Gammy surrogacy scandal deepens

The Thai mother at the centre of a surrogacy scandal is shocked at revelations the West Australian father of the twin children she bore was previously jailed for child sex offences and now says she wants the girl back.

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The man, believed to be the father of baby Gammy, previously abused at least three girls under the age of 13, court documents show.

He and his wife, who returned to Australia with the girl, and are accused of leaving Gammy behind in Thailand after he was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Gammy is being cared for by the Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua, 21, who has children of her own.

Ms Pattaramon says she refused the couple’s request for her to abort the boy in the womb and has brought him up as her own since he was born in December.

But an unnamed family friend says the allegations are false and the couple was “heartbroken” to leave Gammy behind.

The friend, speaking on behalf of the couple, said the birth was supposed to happen at a major international hospital in Thailand.

But Ms Pattaramon went to a smaller hospital, which allegedly made the surrogacy agreement void and gave the biological parents no legal rights to their children.

The babies were born two months premature, but the couple say they weren’t told Gammy had Down syndrome, only that he had a congenital heart condition, the friend told the Bunbury Mail.

She said the parents had not requested an abortion and never wanted to give him up.

The friend’s comments contradict previous reports that the couple did not know about Gammy.

“Gammy was very sick when he was born and the biological parents were told he would not survive and he had a day, at best, to live and to say goodbye,” she said.

The couple then became embroiled in a legal battle to bring home Gammy’s twin sister while Thailand was in military lockdown.

“The biological parents were heartbroken that they couldn’t take their boy with them and never wanted to give him up, but to stay would risk them losing their daughter also,” the friend said.

Court documents show the man was jailed in the late 1990s for sexually molesting two girls under the age of 10 and was sentenced to three years behind bars.

While serving time, he was charged with six counts of indecently dealing with a child under the age of 13 and convicted and sentenced again.

His wife has confirmed her husband had a conviction but she believes he is a good man.

“If the father is an offender I want my daughter back,” Ms Pattaramon told Seven Network on Tuesday.

WA Department for Child Protection acting director-general Emma White said the department was assessing the girl’s wellbeing.

The federal government is formulating its response, amid calls for an overhaul of surrogacy laws in Australia.

“The one shining light to come from this most unfortunate, deeply regrettable situation is there appears to have been an absolute outpouring of generosity towards baby Gammy,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

An online fundraising campaign for Gammy has so far raised more than $231,000 in 14 days.

Trophies beckon for Arsenal after lean years – Usmanov

“I think we begin a new era for Arsenal where we win trophies,” the Russian billionaire, who owns 30 percent of the club’s shares and has invested 200 million pounds, said in a Daily Telegraph interview on Tuesday.

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Arsenal ended a nine-year trophy drought when they lifted the FA Cup last season, a barren spell Usmanov believes was caused by loading the club with debt to finance a move from the old Highbury site to the 390 million pounds Emirates Stadium in 2006.

“The acquisition was financed with debt, which would be repaid through match-day revenues among other sources,” Usmanov said. “There is another way of doing it: when shareholders buy all of the assets and contribute them to the club.

“As a result, these debt-free assets may generate income for the club. The board and the main shareholders chose the debt option at the time, which led to Arsenal going almost 10 years without winning a domestic title or the Champions League.

“As a result of this choice, they were selling player and were unable to buy top players. These difficulties have now been overcome and the team is in a good state.”

The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and Thierry Henry have all been sold by Arsenal since the move to the Emirates although annual qualification for the Champions League and 60,000 home crowds have helped the club wipe off a huge chunk of the stadium debt.

BIG SIGNINGS

Manager Arsene Wenger has already been active in the transfer market this summer, with Chile’s Alexis Sanchez the biggest name signing from Barcelona.

More players could arrive before the end of the transfer window and Usmanov believes Arsenal are now in a position to compete with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.

“In my opinion, in line with existing rules, the club has the best decision-making process in place, including their selection policy, especially now, when they have the means to buy the best players,” Usmanov, said.

“The club’s finances are in order and I believe that Arsene Wenger and the club’s CEO (Ivan Gazidis) will manage them correctly.”

Usmanov was involved in a battle with Stan Kroenke for a controlling stake in the club right up until 2011 when the American upped his shareholding to 62.89 percent after diamond dealer Danny Fiszman sold his shares shortly before his death.

He admits he has never had any contact with Kroenke but while he is not on the club’s board and is therefore excluded from decision-making, Usmanov said he would not be selling his stake in the club any time soon.

“I have no plans to exit,” he said. “I wish Arsenal success and hope they win trophies.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John O’Brien)

Conflicts, breaches at Vic water agency

The Victorian government water agency continually breached government policies and handled conflicts of interest poorly, the ombudsman says.

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The underlying attitude at the Office of Living Victoria (OLV) seemed to put procedures and principles second to urgency, Ombudsman Deborah Glass found.

An ombudsman’s report said this led to breaches of public service employment principles, poor contract and project management, the use of exemptions to avoid competition, limited or no risk management and poor planning.

In one instance three companies provided OLV with quotes for an event, at $40,000, $60,000 and $160,000.

OLV accepted the highest quote with no explanation, the report found.

The report concluded that there was an ongoing failure by OLV to comply with government procurement policies and conflicts of interest were poorly handled.

“From the earliest days of OLV, the inclination and focus have been on the end, not the means,” the report said.

Ms Glass said the prevailing attitude at the office had been that it needed to “crash through” a bureaucracy that would stymie effective and timely change.

“Government procedures exist to protect the public purse,” Ms Glass said.

“Poorly managed conflicts of interest fundamentally undermine the integrity of public policy.”

Water Minister Peter Walsh said mistakes were made in the running of the agency but the government had changed how it was administered.

“We would acknowledge that both mistakes have been made around the OLV and Department of Environment and Primary Industries and these are being addressed,” Mr Walsh told reporters, before the report was tabled in parliament on Tuesday.

“Changes have been made to the administration of OLV.”

The agency is now being run out of the Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

Deputy Opposition Leader James Merlino said OLV had been a mess.

“To talk generally, it has been an unmitigated failure of Peter Walsh,” Mr Merlino told reporters, before the report’s official release.

“The office of living it up Victoria, jobs for mates. Absolute rorting. This has been a mess.”

The ombudsman investigated the OLV after a whistleblower made a complaint about its procurement and contract management practices last June.

Mr Walsh said the government would implement all of the ombudsman’s four recommendations, including auditing OLV’s finance management.

“The Victorian Coalition government expects government departments, including administrative offices, to adhere to Victorian government policies with respect to purchase of goods and services,” Mr Walsh said.

He said the agency and the department were working to restore good governance.

Terrorism fears prompt boost to spy powers

The federal government’s plan to beef up counter-terrorism measures, which will allow the collection of telecommunications data, is an unjustified power grab, civil liberties groups say.

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But Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the rising number of Australian passport holders heading to conflict zones in places like Syria and Iraq means it has little choice but to act.

“What we are now acutely conscious of is the danger posed back here in Australia by people returning to Australia who have been radicalised and militarised by the experience of working with terrorist organisations overseas,” he said on Tuesday.

“The first duty of government is to keep our community safe.”

Spy and police agencies will get an $630 million to implement tough new laws to deal with Australians who fight, train with or support terrorist groups overseas.

Intelligence officials say the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have drawn about 10,000 fighters from around the world.

Some 150 Australians are directly linked to the Syrian conflict, including those sending money or recruiting fighters.

About 60 Australians are known to be fighting in Syria or Iraq, and 15 have been killed.

The government has cancelled the passports of 51 people it suspected of planning to join the conflicts.

Under the proposed new laws, the government will blacklist areas so people who travel to these zones will have to prove they went for humanitarian or family reasons, not to fight.

Details of how this would work are still being developed, but the government says it won’t reverse the legal onus of proof.

However, a senior intelligence official said it would be prudent for persons, such as a Red Cross worker, going to Syria to think about how they might create evidence of what they were doing overseas.

The laws to be introduced to the parliament in the Spring sittings will:

* broaden the listing criteria for terrorist organisations to ensure advocacy of terrorist acts includes the promotion and encouragement of terrorism

* make it easier to arrest terrorists by lowering the threshold for arrest without warrant for terrorism offences

* extend the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) questioning and detention powers beyond the July 2016 expiry

* extend Australian Federal Police stop, search and seizure powers in relation to terrorist acts and offences beyond December 2015

* make it easier to prosecute foreign fighters

* make it an offence to participate in terrorist training

* enable ASIO to request the suspension of an Australian passport or foreign passport for a dual national.

The government also plans to make telecommunication companies hold onto customer metadata for two years for law enforcement purposes.

The information can include phone numbers called, the time, date and duration of a call, the cell tower area and possibly the name and contact details of customers.

The relevant legislation will be introduced later this year, after consultation with the telecoms sector.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will consider the new laws carefully but has so far signalled bipartisan support.

“Our security agencies need to have the right powers to keep Australia and Australians safe,” he said.

“Australians who travel overseas to fight for terrorist causes should face the strongest weight of the law for their actions.”

The Australian Greens will await the legislative detail but has expressed concerns about the erosion of human rights and the justice system – thoughts echoed by the Australian Council for Civil Liberties (ACCL).

“The measures represent an attempt to use the current problems of Australians fighting with terrorist groups as a power grab for extra powers, the need for which is not currently made out,” ACCL president Terry O’Gorman told AAP.

Mr Abbott denies such claims and is seeking community support for the changes.

“When it comes to counter-terrorism, everyone needs to be part of team Australia,” he said.

Mr Abbott has made a “leadership call” to scrap the government’s planned changes to Racial Discrimination Act, which would have softened laws on bigotry and hate speech, to encourage the support of ethnic groups.

“I want the communities of our country to be our friends, not our critics,” he said.

Cats’ Scott says he’s not focused on Freo

Geelong coach Chris Scott insists he isn’t motivated by their poor recent history against Fremantle as they jostle for top-four positions on Saturday night at Simonds Stadium.

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The Dockers have won four of their past five clashes, most notably upsetting Geelong at home in last year’s AFL qualifying final.

Scott said maintaining momentum and their ladder position was the focus rather than who their opponents were.

He said the old school approach that they ‘owed the Dockers’ was unprofessional.

“Not for me,” Scott said when asked about vengeance.

“I shouldn’t speak for all the players – maybe some of them feel that way. Maybe they’ll get a little bit of extra satisfaction if they can get the result.

“Maybe it’ll hurt a little bit more if they don’t get the result.”

Scott felt his team was very different to the side that was rolled by 32 points by the Dockers in round nine, which was one of only four Cats’ losses for the season.

“We’ve made some steps forward in the way we move the ball and the way we defend opposition teams.

“We’re playing better footy than we were even three weeks ago,” Scott said.

He felt their 32-point win over North Melbourne last round was close to their most-complete performance of the year, however he could see there was still more improvement to come.

“We haven’t played our best footy this year – we think that’s still ahead of us.

“But we’ve got ourselves in a position where we’re in the top four and we’ve been pretty well performed.”

Hamish McIntosh missed that match after hurting his ankle at training but would be available although Scott wouldn’t reveal whether the ruckman or Dawson Simpson would get the nod to counter Aaron Sandilands.