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Cardinal George Pell to appeal to high court over child sexual abuse conviction, & more in News in 5.

— With AAP

1. Cardinal George Pell to appeal to high court over child sexual abuse conviction.

Cardinal George Pell has started his last-ditch bid to get out of jail and erase his child abuse convictions, arguing his crimes were impossible.

The 78-year-old paedophile remained behind bars on Tuesday as his lawyers lodged a special leave application with Australia’s highest court.

A spokesperson for the High Court confirmed it had received the application through its Melbourne registry, “requesting leave to appeal a decision”.

Snippets of the 12-page document show Pell’s argument includes that the offending was impossible – a case also used by lawyers during his jury trial.

The matter will be considered by a panel and either dismissed, accepted or further examined with the parties called to a brief hearing.

The process can take anywhere up to six months.

If successful in seeking leave, Pell’s lawyers will lodge a full appeal with the High Court.

Victoria’s Court of Appeal last month upheld by two votes to one Pell’s December conviction for the rape of a 13-year-old choirboy and sexual assault of another at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996.

Pell’s lawyers had argued on grounds including that the jury verdicts were “unsafe and unsatisfactory”.

Victorian Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and President Chris Maxwell voted to deny Pell’s appeal but Justice Mark Weinberg voted for his acquittal. They published a 325-page judgment explaining their decisions.

Pell had until Wednesday to file an application to the High Court.

In March, he was sentenced to six years in prison and must spend at least three years and eight months behind bars before he’s eligible for parole.

The earliest Pell can be released is October 2022, when he will be 81.

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A jury found him guilty of sexual crimes against the two boys and his offending was described as “brazen” by the sentencing judge.

One of the victims has since died. His father on Tuesday said he was “beyond disappointed” to hear of the High Court bid.

“Every time Pell takes his legal fight to the next level our client is reminded of the disgusting abuse he inflicted on his son as a young choirboy,” lawyers for the man said in a statement

“Hearing the news this afternoon has made him angry.

“He has no doubt George Pell sexually abused his son.”

Pell has always denied that as the newly-installed Archbishop of Melbourne, he raped and molested the boys.

He committed the crimes after exposing himself while dressed in his ornate ceremonial robes and fresh from presiding over Sunday solemn mass.

A spokeswoman for Cardinal Pell confirmed the leave application had been lodged with the High Court and declined to comment further.

2. NSW abortion debate continues into night.

Debate has continued into the night on proposed amendments to the controversial bill to decriminalise abortion in NSW.

The upper house began debating amendments to the bill on Tuesday afternoon following the threat of a leadership spill against Premier Gladys Berejiklian over her handling of the private member’s bill.

In its current form, the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 would allow terminations up to 22 weeks as well as later abortions if two doctors agree.

The chamber on Tuesday debated, among others, an amendment seeking to move the trigger for further medical oversight when a woman is having an abortion from 22 to 20 weeks.

Greens MP David Shoebridge delivered a scathing criticism against the amendment.

“There’s been a series of contributions from men, largely without medical training on why they think the threshold should change,” he said, adding that his position was guided by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

“What possible basis can a bunch of men, with no medical expertise, be challenging that?”

The upper house heard a number of times that changing the threshold would unfairly disadvantage poorer women and those in regional areas.

However, proponents of the amendment argued NSW needed to improve it’s health care if that was the case.

Labor’s Penny Sharpe said she would be happy to “reach across the aisle” and work with parliament to increase funding and access to address that issue, but warned that this was distracting from the actual issue at hand.

“We’re not dealing with what we want to happen, we’re dealing with what’s actually happening now and how do we make that safe, and how do we make that legal,” she said.

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Despite a last-ditch effort by Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile to argue for the amendment in the hopes of saving at least one more life, it was rejected by the upper house.

The debate continues.

3. Southern Cross University at Lismore in lockdown for hours after firearms threat.

Students and staff have spent hours in lockdown at a northern NSW university following a “serious” threatening phone call that sparked a massive police operation.

The emergency began at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus after 1.30pm on Tuesday after the man who made the call made a number of threats “in relation to activity around (the university)”, NSW Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Wayne Humphrey said.

Mr Humphrey wouldn’t say what threats were made but stressed they were “serious enough that armed police went to the location”.

“It was in relation to the use of firearms … (but) I’m comfortable there is no current threat,” he told reporters in Sydney.

The Rivers Secondary College Lismore High Campus and nearby child care centre Blinky’s were also locked down as the situation unfolded, which Mr Humphrey said was “appropriate” based on what police were told was going to happen.

He said investigators would look into whether the call was an “elaborate hoax”.

He also shed some light on the conversation that sparked the police operation.

“It was a single phone call that went for some time, long enough that a police negotiator conversed with the male for some period,” Mr Humphrey said.

After hiding inside for hours, students and staff were finally evacuated by police building-by-building after 5pm.

Mr Humphrey said police were clearing portions of the university that were deemed “at risk”.

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Social media erupted following the scare, with several people posting about their fears there was a “shooter” on the campus, while others urged their peers to hide.

“We are locked in the bathrooms at pool. Everyone follow the instructions NOW. Get inside now and bolt the doors,” one man posted.

“Apparently 2 (sic) gunmen in the library? Just what I heard,” another wrote.

“My wife is in lockdown … (she) just said shots fired,” another man posted.

Mr Humphrey said police were monitoring social media during their operation to determine what was happening.

“People are obviously going to be concerned that large numbers of police are flooding into a public environment or a school environment,” he said.

“Experience shows that if there was an actual incident (then) that information is essential because we’re monitoring that live.”

Rivers Secondary College posted on social media after 5pm that students were out of lockdown and had made their way home.

4. Tamil family feeling isolated, friend says.

A Tamil couple and their children are feeling stressed and isolated as they await the next step in their battle to stay in Australia, a supporter says.

Priya, Nades and their Australian-born daughters remain in detention on Christmas Island as the federal government resists calls not to deport the family to Sri Lanka.

About 5000km away in Melbourne, the Federal Court will hold yet another hearing on Wednesday after the government was earlier restrained from ejecting the family until at least 4pm on September 18.

It’s unclear what the outcome of the hearing will be.

But supporters including Angela Fredericks hope the court will order a full and final test of the youngest child’s case for legal protection.

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She says the family must be returned to Melbourne if that happens because the couple will need access to their lawyers, and their girls Tharunicaa Murugappan, 2, and Kopika, 4, are suffering the effects of social isolation.

“This family is just so isolated on Christmas Island. I’m seeing the impact on the girls more than ever,” she told AAP on Tuesday.

“When they were in detention in Melbourne at least there were a couple of other kids in the centre, and they’d get visits from children. Now, they have no children around them whatsoever.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has said it could be months before the case is resolved because lawyers will use delaying tactics to try to force the government to change its mind.

He has accused the family of dragging their children through the legal system even though a succession of courts has found the couple and their oldest child are not refugees.

The government argues it cannot make an exception because the couple came to Australia by boat and letting them stay could restart the people smuggling trade.

But there is widespread community support for the family, who fled Sri Lanka after the civil war and say they are at risk of persecution if they go back.

The family lived in the Queensland town of Biloela before they wound up in an immigration detention in Melbourne and the community has fought hard for their return.

A GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the family has attracted almost $104,000 since it was launched two weeks ago. And an online petition supporting a return to Biloela has more than 250,000 signatures.

5. “Someone had to stand up for this little girl.” Court told of ‘Asian girl’ killer confession.

A man who says an associate confessed to abducting and killing a Sydney schoolgirl has denied lying, telling the jury he didn’t want to take that information to his grave.

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“Someone had to stand up for this little girl,” Geoffrey Maurer testified in the NSW Supreme Court on Monday.

He said he went to police in 1999 “to get this off my shoulders” because he couldn’t sleep at night and wanted to give the girl’s family some type of closure.

Mr Maurer was cross-examined at the trial of Vinzent Tarantino, 52, who has pleaded not guilty to murdering Quanne Diec.

The 12-year-old, whose body has never been found, vanished on July 27, 1998, after leaving her Granville home to walk to the train station on her way to school.

Prosecutor Pat Barrett has alleged Tarantino picked her up in a white van, took her to his father’s nearby home, strangled her and later disposed of her body.

Mr Maurer said Tarantino had phoned him wanting to meet, so he and his girlfriend drove to him and had a conversation in the car.

“He was very agitated and very upset. Something was wrong. Something was really wrong,” he said.

Tarantino told him he had abducted “a little Asian girl”, he said.

“He had taken the girl to extort some money from some type of dealer.

“He told me he got the wrong girl.”

Mr Maurer said he was in shock, flabbergasted and “beside myself” after hearing the confession.

“He said that he killed her, she wouldn’t shut up and he didn’t mean to.”

The witness said he was pretty sure Tarantino told him he buried her in a national park about one-and-a-half hours south.

Mr Maurer denied a suggestion by Tarintino’s barrister, Belinda Rigg SC, that her client did not make the admissions and had not used the word “kill”.

“He told me what happened up to the point where I was going to be sick,” he replied.

Ms Rigg suggested Mr Maurer came to the view that Tarantino had something to do with it after hearing bits and pieces of information from others and knowing he had been in possession of a white van.

“No, he told me he did it,” he replied.

Mr Maurer repeatedly denied her suggestions he gave a false account to police.

“This little girl went to school that morning and she didn’t come home.”

He said he didn’t ask to be given the information and hadn’t wanted it.

“I told the truth, the whole truth, because I have got nothing to gain by lying,” Mr Maurer said.

He also denied a suggestion that drugs were mentioned in the car conversation, saying “there was no transaction at all”.

The trial continues before Justice Robert Beech-Jones.

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