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Prince Andrew steps down from royal duties "for the foreseeable future", & more in News in 5.

With AAP.

1. Prince Andrew steps down from royal duties “for the foreseeable future”.

Prince Andrew has announced he is stepping down from public duties, after his interview about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein sparked major backlash.

Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second son, denies an allegation that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl procured for him by his friend Epstein, who ended his own life in a US prison while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

The scandal has escalated since Andrew’s rambling explanations in a disastrous TV interview that aired on Saturday left many viewers incredulous, and his apparent lack of compassion for Epstein’s victims drew widespread condemnation.

Prince Andrew’s BBC interview was a PR disaster. Post continues below video.

Video via BBC

In a statement issued by Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, Andrew said it had become clear to him in recent days that his association with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein has become a “major distraction” to the royal family’s work “and the valuable work going on in the many organisations and charities that I am proud to support”.

The Prince said he had asked his mother, Queen Elizabeth, for permission to step back from royal duties “for the foreseeable future” and she had agreed.

“I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein. His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure.

“I can only hope that, in time, they will be able to rebuild their lives.

“Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required,” he said.

Ghislaine Maxwell prince andrew
Prince Andrew photographed with Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein's most vocal accusers. Image: Twitter.
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Epstein was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, robbing his alleged victims of a chance for their day in court. His death on August 10 in a New York prison has been ruled a suicide by the city's medical examiner.

During the BBC interview over the weekend, the Duke of York answered questions about his friendship with Epstein and vehemently denied accusations against him by Virginia Giuffre, a then-17-year-old embroiled in Epstein's sex ring.

Prince Andrew's bizarre responses and lack of empathy or concern for victims sparked outrage.

Firms such as telecoms giant BT and bank Barclays and at least three Australian universities are among those who have distanced themselves from Andrew following the BBC interview.

2. NSW grandmother faces death penalty in Malaysia.

The fate of a NSW grandmother convicted of drug trafficking in Malaysia will be decided by the country's highest court.

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The court will on Tuesday decide whether Sydney woman Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto should be hanged for her crimes, when it rules on her appeal against drug trafficking convictions.

Her case has won widespread sympathy after judges heard how she was set up through an online boyfriend scam.

She had been found not guilty in a lower court but prosecutors appealed the verdict and won, and the mother of four was sentenced to death.

But the final appeal, to be heard in the Federal Court on Tuesday, has been complicated by announced changes in laws governing executions since her conviction in May last year.

Use of the death penalty is currently suspended and legislation is pending that will make it no longer mandatory for the courts to impose the death sentence on traffickers, instead, whether to send convicts to the gallows will be left to the discretion of the judges.

Her lawyer, Muhammad Farhan Shafee, said he was confident Exposto, from Cabramatta West, would receive a full acquittal after describing the guilty verdict as "perverse".

Exposto was caught with more than one kilogram of crystal methamphetamine, also known as ice, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on December 7, 2014.

Trafficking is defined as anyone caught with at least 50 grams of crystal meth.

The defence argued she was the victim of an internet romance scam by a man who identified himself as "Captain Daniel Smith", a US soldier stationed in Afghanistan.

They had arranged to meet in Shanghai where he was to lodge documents for his retirement from the military.

He did not show but Exposto befriended a stranger and she testified that he had asked her to take a black backpack, which she thought contained only clothes, to Melbourne shortly before leaving.

During the stopover in Kuala Lumpur, customs officers noticed something green during a routine scan and Exposto volunteered her bags up for a search.

Officers then noticed the stitching inside the backpack was not matching, tore it open and found the packages of meth.

The prosecution argued she had been wilfully blind, said her defence was simply made up and that she had engaged in a "sly game".

In finding her guilty a bench of three judges noted the ultimate penalty was mandatory but added she had the right to appeal and wished her luck.

Harsh penalties for drug trafficking were introduced in Southeast Asia after intense lobbying by the United States amid its war on drugs and a strategy to curb heroine and opium smuggling out of the notorious Golden Triangle in the 1970s and 1980s.

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Among those caught in the crackdown on narcotics were Australian drug traffickers Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, who became the first Westerners sent to the Malaysian gallows, in 1986.

Relations between Australia and Malaysia hit a low point and the then Mahathir government accused Western countries of double standards.

Diplomats said they were closely watching the trial and the Australian government has provided consular assistance.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said earlier promises to entirely abolish the death penalty have unfortunately been dropped and Exposto will still have to face judges to determine her final punishment.

"No one should face a death sentence for a drugs-related offence, so Malaysia's Attorney-General should work with the courts to ensure any death penalty verdict against her is commuted to a prison term if she is determined to be guilty of the charges against her," he said.

"It's pretty clear Malaysia's government is moving to abolish all forms of mandatory death penalty sentencing - and such an action could not come a moment too soon for Maria Exposto."

3. Government extends bushfire relief for victims of bushfires in Toowoomba and Coffs Harbour.

Victims of the recent bushfires in Toowoomba and Coffs Harbour will be able to make claims through the federal government's extended disaster relief program.

Families in the worst hit areas will be able to claim the one-off payment, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud announced on Wednesday.

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People can claim cash payments of $1000 per adult or $400 per child through the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment.

Mr Littleproud said it was giving "dignity to those who suffered the worst in the fires".

Firefighters confirmed on Wednesday three homes were lost in bushfires north of Toowoomba, with 19 homes now lost in Queensland from the recent fires.

Fires north of Coffs Harbour were at advice levels as of Wednesday, after the blaze destroyed tens of thousands of hectares last week.

Mr Littleproud also said the Disaster Recovery Allowance, which provides 13 weeks of income support, will be extended to people in Bundaberg, the Lockyer Valley, Gold Coast and Toowoomba.

He said the government will make further support available for bushfire affected communities as it is needed.

4. Cuts to business red tape and industrial reform are on Scott Morrison's agenda.

Scott Morrison has flagged cuts to business red tape and industrial relations changes as the next steps in the government's economic reform.

The prime minister told the Business Council of Australia's annual dinner in Sydney on Wednesday "the next wave of prosperity" would come from tackling productivity.

"Productivity is not about paying people less to do more, but enabling people to earn more from what they do each day. That's what our productivity agenda is about," he said.

Mr Morrison urged business leaders to "marshal the evidence and make the case for change" in the area of industrial relations.

The government is currently reviewing the industrial relations system, via a series of discussion papers which seek feedback from business on what aspects of the system are holding back growth and high-wage jobs.

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"There is a persuasive argument that greater flexibility in the length of enterprise agreements can play an important role in attracting investment in major infrastructure, resources and energy projects," Mr Morrison said.

It was especially important giving the $250 billion of new project capital in the investment pipeline.

"Similarly, I would hope we can make progress on reducing the system's overall complexity. While the number of awards has reduced, it appears that they have not become simpler - indeed many believe that they have become more complex.

"The degree of administrative clutter associated with the compliance regime and the enterprise bargaining process can also detract from business improvements that can arise from working together for mutual benefit."

He said the government was also looking at a number of measures to ease the administrative burden on business, including a checklist to guide business owners looking to hire workers, easier business registration, a digital portal for major project environmental approvals and a smoother export permit system.

He also urged business to better harness digital technologies.

5. Perth's Murdoch University cuts ties with Prince Andrew.

Perth's Murdoch University has cut ties with a program founded by Prince Andrew amid continued backlash about his links to billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

The university issued a statement on Wednesday saying it would no longer participate in [email protected], a global entrepreneurial program aimed at providing international development opportunities for early-stage businesses.

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"Murdoch University has today advised Buckingham Palace it would not continue its participation in [email protected] in 2020," a spokesperson said.

"We remain committed to supporting innovators and entrepreneurs. However, in the current circumstances, we have decided that our efforts in this area are best served through other means."

Queensland's Bond University and Melbourne's RMIT have both also confirmed they will no longer take part in the [email protected] program.

Prince Andrew founded the program in 2014 and attended an event at Murdoch University last month.

The Duke of York's visit was marred by scrutiny of his relationship with Epstein, the disgraced US financier who took his own life in August in a New York prison cell where he was detained on charges of sex trafficking teenage girls.

British media have reported the FBI expects to interview alleged trafficking victims in the hope they can provide more details about the Duke's links to Epstein.

Scotland Yard previously held an investigation after Virginia Giuffre made allegations against Prince Andrew, but that probe was dropped in 2015.

The Duke, whose recent BBC television interview about the scandal was widely criticised, has denied all allegations against him.

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