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Two friends jailed after raping a woman who rejected their threesome request, & more in News in 5.

— With AAP.

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

1.  Two young Victorian men ‘smiled’ and gave ‘thumbs up’ after being sentenced for ‘selfish, shameful’ rape.

Two young Victorian men have been jailed for raping a woman in a caravan, where one of the attackers told his co-offender “she’s all yours now”.

Shaun Bloomfield and Luke Merryfull, both 24, previously denied they raped the woman and claimed the sex was consensual.

But a jury found Bloomfield guilty of two counts of rape and one count of sexual assault and Merryfull guilty of rape, following the attack at Balmoral in western Victoria in April 2016.

The woman had intended to sleep in the caravan after a 21st birthday party, but the two rapists – both then 21 – climbed in bed on either side of her.

Merryfull suggested a threesome, but the woman “immediately and clearly” rejected it or “any sex of any kind” with either of the men.

After Merryfull raped her, he got up and said words to the effect of: “she’s all yours now” to Bloomfield.

Merryfull claimed he was talking about the caravan, but that claim was rejected by County Court Judge Gerard Mullaly.

“These words are troubling as they are revealing, in my view, of a concerning attitude towards the victim as merely an object for each of you – one after the other – to violate at your will,” he said on Wednesday.

He added Bloomfield only stopped his assault when the victim pushed him in the chest, “forcing you to wake up to yourself”.

After the attack, Merryfull and Bloomfield left the property where their distressed victim tried to contact friends for help. She reported the rapes to police the next morning.

Judge Mullaly said after the attack, the victim was in “considerable distress”.

“She was entitled to feel safe in that environment,” he said.

Judge Mullaly said the victim felt ostracised from the local community.

“She has moved interstate and finds it difficult to return to her family in the small town in which she lived.”

He said courts were aware of the ongoing effects of sexual assaults upon victims.

“These were opportunistic crimes but they were serious and selfish where you put your sexual gratification above the ordinary human dignity and feelings of your (victim). That is shameful and the devastating impact on her is still resonating.”

The ABC reported the court heard the victim suffers from serious mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

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Judge Mullaly said he aimed to give the men sentences proportionate to their crimes and that their lawyers accepted a jail term was necessary.

“It remains, nonetheless, a grave step to send young men like you to jail but that is my heavy responsibility,” he said.

“I’m doing the best I can,” he later added.

Merryfull was jailed for four years and 10 months and must serve two years and 10 months before being eligible for release on parole.

Bloomfield was jailed for five years and eight months, with a minimum term of three years and four months.

Merryfull will be welcomed back to his job by his employer after serving his jail term. Bloomfield’s boss provided a reference detailing his “good work ethic and good character,” the ABC reported.

After they were sentenced, the two men reportedly “smiled” and gave “thumbs up” to their family members, according to News Corp.

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. Prime Minister Scott Morrison expected to call May 18 election.

Scott Morrison will make a direct pitch to families, small business operators and seniors when it’s expected he pulls the trigger on a May 18 federal election on Thursday.

The prime minister on Wednesday night released a video featuring his family and asking voters to think long-term.

“The next 10 years are important for everybody, in every stage of life,” he says.

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Mr Morrison is widely tipped to visit Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove on Thursday, triggering a standard-length half-Senate and full House of Representatives election campaign up to May 18.

Mr Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have been traversing the country over the past week, pitching their economic plans a week after the budget was delivered.

The prime minister spent the day in Tasmania on Wednesday, talking up his government’s record on health.

The Labor opposition laid out its health spending priorities in last week’s budget reply, promising to make cancer treatments and scans significantly cheaper.

Mr Morrison used his trip to the Apple Isle to announce more funding to cut elective surgery waiting lists, improve maternity services and cancer treatment, especially radiation therapy.

He said Labor would be offering “lies and higher taxes”, while the government had a positive agenda.

“It’s about how you keep the economy on track to guarantee the funding for the essential services that Australians rely on, whether it is schools, hospitals, Medicare or any of these things,” he told reporters.

Mr Shorten, who campaigned on the NSW north coast, said voters were ready to dump the government after six years in office.

“The Australian people actually want to make a choice: six years of instability, three prime ministers, 13 energy policies, enough is enough, times up, let’s have an election,” he said.

Labor and the coalition have already agreed to a campaign advertising truce over the Easter long weekend and Anzac Day.

Apart from the perennial issues of health and education, key election topics are expected to be wages, climate policy, income tax cuts and national security.

Opinion polls have the Labor opposition ahead by an average 53-47 on a two-party preferred basis, which if translated at the polls would see Mr Shorten governing with a comfortable majority in the 151-member House of Representatives.

Neither major party is expected to win majority control of the Senate, with half of the 76-seat upper house up for grabs.

After a national redrawing of seat boundaries, the coalition starts with a notional 73 seats (down from 74) with Labor on 72 (up from 69).

3. Gender now optional on birth certificates in Tasmania.

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Tasmania has become the first state or territory in Australia to make the inclusion of gender optional on birth certificates.

In reforms hailed by transgender activists, the bill passed parliament on Wednesday afternoon despite the opposition of the Liberal state government.

The laws remove the requirement for transgender people to have sexual reassignment surgery in order to have a new gender recognised.

Those aged 16 years or older can apply to change their registered gender without parental approval.

“This is a historic day for transgender and gender diverse people,” Tasmanian transgender activist Martine Delaney said.

“I feel prouder to be a Tasmanian than I have ever felt before.”

The legislation, first put forward by Labor and the Greens last year, passed the lower house on the casting vote of Liberal Speaker Sue Hickey, who crossed the floor.

“This is not a win for any political party, rather it grants dignity to the transgender community,” Ms Hickey said.

The government has maintained their opposition to the reforms, claiming they were poorly drafted and will have unintended consequences.

The bill was heavily amended in the upper house.

Premier Will Hodgman said there hasn’t been a full review of the legislation and how it affects other statutes.

“It is highly likely the parliament will need to fix up problems with the legislation and repeal the Labor-Green amendments at a later date,” he said in a statement.

The Australian Christian Lobby is backing a repeal of the reforms, having previously said the removal of gender on birth certificates was ignoring biological truths.

Labor and the Greens maintain that changes to the Marriage Amendment Bill are simple and won’t impact the vast majority of the population.

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“Just as it was with the vote on marriage equality, the sky is likely to remain in place with the passing of this legislation,” state Greens Leader Cassy O’Connor said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last year labelled the push to remove gender from birth certificates “ridiculous”.

4. “We are their voice”: New Zealand passes gun laws.

Unified in grief and determined to act, New Zealand’s politicians have almost unanimously voted to ban high-powered guns in response to the Christchurch mosque shootings.

Less than four weeks after the terror attack on mosques that killed 50, the country’s parliament on Wednesday afternoon overwhelmingly voted for a ban on a range of semi-automatic weapons and modifications, passing the bill 119 votes-to-one at its third and final reading.

In her speech to the House, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she vividly recalled the moment she knew change was coming.

“[The police commissioner] described to me the nature of the weapons that had been used in this terror attack. And then he described to me they had been obtained legally,” she said.

“I could not fathom how weapons that could cause such destruction and large-scale death could have been obtained legally in this country.”

She appeared near tears as she spoke of the attack’s victims and survivors during.

“We are ultimately here because 50 people died and they do not have a voice. We in this house are their voice.”

The conservative opposition National Party backed the bill at all stages, despite some farmers this week expressing frustration at a lack of exemptions for pest control – and on Wednesday did the same in a rare moment of unity.

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“To the families of our missing 50 and those who were injured, I trust you will look at us as an institution and say we delivered here today,” National MP Andrew Bayly said.

Standing alone against the ban was the libertarian Act party’s sole MP, David Seymour, who lamented the pace the legislation was passed, despite agreeing some change was needed.

While a small and vocal gun lobby had echoed those concerns, a wave of public support has swept the laws through at an almost unprecedented speed.

Ardern evoked Australia’s swift response to the Port Arthur massacre as she dismissed calls for delay.

“An argument about process is an argument to do nothing… the first politician I ever heard say that in relation to gun laws was John Howard,” she told parliament.

“You either believe that in New Zealand these weapons have a place or you do not.”

Wednesday’s law change was announced six days after the March 15 attack, with Ardern promising the weapons used in the shooting would be taken out of public hands.

The bill was introduced into the house last week an single day of public hearings was held and officials worked through 13,000 written submissions in days.

But even before the new laws were introduced, politicians made it clear more would follow.

The 28-year-old Australian man arrested after the attack is alleged to have bought his weapons legally before modifying them, and politicians will consider whether licensing rules need tightening.

They’ll also consider a comprehensive gun register.

While about 1.5 million guns are thought to be in the country, a lack of registration means authorities have no idea how many weapons are expected to be handed back during an amnesty and gun buyback – the first details of which were unveiled on Wednesday – or how much the program may cost.

While politicians held their vote on Wednesday, volunteers in Christchurch began removing an enormous pile of tributes and flowers that has built up at the city’s Botanic Gardens.

The 150-metre-long collection will be sorted and taken to families and mosques.

More than a dozen of those hurt remain in hospital.

5. Prince Harry and Oprah to produce mental health documentary.

 

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We are excited to announce that The Duke of Sussex and Oprah Winfrey are partners, co-creators and executive producers on their forthcoming mental health series launching on Apple in 2020. The pair have been developing the series for several months and are looking forward to sharing such an important project on this global platform. The dynamic multi-part documentary series will focus on both mental illness and mental wellness, inspiring viewers to have an honest conversation about the challenges each of us faces, and how to equip ourselves with the tools to not simply survive, but to thrive. This commitment builds on The Duke of Sussex’s long-standing work on issues and initiatives regarding mental health, where he has candidly shared personal experience and advocated for those who silently suffer, empowering them to get the help and support they deserve. His Royal Highness has spent many years working with communities throughout the UK and young people across the Commonwealth to break the stigma surrounding mental illness and broaden the conversation of mental wellness to accelerate change for a more compassionate, connected and positive society. Quote from HRH: “I truly believe that good mental health – mental fitness – is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self. It is a huge responsibility to get this right as we bring you the facts, the science and the awareness of a subject that is so relevant during these times. Our hope is that this series will be positive, enlightening and inclusive – sharing global stories of unparalleled human spirit fighting back from the darkest places, and the opportunity for us to understand ourselves and those around us better. I am incredibly proud to be working alongside Oprah on this vital series.”

A post shared by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (@sussexroyal) on

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Prince Harry is working with US chat show queen Oprah Winfrey on a mental health documentary series, Kensington Palace has announced.

Harry and Oprah will be co-creators and executive producers of the project for Apple, which has launched into the TV streaming market to take on Netflix and Amazon.

The multi-part documentary series will focus on both mental illness and mental wellness and aims to inspire viewers to have an honest conversation about the challenges we all face and how to equip ourselves with the tools to thrive, rather than to simply survive.

Harry said: “I truly believe that good mental health – mental fitness – is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self.

“It is a huge responsibility to get this right as we bring you the facts, the science and the awareness of a subject that is so relevant during these times.”

The Duke of Sussex, who along with wife Meghan invited Oprah to their wedding last year, added: “Our hope is that this series will be positive, enlightening and inclusive – sharing global stories of unparalleled human spirit fighting back from the darkest places, and the opportunity for us to understand ourselves and those around us better.

“I am incredibly proud to be working alongside Oprah on this vital series which we have been developing together for several months.”

In 2017 Harry with Prince William and Duchess Catherine launched a mental health initiative Heads Together spearheaded by The Royal Foundation.

During the campaign, Harry shared his personal experience and became an advocate for those who silently suffer, aiming to empower them to get the help and support they deserve.

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