Melbourne, Mar 14 (AP/UNB) — Formula One Race Director Charlie Whiting has died from a pulmonary embolism three days before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. He was 66.
The federation for international auto racing issued a statement saying Whiting died on Thursday morning in Melbourne.
FIA President Jean Todt said he was shocked by the sudden death of the long-time F1 official and described Whiting "a great Race Director, a central and inimitable figure in Formula One who embodied the ethics and spirit of this fantastic sport."
A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in the lung, usually caused by a blood clot.
Whiting began his F1 career in 1977 working at the Hesketh team. He joined the FIA in 1988 and became a race director in 1997.
"Formula One has lost a faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador in Charlie," Todt said in a statement. "All my thoughts, those of the FIA and entire motor sport community go out to his family, friends, and all Formula One lovers."
The Red Bull Racing team said Formula One had "lost one of its most loyal and hard-working ambassadors."
"I am deeply saddened to hear the terrible news," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. "Charlie has played a key role in this sport and has been the referee and voice of reason as Race Director for many years.
"He was a man with great integrity who performed a difficult role in a balanced way. At heart, he was a racer with his origins stretching back to his time at Hesketh and the early days of Brabham."
Melbourne, Mar 12 (AP/UNB) — The most senior Catholic to be convicted of child sex abuse will be sentenced to prison in Australia on Wednesday in a landmark case that has polarized observers. Some described the prosecution as proof the church is no longer above the law, while others suspect Cardinal George Pell has been made a scapegoat for the church's sins.
Pope Francis' former finance minister, who had been described as the third-highest ranking Catholic in the Vatican, has spent two weeks in a Melbourne remand jail cell since a sentencing hearing in the Victoria state County Court on Feb. 27 in which his lawyers conceded the 77-year-old must spend time behind bars.
Pell had been convicted in December of orally raping a 13-year-old choirboy and indecently dealing with the boy and the boy's 13-year-old friend in the late 1990s, months after Pell became archbishop of Melbourne and initiated a compensation scheme for victims of clergy sexual abuse. A court order had prohibited media from reporting on the verdict until two weeks ago, when prosecutors abandoned a second trial on charges that Pell had groped two boys in a public swimming pool in the 1970s.
Chief Judge Peter Kidd will sentence Pell on five convictions, each carrying a potential 10-year maximum sentence. Most of the sentences for each conviction are likely to be served concurrently.
Pell's sentence will also reflect court standards of two decades ago, when his crimes were committed. In those days, judges placed less weight on the damage done to children by sexual abuse.
In an unusual move for an Australian court that acknowledges intense international interest in the case, the judge will allow his sentencing remarks to be broadcast on live television.
After centuries of impunity, cardinals from Australia to Chile and points in between are facing justice in both the Vatican and government courts for their own sexual misdeeds or for having shielded abusers under their watch.
Last week, France's senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, was convicted of failing to report a known pedophile priest to police. He was given a six-month suspended sentence.
Francis last month defrocked the onetime leader of the American church after an internal investigation determined Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually molested children and adult men. It was the first time a cardinal had been defrocked over the child abuse scandal.
Pell has denied any wrongdoing and will appeal his convictions at the Victoria Court of Appeal on June 5. His lawyers canceled an application to keep him free on bail before then.
The appeal grounds include that the "verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported" by the evidence of more than 20 witnesses who testified, including clerics, choristers and altar servers.
"It was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone," the filings said.
That view has been expressed in some sections of the media.
"Pell was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt on the uncorroborated evidence of one witness, without forensic evidence, a pattern of behavior or a confession," veteran crime reporter John Silvester wrote in Melbourne's The Age newspaper.
"Pell has become a lightning rod on the worldwide storm of anger at a systemic cover-up of priestly abuses. But that doesn't make him a child molester," Silvester added.
An Australian academic who wrote an opinion piece describing Pell's "accusers" as "wicked" last week apologized for the article, which was published in a Catholic monthly newspaper that was later pulled by the church.
"Pell is a tough man and he will, by the grace of God, survive the wickedness of his accusers and the silence of many who should defend him but won't," Tasmania University think-tank director David Daintree wrote in the Tasmania-based Catholic Standard newspaper.
In his written apology issued by the Hobart Archdiocese, Daintree said, "It was never my intention to cast doubt on survivors."
Sky News Live, an Australian cable and satellite television station, protected advertisers' reputations by removing all ads from prominent conservative commentator Andrew Bolt's nightly program after he flagged he would be venting his own misgivings about the verdict.
"Pell could well be an innocent man who is being made to pay for the sins of his church and made to pay after an astonishing campaign of media vilification," Bolt said.
The judge, prosecutor and defense lawyer repeatedly told both Pell's juries that they must not make Pell a scapegoat for the church. The first trial ended in a deadlocked jury and the second jury delivered unanimous guilty verdicts.
Judge Kidd told the sentencing hearing last month, "The Catholic Church is not on trial ... I'm imposing sentence on Cardinal Pell for what he did."
Pell is guilty as charged in the eyes of many who have been quick to distance themselves from the cardinal since the convictions were made public. Melbourne's Richmond Football Club quickly dropped Pell as the Australian Rules Football team's honorary ambassador. Pell was contracted to the club as a budding professional footballer in 1959 before he joined the priesthood.
St. Patrick's College, the prestigious Catholic school where Pell was educated in his hometown of Ballarat, announced that a building named after him would be renamed and Pell would be removed from the school honor board.
"The jury's verdict demonstrates that Cardinal Pell's behaviors have not met the standards we expect of those we honor as role models for the young men we educate," headmaster John Crowley said.
But the Australian Catholic University said its Pell Center at its Ballarat campus would not be renamed until the appeal process was completed, angering academic staff.
The university's president, Greg Craven, and former Prime Minister John Howard are among 10 prominent Australians whose character references were submitted to Judge Kidd to take into consideration when deciding an appropriate sentence.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher told a congregation on the first Sunday after the convictions were made public that they should withhold judgment on Pell until the appeal.
"If we are too quick to judge, we can end up joining the demonizers or the apologists, those baying for blood or those in denial," Fisher said.
Fisher, a former lawyer, holds the church post in Australia's largest city that Pell held before he was elevated to the Vatican.
In the Vatican, Pell is facing a church investigation that could lead to his removal from the priesthood.
When Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson last year became the most senior Catholic cleric ever found guilty of covering up child sex abuse, he initially refused to resign pending an appeal.
But Wilson quit two months later after then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on Pope Francis to fire him. Wilson's conviction was eventually quashed on appeal in December, but he has not been reinstated to his former role.
Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison is willing to hold off acting on Pell until his appeal is settled. A petition with more than 130,000 signatures has called for Pell to be stripped of an Australian honor awarded in 2005 for his service to the church, education and social justice.
"I was appalled and shocked," Morrison said of the convictions. "I think any Australian would be to read of those events, but it shows that no one is above the law in this country."
Melbourne, Feb 26 (AP/UNB) — Cardinal George Pell's trial on child abuse charges is probably the highest profile criminal case ever shrouded in secrecy by an Australian suppression order.
The ban on media reporting of his trial in any format accessible from Australia accentuated the free-speech arguments against such court orders that are commonplace in every Australian state and in Britain. The order also highlighted the difficulty in enforcing such an order in the digital world and in an historic case against Pope Francis' finance minister that carries global ramifications.
The point of suppressing news of the August-September trial, which ended in a deadlocked jury, and his retrial in November and December was to keep 12 Melbourne jurors in Pell's next trial in the dark.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed that knowledge Pell had previously been accused of child sex offenses could color the jurors' judgment when they heard another child abuse case against him in a second trial in April.
But prosecutor Fran Dalziel told the Victoria state County Court on Tuesday that charges alleging Pell indecently assaulted two boys aged 9 or 10 and 11 or 12 as a young priest in the late 1970s in a public pool in his hometown of Ballarat had been dropped.
His lawyer Robert Richter initially wanted an opportunity to ask an appeal court to issue its own suppression order in case Pell's convictions were overturned and he faced a retrial. An appeal of his convictions was filed last week.
Dalziel objected, saying Pell "was not a special case." Richter eventually withdrew his application to prevent the suppression order being lifted.
Breaching a suppression order could result in a prison sentence for the guilty reporter and a fine for a media company that has assets in Australia that put it within reach of the law. Journalists and media organizations beyond Australian shores are unaffected, even if the reporting is visible on the internet from Australia.
The U.S. Constitution's First Amendment would prevent such censorship in the United States. But many lawyers argue that suppression orders are preferable to an alternative exercised in many countries, closed courts.
Concerns are mounting in Australia that the courts have got the balance wrong between ensuring fair trials and the public's right to know.
That balance could also be shifting away from open courts because a fragmented media industry is losing the resources and the commercial incentive to fight for greater access to the courts.
The Australian journalists' union — Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance — argues that Victoria and South Australia were two states that stood out for their propensity to make suppression orders to prevent media reporting some or all aspects of courts cases. Comparisons are difficult to make since Victoria is the only state that keeps records of how many orders are made.
The Alliance is also concerned that the courts consider themselves the sole judges of what is in the public interest.
The Alliance cites former Victorian judge Betty King who boasted in a speech in 2009 that she was "probably responsible for the majority of suppression orders imposed in Victoria in the last three years."
King added that for every worthy media court report, there were others that were "inaccurate, salacious, mischievous, morally indefensible and just plain prurient."
But others outside the lopsided tug-of-war between judges and reporters recognize there is a problem with the principle of open justice in Victoria.
Both Australia and Britain are bound by the 1913 ruling of the British House of Lords, once the highest court of appeal for both countries, that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.
The right to a fair and public trial are included in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The Victorian parliament passed the Open Courts Act in 2013 that legislates "a presumption in favor of disclosure of information to which a court or tribunal must have regard in determining whether to make a suppression order."
Courts are also required to limit the scope of suppression orders and their durations to what is essential to achieve the order's purpose.
Jason Bosland, the deputy director of the Center for Media and Communications Law at Melbourne University, found that the new laws failed to reduce the frequency of suppression orders that Victorian judges made over the two years since the Open Courts Act became law.
Bosland also found that around 200 suppression orders were made a year from 2008 and 2013 for often unclear reasons and unlimited periods.
"It's in the public interest that justice be done but it's also in the public interest that justice be seen to be done. So there's this tension between the workings of the courts and publicity," Bosland told The AP.
"When an application is made for a suppression order, the judge may be inclined to make it out of an abundance of caution," he added.
The Victorian government is planning to change the laws in favor of open courts following a review of suppression orders by retired judge Frank Vincent.
The government supports most of the review's recommendations, including allowing a five-day window for media to make submissions against any suppression order before that order became permanent.
"We are taking action to ensure suppression orders are clear and only made when absolutely necessary," Attorney General Martin Pakula said.
But the government is less enthusiastic about Vincent's recommendation for a state-appointed advocate to argue for the public's right to know in cases where suppression orders are sought.
Such a champion for open justice would fill a role that media lawyers are less likely to play as fewer media companies assign dedicated court reporters.
Australian suppression orders have proven wanting in a digital media environment, particularly in cases that attract international interest.
Victorian judge Elizabeth Hollingworth in 2014 tried to protect Australia's national security and internationals relations by suppressing the names of Indonesian, Malaysian and Vietnamese officials and political leaders both past and present that were raised in a foreign bribery conspiracy trial involving two Australian central bank subsidiaries.
But the suppression order was published by WikiLeaks, including the names of the 17 Southeast Asian political figures that were barred from publication.
International news outlets subsequently republished the suppression order and disclosed its contents.
Despite mainstream Australian media obeying the terms of the order, Hollingworth decided the order no longer served a purpose and lifted it.
"In this case, it is the overseas publications that have the greatest potential to cause future harm to Australia's interests. The existing overseas publication is widespread and cannot be undone," she said.
Australia Federal Police investigated the course of the leak but were unable to find someone to charge.
Bosland said the internet was a game changer for suppression orders. While once broadcast news disappeared into the ether and newspaper editions quickly faded away after their publication dates, information remained widely accessible on the internet regardless of suppression orders.
"Given the global nature of the internet, in certain cases it's becoming pretty apparent that if there's sufficient public interest worldwide, then suppression orders can potentially be ineffective," Bosland said.
Canberra, Jan 29(AP/UNB) — Australia's prime minister on Tuesday raised the prospect of the nation suffering its first economic recession in 28 years if the opposition wins general elections due by late May.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison outlined his conservative government's economic credentials in a speech in which he promised to detail in April Australia's first surplus annual budget in a decade.
"Only half of those of voting age at this election will have ever experienced a recession during their working lives," Morrison said.
"I don't want them to learn how important a strong economy is to each and every single one of them by having them endure the cruel lessons of a weaker economy that would occur under the Labor Party," he added.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten accused Morrison of fearmongering.
"They've run out of anything to say about themselves, all they can do is talk about us," Shorten told reporters.
Australia had not experienced recession — defined at consecutive quarters of economic contraction — since July 1, 1991.
Updated Treasury Department forecasts released last month showed Australia's economy is expected to expand by 2.75 percent in the current fiscal year ending June 30 and by 3 percent the following year.
Deloitte Access Economics, an economic forecaster, predicted on Tuesday Australia's economy will be affected by slower global growth in the next two years.
The forecaster also said Australia's growth would be weighed down by tightening credit, widespread drought and falling rates of housing construction.
The government argues the center-left Labor Party opposition was a threat to the economy through its policy of reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The government's target is a reduction of 26-to-28 percent in the same timeframe.
The government also opposes Labor plans to reduce tax deductions for landlords as property prices moderate in Australia's largest cities.
Morrison argues that Labor would raise 200 billion Australian dollars ($175 billion) with new and higher taxes that would weaken economic growth.
The government has been trailing Labor in most opinion polls since in the last election in 2016. The ruling coalition lost its single-seat majority in the House of Representatives — where parties form governments — when former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quit politics after colleagues ousted him as leader in August last year.
The respected Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper on Tuesday showed 53 percent of respondents supported Labor and only 47 percent supported Morrison's coalition.
The poll was based on a nationwide survey of 1,634 voters last weekend. It had a 2.5 percentage-point margin of error.
Australia, Jan 25 (AP/UNB) — Scorching heat knocked out power to homes and businesses, raised wildfire risks and sent tennis fans looking for water and shade Friday in Australia's second-largest city, which recorded its hottest day in five years.
Melbourne reached 42 .8 C (109 F) by early afternoon before a sudden cooldown, though the outskirts of the city remained hot, with the airport recording 46 C (114.8 F). It was the hottest day since 2014 in the Victoria state capital, which has a population of 5 million.
The power grid began load sharing as temperatures climbed in the early afternoon, with 30,000 households and businesses at a time being switched off for as long as two hours so that supply could keep up with demand.
But by late afternoon, the state's power generation was able to meet demand, Victoria Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said.
"The situation changed very, very quickly," she told reporters. "People should be rightly disappointed that the power grid was not up to the task today."
Scores of wildfires are raging in heatwave conditions across much of drought-parched southeast Australia, with authorities warning the fire risk is high.
Adelaide, 640 kilometers (400 miles) west of Melbourne, on Thursday recorded the hottest day for a major Australian city, a searing 46.6 C (115.9 F).
The previous record had been the 46.4 C (115.5 F) set in Melbourne on Feb. 7, 2009 — a day of catastrophic wildfires that killed 173 people and razed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria that is remembered as Black Saturday.
At the Australian Open in Melbourne, tennis fans shielded themselves with umbrellas and walked by water sprinklers for relief. On Thursday, the tournament had invoked its extreme-heat policy and closed the main stadium's roof during a women's semifinal match.
Heat records have tumbled across Australia's southeast in recent days. The small town of Swan Hill recorded its highest ever maximum of 47.5 C (117.5 F) on Friday and the renowned winemaking town of Rutherglen recorded its warmest ever overnight minimum of 29.3 C (84.7 F).
"The heatwaves we have had since the start of summer are almost unprecedented," meteorologist Kevin Parkin said.
"Relentless days of 40-plus degrees followed by warm nights — is it any wonder people and communities in that part of the world are doing it tough?" he added.
Bureau of Meteorology forecasters say this January is on track to become Australia's hottest January on record with heatwave conditions likely to persist.
Last year was Australia's third-warmest on record.