SYDNEY: An Australian man who drove a car into dozens of pedestrians on a busy shopping street in central Melbourne in 2017, killing six, has been jailed for life with a minimum non-parole period of 46 years, the Victorian state Supreme Court said on Friday (Feb 22).
James Gargasoulas, 29, was handed a life sentence for each of the murders, whose victims included a baby and a 10-year-old girl.
"This was one of the worst examples of mass murder in Australian history," Justice Mark Weinberg told Gargasoulas at the sentencing hearing in Melbourne.
"The horror of what you did has profoundly affected the lives of many of those who were present that day in Bourke Street, and who either witnessed your actions, or their aftermath."
At the time, police said the incident was not terror related and the driver had a criminal history that included domestic violence charges. He had also been experiencing drug-induced delusions.
The incident was one of Australia's worst mass killings since the 1996 Port Arthur massacre on the southern island state of Tasmania, in which 35 people were gunned down.
SINGAPORE: The number of fires involving electric bicycles, electric scooters and other personal mobility devices (PMDs) spiked by more than 50 per cent in 2018, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said.
There were 74 such fires last year – a 51 per cent increase from the 49 cases in 2017, SCDF said in announcing its annual Fire, Emergency Medical Services and Enforcement statistics on Friday (Feb 22).
The 74 fires involved 50 electric scooters, 22 e-bikes and two of other PMDs, and caused 12 injuries.
“Most of the PAB (power-assisted bicycles) and PMD fires involved lithium-ion batteries, and occurred during battery charging or shortly after,” SCDF said. It urged the public to be more vigilant as “these fires can result in casualties and serious damage to property”.
Users should not leave these devices unattended while charging, and should not charge them near combustible materials, said Assistant Commissioner Daniel Seet, the director of SCDF’s operations department.
The overall number of fires remained stable in 2018, with rubbish fires remaining as the cause of most fires at residential areas and one-third of all fires in Singapore, SCDF said.
Still, these fires tend to be small and pose little risk of spreading or causing injuries, SCDF said.
“Such fires can be easily put out by members of the public ... To ensure optimisation of resources to focus on major fire and life-threatening emergencies, SCDF plans to further empower members of the public to respond to rubbish fires,” it said.
SCDF also said it conducted 14,537 fire safety enforcement checks in 2018 and issued 2,453 notices of Fire Safety Offences and 2,462 Fire Hazard Abatement Notices.
INCREASING NUMBER OF NON-EMERGENCY CALLS AND FALSE ALARMS
A total of 187,607 Emergency Medical Services (EMS) calls were made last year – about 500 a day – a 2.8 per cent increase from the previous year and continuing an upward trend since 1998.
However, 9.6 per cent of the calls were non-emergencies and false alarms, SCDF said.
“This means that on average, SCDF responded to around 50 non-emergency and false alarm calls each day,” it said, reiterating that members of the public should call 995 only in an emergency.
People who do not require EMS assistance and to be taken to a hospital should seek treatment from their family doctor or at nearby clinics, it added.
If unsure whether a situation is an emergency, people can call 995 and describe the situation as best as they can, said Assistant Commissioner Abdul Razak, the director of SCDF’s Public Affairs Department.
“But some members of the public call us for toothaches and for persistent coughs. That doesn’t warrant our attention to begin with ... I think you can see the rationale for this approach we are taking,” he said.
FIRE ENGINES, RED RHINOS TO BE EXEMPTED FROM ROAD TRAFFIC ACT
SCDF also gave an update on the exemption of emergency vehicles from the Road Traffic Act.
On Dec 1, 2017, SCDF ambulances were formally exempted from Section 120(3) of the Road Traffic Act, allowing them to run red lights and make illegal U-turns when responding to life-threatening medical emergencies.
SCDF said it is working towards extending the exemption to other emergency vehicles from Apr 1 this year. These include fire engines, red rhinos and fire medical vehicles, a hybrid of a fire engine and an ambulance.
Since the exemption was introduced, there have been no accidents involving ambulances and motorists have cooperated by giving way, SCDF said.
“In a medical emergency, every second saved has the potential to improve the patient's survival chances and health outcome,” it added.
SINGAPORE: Brigadier-General Tan Chee Wee has been appointed the first Inspector-General of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the Defence Ministry announced on Friday (Feb 22).
BG Tan, who is currently Director of Joint Operations, will assume office on Feb 27. He will also concurrently assume the role of Chief of Staff – Joint Staff on the same day.
Last month, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) announced that an Inspector-General's Office will be set up to ensure that “command emphasis on safety” is applied and enforced across all units.
The announcement was among the safety measures being implemented by the SAF following the death of four soldiers in training over 18 months.
"I will work closely with the SAF senior leadership to make sure our people continue to have a culture whereby people train safe and they are protected while defending Singapore," said BG Tan.
"I want to make sure that our soldiers and our commanders work towards zero training fatalities while they conduct realistic training."
BG Tan also stressed the importance of open reporting, which he said should be a safety norm.
This is to ensure that "soldiers and commanders can feel empowered and committed to open reporting without fear of reprisal", he said.
"Our commanders and soldiers need to look after one another. It must be second-nature to them to flag up unsafe practices or acts of non-compliance by their team-mates or even their commanders."
On Wednesday, BG Tan accompanied Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong to visit the Singapore Artillery 295th Battalion where they were briefed on the safety training operationally ready National Servicemen were undergoing as part of their training.
During the visit, BG Tan said that his immediate focus as Inspector-General is to introduce concrete actions to promote open reporting, ensure the quality of safety inspections and strengthen the safety culture across SAF.
In his statement, BG Tan added: “My immediate priority is to visit ground units across the SAF, and this will allow me to firstly assess the health of open reporting and safety culture in our units, and secondly, also evaluate the Service’s safety inspection system.
He will then recommend to the Chief of Defence Force proposals that will enhance the SAF’s safety management and strengthen its safety culture, he said.
“My team and I are committed to improve training safety in the SAF," he added.
In January, actor Aloysius Pang died due to injuries he sustained while carrying out repair work inside a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer in New Zealand.
Two full-time national servicemen (NSF) have died in vehicle-related incidents - Corporal First Class Liu Kai in November last year and 3rd Sergeant Gavin Chan in September 2017.
Another NSF, Dave Lee, died last April after displaying signs of heat injury following a fast march.
BG Tan joined the SAF in 1993 as an Air Traffic Controller in the air force. He previously held a number of senior appointments in MINDEF and SAF, including Commander of Air Defence and Operations Command, Director of Policy Office, Defence Attaché (Washington) and Head of Air Plans.
SYDNEY: Australia's former foreign minister, Julie Bishop, will retire at the next election, she said on Thursday (Feb 21), joining a wave of lawmakers leaving a government that faces defeat in the poll, due by May.
The departure of one Australia's most popular and high-profile female lawmakers follows four government MPs either retiring or defecting from the ruling centre-right coalition, which is in a minority and trailing in polls.
Two other female members of the Liberal Party have also left amid claims of disunity, bullying and intimidation, although Bishop praised the government in her retirement speech.
"It is my view that the Liberal-National coalition will win the next election because it is focusing on the things that matter to the Australian people," Bishop told parliament, listing policy achievements from the economy to security.
"And on that basis, I have reconsidered my position... I will not re-contest the seat of Curtin at the next election."
Bishop has represented Curtin, a constituency in Western Australia, since 1998. She was foreign minister from September 2013 to August 2018, and deputy leader of the Liberal Party, which governs in coalition with the Nationals.
The timing of Bishop's departure heaps pressure on a government that is lagging in opinion polls, although the gap has lately narrowed, and which is battling a perception it is out of touch, especially with female voters.
"Bishop will take a large number of votes with her," said Haydon Manning, a professor of politics at Flinders University in South Australia.
"There will be people who would have voted for Bishop, no matter what. Those will now be open to the opposition Labor Party."
In January, Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer said she would retire, after backbencher Julia Banks quit the party late last year to sit as an independent, protesting against its treatment of women and policies on energy and climate change.
Bishop, who resigned both her posts after a backbench revolt last August forced then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull from power, was defeated in a party vote to replace him, with then treasurer Scott Morrison succeeding instead.
Morrison and Turnbull both praised Bishop.
"You have been our finest foreign minister - eloquent, elegant and always courageous advancing our national interest in these challenging times," Turnbull said in a message on social network Twitter.
SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will raise fines for road traffic offences starting Apr 1, in a bid to strengthen deterrence against irresponsible driving.
In a press release on Thursday (Feb 21), MHA said that raising composition sums, or fines, would ensure that they remain effective as a deterrent and curb the uptrend in road traffic offences.
"It is important to nip unsafe driving in the bud, before serious accidents happen and people are killed or hurt," said MHA.
"For road traffic offences that do not involve egregious driving behaviour and do not result in harm caused to others, the offence may be compounded, in lieu of prosecution," the ministry added.
Fines for motorist road traffic offences were last reviewed in 2000.
For committing an offence with zero demerit points such as an illegal U-turn, drivers of light vehicles could be fined S$100, up from the current S$70. Drivers of heavy vehicles committing the same offences could face a fine of S$150, up from S$100.
Offences with three demerit points like failure to wear a seat belt while driving will soon carry the same penalties as those with four demerit points such as crossing double white lines, at S$150 for light vehicles and S$200 for heavy vehicles.
Offences with six demerit points such as driving on the shoulder of an expressway may be punishable by a fine of either S$200 or S$250, while those with eight or nine demerit points, which include driving without due care or reasonable consideration for other road users, may be punishable by a fine of either S$300 or S$400.
Not stopping at a red light, which is an offence with 12 demerit points, carries increased fines of S$400 for drivers of light vehicles, up from S$200, and S$500 for drivers of heavy vehicles, up from S$230.
Fines for offences committed by drivers of heavy vehicles increased more than for drivers of light vehicles, as "heavy vehicles are more likely to cause death or serious injury when they are involved in accidents", said MHA.
This warrants a stronger deterrent, with a greater increase in fines for more serious offences (those attracting eight or more demerit points) compared to the increase for less serious offences.
PEDESTRIAN AND CYCLIST OFFENCES
Fines for pedestrian and cyclist offences will also be raised, for the first time in more than 20 years.
Those who commit general offences, including jaywalking, may be fined S$50, up from the current S$20. Pedestrian offences at an expressway such as entering an expressway tunnel on foot may be punishable by a S$75 fine. The fine was previously set at S$30.
Cyclist offences like not wearing a helmet while riding on the road or failing to stop at a traffic light may also incur a S$75 fine, up from S$20.
SINGAPORE: Social worker and activist Jolovan Wham was on Thursday (Feb 21) fined S$3,200 over a public assembly he organised two years ago without a permit and refusing to sign a police statement.
Wham, 39, indicated he would not pay the fine and will instead serve jail time of 16 days in default.
The activist had been found guilty last month of organising the event featuring a live speech by Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong Chi-Fung in November 2016.
He also refused to sign a statement he gave to the police in relation to the event, forming the basis for the second charge he claimed trial to.
The prosecution had argued that the event - titled Civil Disobedience and Social Movements - was a public one, with thousands invited and 366 people indicating they were interested in attending.
The police had also told Wham that he needed a permit for the event as Mr Wong was a foreigner, but he went ahead with it anyway at the Agora in Sin Ming Lane on Nov 26, 2016.
Wham's lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam argued that the requirement for a permit breaches Wham's constitutional right of freedom of assembly, and said the event was a discussion.
He also explained that Wham's decision not to sign the witness statement he gave to the police stemmed from his personal practice to sign only what he had a copy of.
This was because he advocates for migrant workers to do the same. The police officer involved testified during the trial that he had told Wham that not signing the statement may constitute an offence.
According to the Criminal Procedure Code, an accused person must be given copies of the cautioned statements, but there is no rule requiring them to be given copies of witness statements.
Addressing Wham in a packed courtroom, District Judge Kessler Soh said his "wilful refusal to comply", despite having been informed that the event required a permit, was an aggravating factor.
Wham's defence lawyer said he would be applying for bail, pending appeal against conviction.
The activist could have been fined up to S$5,000 for organising a public assembly without a permit.
For refusing to sign the police statement, he could have been jailed for up to three months, fined up to S$2,500, or both.
He had been found guilty of contempt of court in October last year over a Facebook post he put up alleging that Malaysia's judges are more independent than Singapore's in cases with political implications.
On top of this, Wham faces other charges in relation to a protest he allegedly staged in a train in 2017, as well as a public assembly he allegedly organised outside Changi Prison that same year.
GENEVA: One person engulfed in an avalanche in the Swiss Alps has died, police said Wednesday (Feb 20), as rescue operations to find other possible victims were paused after an all-night search.
Four people had been reported as injured in the avalanche on Tuesday at the Crans-Montana ski station in southern Switzerland.
One of the wounded, a 34-year-old French national, has died, police in Valais canton said in a tweet.
"Searches that continued through the night have been stopped. They will resume if the situation requires," police added. No new victims were discovered overnight.
The avalanche hit during the early afternoon on a slope 2,600m up at Crans-Montana, which was busy with skiers during school holidays.
Swiss media said search efforts for the victims included sniffer dogs, four military helicopters and up to 250 rescue workers.
The avalanche was unusual in that it hit a designated ski slope, while the vast majority of deadly avalanches in the Alpine nation hit people skiing off-piste.
SINGAPORE: Moongazers in Singapore were treated to a visual spectacle on Tuesday night (Feb 19) as a supermoon lit up the skies.
A supermoon is when a full moon is at its closest approach to the earth, causing it to appear larger than the usual full moons that year, according to the Science Centre Singapore.
The organisation wrote in a Facebook post: "Best viewed at around 7.30pm, make sure to get a clear view of the skies and cross your fingers for good weather to witness this year’s supermoon!"
It suggested looking to the eastern horizon on Tuesday night to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon.
Tuesday's supermoon was the biggest and brightest of the year so far.
It coincided with Chap Goh Mei, which marked the end of the 15-day Chinese New Year celebrations.
Housewife Norliana Fairyliasha Love Raymund caught a glimpse of the supermoon on Tuesday at around 8.45pm in Jurong.
"It is so beautiful, it's so, so bright," the 35-year-old told reporters.
"It's not (the) first time (seeing a supermoon) but definitely this time, supermoon is so beautiful," she added.
The supermoon was also seen from Clementi, with engineer Irana Pantow snapping a picture at around 9pm from the garden area of her HDB block.
"I was watching other families playing around in the garden while I was busy taking the picture," the 30-year-old told reporters.
Nur Syaurah Rasif shot this picture above a block of flats in Sengkang at 9pm on Thursday.
Readers also watched the supermoon from their homes or while out and about across Singapore, in areas including Hillview, Sengkang, Farrer Park, Ang Mo Kio and Jurong East, among others.
The next supermoon of 2019 will be on Mar 21, the last of three for this year.
SINGAPORE: Certificate of Entitlement (COE) premiums closed mostly higher in the latest bidding exercise on Wednesday (Feb 20).
For Category A cars, or those 1,600cc and below with horsepower not exceeding 130bhp, premiums closed at S$26,301, up from S$25,689 in the last exercise.
Premiums for larger and more powerful cars in Category B rose to S$35,403 from S$34,509.
COEs for commercial vehicles, which include goods vehicles and buses, rose to S$26,914 from S$26,378 in the previous bidding exercise.
Motorcycle premiums closed at S$3,689, down from S$3,709 in the last exercise.
Open category COEs, which can be used for any vehicle type but end up being used mainly for large cars, rose to S$36,667 from S$35,310.
A total of 6,445 bids were received, with a quota of 4,403 COEs available.
LONDON: Britons could face shortages of fresh food, price rises and less variety if the country leaves the European Union next month without agreeing trade terms, food industry officials say.
With no deal in sight as Britain's Mar 29 exit date approaches, supermarkets are stockpiling, working on alternative supplies and testing new routes to cope with an expected logjam at the borders but say they face insurmountable barriers.
"You can't stockpile fresh produce, you haven't got any space and it wouldn't be fresh," said Tim Steiner, head of online supermarket pioneer Ocado.
The warnings, including talk of whether rationing would be needed, are part of a chorus of concern from businesses who say they are weighed down by uncertainty in what was once considered a bastion of Western economic and political stability.
The last time Britain's food supplies were seriously hit was when fuel protests prompted panic buying almost two decades ago, forcing some supermarkets to ration milk and bread and others to warn that stocks would run out in days.
Executives within the food chain said Britain was better prepared than 2000, but disruption may be more widespread and last longer than the few days it took before the fuel dispute was settled.
James Bielby, head of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, says its members' retail and catering customers were asking for between one and eight extra weeks' supply. But storage is limited in an industry that operates on a "just in time basis" to maximize the shelf life of goods.
Intense competition and slim margins in the British supermarket sector have also made contingency planning more complicated. James Walton, chief economist at IGD which works with the industry to improve supply chains, said storage had been reduced over many decades to hold down working capital.
What remains is now full. "So surplus space within stores is being used and containers are in carparks," he said.
Mike Coupe, the boss of Britain's second biggest supermarket Sainsbury's, said supplies would not last long.
"We don't have the capacity and neither does the country to stockpile more than probably a few days' worth," he said in January, echoing the supermarket's warning to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2000 during the fuel crisis.
LET THEM EAT LEEKS
Britain imports around half of its food, and while some is flown in via air freight, most enters on lorries through Dover, Britain's main gateway to Europe.
At peak times, 130 lorries a day are required to drive through Dover bringing citrus fruit alone, according to the British Retail Consortium. In March, inclement British weather means 90 per cent of lettuces come from the EU.
If it leaves without a trade deal, Britain will move on to World Trade Organization rules that require tariffs to be paid, goods to be checked and paperwork to be completed, demands that do not currently exist for goods coming from within the EU.
The English Apples & Pears group said British farms have been asked to provide more apples until the end of April by retailers who usually source more from the southern hemisphere from March.
Other substitutions are more difficult.
"People just say we'll eat more British produce but ... would people be happy to start eating tonnes of British leeks? I'm not sure," said an executive at one of Britain's four major supermarket groups, who declined to be named because of the possible business impact.
"We have to plan for the worst," he said, before adding that he hoped Britain would delay its departure date from the EU.
Consultants, suppliers, company sources and trade groups said importers were looking at securing new routes into Britain in case customs checks clog up Dover, but no other port offers that frequency of ferry sailings or trains through the tunnel.
They would also have to compete with companies importing drugs, car parts and chemicals that are also looking to alternative ports on the south and east coast of Britain.
The Spanish wine federation said they had advised members to avoid shipping goods to Britain around the end of March.
Supermarkets could fly in more goods - as they did to bring in lettuces from America in 2018 when bad weather hit European supplies - but it is expensive and capacity is limited.
William Bain, a policy adviser at the British Retail Consortium, said clients and suppliers were having talks now to discuss how costs and risks would be shared if stock is delayed.
Elsewhere in the food chain, suppliers of ready meals are considering changing ingredients to remove those with the shortest shelf life, according to the Fresh Produce Consortium.
All of these changes could lead to higher prices however, with changes to recipes requiring changes to labeling.
Dominic Goudie, in charge of exports, trade and supply chains at the Food and Drink Federation, told Reuters prices were likely to rise, regardless of the outcome.
"We know from our members that they are investing staggering sums into getting ready for the worst possible no-deal scenario," he said. "The sums are so large that manufacturers need to pass it on to their customers, the retailers."
Another senior executive at a major British food retailer told Reuters they had seen no signs yet of Britons buying so-called 'bunker lines' - toilet paper, bottled water and tinned food. But it could happen before March 29.
"If you've got a limited amount of food, you want to distribute it fairly across the country," he told Reuters. "So you almost get to this ridiculous notion of rationing."
Some of Britain's deeply-divided politicians who are seeking a complete break with the EU say the economy would soon recover from any short-term hit as it adapts to new trading routes after Brexit.
They argue that talk of food shortages and rationing is scaremongering driven by the government to rally support for Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed Brexit deal, agreed with the EU but showing little sign of getting sufficient support from her own parliament.
Environment minister Michael Gove, who backed Brexit, has said leaving without a deal could lead to higher prices, but that the government has chartered extra ferries to maintain the movement of goods. "We are meeting weekly with the food industry to support their preparations for leaving the EU," a spokesman said.
Tesco chairman John Allan said the retailer, Britain's biggest with 3,400 stores and almost 28 per cent of the market, was stockpiling goods with a long shelf life but that its options for fresh produce was more limited.
"So provided we're all happy to live on Spam and canned peaches all will be well," he added.