Hunting Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist

He is Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist who has “kept Jihad alive” in the world’s most populous Muslim country.

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Despite large-scale manhunts over more than two years, Santoso and his men have been able to evade capture, pledge allegiance to Islamic State, kill police, stockpile weapons and hold claim over territory within Central Sulawesi’s dense jungle.

As thousands of military and police personnel once again scour the Poso District, AAP travelled to the remote region to get a rare glimpse into Operation Tinombala and explore how Santoso has been able to elude authorities for so long.

Santoso – also known as Abu Wardah – is the leader of Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia (MIT), a group that emerged from the shadows of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) – infamous in Australia as the organisation behind the fatal 2002 Bali bombings.

Along with Daeng Koro (who was killed in a shoot out with police last year), Santoso has brought together more than 20 men and three women in Napu Valley’s thick forest.

Here nearby villagers dry farmed cocoa in front of their wooden homes and dogs flop lazily onto the middle of the road.

It is quiet and life is slow, but military and police are never far off.

Multiple checkpoints have been established throughout the valley, where those passing are examined by authorities in a bid to sever supplies to Santoso.

But even with this and more than 2000 personnel on the ground, Santoso remains elusive.

The terrain is steep, the forest dense, and fog obscures vision.

More than a dozen men have died in shoot outs with the group and in March at least 10 personnel were killed when a military helicopter crashed in poor weather.

Operation Tinombala spokesman Hari Suprapto said Santoso is an expert in survival.

“One of the things we found were several betel nut trees cut down. They eat the leaves of the tree,” he told AAP.

“It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”

Director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict Sidney Jones said Santoso’s influence stretches back to 2011 when he ran two-week para-military training courses.

“There is an alumni network of Santoso’s training courses that are now spread across Indonesia and several veterans of Poso training camps are also in Syria,” she told AAP.

“Even though his capture wouldn’t significantly change the risk factor in Indonesia … many people see him as the one person who has kept Jihad in Indonesia alive.”

The only militant to have claim over territory, Santoso has carried out repeated attacks on authorities.

In May 2011, Santoso allegedly murdered two policemen during an assault in front of a bank in Palu, Central Sulawesi’s capital, while he and his men have been linked to the beheadings and kidnapping of villagers.

Last month, the US declared him a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” after it was revealed he had received funding from Syria.

With so much to loose symbolically, Hari doubts that if they do corner him, Santoso will want to come out alive.

Despite backlash, Depp and Heard’s biosecurity message ‘sinking in’

A video showing Hollywood couple Johnny Depp and Amber Heard apologising for breaking Australia’s quarantine laws “clearly broadcasts the importance of biosecurity” to the country, a Melbourne-based analyst said.

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Andrew Robinson, the Deputy Director of Melbourne University’s Centre for Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA), said even in the midst of a social media backlash mocking the apology, its message reinforces Australia’s strict customs laws.

“It seems to me that if people are parodying the video, they’re thinking about the content,” he said. “They’re reflecting on the consequences of the mistake these two individuals have made. 

“No doubt the message is sinking in, and the more parodied it is, the more broadcast the message is.”

In the video, Depp and Heard apologise for illegally bringing their dogs Pistol and Boo into the country last year when Depp was filming on the Gold Coast.

 Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the couple communicated with the Department of Agriculture about the recording, which he shared online after Ms Heard’s appearance in a Queensland court.  The reaction on social media has been brutal, with many comparing it to a hostage video.The Johnny Depp apology feels like a hostage video.

— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) April 18, 2016The Heard/Depp video is now the best hostage thriller of 2016. I feel compelled to give it a star rating.

— Marc Fennell (@marcfennell) April 18, 2016Uncropped footage from the Johnny #Depp and Amber #Heard Australian apology video. Makes sense now! #dogs #doggate pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/S37Zio44MA

— Jonathan Davies (@jmdllani) April 18, 2016The Simpsons Australia episode has basically become true #Depp pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/QWLeNTx08U

— Neil Richards (@neilrich75) April 18, 2016

Youtube star Natalie Tran took the “hostage” angle one step further by editing herself into a version of video where she waves a fake gun and holds cue cards off-camera.

It ends with Tran saying, “I think people will think we’re real friendly.”

Mr Joyce said the apology will serve as an effective educational tool.

“We’ve got a message that is going around the world right now,” he said. “It’s going off like a frog in a sock, telling people if you come into this nation and you don’t obey our laws, you’re in trouble.”

Mr Robinson said Australia’s biosecurity laws remained among the strictest in the world.

“Dogs from the United States are known to possibly carry rabies, and numerous types of ticks with diseases that not only effect dogs, but other mammals including humans,” he said.

“When I saw the video I thought it clearly broadcast the importance of biosecurity to Australia.”

Human beings – and our offices – are crawling with microbes

Joanna Verran, Manchester Metropolitan University and James Redfern, Manchester Metropolitan University

Microorganisms are the smallest forms of life, and the human microbiome includes bacteria, viruses and fungi.

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There are more microbial cells on and in our bodies than the ten trillion human cells which make us what we are. This microbial life helps us to break down our food, provides vitamins we cannot produce and plays a big role in keeping us healthy.

On a daily basis, we walk around surrounded by our own unique microbial cloud. Given that the skin, hair and dust we shed is covered in microorganisms, it’s hardly surprising that our built environment is also full of microbial life.

This “contamination” can pose a risk. For example, in hospitals, doctors are wary of microorganisms such as Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause infection. And most people know that bacteria such as Salmonella, which might be present on food or kitchen surfaces, can give you food poisoning.

Gone to work

But what about our offices? We spend much of our working lives in office buildings, yet we know relatively little about the microbiome of these spaces. To find out what kind of microorganisms live in our work places, scientists from the American Society for Microbiology investigated the microbiome of three different surfaces (carpet, ceiling tile and wall), in three different offices, in three cities (San Diego, Flagstaff and Toronto) over a 12-month period.

This was no easy task. Normally, if they wanted to know about which microbes were present, scientists would take samples from the site, grow the microorganisms on agar plates, then count the number of colonies and identify the species present. But many microorganisms are in fact “non-culturable” using current techniques, meaning that although they multiply happily in their natural environment, we can’t grow them in the lab.

So, instead, the researchers identified the types of microorganisms present – particularly bacteria – using molecular biology, which characterises unique parts of the organisms’ DNA. Molecular identification can indicate the presence of many more different types of microorganisms, and can detect very low numbers of cells – though it can’t tell you exactly how many cells are present.

Keeping clean

The good news is, the amount of “biomass” material collected was small – indicating that the number of microorganisms in the offices is probably low. All three surfaces were essentially dry, so any microbes that attached would likely be unable to grow because of the lack of moisture. This means that any increase in biomass over time would be due to additional microorganisms being deposited, rather than the formation of a thriving microbial community.

The researchers also found no difference in the bacterial communities on each of the surface materials. This is interesting and perhaps unexpected, because the texture of the materials would vary, the numbers of microorganisms harboured would be different, and the porosity, density and chemistry of the surfaces might affect retention of moisture and dirt.

But in order to be able to control the experiments, the scientists needed to use new test materials, which were located out of the way of most of the office activity. However, they did find a greater variety of microorganisms on the floor than on the ceiling – suggesting that areas which are used more will be at greater risk of contamination.

Downtown San Diego and … looming microbial cloud? from 长沙桑拿,shutterstock长沙桑拿按摩论坛,

The origin of most of the bacteria was non-human, and it was shown that other sources in the environment – such as air, dust, animals, plants, trees – were contributing to a city-specific bacterial community. So, the cities determined the nature of the office microbiome to a greater extent than the people in the office, or the office itself. This is presumably due to their differing geography, location and extent of industrialisation. Indeed, the researchers reported that they could detect which city any given sample came from, based only on its microbial make up, to an accuracy of 85 per cent.

The fact is, most of the bacteria that you’re likely to find in offices can survive for several weeks without much nourishment. But they can only multiply if water and nutrients such as dust, crumbs and skin scales become available, and if the temperature is hospitable. So, if you’ve eaten lunch at your desk recently, or if it’s been a while since you cleaned your keyboard or phone, the chances are that your colleagues aren’t the only life forms you’re sharing your work space with.

It’s inevitable that we’ll find germs in and around the office. And many studies are concerned about the contamination of inert surfaces by microorganisms, and their potential impacts on health. But for the most part, we can keep the office microbiome under control by ensuring surfaces are clean and dry.

Related reading

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

New Adelaide hospital to open in September

The new $2 billion Royal Adelaide Hospital will finally open in September, about 18 months behind its original schedule.

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Premier Jay Weatherill and Health Minister Jack Snelling say the new hospital’s emergency department will start taking patients from September 5.

Ambulances will begin transporting about 300 patients from the existing hospital to the new facility over three days from September 4.

Mr Weatherill says the move is one of the most significant events in the state’s history.

But opposition health spokesman Stephen Wade said the government can’t be trusted and expects the opening date to be pushed back further.

Mr Snelling says he’s “very confident” the government can stick to the timetable, but admits it could be changed if needed.

“This is something that only happens once every 200 years and it’s important that we get it right,” Mr Snelling told reporters in Adelaide on Monday.

In the six weeks prior to the shift roughly 300 patients will have been transported from the old RAH to other hospitals in Adelaide.

Some services that do not require an overnight stay, like radiation oncology and various outpatient clinics, will be offered at the new RAH from mid-August.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation SA said it’s significant that 2000 nursing staff affected by the move had “a solid date to work towards”, while the Australian Medical Association SA said doctors and nurses needed to be involved in the planning process.

Mr Wade said the new opening date for the hospital, which was originally meant to open early in 2016, was “just not credible”.

“Jack Snelling has never met a predicted opening date and this is the one he is least likely to meet,” Mr Wade said in a statement.

Last year the SA government launched legal action against the hospital’s building consortium after delays in the facility’s technical completion.

Two deaths on the hospital’s building site, in November 2014 and February 2016, have also added to the controversy.

Pressure on banks despite $15.6b HY profit

The balancing act that allowed Australia’s big four banks to lift their combined first-half cash profit to $15.

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6 billion is getting more precarious, analysts say.

The quartet lifted cash profit about six per cent from a year ago but high levels of property-related household debt combined with a regulator-engineered slowdown in the housing market mean margins are likely to come under increased pressure.

Westpac, which on Monday became the last of the majors to report its first-half earnings, said recent mortgage rate increases would help lift its net interest margin after a contraction of 0.4 percentage points in the first half.

However, Ernst and Young’s Tim Dring said that won’t mean much if affordability suffers.

“While rate increases benefit the banks’ earnings and margins, they also have the potential to put additional pressure on an already highly indebted household sector,” said Mr Dring, EY Oceania’s banking and capital markets leader.

“The banks’ ability to extract additional margin through differential rate repricing on residential property lending will become even more of a balancing act.”

Announcing a three per cent rise in first-half profit to $4.02 billion, Westpac said mortgage lending was up six per cent on a year earlier – but that growth of five per cent is expected in 2018

Making mortgages too costly to consumers already contending with sluggish wage growth could depress demand.

ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott – whose bank lifted first-half profit 23 per cent to $3.4 billion – said he was specifically gearing his bank for a period of low credit growth, with further regulatory moves to rein in riskier interest-only and investor lending in the pipeline.

“We are seeing mounting regulatory, government and public pressure to curtail housing price growth, particularly in the Sydney and Melbourne markets, and this is likely to continue to build,” Mr Dring said.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority is expected to outline its definition of “unquestionably strong” before the end of the year.

The majors’ returns on equity increased by 0.28 percentage points to an average 13.9 per cent, according to KPMG, but that will come under pressure should APRA’s definition require the banks to hold more capital to support mortgage lending.

“The majors’ management teams have done a commendable job of building their capital buffers over the past few years, which will need to continue,” Mr Yates said.

“This is putting further pressure on the their ability to grow and will ultimately inform their strategic decision-making around what businesses they wish to remain in over the medium-to-longer term.”

Housing also figured highly on National Australia Bank’s list of concerns.

NAB lifted first-half profit 2.3 per cent to an above-expectation $3.29 billion, but put more money aside for soured loans amid an impending oversupply of east coast apartments.

Commonwealth Bank, which in February lifted its first-half cash profit 2.1 per cent to $4.9 billion, will issue a third-quarter trading update on Tuesday.

TPG proposal adds to Fairfax uncertainty

Fairfax Media’s board has given no indication of whether if will make a recommendation on a $2.

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2 billion proposal to split up the company, but has warned that it may not be good value for shareholders.

A consortium led by US-based private equity giant TPG Capital and Canada’s Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board wants to buy Fairfax Media’s Domain real estate classified business, the unit controlling flagship newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and its events and digital ventures businesses.

Under the proposal, the remaining businesses – including regional newspapers, New Zealand Publishing, Macquarie Media and the Stan streaming service – would be grouped under a new ASX-listed company called New Media Co, which would also take on 100 per cent of Fairfax’s current net debt.

Investors seemed to be interested in the TPG proposal, driving Fairfax shares up by 3.0 cents, or 2.83 per cent, to $1.08 at 1520 AEST on Monday.

That’s their highest level since March 29.

However, the Fairfax board said a demerger would require the approval of shareholders and regulators including the Foreign Investment Review Board – and may be too complex to carry out anyway.

“This proposed split of businesses may not optimise shareholder value,” the Fairfax board said in a statement to the ASX.

“Fairfax shareholders do not need to take any action in response to the indicative proposal and the Fairfax board will update shareholders when it has been fully assessed.

“There is no certainty the indicative proposal will result in an offer for Fairfax, what the terms of any offer would be, or whether there will be a recommendation by the Fairfax board.”

The media company is going through a trying period with many journalists on a week-long strike following last week’s announcement that 125 jobs would be cut at The Age, The Brisbane Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and WA Today to save the company $30 million.

Fairfax Media last week reported that total group revenue was down six per cent in the 17 weeks to April 23, from the prior corresponding period.

The proposal also complicates the situation involving Domain business, the most profitable arm of the Fairfax, which it preparing to list on the ASX at the end of 2017.

Fusion Strategy media analyst Steve Allen said TPG’s valuation on Domain under the $2.2 billion bid could create difficulty for Fairfax’s board.

The “fairly full” valuation of Domain – estimated by some analysts to be worth about $2 billion on its own – made any float “a much tougher ask”, he said.

Qld govt plays down Com Games train fears

The Queensland government insists it will have enough trains to cope with demand from next year’s Commonwealth Games despite lingering issues with new trains meant to replenish Queensland Rail’s ageing fleet.

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The new generation rollingstock (NGR) were ordered under the Newman government in 2014 and were due to be rolled out by 2016.

But the new trains, worth $4.4 billion dollars in total, have been plagued with problems including with braking, line-of-sight issues and disability access.

Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said they hoped to have at least 15 of the new trains operational in time for the Gold Coast Games, held next April.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure we get these trains on our network as soon as it is safely possible to do so,” Ms Trad said on Monday.

“Everybody thinks that is absolutely possible, and we are working hard to resolve the outstanding issues.”

But opposition transport spokesman Andrew Powell said the issues were of the government’s making.

“Through Labor meddling on behalf of their union mates, we have major design overhauls which have meant that costs and time have blown out,” he said.

Mr Powell was referring to Labor’s adding guards compartments to the trains so guards could take breaks while on duty, even though the NGR problems appear to be inherent design flaws in the new trains.

The government also announced more than 250 applicants had been selected for trainee guard positions at Queensland Rail.

The 255 candidates are 25 per cent more than recommended by the Strachan Report into a series of rostering blunders brought on by insufficient staff.

The updates came on a day which saw another round of long delays for morning rail commuters.

The time of the commute on the Cleveland line was doubled for many.

Charlie Stevens boarded a city-bound train at Manly, a trip that usually takes about 45 minutes.

But he was still on the train after 90 minutes due to a broken down train further up the line.

“The trains frequently break down or are delayed. And I’m still baffled about their decision to use three-car trains during peak hour,” he said.

Just a fortnight ago, Mr Stevens endured another long commute on the same line, when a train was inexplicably held up at a station platform.

New Caledonians take shelter from Donna

A cyclone bearing down on New Caledonia in the South Pacific has been upgraded to a category five storm, the most destructive wind-speed level, prompting local authorities to order people to stay indoors and take shelter.

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Gusts close to the centre of Cyclone Donna were estimated to be as strong as 300 km per hour, according to the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards department, with the storm projected to make landfall late on Tuesday.

“There is enormous uncertainty about the speed and trajectory of Donna at the moment, we are unable to tell people how long they will have to stay at home for,” said Olivier Ciry, a spokesman at the Civil Defence and Risk Management agency.

The storm has whipped up huge swells in the Coral Sea, with the centre roughly 200 km north of New Caledonia, and 350 km west of the Vanuatu capital, Port Vila. It was moving southeast at about 12 km per hour.

Schools in New Caledonia were closed for a public holiday on Monday and would stay shut on Tuesday. Domestic flights in New Caledonia and further north in Vanuatu have been cancelled.

Over the weekend the storm skirted to the west of Vanuatu, sparing the most heavily populated islands from any significant damage.

A Reuters journalist in Port Vila said there was torrential rain and hotel staff had given guests candles and matches in case there was a blackout and as well as a sheet to cover windows that might shater in the gales.

Donna is the third late-season cyclone to sweep through the Pacific, after storms called Debbie and Cook pounded Australia and New Zealand.

Stephen Meke, a senior forecaster at the Fiji Meteorological Service said it was “very unusual” to see such a powerful storm well after the summer months have passed, but there was not enough information to determine if climate change was a reason.

New Caledonia is one of the world’s largest sources of nickel, and mining and metals processing plays a major role in the economy. Its main nickel producers, Societe Le Nickel, a subsidiary of French conglomerate Eramet, Glencore Plc and Vale, were not immediately available for comment.

Vic plumber yells ‘run’ as semi hits ambos

A Melbourne plumber screamed “run”, sending people diving for safety as a semi-trailer ploughed into an ambulance and a police car on a Melbourne freeway.

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The truck collected the parked ambulance, a police car and a car that had already crashed into a guard rail on a freeway interchange ramp in Dandenong North on Monday morning, police say.

Plumber Arthur Tsiligiannis, who’d stopped to help the car that hit the guard rail, screamed out as the truck approached.

“It was just one of those out-of-the-ordinary experiences that was just like watching a movie, and came out of nowhere,” Mr Tsiligiannis told AAP on Monday.

“Everyone took a bit of a tumble to be honest. We all scattered and jumped in every direction trying to avoid contact with the truck.”

He said there was no time to think and everyone at the scene just ran where they could to avoid the truck, most of them jumping a barricade and rolling down an embankment.

The truck driver, the car driver and Mr Tsiligiannis were all taken to a local hospital with minor injuries, Ambulance Victoria says.

“I’m a bit battered and bruised but I’m okay,” Mr Tsiligiannis said.

Ambulance union assistant secretary Danny Hill said he understood it could have been much worse if Mr Tsiligiannis hadn’t alerted everyone to the approaching truck.

The ambulance was towed from the scene with significant damage to its rear.

Mr Hill said the crash was a “perfect example” of why it’s important that drivers go slow around crash scenes.

His union, the Ambulance Employees Australia Victoria, and others have campaigned for 40km/h speed limits around emergency services vehicles.

“There is a major risk to emergency services, bystanders and injured patients when other vehicles are approaching so fast … and they’re very dynamic scenes,” he said.

Depression common in image abuse victims

Victims of image-based abuse – including revenge porn – report high levels of depression and fear for their own safety, a survey of young Australians has found.

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More than one in five young Australians have experienced some form of image-based abuse, with victims twice as likely as non-victims to report psychological distress.

A nationwide online survey of almost 4300 Australians aged 16 to 49 found image-based abuse was far more common and affected a wider range of people than previously thought.

Men were just as likely as women to be victims of image-based abuse while minority groups were especially vulnerable.

One in two indigenous Australians and 56 per cent of disabled people reported abuse.

The majority of those experiencing “sextortion” – threats to share images – reported high levels of psychological distress, consistent with moderate to severe depression. Almost half feared for their safety.

“Image-based abuse has emerged so rapidly as an issue that inevitably our laws and policies are struggling to catch up,” RMIT University’s Dr Nicola Henry said.

The researchers from RMIT and Monash universities recommended a range of reforms including making image-based abuse a crime under federal law and better support services for victims.

A dedicated helpline in the UK, set up two years ago, provides free and confidential legal advice and support via phone and email.

“We need to rethink our approach both from a legal perspective but also as a community, to change attitudes that often blame the victims and play down the very real harm caused by image-based abuse,” RMIT’s Dr Anastasia Powell said.

Australian eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said her office is building a national complaints portal for this kind of abuse.

“But victims can come to the eSafety office now,” she told ABC.

“Since October, we’ve had 300 reports of image-based abuse and we will provide support in any way we can.”

Victims can seek support at esafety.gov长沙夜网,

The researchers will present their findings at a free public lecture at RMIT University on Friday evening.

Docker Taberner rewarded for hard yards

Fremantle coach Ross Lyon admits he may have erred in persisting with an undersized forward line earlier this year, but he’s glad spearhead Matt Taberner was made to win back his spot the hard way.

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Taberner showcased his potential with four goals, seven contested marks, and 18 possessions in Sunday’s 37-point win over Essendon.

It was the 23-year-old’s first game of the season after he was squeezed out of the best 22 following the arrivals of Shane Kersten and Cam McCarthy over the summer.

Lyon initially thought his team would be too top-heavy by playing all three key forwards.

But the trio worked well together in the win over Essendon, booting eight goals between them.

At 199cm, Taberner is the tallest of the lot, with McCarthy (192cm) and Kersten (191cm) the next tallest up forward.

Taberner had already played 45 AFL matches leading up to this year, but Lyon admitted they weren’t all on merit.

Rather, Fremantle’s lack of forward options in previous years forced Lyon to play Taberner well before his time, with Taberner often struggling to make an impact in matches.

Taberner had booted just 41 goals leading into Sunday’s match, but his four-goal haul against the Bombers was arguably the finest performance of his fledgling career.

After the round-six derby loss to West Coast, Lyon said he didn’t think a lack of height in his forward line was an issue.

But he was rethinking that statement after Taberner’s strong marking display, which also helped ease the pressure on McCarthy and Kersten.

“Maybe I was wrong. It certainly helped,” Lyon said of Taberner’s inclusion.

“I think they looked dangerous all day. I think he helped the other two and that was the aim.”

Lyon said Taberner would face a huge challenge when he confronts All-Australian defender Alex Rance in Sunday’s clash with Richmond at the MCG.

And he said Taberner’s omission from the best 22 over the first six rounds had been crucial in the spearhead’s development.

“To Matthew’s credit he has worked really hard off the rookie list, but sometimes you get an opportunities when maybe you shouldn’t be playing,” Lyon said.

“That can give you a false sense of where you are at, and probably not as sharp a keenness subconsciously to work on the things you need to.”

Taberner offered Aaron Sandilands relief in the ruck on Sunday, and he’s set to play a similar role when he lines up against Richmond.

The Dockers were being talked up as wooden spoon contenders after opening their season with two big losses.

They now sit in ninth spot with a 4-3 record – not that Lyon is getting carried away.

“Look, from the lowest point in the club’s history it’s probably not a bad position to get to,” Lyon said.

Fitzgibbon blast NRL over scheduling

Country coach Craig Fitzgibbon fired one last parting shot at the NRL over their handling of the axed fixture on Sunday.

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City claimed the final honours in the not-to-be continued concept, ending 90 years of rivalry between the bush and the big smoke, including the last 30 in an Origin format.

However they did so after more than 50 players became unavailable for selection earlier in the week, after Canterbury coach Des Hasler barred the majority of his players from selection ahead of fears of a four-day turnaround.

And Fitzgibbon laid the blame for the farce squarely on the NRL after the Mudgee match.

“It happened last year on a four-day turnaround – half our team had to have it,” Fitzgibbon said.

“To do it again the year after, I don’t understand it.

“The pressure on the clubs was unfair. They’ve got a job to do as well.

“Just don’t put a game on four days later.”

Last season both St George Illawarra and Canberra were forced to play just four days after the fixture in Tamworth.

Players from both teams were rushed out of the venue on a Sunday night flight in that instance, but reported finding the following game more difficult than most, even with monitored and limited training programs.

Fitzgibbon – along with a number of former City and Country players – has emphasised the importance of the annual fixture throughout the week not only for the bush but for the development of his own players before they return to the NRL.

“Both teams had nine debutants tonight,” he said.

“So to be able to provide an opportunity for nine players on each side to be able to make their debut at a rep level and the standards – that was a damn hard game for everyone involved.”

He, along with City coach Brad Fittler, also emphasised the importance of the league finding a way to replace the regional fixture in coming years.

At this stage, only Penrith have a deal with a country NSW town to continue bringing games to the bush, which will see them playing in Bathurst until at least the end of 2028.

“I just hope they provide other access,” Fitzgibbon said.

“Whether it’s NRL teams coming out this way or get rebooted in another way I’m not sure.”

Macron wins French vote to Europe’s relief

Emmanuel Macron has been elected French president with a business-friendly vision of European integration, defeating Marine Le Pen, a far-right nationalist who threatened to take France out of the European Union.

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The centrist’s emphatic victory, which also smashed the dominance of France’s mainstream parties, will bring huge relief to European allies who had feared another populist upheaval to follow Britain’s vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump’s election as US president.

The euro currency, hit a six-month high against the dollar while Asian shares gained and US stocks briefly touched a record high.

With virtually all votes counted, Macron had topped 66 per cent against just under 34 per cent for Le Pen – a gap wider than the 20 or so percentage points that pre-election surveys had suggested.

Even so, it was a record performance for the National Front, a party whose anti-immigrant policies once made it a pariah, and underlined the scale of the divisions that Macron must now try to heal.

After winning the first round two weeks ago, Macron had been accused of behaving as if he was already president. On Sunday night, with victory finally sealed, he was much more solemn.

“I know the divisions in our nation, which have led some to vote for the extremes. I respect them,” Macron said in an address at his campaign headquarters, shown live on television.

“I know the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that very many of you have also expressed. It’s my responsibility to hear them,” he said.

“I will work to recreate the link between Europe and its peoples, between Europe and citizens.”

Later he strode alone almost grimly through the courtyard of the Louvre Palace in central Paris to the strains of the EU anthem, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, not breaking into a smile until he mounted the stage of his victory rally to the cheers of his partying supporters.

His immediate challenge will be to secure a majority in next month’s parliamentary election for a political movement that is barely a year old, rebranded as La Republique En Marche (“Onward the Republic”), in order to implement his program.

Outgoing president Francois Hollande, who brought Macron into politics, said the result “confirms that a very large majority of our fellow citizens wanted to unite around the values of the Republic and show their attachment to the European Union”.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, told Macron: “I am delighted that the ideas you defended of a strong and progressive Europe, which protects all its citizens, will be those that you will carry into your presidency.”

Macron spoke by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he hopes to revitalise the Franco-German axis at the heart of the EU, saying he planned to visit Berlin shortly.

Trump tweeted his congratulations on Macron’s “big win”, saying he looked forward to working with him. Chinese President Xi Jinping said China was willing to help push Sino-French ties to a higher level, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Macron will become France’s youngest leader since Napoleon. A 39-year-old former investment banker, he served for two years as economy minister under Hollande but has never previously held elected office.

Le Pen, 48, said she had also offered her congratulations. But she defiantly claimed the mantle of France’s main opposition in calling on “all patriots to join us” in constituting a “new political force”.

Her tally was almost double the score that her father Jean-Marie, the last far-right candidate to make the presidential runoff, achieved in 2002, when he was trounced by the conservative Jacques Chirac.

Her high-spending, anti-globalisation “France-first” policies may have unnerved financial markets but they appealed to many poorer members of society against a background of high unemployment, social tensions and security concerns.

Despite having served briefly in Hollande’s deeply unpopular Socialist government, Macron managed to portray himself as the man to revive France’s fortunes by recasting a political landscape moulded by the left-right divisions of the past century.

Macron was due to attend a ceremony marking the Western allies’ World War Two victory in Europe on Monday. The ceremony in Paris marks the 72nd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.

Macron’s team successfully skirted several attempts to derail his campaign – by hacking its communications and distributing purportedly leaked documents – that were reminiscent of the hacking of Democratic Party communications during Hillary Clinton’s US election campaign.

Allegations by Macron’s camp that a massive computer hack had compromised emails added last-minute drama on Friday night, just as official campaigning was ending.

While Macron sees France’s way forward in boosting the competitiveness of an open economy, Le Pen wanted to shield French workers by closing borders, quitting the EU’s common currency, the euro, radically loosening the bloc and scrapping trade deals.

Macron will become the eighth – and youngest – president of France’s Fifth Republic when he moves into the Elysee Palace after his inauguration next weekend.