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News in 5: Thurston's "tough" phone call; National apology for child abuse; Royal tour in QLD.

-With AAP

1. The “extremely tough” phone call that broke Johnathan Thurston.


Just days before Johnathan Thurston ran out against Fiji in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, he received a devastating phone call.

It was his wife Samantha. She was calling to break the news his uncle had been murdered in a park.

Thurston has spoken about finding out about his uncle’s murder for the first time in an interview with 60 Minutes.

“That was extremely tough, tough phone call to receive,” Thurston explained before breaking down.

“I’ve never spoken to anyone about it. This is the first time I’ve spoken about it so it’s just bringing all those memories back.”

His uncle Richard Saunders was bashed to death by a group of eight men who were subsequently jailed for crimes such as striking Saunders with a hammer, stomping and punching.

Saunders died and two others were hospitalised after a minor altercation escalated into a brawl.

Thurston ran out against Fiji just days later and won man-of-the-match.

“I know he would’ve been up there smiling down, proud as punch,” he said.

Thurston also spoke about the 2004 Coffs Harbour rape scandal that nearly derailed his career, before it had even begun.

According to Thurston’s memoir, Johnathan Thurston: The Autobiography, an unnamed woman allegedly “slept with six” Bulldogs players at the team’s hotel on the Wednesday night.

Later than week the woman had accused “three to six” Bulldogs players of gang rape.

“I wasn’t a part of that. We had broken team rules and it was very seriously allegations,” the former Bulldog told 60 Minutes. 

“Everyone was tarnished with these allegations… it was a traumatic time for everyone. Obviously the victim at the time and certainly the club at the time as well.”

2. Kerryn Phelps is expected to claim victory in Wentworth.

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Independent Kerryn Phelps is expected to claim victory in Wentworth, robbing the coalition of its majority and forcing Prime Minister Scott Morrison to bargain with the crossbench.

A late run of Liberal postal votes, which briefly reignited the prime minister’s hopes that Liberal candidate Dave Sharma could overtake Dr Phelps, now appears unlikely to change the outcome.

Dr Phelps claimed victory on Saturday night when she achieved an unprecedented swing of more than 20 per cent against the Liberal Party in the eastern Sydney seat.

The celebrations were cut short on Sunday when the margin between her and Mr Sharma dramatically closed to less than 900 votes. However after postal ballots were counted on Sunday night, Dr Phelps held a lead of about 1600 votes.

Liberal Party faithful admit that victory seems unlikely but the candidates aren’t rushing to re-declare a winner until late postal votes are finalised.

Earlier on Sunday the prime minister talked up his relationship with crossbenchers.

“What I will continue to do is be working closely with the crossbenchers, as I have been doing, because … we have been at 75 (seats), not 76, since the former prime minister resigned,” Mr Morrison said.

If Dr Phelps is confirmed the winner, there will be a cross bench of six members in the House of Representatives, with Labor holding 69 seats and the coalition one short of a majority with 75.

Reaction to the by-election result from crossbench members has been mixed, with Bob Katter and Rebekha Sharkie joining Dr Phelps in saying they would prefer to see the government run its full term.

Independent Andrew Wilkie said he would not guarantee confidence, while fellow crossbencher Cathy McGowan is yet to comment.

But Greens MP Adam Bandt said a federal election had to be called and “the sooner we turf out this rotten government, the better”.

3. Child sex abuse survivor hopes for closure after PM’s national apology.

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After suffering years of sexual abuse as a child, Ray Leary has pinned his hopes on a national apology to find closure and move on.

The 57-year-old Sydney-sider is set to join hundreds of child abuse survivors in Canberra on Monday to witness the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.

By saying sorry, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be telling thousands of victims of child sexual abuse that they have been believed and institutions had failed them.

For decades, institutions have covered up horrific abuses of power and communities have shut their ears to the stories of survivors, Mr Leary says.

“This apology is not only to the victims of child sexual abuse, but their families, their children, the effect it has had on their lives,” Mr Leary told AAP.

“It means that the government, on behalf of the people of Australia, believe us and are apologising for the sins of their fathers.

“For much of my life I was laughed at or ridiculed when I told the stories of the abuse I received growing up as a state ward.”

A child victim of the infamous Robert “Dolly” Dunn paedophile ring, Mr Leary had tried to live a normal life by holding down a job and living with his wife and two children, but everything unravelled when he was forced to confront his past.

After being called to give evidence at the Wood Royal Commission, he lost everything trying to get justice.

His marriage ended and he stopped working: “I attempted to commit suicide.”

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While trying to find a way forward, Mr Leary created a group for male victims of child sexual abuse to share their experiences in a safe space.

“Helping others put me on a path towards healing,” he said.

“It’s very hard for a wife to understand this, it’s very hard for a mother and father to understand this, and it’s very hard for any family to understand.

“I have been receiving closure and I hope this final apology will provide complete closure and I can look forward to the next part of my life.”

It was not until the 2013 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that the 57-year-old realised the true scale of the abuse.

The inquiry received more than 40,000 phone calls, 25,000 letters and emails, and held about 8000 private sessions, resulting in 2575 referrals to authorities, including police.

The apology follows the release of last year’s final report by the royal commission, which recommended a national strategy to end child sexual abuse, warning governments, churches, charities and other organisations they must not fail children again.

The redress scheme that has also followed, enacted on July 1, provides about 60,000 people with access to counselling, a redress payment and a direct personal response such as an apology from an institution, if the survivor wants it.

Anyone needing support is urged to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

4. The royal tour is headed for Queensland’s Fraser Island.

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s whirlwind Australian tour is set to get tropical on Monday with a day trip to Queensland’s Fraser Island.

On day seven of their visit Down Under, the royal couple will travel to Fraser Island island where they were to meet traditional owners and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk before touring the World Heritage-listed island.

However, the pregnant duchess is expected to rest after a relentless six days of engagements.

It may be a solo Prince Harry receiving a traditional Welcome to Country Smoking Ceremony from the Butchulla people before a plaque is unveiled to dedicate the popular holiday spot’s pristine rainforests to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy project.

The itinerary also includes a visit to Lake McKenzie before meeting national park rangers to learn about the iconic island’s unique animal and plant life, along with its history of logging.

Fraser Island’s hardwood trees were used to build the London docks in the 1930s due to their famed toughness.

Premier Palaszczuk will also present the newly-pregnant couple with a hand-made teddy bear from Tambo, in the heart of Queensland’s sheep country.

The tiny town of just 345 people rejuvenated their economy in the midst of crippling drought 25-years ago by crafting the unique teddy bears stuffed with local wool.

Later in the day, Hervey Bay paramedics Graeme Cooper and Danielle Kellam will meet attend an official reception with the Duke and Duchess.

They’ll be recognised for their act kindness after a photo of them granting a dying woman’s wish to see the ocean one last time went viral and captured hearts around the world.

5. Four men charged after baby formula stolen from Sydney supermarkets.

Four men have been charged with stealing more than $2500 worth of baby formula and cosmetics from supermarkets in Sydney’s southwest.

Police stopped the men as they were getting into a vehicle in a car park after two men were allegedly seen stealing baby formula at a Mount Annan shopping centre about 4.30pm on Saturday.

A large amount of baby formula and cosmetics was later found during a search of the car, along with drug paraphernalia, NSW Police say.

The men, aged 55, 33, 35 and 36, were charged with multiple offences and were given conditional bail to appear in Picton Local Court on November 13.

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