Rugby-Inspired France take revenge on Australia

Philippe Saint-Andre’s team, who had conceded 95 points in three away defeats against Australia in June, were ultra focussed this time and tries by Sebastien Tillous-Bordes and Teddy Thomas as well as the boots of Camille Lopez and Rory Kockott gave them a deserved win.

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Bernard Foley kicked four penalties and converted the tries of Adam Ashley-Cooper and Quade Cooper but the Wallabies came up just short despite a late fightback.

France, who finished the Six Nations in fourth place before being thrashed by Australia, nicely followed up last weekend’s 40-15 win against Fiji.

Les Bleus take on Argentina at the Stade de France next Saturday while Australia, who beat Wales 33-28 last Saturday, will face Ireland.

Australia put the French defence under pressure early on but the home side held firm and Lopez’s crossfield kick to Yoann Huget, who then set up Scott Spedding on the wing, suggested Les Bleus could be in inspired form.

They were indeed and Tillous-Borde cleverly ran around a ruck to dive over from close range as the World Cup runners-up opened the scoring.

France gave away a couple of penalties to allow the visitors to stay afloat but they defended aggressively and Thomas whizzed past six defenders to score a spectacular 35-metre try to put his team 17-6 up after Lopez added the extras.

The French though then missed a couple of tackles, allowing Ashley-Cooper to score a try on the right wing before Foley converted to help the Wallabies reduce the gap to four points.

Foley further boosted Australia with another penalty on the stroke of halftime.

However, France had a good start in the second half and Lopez scored two penalties as Australia were sanctioned for high tackles but Foley’s fourth penalty meant they were still in it despite being largely dominated.

With powerful centre Mathieu Bastareaud coming on at halftime, France forgot to play on the wings, where Huget and Thomas were suddenly deprived of good ball.

But France took the upper hand in the scrum, winning an easy penalty which Lopez converted shortly after the hour to extend the home side’s lead to seven points.

Kockott’s penalty put them 10 points ahead but Cooper’s late try put huge pressure on the home side, who however held firm with captain Thierry Dusautoir epitomising the fight.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Mark Meadows)

Tetchy Djokovic blames exhaustion for Nishikori scare

A day after wrapping up the year-end world number one spot, a tetchy Djokovic dropped a set to Nishikori in the semi-finals before winning 6-1 3-6 6-0 at the O2 Arena.

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After dropping only nine games in his three group wins, the Serb was on course for another stroll but lost his way.

A double fault while serving at break point down in the second game of the second set was cheered loudly by the capacity crowd, prompting a sarcastic response from the 27-year-old who was clearly riled by the support for Nishikori.

“I mean, look, at the end of the day I cannot blame the crowd,” a weary-looking Djokovic told reporters after taking a long time to arrive for his post-match news conference.

“The crowd has a right to do what they want, to cheer for whoever they want. Some individuals were going over the line throughout the whole match, some provocations that I usually don’t react on, but I did. It was my fault.

“I lost the concentration. I lost the break because of that. I allowed myself to be in the situation to lose the set, maybe even lose the match. I should know better.”

SINGLE DOT

Djokovic, who will face either Roger Federer or Stanislas Wawrinka in Sunday’s final, was asked why he had signed the TV camera lens with a single dot when walking off, rather than his signature as he usually does.

“I felt like that was something I wanted to do today,” he said. Pressed whether it was some kind of message, he added: “No. There was nothing. It’s just a dot.”

Djokovic showed far more emotion after an easy victory over Tomas Berdych on Friday that secured the year-end top ranking for a third time in four seasons than he did in beating Nishikori, admitting he felt emotionally flat.

“Mentally, the truth is that I’m exhausted,” he said. “Honestly, today I found it a little bit difficult to stay concentrated throughout the whole match.

“After the emotional three matches I had, especially yesterday when I achieved the goal to finish as number one in the world, knowing that, I felt a little bit flat emotionally. I needed more time to kind of give myself a boost.

“I was fortunate because in the beginning of the third set, he had break points. If he broke me, the match could have gone either way. I managed to find that little bit of strength.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ken Ferris)

Johnson masterminds historic Kiwis win

Shaun Johnson masterminded an outstanding win for the Kiwis as they downed Australia 22-18 in the Four Nations rugby league final in Wellington on Saturday.

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In front of a vocal 25,183 crowd, Johnson steered a slick Kiwis backline to victory, their second in three weeks over the Kangaroos after their first-up 30-12 win in Brisbane.

It’s the first time in more than 60 years that New Zealand has recorded back-to-back wins against Australia.

Australian coach Tim Sheens said Johnson’s performance was key to the Kiwis win.

“Their second phase, and Johnson’s running on the last and skipping across field, when he gets that sort of ball … He had spiders on him tonight, the boy, and he played really well.”

Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney said Johnson’s match-winning effort was set up by some outstanding work from the forwards.

“Shaun, off the back of some great work by the forwards, got some opportunities to pull them open a bit,” he said.

A low-key Johnson also paid tribute to the hard yards done by the big-hitters.

“The forwards did a really good job laying the platform … the quick ruck, what they’ve been doing all tournament, and I was just able to get through there and reward them for the work they’d done,” he said.

A fast and furious finish set up the victory for New Zealand, after the Australians hit the front early when Michael Jennings grounded a Cooper Cronk chip ahead after 11 minutes.

Skipper Cameron Smith slotted the easy conversion, and the Australians led for the first and only time in the match.

First half tries to Jason Nightingale and Manu Vatuvei, and Johnson’s accurate boot gave New Zealand a 14-6 lead at the break, but the Kangaroos bounced back early in the second spell.

It took barely three minutes after the restart before quick hands from Daly Cherry-Evans slipped the ball wide for Sione Mata’utia to score in the corner.

But Johnson wrested the momentum back with a superb solo try as the hour mark neared, swerving and dummying his way to the line to open up an 18-14 lead.

Vatuvei extended the lead five minutes later, finishing off a sweeping move down the left which also featured impressive pace and handling from Foran and fullback Peter Hiku.

The try was Vatuvei’s 20th in the black jersey, and put him at the top of the Kiwis’ all-time try-scoring list ahead of Nigel Vagana.

Ben Hunt’s 77th minute try gave the Kangaroos a sniff of hope, and the Kiwis had to withstand some intense late pressure to wrap up the win.

Shoe-thrower sentenced to jail

Muntazer al-Zaidi, 30, had risked up to 15 years in jail.

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Wearing a light-brown suit, brown sweatshirt and thin-framed glasses, he was brought into the packed Iraq Central Criminal Court under a heavy police escort, an AFP reporter said.

Charges of \’aggression\’

Zaidi is charged with aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit — and the issue of whether Bush\’s visit was official or not is crucial to the outcome.

The trial first opened on February 19 but was adjourned to determine the nature of the former US president\’s farewell visit to Iraq on December 14.

Judge Abdulamir Hassan al-Rubaie told the court that government ministers had declared the visit official.

Mixed feelings about trial

On his farewell trip to Iraq, Bush had been at a globally-televised media conference with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki when Zaidi let rip with his shoes, zinging them at Bush, who managed to duck just in time.

The journalist\’s aunt, Un Jalal, voiced hope at the courthouse before the verdict, that Zaidi would be let off.

“I really hope that they make a decision today, Inshallah (God willing),” she told reporters. “Inshallah, they will and he will be freed.”

But his brother Mithan sounded less optimistic.

“After the last trial (session), Muntazer was very disappointed. He was also disappointed at not being moved from his current facility (jail).

“He was also told by lawyers that the prime minister\’s office had decided it was an official visit. I feel this is not true. Bush was not on an official visit.”

Family members crowd court

There was standing room only at the courtroom on the edge of Baghdad\’s high security Green Zone as some 200 family members, reporters and lawyers crowded in.

Another brother, Uday, told AFP he expected Muntazer to be found guilty.

“I have no illusions about the outcome. Of course they are going to decide that George W Bush was on an official visit. This trial is a farce,” Uday told AFP.

The Baghdadia television reporter told the court in February that he had been outraged and was unable to control his emotions when Bush, who ordered the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, started speaking at the media conference.

“I saw only Bush and it was like something black in my eyes,” he said from the dock.

“I had the feeling that the blood of innocent people was dropping on my feet during the time that he was smiling and coming to say bye-bye to Iraq with a dinner.

Shoe insult

“So I took the first shoe and threw it but it did not hit him. Then spontaneously I took the second shoe but it did not hit him either. I was not trying to kill the commander of the occupation forces of Iraq.”

The gesture is considered a grave and symbolic insult in the Arab and Muslim world. He also insulted Bush verbally, shouting: “It is the farewell kiss, you dog,” before security forces wrestled him to the ground.

Before the trial, Zaidi said he had been beaten and tortured while in custody.

His brothers told AFP they wanted to bring torture charges against Bush, Maliki and his bodyguards at a human rights court in either Belgium or Spain.

A Syrian lawyer said she was preparing to file a complaint.

However, Uday also said that his brother had not requested political asylum in Switzerland, contrary to what a lawyer in Geneva had previously claimed.

Madoff jailed after admitting huge fraud

Wall Street conman Bernard Madoff was led handcuffed to jail after pleading guilty to tricking thousands of people out of billions of dollars in one of history\’s biggest financial scams.

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Madoff, 70, told a packed New York court he was “deeply sorry and ashamed” for the decades-long Ponzi scheme and the former financial titan and chairman of the Nasdaq stock market now looks likely to die behind bars.

He faces a maximum sentence on June 16 of 150 years after pleading guilty to all 11 counts of fraud, perjury and theft.

Prosecutors also want to track down an astounding 177 billion dollars they say passed through Madoff\’s hands.

Judge Denny Chin asked Madoff, wearing a grey suit, dark tie and white shirt, how he would plead.

“Guilty,” Madoff replied. Defense lawyer Ira Sorkin said the silver-haired money manager should be allowed to remain free on bail in his seven-million-dollar Manhattan apartment until sentencing.

But Chin responded: “It is my intention to remand Mr Madoff,” triggering applause from victims who had gathered in the court room.

Federal marshals then handcuffed Madoff behind his back and led him away.

Questions over Madoff\’s accomplices

Big questions remain over Madoff\’s possible accomplices and the extent of his theft. One of Madoff\’s victims, who was allowed to address the court, said instead of allowing the guilty plea there should have been a trial.

“If we go to trial we have more of a chance to comprehend the global scale of this horrendous crime,” the woman said. “We will bear witness to the pain that Mr Madoff inflicted on the young, the infirm and the old.”

Madoff looked nervous when he first entered the court, watched from the packed benches and via video link by hundreds more people in a separate room.

He clasped and unclasped his hands, fidgeted with his chair, and answered questions from the judge in a barely audible voice. But he appeared to gather confidence after Chin asked him to recount his crimes.

Madoff tells of how he lured clients

Speaking publicly for the first time since his shocking arrest on December 11, Madoff summarized how he lured clients into giving him their money.

They believed he was making legitimate investments, when in reality he was running a Ponzi scheme where funds invested by new clients are used to pay fake returns to existing clients.

Millions of dollars worth of investment funds sat in a New York bank account, which he would then dip into when clients said they wanted money back.

“The essence of my scheme was that I represented to clients … that I would invest their money in common stock.

Those representations were false for many years. I never invested those funds in the securities,” he said. “Instead, those funds were in a Chase Manhattan account.”

\’I am sorry, I felt compelled to impress with good returns\’

He said he was sorry and that he had never intended to perpetuate such an epic fraud, but that when he started out in the 1990s he felt “compelled” to impress important clients with good returns. “I believed it would end quickly and I would extricate myself and my clients,” he said.

“This proved difficult and, in the end, impossible.” “I cannot adequately express how sorry I am,” he added, saying: “I am here today to accept responsibility for my crimes.”

Although Madoff is now a finished man, vast questions hang over the scandal. No one has established just how much money was stolen.

Government seeks to recover $US177 billion

Prosecutors say that shortly before his arrest Madoff reported that he was managing about 65 billion dollars, whereas in reality he held only a “fraction” of that amount. In total, prosecutors say, the government seeks to recover 177 billion dollars from Madoff, something his lawyers call a wildly inflated figure.

Another key question is who else might have been involved.

“He didn\’t do these crimes alone and I don\’t understand why conspiracy is not one of his pleas,” one of the victims allowed to speak told the court. “Who handled it when he was gone?” Prosecutors and Chin himself on Thursday stressed the case remains open.

“The government\’s investigation continues, is continuing. A lot of resources are being expended both to find assets and to find anyone else who might be responsible for this fraud,” prosecutor Marc Litt said.

No-one else has been charged, but legal experts say the probe might turn to others, including Madoff\’s brother Peter, and his sons Mark and Andrew, who worked closely with him.

His wife Ruth is about to get her own lawyer, having previously relied on Sorkin.

ISS in close call with space junk

The crew of the International Space Station rode out a threat of collision with a debris cloud in a Soyuz space capsule.

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An unusually close encounter highlighted the dangers of a growing junk pile in space.

“The debris threat to the International Space Station has passed,” NASA said in a statement.

The scare arose when the three member crew learned too late to take evasive action of an approaching a debris cloud that exposed the space station to a risk of a potentially catastrophic collision.

NASA appeared most concerned about a piece of a satellite motor that was close enough that the space station would ordinarily undertake an evasive manoeuvre, NASA said.

Laura Rochon, a NASA spokeswoman at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, had said the risk of collision was “very low”.

“The piece itself is about one third of an inch and it\’s about 4.5 kilometres away,” she said.

But Mike Fincke, the mission commander, Yuri Lonchakov, the number one flight engineer, and Sandy Magnus, the number two flight engineer, exited the space craft and battened themselves in the Soyuz spacecraft.

NASA said the move was a precaution in case the crew needed to detach from the space station.

The all-clear was sounded about 10 minutes after the crew entered the capsule.

The US Strategic Command notified NASA of the debris field late Wednesday, but NASA said it was too late for flight controllers to coordinate a “debris avoidance” manoeuvre.

“Every once in a while, the crew has to do orbital debris avoidance manoeuvres but this time they didn\’t do that because we have an upcoming launch possibly on Sunday and they need to stay at the same altitude,” Rochon said.

The US Joint Space Operations Centre tracks about 18,000 objects in orbit, so many that it has to decide which to follow most closely, like those that might fly by the International Space Station or manned space flights.

Experts estimate that there are more than 300,000 orbital objects measuring between 1cm 10cm in diameter and “billions” of smaller pieces.

Travelling at speeds of up to thousands of kilometres an hour they pose a risk of catastrophic damage to spacecraft.

Last month, a spent Russian satellite collided with an Iridium communications satellite, showering more debris in an orbit 436km above the space station.

US military trackers failed to anticipate that collision, the first between two intact satellites, the Pentagon said at the time.

ANZ to move jobs overseas

The ANZ bank is expected move more Australian technology and back-office operation jobs to India by the end of this year.

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In a statement released today, an ANZ spokeswoman said the company\’s Bangalore centre grew by about 500 people last year.

Media have reported that a similar amount of jobs will move to India this year and that most of the positions will come from Melbourne.

However, speaking to SBS, an ANZ spokeswoman has denied such claims, saying that while some jobs might move overseas, the figure 500 has come from sources unknown to ANZ.

Assistance to banks should be conditional to jobs: Union

Meanwhile, the Finance Sector Union told a Senate inquiry hearing today government assistance to banks should be conditional on jobs staying in Australia.

“If the Australian taxpayer is going to help Australian banks, one condition should be the immediate cessation of offshoring,” the union\’s national secretary Leon Carter said.

The union\’s director of policy Rod Masson said bank staff were being directed not to tell consumers work was being done offshore.

Consumers were being let down as call centre staff were being moved abroad. “The banks in this country spend an inordinate amount of time hiding who you are speaking to,” he said. “It\’s not being honest with consumers.”

Labour force data released on Thursday showed the jobless rate in February soared to 5.2 per cent, the highest in four years.

The finance union says Australian banks has slashed thousands of jobs in the past year, and sent more than 800 jobs offshore since October, despite their multi-million dollar profits.

In October, the federal government unveiled a guarantee program for deposits in Australian-owned banks, building societies and credit unions for the next three years.

The deposits scheme is worth up to $700 billion.

Chocolate tax sparks debate

Chocolate should be taxed like alcohol and tobacco, to help rein in a growing obesity problem, a British medical conference was told Thursday.

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People generally understimate the health dangers of chocolate, family doctor David Walker told the British Medical Association conference, leading a debate on the issue.

“I believe that chocolate is a major player in obesity and obesity-related conditions. What I\’m trying to get across is that chocolate is sneaking under the radar of unhealthy foods,” he said.

“I would say the government taxing chocolate would not solve the obesity crisis but it might slow the rate of increase of the obesity graph.”

Critics say the idea of taxing chocolate would simply not work.

“Introducing regressive taxes on the foods that consumers love would result only in lighter wallets, not smaller waists,” Julian Hunt of the Food and Drink Federation told the BBC.

“While good for grabbing headlines, there is no evidence to suggest that such \’fat taxes\’ would actually work in reality.

He noted that the BMA debated a similar motion in 2003, and it was rejected because doctors thought it would not reduce obesity, would hit poor people most and would be difficult to administer.

Professor Roger Corder of The London School of Medicine said Walker was concentrating on the wrong problem. “Targetting chocolate is misguided. If we targeted sugar, you\’d capture all unhealthy foods,” he told the BBC.

“Perhaps the general population is being duped to some extent, because all dark chocolate is being bracketed as healthy by many companies.

“In fact only chocolate which are high in a natural component called flavanoids are actually beneficial,” he added.

Walker acknowleged that his proposal would not be a vote winner.

“It would be a brave government to do it, but I think it would show a signal of intent that they really are serious about tackling obesity and foods that are potentially damaging to health,” he said.

Rudd promises help for oil spill clean-up

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has vowed to provide maximum federal help to clean up a massive oil spill in Queensland, describing it as a potential environmental tragedy.

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Beaches on Moreton Island, Bribie Island and southern parts of the Sunshine Coast have been declared disaster zones after around 100,000 litres of oil spilled from a cargo ship caught in cyclonic winds on Wednesday.

“We will work very closely with the Queensland government and authorities on a maximum pitch-in by the commonwealth to assist the state authorities in dealing with this potential environmental tragedy,” Mr Rudd told Fairfax Radio Network on Friday.

Cargo ship detained pending probe

Cargo ship Pacific Adventurer has been detained by maritime authorities pending investigation.

Earlier this morning, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced the reason why the ship was out in cyclonic seas would be the subject of a full investigation.

“If there is any grounds for prosecution of this ship and its owners we will not hesitate to take that action.

“We will also be pursuing them for compensation as this is going to be a very big clean-up cost and I want those ship owners to be paying for it.”

Bligh defends speed of oil slick response

The Queensland opposition, local wildlife carers and environmental groups have accused the government of a slow and inadequate response.

But Ms Bligh, whose own department has now taken over the response, told reporters in Brisbane the recovery operation was working.

“It requires a clean-up exercise that is planned with military precision,” she said.

“We are not putting people and heavy equipment onto fragile, eroded beaches until they\’ve been assessed.

“To go and take all of the sand off one day and then have to take more off the next day when more oil comes on will seriously deteriorate these beaches.

“Everything that can be done in managing this incident without endangering the people who are doing the recovery work and without further deteriorating already-eroded beaches is being done.”

Ms Bligh said those involved in the cleanup could do without “sniping” from Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg.

“The last thing you need is politicians sniping from the sidelines – this is a serious incident,” she said.

The premier said the captain and shipping company would be pursued for compensation and the cleanup costs. “And if there\’s any grounds for prosecution we won\’t hesitate,” she said.

Scientists must raise climate alarm: Lord Stern

The economic impact of global warming has been grossly underestimated and scientists must warn that inaction will spell disaster, top economist and climate change expert Nicholas Stern said.

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Stern told 2,000 climate scientists meeting here that they had failed to clearly tell humanity what it faces if global temperatures reach the upper range of forecasts made by the UN\’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).

“There has been lots of scientific information on 2.0 and 3.0 degrees Celsius), but you have to tell people loudly and clearly just how difficult 4.0 or 5.0 would be,” he said.

The IPCC\’s 2007 report for policymakers predicted an increase by 2100 of 1.1 to 6.4 C (2.0 to 11.5 F) compared to a century earlier.

New findings show that these projections were vastly understated, scientists here said.

“Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories – or even worse – are being realised,” the three-day conference, organised by top universities worldwide and the Danish government, concluded on Thursday in a closing statement.

Stern, whose 2006 Stern Review has become the benchmark for calculating the economic cost of tackling climate change, conceded that his report had also fallen short in assessing the potential consequences of global warming.

Greenhouse gas emissions are growing faster, and the planet\’s capacity to absorb them is weaker, than was understood only a few years ago.

“The costs of delay are very deep,” he told the conference in Copenhagen, which will host critical United Nations climate talks in December.

“Climate change is not like a WTO negotiation where, if it falls apart, you can pick it up five years later and be more or less in the same position. If you wait, you will be in a significantly worse position.”

Even smaller increases in temperatures, the IPCC has said, could unleash a devastating maelstrom of violent storms, drought, expanding disease and hunger over the coming decades.

A “five degree world” – well within the range of IPCC predictions – would cause an almost unimaginable level of disruption and suffering.

The last time Earth was four or five degree hotter than it is now, some 30 million years ago, alligator-like creatures navigated swampy primeval forests at the North Pole. “Sea levels, in the long run, would rise by 50 metres.

You would have to redraw the map of Europe,” and every other continent, said John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

“The carrying capacity of the planet would fall to one billion people or less,” Schellnhuber told the conference.

“This is not a \’black swan\’,” said Stern, invoking a term used by philosophers to describe an event beyond the realm of normal expectation. “This is not a small probability of a rather unattractive outcome.

This is a big probability of a very bad outcome.” Faced with this unacceptable scenario, decision makers and the people they govern should be willing to buy some insurance, he said.

“Would you pay one-to-two per cent of GDP for this kind of risk reduction, thinking about the cost of inaction? I think people will understand,” he said.

Katherine Richardson, head of the Danish government\’s Commission on Climate Change Policy and a co-organiser of the meeting, agreed that scientists had not done a perfect job in getting the message out.

“Most of us have been trained as scientists to not get our hands dirty by talking to politicians.

But we now realise that what we are dealing with is so complicated and urgent that we have to help to make sure the results are understood,” she told AFP.

Climate change to ‘disperse’ cane toads

Climate change will aid the spread of noxious pests such as cane toads, with an expert predicting their toxic march could reach as far Perth and other parts of WA’s coast.

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After years of trying to hold back the westward path of the pests, authorities captured the first toad that hopped across the NT/WA border earlier this month.

Associate Professor Grant Wardell-Johnson, from Curtin University of Technology, said their arrival should act as a warning on all introduced species.

“While the initial colonisation wave seems very scary, cane toads are only one of many species on the move,” he said on Friday.

“Climate models predict that as the weather heats up, cane toads will go in search of suitable habitats further and further afield.

“It’s inevitable that eventually we will see them in Perth and in the south-west.”

Since being introduced to Queensland in the 1930s, cane toads have spread across northern Australia.

They have already ravaged the world heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, killing everything that eats them, from crocodiles to quolls, as they moved north to Darwin.

But cane toads will not be the only pests to take advantage of a warmer Australia, said Prof Wardell-Johnson.

“More worrying is the march of other species across landscapes as a result of climate change,” he said.

“While cane toads do cause damage to local ecosystems, their environmental impact seems to be exaggerated and is far outweighed by the damage caused by other more serious threats such as Phytophthora, cats and foxes.”

He said other introduced species would react to global warming, with disastrous impacts on native wildlife and flora.

“Many species that are currently ‘sleepers’ will become much more serious pests as the effects of climate change are felt,” he said.

“Like cane toads, these species will take to the road looking for more suitable habitats and will leave a trail of destruction as they go.”

The first toad to hop into WA was a 10cm male, which authorities captured near the Great Northern Highway.

His arrival came despite the millions of dollars spent by commonwealth, state and territory governments in an effort to stop the toads’ western migration.

Prof Wardell-Johnson called on governments to strengthen quarantine services.

“This is the best way to approach the issue because once a species is established eradication is almost never an option and the costs of management skyrocket quickly,” he said.

“But the real answer lies in bringing carbon emissions under limits that will enable human society to continue to live comfortably.”

If climate change continued unabated, the professor said cane toads and other introduced species would fare better than people.

Poms ramping up demand for Aussie homes

Loan Market Group says it has seen significant growth in the number of home loan inquiries from Britons who have recently migrated to Australia, as well as from people in the UK.

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“UK expats have really been sold on the Australian lifestyle – the sunshine, the beaches and large homes with swimming pools,” Loan Market Group executive director John Kolenda said.

Beach-front locations popular

“Even though Australia is doing it tough in the economic downturn, we are still much better off than they are in the UK.”

Cashed-up professional UK migrants are keen to live near the beach, especially on Queensland\’s Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.

“They predominantly come out to Australia for a stress-free life and that includes making the mortgage as small as possible, so they usually have a decent deposit,” Mr Kolenda said.

At the same time, there had also been boom in inquiries from expatriate Australians.

Demand growing due to grants

They are looking to either buy a home to live in when they return to Australia or are seeking investment properties to take advantage of low interest rates and a downturn in real estate prices.

And if they are first home buyers they can access the boosted federal government grant – which up until June has been doubled to $14,000 for established homes and trebled to $21,000 for new properties.

They are typically looking for properties priced between $400,000 and $600,000, but some expat buyers are looking for homes priced between $1 million and $2 million, Mr Kolenda said.

Loan Market is creating a website dedicated to people considering migrating to Australia and expatriate Australians

looking to buy a property back home.

Costco to create 200 jobs in Melbourne

Supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths will have have a new kid on the block to go up against later this year with cut-price international grocery warehouse Costco set to open in Melbourne.

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Costco will open its first Australian outlet at Melbourne\’s central Docklands precinct in July, offering everything from greenhouses to diamond rings and fresh strawberries to toilet paper, at discount prices to both wholesale and retail customers.

The store will create 225 new full-time and part-time jobs which Victorian Industry and Trade Minister Martin Pakula said was a “statement of confidence” in Victoria\’s economy.

Sydney store in the pipeline

The US-based Costco also planned to open a store in Sydney, and was looking “all over” the city for a suitable site, Costco Australian manager Patrick Noone told reporters at Docklands today.

The $60 million Melbourne store will be Australia\’s first, joining a stable of 535 Costco outlets across the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

Following the inroads made by no-frills grocery chain Aldi in Australia, Costco warehouses will offer wholesale prices to small and medium enterprises and also allow retail consumers to buy goods at wholesale prices, for an annual $60 membership fee.

Commenting on the new central Melbourne Costco site, Mr Noone said he hoped people would travel “a long way” to shop there.

“We think they will take to it like ducks to water,” he said.

Competition good for consumers

Australian Retailers Association executive director Richard Evans said consumers would take some time to come around to the Costco way of shopping, but the wholesaler was a welcome addition to the retailing mix.

“Australian consumers are very set in the their ways, it\’s very difficult to get them to change their style of shopping,” Mr Evans said.

“Retailing is very competitive but the more competition, the better it is for consumers.”

Stranglehold \’ending\’

Last year the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) ran an inquiry into the competitiveness of grocery prices in Australia, amid public concern over a perceived stranglehold on the market between Coles and Woolworths.

In its July 2008 report, it found price competition between Coles and Woolworths was limited by high barriers to entry for new competitors combined with limited incentive for Coles and Woolworths to compete aggressively.

But it found Aldi had been a “vigorous price competitor”, forcing Coles and Woolworths to lower prices on many products.

Docklands retail and restaurant owners, still reeling from the closure of the heat-buckled Southern Star Observation Wheel, welcomed the announcement, saying it would attract people and bring good flow-on business.