Vice-Admiral David Johnston Photo: Alex Ellinghausen’s military operations chief has conceded Russia’s entry into the multi-sided civil war on the side of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad has “self-evidently” changed the situation on the ground, making the fight against Islamic State “increasingly complex”.
The n airforce has not flown a single mission over Syria since Russia began bombing targets in the war torn country a week ago, Vice-Admiral David Johnston says, but he has insisted strike missions are not on hold.
Russia has been accused by the US of propping up President Assad and targeting moderate rebels, including elements of the Free Syrian Army, but insists it is targeting Islamic State.
Defence Minister Marise Payne has left open the door to ‘s stepping up its contribution to the air strike campaign in Syria, while echoing US concerns over Russian air strikes.
Admiral Johnston conceded it was not clear that Russia’s engagement in the regional conflagration was complementary to the Western allies’ aim of degrading and destroying Islamic State, also known as Daesh.
But he said Coalition forces were “very confident” in the procedures that had been put in place to ensure the safety of pilots flying in the increasingly contested space.
“The Coalition has its own procedures in place to ensure the safety of flight over Syria, what has changed with the Russian presence of course is that there is another participant that is flying operations in Syria. We have to make sure that we preserve safety of flight and those arrangements have been put in place by the US while they go through dialogue and discussions with Russian authorities about how to best manage those outcomes,” he said.
Last week, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Fairfax Media that could consider stepping up its tempo of air strikes in Syria after the US vowed to “accelerate” the Western-led coalition’s efforts in the war-torn country.
And despite not having flown a mission over Syria since last week, Admiral Johnston said that “if there was a mission tonight to do so, we would do so”.
“Our tasking depends on the priorities of the day that come out of the air operations centre; there is no change in our availability to conduct air operations in Syria,” he said.
“We have not [flown a mission over Syria] but not because there is any restriction, tactically our focus has been elsewhere but there is no restraint.”
Admiral Johnston said RAAF aircraft loads have not changed since Russia entered the battle space and that “as always with military forces anywhere we have self-defence, but all our procedures are to ensure that we don’t find ourselves in that position”.
has now carried out two successful air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria, with one taking out an armoured personnel carrier and the other hitting a check point.
In total, has flown 434 strike missions over Iraq and Syria since October 2, 2014, when the mission began – with 209 of them being flow by Super Hornets and 225 flown by FA-18 Hornets. Nine of those 434 missions have been over Syria.
In addition, ‘s KC-30 refuelling aircraft has flown 411 missions, including five missions over Syria, and delivered 15 million kilograms of fuel while the Wedgetail surveillance aircraft has flown 142 missions, including 1 over Syria.
Admiral Johnston – who in August said n missions in Syria would not be a “game changer” – said was making a valuable contribution and that the Iraqi government, rather than Islamic State, now owned the operational initiative in that country.
“I said at the time it will provide flexibility to operational commanders…to move aircraft across a border that Daesh does not recognise itself,” he said.
“It is not a significant change for the air operations but it does bring significant latitude for a mission commander.”
Kim and Geoff Hunt. Photo: The Daily Advertiser Geoff and Kim Hunt with their children Phoebe (left), Mia and Fletcher Photo: Les Smith
Detective Senior Constable John Cosgrove and Detective Sergeant Darren Gunn carry evidence into the Wagga courthouse, including what is believed to have been a shotgun involved in the deaths of the Hunt family. Photo: Kieren L.Tilly
Geoff Hunt’s ‘it’s all my fault’ note revealed during Wagga Wagga inquestTown of Lockhart struggles over loss of “beautiful family”
Lorraine Bourke was waiting for the Hunt children to arrive home at the farm where their mother lay dead. Then someone told her the children had not been at school that day. “Deep down inside, I thought the worst that the kids were somewhere inside the house dead,” she has told a coroner.
Kim Hunt, 41, and her three children, Fletcher, 10, Mia, 8, and Phoebe, 6, were found shot dead at the farmstead. The body of Geoff Hunt, 44, and a shotgun were recovered from a nearby dam the day after that.
Ms Bourke appeared on Wednesday in the Coroner’s Court at Wagga Wagga, which has heard evidence that Geoff likely killed his family and himself.
A disability support worker, she was the last person to see the Hunt family alive. She noticed something about Geoff the night before she found Kim’s body.
“He was not responding, not answering questions,” she said. “There was no emotion on his face.”
Normally when his wife, Kim, criticised him he would reply: “That’s enough.” On the final night, he said nothing at all.
Ms Bourke had helped around the house on the family’s property, Watch Hill, near Lockhart in south-west NSW since Kim was in a car accident in 2012. But when Ms Bourke arrived at 3.30pm on September 8, she felt something was different.
“It was like you could cut the air with a knife,” she said. Kim’s car crash had left her with brain injuries that made her angry, frustrated and unable to control her moods. But on that day, Kim seemed especially angry at Geoff, Ms Bourke said. He had played golf on the weekend, leaving Kim to look after the kids.
Then there were the allegations he had cheated when umpiring on Sunday at an under-14s football game, in which his son Fletcher played.
Ms Bourke overheard Fletcher tell his mother he had been teased at school by other students saying “Geoff Hunt the c— ” and “Fletcher Hunt the c—“. Kim calmed her son and told him not to worry.
But she remained angry at Geoff throughout the night as she brought up financial concerns. The inquest heard on Monday the Hunt family farm was prosperous but Geoff worried about the demands of harvest time.
Ms Bourke asked Kim that night if she thought Geoff was depressed. Kim replied that she had “the shits” with him.
Geoff prepared the family’s meal, made the school lunches and watched Home and Away with the children. Kim said to Ms Bourke: “Look at him, lazy and not doing anything.”
When Ms Bourke left about 7.30pm, Geoff said to her: “Goodbye Lainie. Thanks, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The next day she returned to the farm where she found Kim’s body under Geoff’s blue work jackets and a shell casing nearby. “Straight away I thought to myself, ‘He’s shot her’,” Ms Bourke said.
She found inside an apparent suicide note from Geoff on a placemat his daughter Phoebe had made for him as a Father’s Day present. “I’m sorry, it’s all my fault, totally mine,” it said.
Ms Bourke described Kim as a “firecracker” who would do anything for her kids. She said Geoff was a private man who loved his family and never raised his voice.
“I can only assume that Geoff was under immense pressure in many aspects of his life, including living with Kim’s disability and her changed personality and may have simply just snapped.”
The inquest continues.
*Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732; Lifeline 131 114; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.
British tourist Zoe Woolmer died at Kings Canyon near Alice Springs in 2014. Photo: Facebook A guide poses next to a warning sign at Kings Canyon. Photo: Facebook
A former guide for the company that took British backpacker Zoe Woolmer to the Kings Canyon cliff where she died has told an inquest that a “tragedy like this was only a matter of time”.
Another former guide said that little or no safety training is provided for guides by many tour companies in central .
The 23-year-old tourist was on a guided excursion with The Rock Tour Company in June 2014 when her group was encouraged to climb down to a ledge and pose for a photo that would give the impression they were dangling from a cliff.
Ms Woolmer lost her balance and plunged 30 metres to her death minutes after the tour guide had demonstrated how to reach the hidden ledge at the Kestral Falls lookout “safely”, an inquest has heard.
On Wednesday, a former guide with The Rock Tour Company, Timothy Cooper told the coronial inquest in Alice Springs that the company provided training “at three or four different plant and rock formations on the Rim Walk”.
“There was no other training on that walk involved. No other safety training involved,” he said.
In an email Mr Cooper wrote to police shortly after the incident, he claimed the company was “unsafe and unprofessional” and that taking tourists down to the ledge at Kestrel Falls “was general practice”.
“I truly believed that a tragedy like this was only a matter of time,” Mr Cooper wrote in the email, which was quoted at inquest.
The Rock Tour company said Mr Cooper had left on negative terms.
Another guide, Timothy Hall, told the coroner that, in his opinion, safety training for many central n tour companies was minimal or non-existent.
He said that management at The Rock Tour Company instructed him to take photographs of tourists performing the stunt and post them to the company’s website and Facebook page.
“I was simply told that it was a requirement to bring a memory card [back from the tour] with these photos,” Mr Hall said.
He said he later decided not to take people to the ledge because it was too dangerous.
On Tuesday the inquest heard from witnesses who had seen Ms Woolmer fall and from the group’s tour guide, Rebecca Gethen.
Ms Gethen had been in the job for only six weeks and done four solo tours when the tragedy occurred.
She sobbed as she was questioned about why she had followed the company’s itinerary despite warnings at the location.
“I didn’t think,” she said. “I just wanted to get everything right that was in the itinerary and I wanted to do a good job.”
She said she didn’t see the moment that Ms Woolmer fell.
“There was a scream and it took me a moment to register what had happened. She wasn’t saying any words but she was groaning and moaning. She was looking up at me.”
Ms Woolmer suffered severe injuries, including skull fractures, bleeding to the brain, a broken back, a fractured pelvis and a fractured shoulder blade.
She was still alive when rangers reached her about 50 minutes after she fell, but she died soon afterwards.’
A recording of a phone conversation revealed John Lomax knew of allegations his CFMEU colleague was corrupt before they were made public. Photo: Jamila ToderasA covert tape recording showed high-profile ACT Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union organiser John Lomax knew of claims a former colleague, Halafihi “Fihi” Kivalu, was corrupt at least three months before they became public, the trade union royal commission was told on Wednesday.
It was one of a succession of phone intercepts, totalling more than 30 minutes of profanity-laden conversation between Mr Lomax, fellow CFMEU workers and builders and contractors, that dominated Wednesday’s hearings.
One recording called into question Mr Lomax’s claim he attended a Milin Builders’ site in Turner on April 21 only to respond to traffic management issues, not because the company had refused to sign an EBA.
Another indicated that the site visit, which involved up to five branch officials, had, contrary to union claims, been premeditated and was meant to disrupt a concrete pour.
Mr Lomax was also heard telling contractors that non-union workers would have to be removed from union-dominated projects and warning some contractors, but not others, of an imminent CFMEU crackdown on concreters in April and May.
Intercepts also revealed the union worked closely with contractors who had signed CFMEU EBAs to keep non-unionised companies, which undercut their mutually agreed rates, out of the commercial construction sector.
Mark Walker, a Canberra bricklaying contractor, texted Mr Lomax on April 8 asking “Hey mate, can you check out which grub of a bricklayer is doing the childcare building for cobul in gungahlin they will be laying bricks there next week”.
The two spoke on April 13 about GeoCon allegedly using non-CFMEU EBA bricklayers on one of its sites.
Mr Lomax told Mr Walker he would be giving the errant contractor a union enterprise agreement document. He said: “He told me he’s getting four dollars a block.”
Mr Walker said: “What a f—wit”.
Canberra CFMEU officials have repeatedly said they did not know of allegations against Kivalu until he admitted at commission hearings in July that he accepted inappropriate payments from builders, which led to him being charged with two counts of blackmail.
Cleaning company boss Adrian Maretta thanked Mr Lomax, a former Canberra Raiders star, for his help on a membership issue on April 10, saying if “Fihi” Kivalu had been on the case he “would have hit me up for f—in’ five grand by now”.
Mr Lomax said: “No. No, no, like, I’ll – I’ll – I’ll – I’m not interested in that bro.”
Under cross-examination by counsel assisting the commission Jeremy Stoljar, Mr Lomax said he had been “deeply shocked” by the corruption claim.
Mr Stoljar said: “Deeply shocked? You said you were not interested [in discussing the claim]. Where did you express surprise? Wasn’t it widely known Fihi was hitting people up for money?”
Mr Lomax said: “Not at all, but I had forgotten about it [the conversation]. I meant I’m not interested in taking money off the bugger [Mr Maretta].”
He did not report the claims about Mr Kivalu to his superiors at the time.
A later conversation was reported to the union management.
Mr Maretta said the non-union worker had been recruited off Gumtree to fill a vacancy that had come up by chance.
Mr Lomax said the worker needed to be a member of the CFMEU if he were to stay on the site.
An agreement was later reached for Mr Maretta to pay for “half a breakfast table”, possibly at a fundraiser for the union’s charitable trust, to put the issue to bed.
Mr Lomax said: “I’ve heard you say that you will donate so we’ll, I’ll keep you to that, all right?”
Mr Maretta said: “Hundred per cent. No dramas.”
Mr Lomax apologised to the commission’s stenographers for their exposure to the “foul language” in the recordings at the end of his testimony.
Commissioner Dyson Heydon said they had “heard worse”.
ACT CFMEU branch secretary Dean Hall is expected to take the stand when the hearing continues on Thursday.
Correction: An earlier version of this story named the wrong person whose phone calls were intercepted. They were between Mr Lomax, fellow CFMEU workers and builders and contractors.
The Caulfield Cup is still more than a week away but after having his first feel of Japanese raider Hokko Brave at Werribee quarantine centre on Tuesday morning, Craig Williams is confident he is on a horse capable of winning both the Caulfield and Melbourne cups.
After taking a few days to recover from his flight from Japan, Hokko Brave has had an easy time so far at Werribee, with Tuesday’s gallop being his first serious hit out since his arrival, and the horse’s connections made sure Williams was given an easy introduction to the eight-year-old.
“He’s just very fresh. They don’t think I can sit on him too well when they buck,” explained Williams who did not get onto Hokko Brave until after he had completed a warm-up lap. “I basically got the valet parking job today and just did the fast work.”
With connections keen to gallop over what they considered to be the best ground, Williams gave Hokko Brave a solid hit-out from the 400 metres, up the straight and around to the 1400m.
“I was slightly concerned initially when he pulled up from his work that he had a really good puff, but he recovered in less than two minutes and it just shows that they have put in the groundwork in Japan and here they just have him ticking over.”
Williams said he hoped to ride Hokko Brave again next week to gauge how much he had improved prior to the Caulfield Cup.
“I think it is extremely important for me to have a comparison of where he is going,” he said.
“I’m extremely happy with where he is now, but I expect him to be on an upward spiral from today. “
The Japanese horses have proven hard to beat whenever they have journeyed to Melbourne and Williams believes that both Hokko Brave and Fame Game compare very favourably to those that have come before them and raced with success.
“When you look at his form, both these horses have far better form than Delta Blues and Pop Rock when they quinellaed the Melbourne Cup.”
The jockey was also quick to defend his mount as the second string Japanese runner behind Fame Game, which is currently favourite for both cups, saying that the handicap conditions of both races will bring them together.
“Ratings tell you there are four ratings points between them but in handicaps that makes them even.”
Hokko Brave will carry 55.5 kilograms in the Caulfield Cup, getting 1.5kg from Fame Game, and Williams says with that weight Hokko Brave can win that race, get a penalty and still win the Melbourne Cup, whereas a Caulfield Cup win and penalty for Fame Game would put a Melbourne Cup victory beyond him.
“With Fame Game, if he won a Caulfield Cup and got penalised it is unlikely that he will win a Melbourne Cup – looking at the field that is lining up – with a penalty and carrying 58 and above to win a Melbourne Cup.”
Also at Werribee, Craig Newitt was reunited with Super One on whom he won three races during a riding stint in Singapore earlier this year.
“He feels just as good as when I last rode him in Singapore,” said Newitt, ahead of the unbeaten three-year-old’s local debut in the Apache Cat Classic at Cranbourne on Sunday.
In other international news, Coolmore announced on Tuesday that Order Of St George and Ol’ Man River would not be coming to , with only the trio of Bondi Beach, Kingfisher and Highland Reel joining the final shipment of imports set to arrive at the weekend.