More arrests over Kim assassination

Two women and a man have been arrested over the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s half brother who was reportedly poisoned this week by a pair of female assassins as he waited for a flight in Malaysia.

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Investigators are trying to piece together the details of a death that set off a torrent of speculation over whether Kim Jong Un dispatched a hit squad to kill his estranged older sibling.

The suspects were picked up separately on Wednesday and Thursday. The female suspects were identified using surveillance footage from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where Kim Jong Nam suddenly fell ill Monday morning before dying on the way to the hospital.

One of the women had Vietnamese travel documents and the other held an Indonesian passport.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry has confirmed the arrest of a female national in connection with the killing.

A still photo of the airport surveillance video showed one of the suspects in a white T-shirt with “LOL” across the front.

On Thursday afternoon, police said they had detained a Malaysian man believed to be the boyfriend of the Indonesian suspect.

An autopsy has been concluded and could reveal whether Kim Jong Nam was poisoned, and possibly shed light on the tales of intrigue that have rippled since his death: the female assassins, the broad daylight killing, the estranged dictator-sibling looking to kill him.

Kim Jong Nam, who was 45 or 46, was estranged from his North Korean relatives and had been living abroad for years. He reportedly fell out of favour with his father when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport in 2001, saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

According to two senior Malaysian government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Kim Jong Nam told medical workers before he died that he had been attacked with a chemical spray.

Since taking power upon his father’s death in late 2011, Kim Jong Un has executed or purged a number of high-level government officials in what the South Korean government has described as a “reign of terror.”

South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said that North Korea had been trying for five years to kill Kim Jong Nam.

The NIS also cited a “genuine” attempt by North Korea to kill Kim Jong Nam in 2012, lawmakers said. The NIS told them that Kim Jong Nam sent a letter to Kim Jong Un in April 2012, after the assassination attempt, begging for the lives of himself and his family.

Settled Hogan to take Demons up AFL ladder

A settled and trimmed-down Jesse Hogan is ready to help launch Melbourne into the Simon Goodwin era.

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Hogan ended speculation he would seek a return home to Western Australia at the end of the season when he signed a two-year contract extension last year.

After taking over from Paul Roos, Goodwin will take the reins for the first time as the Demons’ senior coach when they take on the Western Bulldogs on Saturday.

The rookie coach spoke to reporters on Thursday and gave a glowing response when asked about the 22-year-old key forward’s preparation.

“I think Jess is now a really settled person, he’s established here at the footy club and he’s got some great work habits,” Goodwin said.

“He’s really driving his career forward. Having him signed up now is terrific … I think it gives him some clear air to really focus on what the team requires to be successful.”

Melbourne finished 11th last year and are widely tipped to play finals for the first time since 2006 in Goodwin’s first season in charge.

Hogan, the club’s leading goal kicker for the past two seasons, has slimmed down this pre-season and will play a key role if the Demons are to break their finals drought.

While Hogan’s impressive preparation gives Goodwin more options, fans can expect him to continue to anchor the forward line.

“We’ll experiment with Jess in a number of different positions but primarily he’s a forward,” Goodwin said.

“He’s on our list to play as a key forward and to really be instrumental in our forward half.

“But what Jess has been able to do is put his body shape in a great position to really launch into his season.”

Hogan will be joined by new faces Jordan Lewis and Jake Melksham when the Demons take on the Dogs at Whitten Oval.

Dom Tyson, Ben Kennedy, Michael Hibberd and Dean Kent are among the notable absentees, but all are expected to be available to play in round one of the home-and-away season.

Body found in search for Nepalese student at Sydney beach

After three days of searching, police divers have found the body of 26-year-old Sudeep Uprety under a rock ledge.

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The Nepalese student was with his friend Shristi Bhandari at Sydney’s Maroubra beach when they were swept out to sea on Monday night.

Shristi had only been in the country two weeks.

The 23-year-old’s body was found washed up on the beach on Tuesday.

Surf Lifesaving NSW Director John Restuccia told SBS this latest incident is tragic, but people need to adhere to the warnings and only swim between the flags.

“At night time there’s no way in world to know what the rips and the waves or even the currents are doing,” Mr Restuccia said.

Mr Restuccia believes we need to get “serious” about better educating foreigners about Australian water safety and the government needs to get on board.

“They are always looking excited when they come in to Australia. The first place they want to go to is a beach so maybe some more safety messages on the aeroplanes prior to landing at Australia would possibly help the situation,” said Mr Restuccia.

There’s been 23 drownings in NSW since Christmas, four within the Nepalese community.

Non-Resident Nepalese Association Secretary Tonnou Ghothane says he is pushing for students to be taught about the dangers of water in schools and universities in Nepal and for compulsory swimming lessons when young people arrive in Australia.

“Because we come from a land locked country and try to teach them what it’s like the dangers of sea back in Australia and I hope once they are aware they’ll be more careful,” Mr Ghothane said.

US, Iran set for first meeting on nuclear deal at UN: diplomats

The meeting next Wednesday of the so-called E3+3 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States) and Iran comes as President Donald Trump is weighing whether to quit the historic 2015 agreement.

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European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will chair the talks, held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, diplomats said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is expected to touch on the fate of the nuclear deal in his UN address on Wednesday, a day after Trump will deliver his first speech to the 193-nation assembly. 

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The US on Thursday waived nuclear-related sanctions on Iran but slapped new ones on 11 companies and individuals accused of engaging in cyber attacks against US banks.

Trump is due to decide before October 15 whether Iran has breached the 2015 nuclear agreement, and critics fear he may abandon an accord they think prevents Tehran from building a nuclear bomb.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking during a ceremony in Tehran, Iran, 12 September 2017.AAP

Under the nuclear deal, Iran surrendered much of its enriched uranium, dismantled a reactor and submitted nuclear sites to UN inspection, while Washington and Europe lifted some sanctions.

On a visit to the United States in July, Zarif complained that he had yet to discuss the agreement with Tillerson and that the administration was sending “contradictory signals” about the fate of the landmark agreement.

“There are no communications between myself and Secretary Tillerson,” Zarif said. 

“It doesn’t mean there can’t be. The possibilities for engagement… have always been open.”

Explainer: How will the government’s reforms change the Australian media landscape?

The Turnbull government’s media reforms passed the Senate on Thursday night, overturning laws to prevent media consolidation that have been in place since the 1980s.

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It’s a mixed bag of reforms. The government made several changes to convince crucial crossbenchers, including Nick Xenophon’s bloc, to vote in favour of the bill.

0:00 Government announces media reform package Share Government announces media reform package

Here is what’s about to change:

Big media companies can get bigger

The key reforms in the package were all to do with media ownership rules.

They were originally designed to stop any one media company growing too large and restricting the diversity of voices.

But especially in more recent years, big media companies like Fairfax have lobbied the government to relax the laws as they struggle with falling ad revenue.

The reforms would remove the so-called ‘two out of three’ rule, which prevented a media company from operating a TV station, radio station and a newspaper in the same market.

The rule is currently preventing some big potential mergers, like Nine Entertainment (which owns a TV station) with Fairfax media (which owns newspapers like The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, along with radio stations 2GB and 3AW).

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The rule was also preventing a joint bid from Bruce Gordon and Lachlan Murdoch to purchase the troubled Ten Network. The free-to-air channel has since been sold to American network CBS, but Mr Murdoch and Mr Gordon are challenging the sale in the NSW Supreme Court.

The change also removes the 75 per cent reach rule.

This rule prevented any TV network from broadcasting to a licence area with a combined population of more

than three-quarters of Australians.

It has stopped big metro TV stations like Seven, Nine and Ten from buying up the regional broadcasters like Prime, WIN and Southern Cross. Those deals would now be legal.

The government and big media companies argued the old rules were outdated, with their origins in a pre-digital age. The reforms would, for instance, allow Fairfax and Nine to combine their stakes in the digital streaming service Stan, taking their ownership to 100 per cent.

Labor and the Greens opposed the change. They said it would lead to a less diverse, more consolidated media market with less choice for consumers.

The union representing journalists, the MEAA, also warned further consolidation would mean more cost-cutting in the long run and less jobs for its members.

Related readingNick Xenophon’s deal for a $60 million ‘innovation fund’

After months of negotiation and delay, the government secured the support of Nick Xenophon’s three senators on the crossbench to finally pass the laws. (One Nation also offered its support – see below.) 

Senator Xenophon was able to secure an amendment in return to establish a $60 million fund, designed to improve media diversity.

It’s a one-off cash splash, with $50 million to be spent over the course of three years on grants for small publishers.

Companies that want to apply will need to be Australian-owned, ruling out foreign-owned players like The Guardian. They will also need to be the right size – with an annual turnover of more than $300,000 but less than $30 million, ruling out the big corporations like Fairfax and News Corporation.

They can apply for grants to update equipment and software, develop mobile apps and train their staff. The government said publishers would not be allowed to spend grant money on salaries.

The remaining money will go to journalism cadetships, mostly for publishers in regional areas.

Publishers will be allowed to apply for up to $40,000 per cadet to help pay their wages. There will be 100 cadetship places each year for two years. At least 80 per year will be reserved for rural publishers.

There will also be a limited number of scholarships for regional students who want to study journalism. 

Inquiry into impact of Google and Facebook

The Xenophon deal will also include an inquiry into the rise of Facebook and Google and the impact they are having on advertising revenue.

Senator Xenophon has repeatedly said the two companies were making huge profits by selling ads on the content of local publishers, who were not being fairly rewarded.

The inquiry would likely be conducted by the consumer rights regulator, the ACCC, which would then produce a report.

One Nation’s deal on the ABC and SBS

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation announced last month that it too had done a deal with the government in exchange for its support. 

The One Nation proposal focuses on the two public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS. It would change the ABC’s charter to include the requirement it be “fair” and “balanced”, on top of the existing requirement to be “impartial” and “accurate”.

The ABC and SBS would also be forced to disclose the salaries of its highest-paid staff. There would also be an inquiry to determine whether the public broadcasters were competing too aggressively with commercial media outlets.

The One Nation reforms were not part of the bill that passed on Thursday and will need to be debated separately in the future. Communications minister Mitch Fifield said the agreement with Pauline Hanson “absolutely stands and it will continue to stand.”

Nick Xenophon has warned his team would likely oppose the One Nation plan. 

Tough talk from US on Iran while extending some sanctions relief

The Trump administration is being coy about whether the United States will preserve a 2015 deal with Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

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The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, saw Iran consent to halting its development of nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of sanctions by Western nations.

US President Donald Trump has frequently criticised the deal, made by his predecessor Barack Obama, as bad for the country’s national safety.

Now, ahead of a United Nations meeting next week, Mr Trump was blunt.

“We are not going to stand for what they are doing to this country. They have violated so many different elements but they’ve also violated the spirit of that deal, and you’ll see what we’ll be doing in October.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been meeting Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, in London.

Mr Tillerson says in deciding whether or not to renew the deal, countries must look at more than just Iran’s compliance with the agreement.

He says other actions Iran is engaging in should have a bearing on the decision.

“Through their actions to prop up the Assad regime (Syrian President Bashar Assad), to engage in malicious activities in the region including cyber activity, aggressively developing ballistic missiles, and all of this is in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, thereby threatening – not ensuring, but threatening – the security of those in the region, as well as the United States itself. So we have to consider the totality of Iran’s activities.”

Cyber-restrictions, meanwhile, are to be placed on several Iranian individuals and entities.

This is allegedly due to their involvement in either malicious cyber-activities, or Tehran’s nuclear program.

But the US has also agreed to extend the waiving of some sanctions on Iran’s government.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says the move doesn’t hold any hidden meaning.

“Waiving some of those sanctions should not be seen as an indication of President Trump or his administration’s position on the JCPOA, nor is the waiver giving the Iranian regime a pass on its broad range of malign behaviour. Again, no decisions have been made on the final JCPOA, we still have some time for that.”

Every 90 days officials must report to Congress on Iran’s adherence to the deal.

The next deadline is in mid-October.

Yukiya Amano, the head of the UN’s nuclear body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, says Iran is playing by the rules.

“The nuclear related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented. We will continue to implement the additional protocol in Iran, including carrying out complimentary accesses to sites and other locations, as we do in other countries with additional protocols.”

Iran has threatened to restore its nuclear program should any party to the deal fail to honour its terms.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi says that includes the US.

“Any country that fails to fulfil its commitments for any reason must pay a heavy price for failing to honour its commitments. This can be the US or any other country.”

 

IOC chooses Ban Ki-moon to oversee ethics reform

A day after basking in the goodwill generated by the historic announcement of Paris and Los Angeles as hosts for the 2024 and 2028 Olympics, it was time for the IOC to focus on the less-enviable task of restoring its tarnished reputation.

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After a string of corruption claims involving senior members, the IOC has come under pressure from its own delegates at its meeting in Lima, Peru.

Members voted to elect a new commissioner to oversee IOC ethics.

And it was left to IOC President Thomas Bach to reveal the outcome.

“I am happy to announce the result of the election of the chair for the IOC ethics commission. Yes 74, no 4. Mr Ban Ki-moon, elected president of the IOC ethics commission.”

Secretary-General of the United Nations for almost a decade until his retirement last year, Ban Ki-moon will bring a high international profile to the role.

The 73 year-old succeeds Senegal’s Youssoupha Ndiaye and says he will use his experience at the UN to bring cultural change to the IOC.

“I believe that ethics is essential to the success of any organisation, that is why I did everything possible to strengthen the culture of ethics at the United Nations. And I project transparency and accountability in every way I could.”

And there is a list of cases he will need to focus on immediately.

Head of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and former IOC member Carlos Nuzman is being investigated for corruption in an alleged votes-for-cash scheme to get the Games to Brazil.

Mr Nuzman is still an IOC honorary member and denies any wrongdoing.

But he’s not the only senior figure in the spotlight that has sparked claims the IOC’s been slow to act.

It was only this week Ireland’s former Olympic chief Pat Hickey resigned from the organisation’s executive board after becoming embroiled in a ticket-selling scandal at last year’s Rio Games.

The 72 year-old Mr Hickey also denies the charges.

Another fellow IOC member, Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, has been referenced in United States Court documents as being involved in a bribery case at world soccer’s governing body, FIFA.

Ban Ki-Moon says it’s vital the IOC is respected around the world.

“What is important is that in principle I will work very closely with the IOC members and other sports organisations to make the IOC has the trust and confidence of the international community and I will do my best to enhance accountability and transparency of this great organisation so that we can enjoy trust and confidence from the people around the world.”

One of the biggest issues he faces is the Russian doping scandal.

A World Anti-Doping Agency commission in 2015 found that more than 1,000 Russian competitors in more than 30 sports were involved in a conspiracy to conceal positive drug tests over a period of five years.

While banned from international athletics competition, Russia controversially escaped a blanket ban at last year’s Rio Olympics.

But now a group of the world’s leading national anti-doping organisations is calling for the country to be excluded from next year’s South Korean Winter Games over the alleged state-sponsored doping.

Russia, in response, accuses the anti-doping agencies of fuelling hysteria.

It all comes as the French celebrate the awarding of host city honours to Paris in 2024.

73 year-old Helene is one of those relishing the prospect …

“I’m very happy, it’s a victory for France. We’re not going to complain, we’ve been waiting for it for a long time. I’m very happy, yes. Even if I’m not too involved in sport, I still watch it on television. Yes, I’m very happy.”

….showing that, despite the controversies, the Olympics still have the ability to spark excitement and pride among nations.

 

Trump repeats his criticism that Antifa protesters at Charlottesville rally were ‘bad dudes’

The US President has repeated that he thought there were “bad dudes” among the people who assembled to oppose a white nationalist protest in Virginia.

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He was speaking on Thursday, a day after the Senate’s lone black Republican spoke with him about blaming “many sides” for the violence and death around a Confederate statue.

Mr Trump met with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina on Wednesday at the White House, where he explained his comment, and why he said there were “very fine people” among the nationalists and neo-Nazis protesting the possible removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month.

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Senator Scott said he told the president that there was no comparison.

“We had three or four centuries of rape, murder and death brought at the hands of the (Ku Klux Klan) and those who believe in a superior race,” Senator Scott told reporters following the meeting at the Capitol.

“I wanted to make sure we were clear on the delineation between who’s on which side in the history of the nation.”

But the day after the meeting, Mr Trump reiterated that he thought some of the protesters who opposed the white supremacists were “bad dudes” and people were beginning to agree with him.

“You have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also and essentially that’s what I said,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One Thursday while returning from viewing hurricane damage in Florida.

“In fact a lot of people have actually written ‘gee, Trump might have a point,”‘ the president added.

Senator Scott is not one of them.

Statement from our office on the President’s comments this afternoon: pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/p6ZU9USuxy

— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) September 14, 2017

He bluntly criticised Trump for assigning blame in a way that put white supremacist protesters on equal footing with counterdemonstrators who turned out for the August 12 protests, sparked by Charlottesville officials’ decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The lastest remarks, Senator Scott said, compromised Mr Trump’s moral authority as president.

MPs should co-operate with IBAC: premier

All Victorian MPs should co-operate with a corruption watchdog investigation into rorting allegations, Premier Daniel Andrews says.

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A parliamentary audit has uncovered questionable printing invoices from one unnamed MP who has been referred to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.

The audit was sparked by allegations MP’s offices had been claiming parliamentary funds to settle fake printing invoices and siphoning the money into Labor branch stacking.

It’s also alleged printing firms were in on the scam.

When asked if he had directed his MPs to co-operate with the IBAC probe, Mr Andrews said he didn’t need to.

“Everybody knows that every single MP, every Victorian MP should co-operate with any investigation, whether it be IBAC, Victoria Police or anybody else,” he told reporters on Friday.

He would not comment further on the investigation.

Legislative Council President Bruce Atkinson announced a Department of Parliamentary Services audit of invoices last week.

On Thursday, he and Legislative Assembly Speaker Colin Brooks said they were referring allegations to the corruption watchdog.

“The department was unable to determine if the allegations in the media and subsequent questions in the house have substance as its powers of investigation do not extend beyond the ability to examine parliament records,” their statement read.

“We are advised the review of invoices approved under delegation from one member of parliament gives rise to a notification pursuant to section 57 of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Act.”

The opposition used parliamentary privilege to name deputy Legislative Council President Khalil Eideh and company FM Printing as being involved – an allegation they both deny.

Mr Eideh also requested a complete audit of his own office.

The government is also currently under the scrutiny of the Ombudsman over allegations parliamentary allowances were misused during the 2014 election campaign.

The government passed a motion earlier this year granting MPs parliamentary privilege from the Ombudsman investigation and its unsuccessful fight to stop it went all the way to the High Court.

Same-sex marriage postal survey mailout ahead of schedule, ABS says

Almost half of all Australians eligible to take part in the same-sex marriage postal survey will receive ballots before the weekend.

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More than four million forms have been delivered and millions more are expected to land in letterboxes on Friday, a Senate inquiry has been told.

“We’re slightly ahead of our schedule for dispatch of remaining forms, so that all means we’re in very good shapes to all eligible Australians by September 25,” Deputy Australian Statistician Jonathon Palmer said.

Mr Palmer expects all forms to be sent out by September 21.

Initial mailouts were targeted at rural and remote communities and radio ads for the postal survey are running in seven different indigenous languages.

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Roughly 120,000 silent electors are expected to receive their ballot papers next week.

However overseas voters will not receive online codes to take part in the survey until September 25.

“We’re not bringing that option online yet,” Mr Palmer told senators.

People will not be notified if their returned forms are discarded because they are damaged, marked unclearly or deemed a duplicate.

“Their response is de-identified so there’s no receipt or communication to people if there response isn’t going to be processed,” Mr Palmer said.

External observers – unlike scrutineers used in election campaigns – will be barred from looking at every survey form.

“We don’t want anyone in the process to be in a position to estimate the result … or be seen to be credible in their estimation of the result,” Mr Palmer said.

“We’ll keep the statistics under strict embargo and very few people – I’m talking less than a handful – will know the result before it’s published.”

Mr Palmer referred some incidents of alleged fraud, such as the sale of ballot papers on eBay, to federal police on Thursday.

He hopes to discuss with the AFP on Friday a policy for how the two agencies will work together on allegations.

More than 87,000 calls have been made to a hotline set up to assist Australians with queries about the postal survey, with four per cent listed as complaints.

One per cent were classified as a compliment.

“We’d like that number to be higher,” Mr Palmer conceded jokingly.

The bureau has had to reassign staff working on the next Census project in 2021 to the survey.

So far the ABS has spent $63.5 million on the ballot.

So far 61 survey forms have been reissued to replaced spoilt ones – including those with drawings by small children.

Turnbull welcomes Howard’s help with same-sex marriage legislation

Malcolm Turnbull says he would welcome John Howard’s help in drafting legislation for same-sex marriage should the ‘yes’ vote win the postal survey.

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The former prime minister is concerned the government has yet to detail protections for parental rights, freedom of speech, and religious freedom.

“If a ‘Yes’ vote is recorded there will be overwhelming pressure to ‘move on’, legislate as quickly as possible, and then put the issue behind parliament,” Mr Howard said.

“There will be scant opportunity for serious consideration of protections in the areas I have cited.”

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Mr Turnbull noted Mr Howard did not make a submission to a parliamentary committee looking into the process, but would like to draw on his experience.

“We will welcome John Howard’s contribution to the fine-tuning of that exposure draft bill and its improvement,” he told Sky News on Friday.

Mr Turnbull said the private member’s bill will have religious protections included.

“But of course it then has to go through the parliament.”

Cabinet minister Christpher Pyne said “of course” the government wasn’t washing it hands of its responsibility, as Mr Howard has asserted.

“We will protect the freedom of speech of people and of course the rights of people to choose whether they do or don’t marry couples,” he told the Nine Network.

Mr Pyne said Mr Howard is allowed to campaign in the debate as much as anybody else.

“It is not a question of John Howard v Malcolm Turnbull, or anybody else quite frankly, it is whether people believe that two people who love each other should be able to get married,” he said.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said opponents of same-sex marriage are raising every issue except for the one being asked of Australians.

“Whether two people who love each other can give that commitment in front of friends and family,” he said.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is aiming to get the survey forms out to 16 million voters by September 25, with the first arriving in mailboxes earlier in the week.

Didgeridoo healing for snorers wins gong

A study on didgeridoo healing for chronic snorers and an Aussie study that looked at how cuddling a croc can influence gambling have won international prizes for improbable research.

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And while they sound silly, the researchers behind the studies say they’ve made legitimate strides in the name of science.

The annual Ig Nobel Prizes honour research achievements that first make people laugh, but then think.

Professor Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer from Central Queensland University ticked all the boxes with their 2010 study, which looked at how people’s gambling habits can be influenced by a cuddle with a croc.

The pair won the Economics Prize after studying how 103 problem and non-problem gamblers behaved after handling a one metre croc and then jumping on a simulated pokies machine.

They found problem gamblers were likely to place higher bets after handling the reptile because their brains misinterpreted the excitement of holding a dangerous animal as a sign they were on a “lucky” streak.

The study established, for the first time, that there was a link between someone’s emotional state and how they gambled.

“The crocodile study was really about trying to get a sneaky way of arousing people before they gambled so they wouldn’t recognise their own emotional state, that they’re physiologically aroused,” Prof Rockloff told ABC radio.

Another study, involving six researchers from around the world, won the Peace Prize after looking at whether playing the didgeridoo could be a viable alternative treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome.

People with this condition breath very shallowly, and can stop breathing altogether for short periods, when they are asleep, and chronic snoring is one symptom.

The study concluded the didgeridoo might be of some benefit to sufferers – but not because of its droning tone.

Rather researchers concluded that daily practice – which involves a lot of blowing – could strengthened the upper respiratory tract, making breathing easier.

The awards, now in their 27th year, are handed out by actual Nobel Prize winners at Harvard University. They are the brainchild of Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research.

He says the didgeridoo study is a perfect example of what’s sought in winning studies.

“They are unusual approaches to things,” Abrahams said. “It would be difficult for some people to decide whether they are important or the opposite. If you had sleep apnea for a long time, the didgeridoo thing would sound quite intriguing.”

Snow leopard upgraded to ‘vulnerable’

The elusive snow leopard – long considered endangered – has been upgraded to “vulnerable”, though conservations warned the new classification does not mean they are safe.

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The animals still face serious challenges including poaching and loss of prey in their high Himalayan habitat.

“The species still faces ‘a high risk of extinction in the wild’ and is likely still declining – just not at the rate previously thought,” said Tom McCarthy, head of the snow leopard program at the big cat conservation group Panthera.

Snow leopards had been listed as endangered since 1972.

The reclassification announced on Thursday by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, followed a three-year assessment that determined there are not fewer than 2500 mature snow leopards in the wild, and that their numbers are not in steep decline – the two criteria for being considered “endangered”.

Using improved methods for assessing the cats’ population, experts estimated about 4000 live in the wild, though there could be as many as 10,000.

Scientists have managed to survey only a small fraction of the animal’s high-mountain range, an area covering some 1.8 million sq/km crossing into 12 countries in Asia.

Doing the research “is difficult,” said Peter Zahler, coordinator of the snow leopard program at the Willdife Conservation Society, who was involved in the multi-agency team’s assessment. “It involves an enormous amount of work in some of the most remote and inhospitable regions of the world.”

New technologies, including camera traps and satellite collaring, are “giving us better information about where snow leopards are and how far they range,” he said.

Some positive developments included an increase in the number of protected areas, as well as stepped-up efforts by local communities to protect the animals from poachers.