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Elderly couple found dead following Coongbar bushfires that destroyed 29 homes, & more in News in 5.

— With AAP.

1. Elderly couple found dead following Coongbar bushfires that destroyed 29 homes.

An elderly couple have died on their remote rural property when bushfires swept across northern NSW, destroying at least 29 homes and razing businesses, including a timber mill.

The bodies of a 77-year-old man and 68-year-old woman were found in their Coongbar home on Thursday after the Drake fire roared through the region on Tuesday afternoon.

Authorities visited the home on Wednesday night and discovered it had been destroyed but forensic officers only found the remains on Thursday afternoon.

Local Ken Crowther said the couple, Bob Lindsey and Gwen Hyde, was well known by everyone in the small community around 70km south of Casino.

“It’ll be fairly devastating for us all,” he told Ten News.

The couple reportedly met late in life and married three years ago.

“The circumstances around the unfortunate deaths of these two people will be subject to an extensive investigation,” Superintendent Toby Lindsay told reporters in nearby Casino.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian sent her condolences.

“So saddened to hear about the loss of life in the bushfires in northern NSW,” she tweeted.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected.”

The Drake fire which killed the couple had been burning for more than a month before it hit Coongbar. Fire investigators say it was caused by a lightning strike.

The neighbouring Busbys Flat fire – which has since joined up with the Drake blaze – only started on Friday evening and police believe it was deliberately lit.

Eight homes were destroyed in the Drake inferno on Tuesday. At least 21 homes were lost in the Busbys Flat fire with half thought to be in the tiny hamlet of Rappville.

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In total across the region, 72 outbuildings were destroyed, according to the Rural Fire Service’s most recent count. Some 23 were damaged.

Two community facilities were razed – including the Rappville Town Hall, according to locals – and seven were damaged.

Richmond Valley mayor Robert Mustow says the destruction of the Tarmac Sawmill in Rappville will hurt 30 employees and have a “big impact on our community”.

The Brisbane to Sydney rail line has been cut and won’t operate for an estimated five days, the mayor added.

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said stretches of the rail line had been damaged and the Rappville rail bridge destroyed.

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons confirmed the Busbys Flat blaze was being treated as suspicious.

“We’ve got to call it out – it’s a heinous crime, a criminal act,” he told the Nine Network on Thursday.

Strikeforce Cleander has been formed to investigate the cause of the fire.

Supt Lindsay insists the strike force “will leave no stone unturned so we can provide answers for the rural communities impacted by this disaster”.

Teams are still assessing how many properties have been lost or damaged. So far this bushfire season more than 70 homes have been destroyed across NSW.

The Drake and Busbys Flat fires have scorched a combined 115,000 hectares.

More than 30 bushfires continue to burn across NSW, six of which remain out of control. But all of the fires are currently at the lower “advice” alert level.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday said the federal government would provide “whatever assistance is necessary”.

The RFS said residents likely won’t be able to return home for a number of days given trees are down across roads and power lines are on the ground.

2. Israel Folau claims Rugby Australia ‘respected’ his religious views.

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Israel Folau says Rugby Australia promised they would never seek to stymie his religious beliefs but when they changed their mind, he refused to comply with their conditions.

That’s one of the sacked star’s many arguments in the latest chapter of his legal battle with the sporting authority, as the 30-year-old fights to be reinstated and receive an apology.

Lawyers for Folau lodged more documents with the Federal Circuit Court on Thursday, as he sues RA and the NSW Waratahs for unlawful dismissal over controversial Instagram comments.

In an email from RA boss Raelene Castle in April 2018, he was told the organisation respected his religious views.

“Rugby Australia would never ask or expect him to act in a manner or way that is contrary to his beliefs,” the documents state.

But months later they changed their tune.

“Rugby Australia attempted to have Mr Folau ‘agree and acknowledge’ certain purported limitations on his ability to use social media and otherwise comment publicly, but he did not do so,” the documents state.

Folau claims he did not agree and RA never followed up the issue.

The staunch Christian, previously in hot water for his social media comments, also denied claims the RA boss warned him there would be “significant consequences” if there was another incident.

“Mr Folau told Ms Castle that he appreciated where she was coming from, but that he had a right to express his religious beliefs about what was in the Bible,” his lawyers said.

In one social media post, Folau claimed transgender people were evil and should repent.

In another, he paraphrased a Bible passage saying “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators” would go to hell unless they repented.

In the latest court documents, Folau also took a swipe at the appointment of a human rights lawyer to the Rugby Australia-convened three-person tribunal which investigated his behaviour and ultimately recommended his sacking.

Folau objected at the time to the appointment of Kate Eastman SC “on the ground of apprehended bias”, partly due to her advocacy for the LGBTI community.

She previously chaired the Law Council of Australia’s Equal Opportunity Committee, the NSW Bar Association’s Diversity and Equality Committee and the Australian Bar Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

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“Rather than accept Mr Folau’s concern and appoint another legal practitioner (or, indeed, any other person) to replace Ms Eastman SC, Rugby Australia opposed Mr Folau’s application.”

RA claims Folau’s expressions of faith had always been supported, “provided that these were done in a respectful and inclusive manner”.

“Rugby Australia’s objection to the posts at issue was not their religious content but rather their tone and attributes,” the defence document states.

Folau’s contract with RA was terminated in May this year.

His matter will return to court on December 17 ahead of a trial if mediation is unsuccessful.

3. Noosa councillor Jess Glasgow under investigation following appearance on The Bachelorette.

A Queensland councillor’s behaviour as a contestant on reality television show The Bachelorette should be investigated, his mayor reckons.

Noosa Councillor Jess Glasgow has been described as a “villain” of the series following his Wednesday night debut on the matchmaking program.

Dressed in a regal-looking robe, Cr Glasgow carried in a throne and offered Bachelorette Angie Kent a key to “a town” when he was introduced on the Network 10 show.

During the episode, he appeared to bring a fellow contestant – who was dressed as a fireman – to tears.

Frequent references about Cr Glasgow’s job were made on the show.

On Thursday, Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington said Cr Glasgow had not sought his permission to go on the show, and his behaviour on screen had not been “reflective” of the organisation.

Cr Wellington said he would refer Cr Glasgow to the Office of the Independent Assessor for potentially breaching of the code of conduct for councillors.

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“Cr Glasgow did not seek approval from myself and I only found out about his involvement after the show had been recorded,” he said in a statement.

Cr Wellington added that Cr Glasgow – who lists his interests as traffic and transport, youth issues and housing affordability on his council web page – was not representing Noosa Council on the program.

4. “We are Australia’s most important economic partner.” US official trumpets Australian investment.

Donald Trump’s commerce secretary has told Australian businesses America is much more important to them than China.

“We are Australia’s most important economic partner,” Wilbur Ross told industry leaders in Sydney on Thursday.

“China may import more from Australia than the United States does, but their value-add to the Australian economy – and to the lives of Australians – is shockingly limited.”

He pointed out American firms account for more than a quarter of foreign investment down under, employing more than 400,000 Australians.

In contrast, China represents less than two per cent of foreign investment and directly employs 2000 Australians.

The Trump administration has taken exception to China’s trade practices and the enormous trade deficit the US has with the Asian powerhouse.

It has hit China with a series of tariffs, and the rolling dispute has alarmed Australian politicians as it threatens the global economy.

Mr Ross again outlined the American concerns, including forced technology transfers, cyber attacks, intellectual property theft, and subsidies to state-owned enterprises.

But he said the US wasn’t outright opposed to trade with China, with the two parties returning to the negotiating table this week.

“If we can get China to abide by the global rules of trade, every nation in the world will benefit,” he said.

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5. Ukraine’s President denies being blackmailed by Trump.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said US President Donald Trump did not seek to blackmail him during a phone call in July or a meeting in September.

Zelenskiy said he had not known that US military aid to Ukraine had been blocked at the time of the call.

Having been made aware of this by his defence minister later, he raised the issue during a separate meeting in September in Poland with Vice President Mike Pence.

The US House of Representatives has launched an impeachment inquiry against Trump, focused on whether he used congressionally approved aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden is one of Trump’s main Democratic rivals as he seeks re-election in 2020.

Trump has made allegations, without evidence, that Biden engaged in improper dealings in Ukraine. Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

Zelenskiy told reporters that his aim in having a phone call with Trump was to arrange a subsequent meeting and that he had asked the White House to change its rhetoric on Ukraine.

“There was no blackmail. This was not the subject of our conversation,” Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy said there were no conditions attached to him meeting Trump, including whether he should investigate the activities of Hunter at Burisma.

The White House published its summary of the call between Zelenskiy and Trump in September.

Asked whether the Ukrainian version matched up to the US one, Zelenskiy said: “I didn’t even check, but I think that it matches completely.”

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