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"I thought I was going to die." Woman attacked by accused Claremont killer gives testimony, & more in News in 5.

– With AAP.

1. “I thought I was going to die.” Woman attacked by accused Claremont killer gives testimony.

A social worker, who was attacked from behind by the accused Claremont serial killer, has told a Perth court she thought she was going to die.

Confessed rapist Bradley Robert Edwards, 50, is on trial in the Western Australia Supreme Court accused of murdering secretary Sarah Spiers, 18, child care worker Jane Rimmer, 23, and lawyer Ciara Glennon, 27, after nights out in 1996 and 1997. They were all snatched from the streets of Claremont in Perth, one of the city’s most desirable suburbs.

Edwards has previously been convicted for attacking a social worker from behind at Hollywood Hospital, where he was working for Telstra in 1990.

The attack victim, whose identity is suppressed for privacy, testified on Tuesday and explained she was distressed at having to relive what happened to her at Hollywood Hospital, which started innocuously when the former Telstra technician asked to use the toilet.

She admitted she “grunted” her permission because she was rushing to finish a report so she could go home for her daughter’s birthday.

After she heard the toilet flush “a bit quick”, Edwards emerged then said he had forgotten his pen and asked if he could retrieve it.

She thought it was a strange question but told him he could get it. He instead attacked her from behind.

“His hand came around my face. I was trying desperately not to breathe because I thought there was something on the cloth,” she said.

“I honestly thought I was going to die.

“I breathed in and there was nothing on the cloth so that was when I started to really struggle.

“I thought ‘I’ve got a chance here’.

“My feet kept slipping on the carpet. There was a lot of strength but I managed to twist around.”

She said she was being “pulled back and hoicked up” towards the toilet.

The woman’s chair fell over during the 10-second ordeal, which suddenly stopped.

“It was the strangest.

“One minute I was, I felt, fighting for my life and the next minute he’s just saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry’.”

The woman said she got out of the room as fast as she could, wearing just one shoe.

Edwards swiftly admitted to the attack, was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to compete a sex offenders program.

Clinical psychologist Paul McEvoy examined Edwards after the offence and reported he appeared to be “in a state of some distress” as his de facto had recently confessed she had been unfaithful to him early in their relationship.

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He told her he accepted it but “was actually deeply distressed by her admission”.

“Mr Edwards is unable to clearly identify why his pent-up anger should be released when it did, or why he acted it out on his victim, a woman whom he had only met that day,” Mr McEvoy said in his report, which he read out in court.

“He acknowledges feeling angry that ‘nothing was going right for me’, but suggested that he was not angry with his victim.”

Another psychologist, Lyn Millett, said Edwards “realised what was happening” when the woman screamed.

Edwards has since admitted five offences including rape.

2. Bushfires threaten outer Sydney suburbs.

Firefighters have rushed to protect houses threatened by an emergency bushfire in western Sydney with authorities believing it and others nearby may have been deliberately lit.

The NSW Rural Fire Service on Tuesday afternoon issued the warning for an out-of-control fire burning at Cranebrook north of Penrith. There were also less serious fires at nearby Londonderry.

“The fires are burning in an easterly direction,” the RFS said before 4pm.

“Properties in the area around Smeeton Road are at risk. Firefighters and aircraft are working to slow the fire and protect homes.”

Residents were warned to “seek shelter if the fire impacts”.

The blaze was downgraded to “advice” level after 5pm.

All of the fires in the area are “under investigation”, an RFS spokesman told AAP.

RFS Inspector Ben Sheperd said the last thing the service needed was more work.

“If you are going to partake in that kind of activity it’s only a matter of time until the police coming knocking on your door,” he told Seven News.

Heavy smoke will linger in the Sydney basin for at least three more days with authorities advising those most at risk to stay indoors.

The smoke is coming from large bushfires in the Blue Mountains and also near Warragamba Dam and in the Hawkesbury area.

3. Search resumes for woman missing for more than two weeks in the Northern Territory.

The search will resume for a woman missing for more than two weeks in the wild south of Alice Springs after the miraculous rescue of her two companions.

Alice Springs woman Claire Hockridge, 46, had still not been found on Tuesday night after the group became stranded when their ute became bogged in sand in a river bed on November 19.

Her friend Phu Tran, 40, was found by a pastoralist on Tuesday about 12km from the ute.

Ted Fogarty found tracks and followed footprints before he saw Mr Tran come out of a large cement pipe he had slept in.

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Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, of Alice Springs, was rescued on late Sunday afternoon after a station worker noticed tyre tracks and alerted police.

Police Superintendent Pauline Vicary said the focus now was on finding Ms Hockbridge.

“We are really hoping Claire is also okay and that this turns out to be a really positive outcome for everybody, particularly their families because this has been a really awful time for them.”

The discovery of Mr Tran had narrowed the rugged area being looking at by searchers in helicopters, Ms Vicary said.

Mr Tran had said he had left Ms Hockridge behind in a good condition two days ago.

4. Scott Morrison planning to echo Howard Government.

Scott Morrison is aiming to emulate John Howard’s “golden years” during the current term of parliament.

The prime minister delivered his final rallying call for the year to coalition colleagues at a meeting in Canberra on Tuesday.

Mr Morrison noted the 2001-2004 term of the Howard government had built on groundwork laid over the preceding six years in office.

“That is what we seek to do through this term,” he said.

He rattled off tax cuts, drought funding and the response to natural disasters among his proudest achievements for the year.

Also on the list were delivering extra mental health support, efforts to counter foreign interference and the government “walking a tightrope” between the United States and China.

“We can be proud of what we have achieved and also what we have saved the country from,” he told the party room.

“If we hold our unity and don’t allow ourselves to be distracted, then this can and will be one of the great terms of coalition government.”

At the same meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack acknowledged there were “pressure points” between the Liberals and Nationals.

But Mr McCormack stressed the need to work together “to make the boat go faster”.

Liberal deputy leader Josh Frydenberg drew colleagues’ attention to the Liberal Party’s election review released last week, which warned it could not be complacent and needed to better vet its candidates.

Meanwhile, Labor leader Anthony Albanese urged his colleagues and voters not to be “quiet Australians”.

In his final rallying cry to caucus for the year, Mr Albanese took aim at the catchphrase coined by the prime minister after his election win in May.

“Scott Morrison talks about quiet Australians. What he really means is everyone should shut up and listen to him,” Mr Albanese said.

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“We won’t be quiet. Australians won’t be quiet. It’s not our nature as a people. We’re up front. We’re bold. We talk about things. We put forward our view. It’s the Australian way.”

Parliament will break on Thursday evening and return in February.

5. Australian students are getting worse at maths.

The maths skills of Australian students have slid back at least a year compared to their international counterparts, a new report says.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found student performance has declined by the equivalent of more than a full school year in maths and almost a full year in reading and science.

Australia ranked 16th in reading, 29th in maths and 17th in science, while the grouped Chinese provinces of Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang topped each category.

Education Minister Dan Tehan admitted the results were disappointing and said he would raise the matter at a meeting of the Education Council in Alice Springs next week.

“My message to the state and territory education ministers is this: leave the teachers’ union talking points at home and be ambitious,” he said.

“Our school systems also need to de-clutter their curriculums and get back to basics.”

He called on state and territory education ministers to back the entire National School Reform Agreement and include phonics as part of teacher training.

Labor education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek said the results should be a clear wake-up call for Scott Morrison and his government.

“Australia’s falling performance is alarming,” she said.

“After six years of failing our schoolkids, the Liberals must say how they’ll fix this serious problem.”

PISA national project manager Sue Thomson said the improvement of maths performance in other countries was not being replicated in Australia.

“We are a developed, wealthy western country with justifiably high aspirations for our students so we must take notice of these results,” Dr Thomson said.

“We have observed continuing falls in our results since PISA began in 2000 and yet again the data tells us we have failed to lift our performance.

“This is about much more than just test-taking – it’s about how well we are preparing Australia’s students for adult life.”

Maths performance is down in all states and territories, with particularly significant declines recorded in South Australia, NSW, Tasmania, Western Australia and the ACT.

The report also notes a significant maths performance gender gap in favour of boys has returned, despite being closed in 2015.

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