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.