosystem.

"Animals have dealt with change in the past but it's the rate at which the climate is changing and is expected to change which is frightening," says Kit Kovacs, the head of the Norwegian Polar Institute's biodiversity program.

For species that are accustomed to living in polar conditions, "there is nowhere north for them to go", she adds.

Once the ice sheet is gone, the ringed seal's habitat will be gone too – a dramatic consequence for a mammal that has never set its flippers on land.

The same fate awaits the polar bear, whose life depends on the ice in order to roam and hunt for food.

When polar bears come out of their hibernation to find the ice sheet receding ever earlier in the season, as is increasingly the case, they are able to swim to the ice as they are strong swimmers.

But newborn polar bears are not, and often fail in their attempts.

Unless climate change is halted, "the polar bear faces extinction by 2050", Kovacs warned.

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Hebe de Bonafini


REPORTER: Irene Ulman

ARCHIVE FOOTAGE (1977) (Translation): We just want to know where our children are.


.. if they`re dead or alive. We don`t know if they`re sick, if they`re cold or hungry. We don`t know anything. We`re desperate, sir. We don`t know who to turn to. Everywhere we went, they closed their doors on us. That`s why we`re begging you. You`re our last hope!

Between 1976 and 1983, the military junta ruled Argentina. It kidnapped thousands of young people accused of opposing the regime. Desperate mothers gathered in central Buenos Aires, at a square called Plaza de Mayo. They became one of the enduring symbols of the times – a stoic, non-violent resistance to government repression. The lost children have never been found. But the movement the Mothers formed back then is still going strong. Hebe de Bonafini is its president. She`s been visiting Australia with her colleague Marta Badillo for a speaking tour culminating at Melbourne`s Trades Hall. She lost her two sons and a daughter-in-law to the junta, but what she has to say goes far beyond the personal.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): Our children passed this struggle on to us. We feel that we`re following their path. The times have changed. We`re a different age group, but we`re following the same path they were on. The path of change, of struggle against capitalism, and for work and knowledge. It`s the same struggle but times have changed and we`re older.

The Mothers are still crusading against injustice but, in these changed times, their campaign has gone global.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): I came to Australia to see a different country – a free and democratic country. But I find there are refugee camps. I went to one yesterday and inside there are children who don`t study, who aren`t well treated. I thought, “Children in a concentration camp?” Their mothers brought them to a free and democratic country! That concerns me. I can`t leave here without thinking about it.

The Mothers have never begin up their search for justice for their children even when the post-junta government of Raul Alfonsin granted virtual amnesty to the military. In fact, it only hardened their position. They now have no faith in Argentina`s democracy. They see all politicians as compromised and the justice system corrupt.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): Judges are corrupt, accomplices of the political system. There`s no justice in my country, but total impunity in everything.

The Mothers have completely radicalised their struggle. Where once they protested against the disappearances of their children, they`ve now adopted their children`s socialist vision. They want to overthrow capitalism and all those institutions that support it. They refuse any compromise with the government. They`ve even rejected the exhumation of their children and offers of compensation, while the perpetrators are free. The names of their own children are gone from their signature white scarves – the scarves once symbolised their babies` nappies. Their stance alienated some members, who split from them in the mid-1980s.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): This kind of struggle demands the social radicalisation of the Mothers. It`s true, I`m very radical. I`m hard, even on myself.

Support has come from the world over. They inspired Argentina`s civil rights movement and still have that moral legitimacy. For their 20th anniversary, a huge concert was staged in their honour, with international stars converging on the Plaza de Mayo. With the support of young people, the Mothers are reinventing themselves. Our struggle involves taking part in all social struggles in my country. Supporting those fighting in the street, supporting the unemployed, being internationalists, supporting other brothers and sisters. It`s an extensive struggle.

Today, they occupy a small office in Congress Square, across from the towering Congress building. Their membership, 450 active members and 2,000 associate members, is smaller than at their peak in the 1980s. But their outposts here are growing. They`ve opened a bookshop, a literary cafe and, recently, their own university. This merry-go-round belongs to them too. Its operation is illegal, but that`s never worried the Mothers. They argue that the park has always been meant for children. But the territory they`ve well and truly claimed as their own is the Plaza de Mayo. For 25 years, every single Thursday at 3.30pm, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have marched around this square, facing the presidential palace – a continuous reminder of past crimes and a focus for the current resistance against the impunity of the state. They demand justice and there`s only one kind they`ll accept.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): Jail for the murderers. Yesterday`s and today`s. And I mean jail.

But now, dramatic new events are sweeping the country. The Argentine economy is in meltdown. Bank accounts have been frozen, jobs have been wiped out. People are angry and hungry. The turning point came last December.

WOMAN AT DEMONSTRATION (Translation): I need oil and sugar, and I need nappies. But we mostly need bread for our children, sir. Please.

In Buenos Aires, protesters gathered at the Plaza de Mayo. People who`d never protested before – the educated, until recently still privileged middle class – now shouting abuse at the police. As always, the Mothers were there.

WOMAN AT DEMONSTRATION (Translation): The Mothers have struggled against this for 25 years!

More than 30 people are reported to have died. The official figure is five. Hebe de Bonafini says the real number is 50.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): Even one is one too many. The young people who confront the police, who demand work, who take to the street as a last option, are ruthlessly murdered and their killers go free.

In the anarchy, President Fernando de la Rua resigned. The new one, Eduardo Duhalde, is floundering. Daily protests continue and the government is pleading for an IMF bailout. But many Argentines are blaming the IMF for their country`s collapse. Many believe that the IMF and the United States would prefer a military coup to the present chaos. Hebe de Bonafini says the government is using repression to implement the IMF`s policies.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): All the presidents, the ministers of the interior and the chiefs of police who order or carry out the massacres are at large – because they`re complying with the orders of the IMF. Last June, two young men, Maxi Kosteki and Dario Santillan, were shot dead by police at a protest organised by unemployed picketers. Hebe de Bonafini knew them well from previous marches.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): In the Mothers` resistance march on 6 and 7 December, when we marched for 24 hours, we burnt tyres in front of Government House. Maxi was there handing me the torch. All he was doing was demanding work. He was a student.

When Maxi was shot by the police, his friend Dario Santillan came to help.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): When Maxi was injured, and he saw him bleeding and hurt he told the others to go, that he`d stay and look after him. And he was shot right there at close range. Now we have two new martyrs.

Witnesses said both young men were gunned down in cold blood. Four senior police are in jail facing murder charges. For Hebe de Bonafini, the fight against the unemployment and hunger of today is the same as the battle for the disappeared of the past.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): The children are our greatest concern. In my country, 100 children die of hunger each day. Are they not assassins, they who cause so much poverty in such a rich country?

For Hebe de Bonafini, the divide between the rich and poor is a worldwide crime, for which she blames the global capitalist system. Once a year, the forces of capitalism gather at a forum in Davos, Switzerland. This time, some of them are talking to their opponents and Hebe de Bonafini has a front-row seat.

June 26, 2002 – GEORGE SOROS, OPEN SOCIETY INSTITUTE: And I`m sure that there are millions of children dying. The difference between rich and poor has greatly increased.

NJOKI NJOROGE NJEHU, GLOBAL ECONOMIC JUSTICE NETWORK: In Africa, 19,000 children, according to the UN, are dying every single day because of debt. 19,000 children. This is genocide. More children are dying each year in Africa than died in the Holocaust.

MARC MALLOCH-BROWN, UN DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM: I would urge you not to fall into the trap of those you`re attacking and caricature your opponents. We`re not here to fight with you. We`re here to try and find solutions.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): Gentleman, you are our enemies. Hypocrites in your answers. How many children are killed each day due to your actions? Answer me! How many more deaths can we mothers expect due to globalisation, capitalism or whatever you want to call it? Answer that, gentlemen! You`re like monsters devouring it all. You have a head and a stomach but no heart. As a mother, I ask, “How many children do you kill each day.” Mr Soros is smiling with the face of a hypocrite. He laughs at the deaths of millions of children from hunger! Answer me, Mr Soros! Look me in the eye if you dare!

GEORGE SOROS: I am looking at your face and I`m smiling because that`s the only thing I can do. I`m trying to have a dialogue with you.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): People hate those who marginalise them and kill them, those who subjugate them and enslave them. They have every reason to feel a growing hatred for the IMF, the USA and those in power, who become accomplices in their massacres.

The terrorist attack on September 11 shocked the world but, from her end of the global divide, Hebe de Bonafini saw it differently.

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): When I learnt that it was the Americans` turn for once, I said, “How fortunate. It`s their turn for once.” I didn`t mean the dead. I meant that for once they had to suffer.

But how could a champion of human rights justify that response?

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): I have the right after suffering what I`ve suffered and after seeing what happened to so many millions, to have that spontaneous joy at what I was seeing. One has the right to be angry and to hate. Many other people felt this way but I said it.

This uncompromising attitude may well have lost the Mothers a few friends. But Hebe de Bonafini is not for turning. She recognises this is a struggle for the long haul. She hopes that the Mothers` new university will be a start in taking Argentina in a radically different direction.

(April 6, 2000) HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): At 7pm come rain or shine, we`ll all get together to open the university. Thank you.

The university relies on volunteers and is free, with lecturers donating their services to the 1,400 students enrolled so far. The diplomas are not recognised by the state.

(April 6, 2000) HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): This university was born great like our children. It was born beautiful and free. Completely free, as they were! And now we`ll sever the cord and it`s all yours!

HEBE DE BONAFINI (Translation): In my country, there are 30,000 people missing who would have been the leaders of today. So we need new politicians. Men who love politics with ethics and principles, who conduct politics with solidarity. We don`t have faith in the current politicians, but we do have faith in politics. We believe that politics is the noblest act of man. It has the power to liberate.

It`s a utopian vision with no fast solutions, but Hebe de Bonafini is determined not to allow her tragic history to pass without results. And, in this battle for the hearts and minds of the future generation, she is determined to win.

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