Jogger allegedly raped and nearly drowned during Melbourne trail attack, & more news in 5.

– With AAP.

Warning: This article deals with an account of rape/sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.

1. Jogger allegedly raped and nearly drowned during Melbourne trail attack.

A 25-year-old man allegedly raped, choked and nearly drowned a woman in a horrific attack off a popular walking track in Melbourne’s north.

Joel Russo, 25, faces a string of charges including 10 of rape, one of attempted rape and three of sexual assault over the attack along Merri Creek at Coburg on Tuesday evening.

The woman, aged in her 20s, was attacked while jogging about 6.30pm on Tuesday.

Russo is also accused of holding his alleged victim’s head under water and choking her, court documents show.

At about 10pm, the woman persuaded Russo to walk her more than two kilometres to McDonald’s in Brunswick East where she screamed and he fled.

Customers inside helped the woman and she was taken to hospital.

Russo was arrested about 1am on Wednesday, after he allegedly attempted to rob a service station in Carlton.

The accused rapist asked not to be brought into the Melbourne Magistrates Court for a filing hearing on Thursday, when his lawyer revealed the 25-year-old had bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, an acquired brain injury and intellectual disability.

He was arrested hours after the incident and charged with 17 offences, including reckless conduct endangering life and reckless conduct endangering serious injury.

He has been prescribed anti-depressants and also takes medication for chronic back pain, the court was told.

Police have called for witnesses to the Merri Creek assault, including anyone who saw a man around the parklands between 6pm and 9pm on Tuesday.

Detectives also want to hear from anyone who saw the man walk with the alleged victim into a Brunswick East McDonalds, on the corner of Albion and Holmes streets, about 10pm.

Russo’s lawyer did not apply for bail and the accused rapist was remanded to reappear for a committal mention via video link on March 12.

The alleged rape is the latest in a series of attacks on women in public spaces in Melbourne. In June 2018 comedian Eurydice Dixon was raped and murdered in Princes Park.

In January, Aiia Maasarwe was killed as she walked home in Bundoora and Courtney Herron, 25, was attacked and killed in Royal Park in May.


If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

2. Rugby boss says ‘never say never’ for Folau’s return to the sport.

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle would not categorically rule out the possibility of Israel Folau returning to the code but believes the sacked Wallabies superstar would refuse to sign under the current player contractual terms.

Folau’s multi-millon deal with RA was terminated after a high-level breach of the Professional Players’ Code of Conduct in April after his religiously-motivated, anti-gay social media posts.

A settlement between RA and Folau was reached on Wednesday and Castle fronted the media in Sydney on Thursday,

CEO Castle was asked a number of questions about whether the 73-times capped Folau would be allowed back into Australian rugby.

In her answers to the first couple of those questions she stressed RA and Folau had “parted ways”.

Castle was then asked if technically the door was still open for Folau to sign another contract despite being terminated.

“I think it’s clear to see that our values are not aligned and the expectations that Rugby Australia would have of Israel coming back into the sport would not be acceptable,” she said.


Asked if that constituted a clear no Castle said, “Never say never, right? It would be crazy for me to say that.

“What I’m saying is we’ve got a value disalignment.

“At the end of the day, I don’t believe that he would sign under the current player contract.”

3. SES volunteer says he wasn’t aware of ‘legal requirements’ when witnessing strip-searches.

A Sydney State Emergency Service volunteer who witnessed searches at an underage music festival has agreed he wasn’t fully aware of the rights of the young people involved when he acted as their support person.

The man was one of two State Emergency Service volunteers sent to February’s Lost City festival at Sydney Olympic Park to act as a support person for minors during police interviews, following a request from police.

He told a hearing of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission on Thursday that when he got to the venue he was asked if he would object to witnessing searches.

He said he didn’t anticipate that might involve strip-searches until the first one, telling the commission it had been a shock.

The SES volunteer agreed with chief commissioner Michael Adams QC that he didn’t fully know what rights minors had in a strip-search situation, such as the right to have their parent or guardian present and have a support person that was acceptable to them.

He agreed with counsel assisting the commission, Dr Peggy Dwyer, that if he was told there were legal requirements he would have wanted to know them beforehand.

The man said he’d been present for about six searches at the festival but he couldn’t recall if they were all strip-searches.

There was one strip-search he remembered clearly, where a young man had drugs in a condom which was “secreted in his back passage which he removed”.

Another strip-search was stopped when a tablet or some substance was revealed in the person’s personal possessions, the volunteer said.

The commission is considering the cases of three people who were strip-searched at the underage festival and the lawfulness and reasonableness of strip-search practices more generally.


The LECC earlier this week heard 31 teenagers were strip-searched at the event but police paperwork showed only six had a guardian or support person present.

A 15-year-old boy claimed an officer told him to “hold your dick and lift your balls up and show me your gooch” during a search while another boy said an officer who wasn’t wearing gloves made contact with his genitals and buttocks.

The inquiry is expected to continue in 2020.

4. QLD drought delivers $800m farming blow.

The drought will wipe almost $1 billion off the value of Queensland’s agricultural commodities this financial year, according to a new forecast.

The combined value of cattle sold for slaughter and export, and food and textile crops is expected to be $17.8 billion by June 30.

That’s five per cent down on the previous $18.6 billion forecast made in April, the latest Agtrends report revealed on Thursday.

Cotton is forecast to be hit particularly hard, with its forecast value to plunge to $237 million, 58 per cent lower than it was last financial year.

The value of cattle and calves sold for slaughter and live exports is estimated to be down by six per cent, to $5.14 billion.

But the report showed while most sectors failed to meet estimates, the poultry industry recorded a one per cent increase form the previous financial year to $573 million.


Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said the latest figures made sober reading.

“While Queensland primary producers are amongst the best in the world at handling climatic variability, this drought is having a significant impact,” Mr Furner said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited the Queensland town of Dalby in September, announcing a $100 million support package to 13 local government areas across the country – three of them in Queensland.

The Queensland local government areas of North Burnett, Banana and Western Downs were provided access to the funding, on top of the $7 billion already in drought support.

The Queensland government also committed an additional $74.6 million over four years towards its drought assistance package in this year’s Budget.

5. Fake news on social media to face inquiry by parliamentary committee.

Foreign interference through fake news spread on social media will be put under the microscope by a parliamentary committee.

The long-running inquiry will look at social media use designed to undermine Australia’s democracy and values, including the spread of misinformation.

Other issues under scrutiny include:

* Responses to mitigate the risk posed to Australia’s democracy and values by the government and social media platforms.

* International policy responses to cyber-enabled foreign interference and misinformation.

* The extent of compliance with Australian laws.

The upper house backed Labor senator Jenny McAllister’s move to establish the Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media on Thursday.

The committee’s final report is due in May 2022.

Feature image: Facebook.