news

Discrepancies emerge in neighbour's testimony at William Tyrrell inquest, & more in News in 5.

-With AAP.

1. Discrepancies emerge in elderly neighbour’s testimony at William Tyrrell inquest.

A man living across the road from where William Tyrrell vanished has added fresh details to his account of what happened on the day the three-year-old was likely abducted in 2014.

William disappeared from his foster grandmother’s house in the NSW town of Kendall about 10.15am on September 12, 2014, with police and neighbours alerted by 11am.

The NSW Coroners Court on Thursday was told neighbour Paul Savage had given a number of statements to police about his movements that day.

Savage is among hundreds of “persons of interest” in the case that has puzzled detectives for years, but police have conducted multiple searches of his home and never found any evidence.

Police officers spent months interviewing hundreds of the 1140 people living in the mid-north coast town of Kendall with a list of set questions before making more targeted inquiries with hundreds of persons of interest.

But none of Savage’s previous police statements included a conversation the 75-year-old now says he had with the foster grandmother shortly after a neighbour alerted him William was missing.

Savage says the 30-second chat outside the woman’s home involved her telling him William’s foster mother had gone in to make or have a cup of coffee and then noticed the boy wasn’t there.

“I’m pretty sure that’s what she said,” Savage told the inquest.

“That must have been something that I remembered. It might not be right.”

Pressed on how strong his recollection was, he said: “I still think that happened but I can’t guarantee it. I’m not going to guarantee something I’m not sure about it.”

Savage also wavered from previous statements when telling the inquest he’d inspected two deep stormwater drains during his initial solo search in bushland, and that he couldn’t remember seeing the foster father crying and upset inside the foster grandmother’s home before the search.

ADVERTISEMENT

After scouring the bush for up to 45 minutes on a path that took him to his backyard, Savage did not inform anyone his search had found nothing, the inquest was told.

“I walked out the front just to see what was happening and then I went back inside,” he said.

“I see the police (were) already there. I thought ‘That’s the police, they don’t need me’.”

He said he made himself some food and tea because he thought whether he spent the day searching or making the long drive to see his brother in Casino he “should do it on a full stomach”.

The inquest was told one of Savage’s statements mentioned friends unexpectedly arriving after he made himself a tea but those friends said they didn’t arrive until 1.20pm.

Savage said he must have spent the intervening time “keeping an eye” on the search.

The elderly man told the inquest before William went missing he’d sat on his veranda with toast and tea between 9am and 9.30am and could hear children playing.

He was unsure whether his late wife, Heather, was with him.

Savage’s phone records show he made a phone call to his brother in the Casino hospital from 10am until 10.08am.

In a police video filmed in 2017 and shown to the inquest on Thursday, Savage says he planned to make the four-hour drive to Casino to pick his brother up later that day and the call was likely in relation to that.

His wife left for bingo at 10.37am and within 15 minutes he was back inside making another round of tea and toast, Savage said.

That’s when a neighbour knocked on his door and alerted him to William’s disappearance.

Savage says he went across the road, spoke briefly with William’s foster grandmother and saw the foster father inside the home.

He couldn’t recall hearing anyone calling out William’s name.

The inquest continues.

2. ‘There are many Australians alive today because of him’. Deputy PM Tim Fischer dies from leukemia, aged 73.

ADVERTISEMENT

Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer is being remembered as a “big Australian” with big passion and a big vision for his country.

Mr Fischer died at the Albury-Wodonga Cancer Centre on Thursday, surrounded by close family members.

The 73-year-old had been fighting acute leukaemia for the past 10 months, and cancer generally for the past decade.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the former Nationals leader as a dear friend who would be sorely missed.

“Tim Fischer was a big Australian in every sense of the word,”  Morrison said.

“Big in stature, big in his belief, big in his passion, big in his vision for what Australians could achieve, and big in his view of Australia’s place in the world.

The prime minister has offered Fischer’s family – wife Judy and sons Harrison and Dominic – a state funeral.

He described him as an “all-in conviction politician.”

“Thank you Tim, we loved you very much,” Morrison said.

After returning from a tour of duty in Vietnam, the former soldier entered the NSW state parliament at 24 before being elected to federal parliament in 1984, leading the federal Nationals from 1990 to 1999.

He was deputy prime minister in John Howard’s government from 1996 to 1999.

Howard described Fischer as an “authentic Australian in so many different ways”.

“He was able to identify the broader national picture, even on issues that mightn’t immediately be appealing to his own constituency,” he told 2GB Radio.

Fischer notably supported Howard in staring down his own angry rural constituents during the introduction of Australia’s tough gun laws following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

“There are many Australians who are alive today because of legislation change, because of that tough decision that Tim Fischer took, that courage that he showed,” Nationals leader Michael McCormack said.

McCormack said Australia had lost one of its finest.

“Tim embodied loyalty, kindness and courage. Regional Australia had no better friend,” McCormack said.

Noting Fischer’s love of trains, he added: “While Tim has left the station today, his legacy will live on.”

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was responsible for appointing Mr Fischer as Australia’s “first and best” ambassador to the Holy See in 2008.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I will never forget him in his beloved Akubra with me in audience with the Pope. A good Australian,” Rudd said.

His service was also recognised by Pope Benedict who made him a papal knight in 2012.

“Tim never left you in any doubt what he believed in … you always knew where Tim was coming from,” Howard said.

When he retired from politics, Fischer worked tirelessly for many causes, including autism, veterans affairs and agricultural research.

He was lauded on Thursday by many of those groups he supported, including farmers, rural doctors and Autism Spectrum Australia.

National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said Fischer should be recognised first and foremost for his service as a conscript and platoon commander in the Vietnam war.

“There are few other people who as accurately typify what it means to be an Australian as Tim Fischer,” she said.

NSW Farmers described him as “A true gentleman and a giant in representing rural and regional Australia.”

Business and transport industry figures were also full of praise.

“Tim Fischer’s long-term vision for the country was inspiring. He led with conviction, courage and integrity,” Business Council chief Jennifer Westacott said.

3. Vegan parents of malnourished daughter sentenced to community service.

The Sydney parents of a baby girl fed a vegan diet which left her severely malnourished have avoided jail and instead been sentenced to 300 hours community service.

The pair, who can’t be identified for legal reasons, pleaded guilty in 2018 to failing to provide for a child causing danger of serious injury.

ADVERTISEMENT

They were sentenced on Thursday to an 18-month intensive corrections order in Downing Centre District Court.

The toddler, now aged three, was so malnourished by the time she was 19 months old she didn’t have any teeth and looked like a three-month-old.

She also suffered from a preventable bone disease which had caused minor fractures, and was not vaccinated.

The toddler had been fed oats, potatoes, rice, tofu, bread, peanut butter, rice milk and occasionally fruit. She never received nutritional supplements.

Now living with other family members in Queensland, her health has improved but she requires ongoing speech therapy and physiotherapy, still takes drugs and supplements to boost growth and remains physically and mentally below average.

The parents’ older two sons also live in Queensland. They were not considered significantly malnourished but were behind on vaccinations.

The parents, both in their 30s, maintain intermittent contact with the children but have lost custody.

Judge Sarah Huggett said the neglect was reckless rather than intentional but remained at the higher end of offending.

“It’s the responsibility of every parent to ensure the diet they provide children is balanced,” she said.

“That responsibility remains a very important one regardless of dietary preference. There must have been occasions to appreciate (their) daughter was not thriving.”

Authorities were alerted when the girl was hospitalised after a seizure at the family’s eastern suburbs home in March 2018.

At the time, she weighed 4.89 kilograms and hadn’t visited a doctor since leaving hospital as a newborn.

The toddler presented with blue lips and cold hands and feet, had low blood sugar and calcium levels, and little muscle tone.

She was unable to crawl or sit up unaided, had nil bone development, swollen legs due to fluid build-up and was yet to speak.

When placed on a normal diet in April 2018 and given extra support, she quickly began to grow and her teeth emerged.

Judge Huggett said the parents had been inconsistent and untruthful, telling authorities the girl had occasionally eaten animal products, would soon be vaccinated, had seen doctors and been growing.

Now separated, they have taken parenting courses since their arrest.

The mother has sought support for natal and postnatal depression which she said made her feel worthless, apathetic and listless.

Judge Huggett said there was a low risk of reoffending but sentenced both to an intensive corrections order to send a message of deterrence and denunciation.

She dismissed the father’s claim he had a limited role in the girl’s care and should receive a lesser sentence.

ADVERTISEMENT

Both parents wept in the dock.

4. Jack De Belin withdraws appeal against NRL’s stand-down policy.

Sidelined St George Illawarra star Jack de Belin has abandoned his Federal Court appeal over the NRL’s contentious stand-down policy, but still maintains the rule is unlawful.

The legal challenge by the 28-year-old, who has pleaded not guilty to raping a woman in December, was due to begin on Thursday.

But his barrister Arthur Moses SC told the Federal Court judges the parties had reached an agreement and the appeal would be discontinued.

It comes after a date for De Belin’s rape trial was set for March 2020, before the start of the NRL season.

Given the timing and the likelihood that the appeal decision would not be finalised until after the 2019 season, there was no utility in the matter proceeding at this stage, Moses said.

De Belin was not present in court on Thursday.

But in a statement, the Dragons said “de Belin maintains the NRL’s stand-down rule operates as an unlawful restraint of trade and is contrary to his presumption of innocence”.

In May, the NSW lock lost his case against the NRL and the ARL Commission, with Justice Melissa Perry rejecting his bid to be reinstated and ruling he pay the NRL’s legal costs.

He had not played since the league introduced a no-fault stand-down policy for players facing serious criminal charges.

At a brief hearing at Wollongong District Court on Tuesday, a judge listed the trial of de Belin and his co-accused Callan Sinclair for March 2 next year, with an estimated trial duration of two weeks.

They have denied five charges of aggravated sexual assault in company of a 19-year-old woman at a Wollongong unit in December.

ADVERTISEMENT

Moses told the court the parties had agreed Justice Perry’s cost order against de Belin should be set aside, with each side to cover their own fees.

ARLC chairman Peter Beattie claimed that showed the league had genuine care for its players, with the ruling also leaving them in no doubt to the repercussions for any incidents.

“We’re not a heartless mob of bastards, let’s be frank about this,” Beattie said afterwards.

“We are compassionate about our players, they are central to the future of the game.

“We thought it was in the interest of rugby league to move on. We drew a line under the court costs, they are over.

“And the no-fault rule is in cement. We can move on. We can focus on what’s important, the finals and the grand final.

Beattie also maintained that the rule meant the NRL were still making no judgment over de Belin’s innocence or guilt.

The players’ union said it understood why the parties agreed to discontinue the appeal, noting it was in de Belin’s interest.

But the RLPA said it remained of the view that the NRL’s stand-down rule was introduced in breach of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“The RLPA also remains of view that the stand-down rule operates as an invalid and unreasonable restraint of trade, and will continue to address this with the NRL together with other issues through the CBA dispute process,” a statement said.

5. Queensland premier’s diary accidentally releases identity of intelligence operative.

Queensland’s Palaszczuk government has published the name of an ASIO operative in a “disgraceful” bungle the opposition believes has compromised both the intelligence officer and national security.

The name of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation agent was published online in a routine release of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s diaries, The Guardian reported on Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT

Palaszczuk’s office said the name was removed and apologised for the administrative error.

In a brief statement, her office added that measures have been put in place to stop it from happening again.

ASIO declined to comment but pointed to federal legislation prohibiting the publication of the identities of ASIO employees under penalty of up to 10 years’ prison.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said publication of the agent’s name was not deliberate but it reflected the environment of Palaszczuk’s office.

“It is normally the job of the chief-of-staff to check that detail, but instead he’s up to his neck in controversy,” Dutton told The Courier-Mail.

“The wheels are falling off the Palaszczuk government, and this is just the latest disaster, but I fear not the last.”

The error piles more woe onto the Labor government also facing calls from one of Queensland’s most powerful unions for the state’s treasurer to resign over a property purchase that has for weeks caused them a headache.

The ordinary Woolloongabba home bought by treasurer and deputy premier Jackie Trad’s husband with a trust she benefits from isn’t much to look at yet it has plunged the Labor party into scandal.

It is close to the Cross River Rail project Ms Trad was overseeing, a role from which she has stepped down now that the buy is being assessed by the Crime and Corruption Commission.

The issue has given the opposition ammunition for endless questions about Ms Trad’s integrity.

Now they also have the administrative bungle over the ASIO spy that LNP Leader Deb Frecklington says has “compromised national security and compromised an intelligence officer who is serving our nation”.

The Woolloongabba home issue has also captured the attention of the union movement which on Thursday called for Ms Trad’s resignation.

Hundreds of trade workers protested beyond the perimeter of Parliament House, yet its walls were not enough to block out their frustrations.

It was their strongest showing against Ms Trad yet, with union leaders saying she is no friend of the worker and that the party has lost its way.

Palaszczuk has refused to be drawn on the house issue, a position that has seen her labelled by the opposition as the weakest leader in Queensland’s history.

But her deputy’s crisis has dogged her through a full parliamentary sitting week.

And in coming days she will face the heart and soul of her party and its federal leader Anthony Albanese when members meet for the annual state conference.

00:00 / ???