Civil servants given ‘BBQ conversation’ talking points for Armidale relocation

Civil servants at the nation’s chemical regulator have been sent a series of glib “BBQ conversation” talking points to use when discussing the agency’s relocation to Northern NSW with friends and family.

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The government announced last year the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) would move from Canberra to Armidale in 2019.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has championed the $25 million relocation, saying it would help decentralise metropolitan-based government agencies and boost jobs in the country.

But the authority has struggled to get staff onboard, with a relocation strategy published in November last year suggesting only 10-15 per cent of staff would move to the new hub. 

A senate estimates hearing heard in February that 20 out of 100 scientists have already left the agency.

Now, employees have been given official talking points to use in social settings when discussing the relocation.

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“My friends have asked me many questions about the relocation since the announcement was made last year, and I’m sure this is a similar experience for everyone in our agency,” chief operating officer Stefanie Janiec wrote in the email dated April 7.

“These talking points have been crafted to help you with something we all refer to as the BBQ conversation.”

She continued: “Easter is just around the corner and I’m sure there are many BBQ opportunities where you can use these points to practice and build confidence talking about our relocation.”

Under a section “scripts and standard words”, a series of bullet points offer conversation suggestions to use for “all audiences”.

One piece of BBQ banter includes: “It’s no secret that the agency is changing – and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”

The talking points, which were first reported by the Canberra Times but have been seen by SBS News, also offer scripted lines for staff who are unsure if they’re relocating or staying put.

Employees unsure if they will make the move are advised to say, “I’m listening to what our executive have to say about the transition, but for the moment I’m getting on with the job.”

Call centre staff were also provided with talking points to help them inform and placate callers with enquiries.

APVMA chief executive Kareena Arthy sent an email to staff on Wednesday following the publication of the talking points. She said they were “more of a guide and not compulsory.”

“This is standard internal communication practice for organisations,” she said.

“This is just one of the ways ways the APVMA is keeping staff in the loop about changes and developments as the agency prepares for the relocation to Armidale by 2019.”

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New push to move more agencies to regions

The Turnbull government has launched a new push for government departments to move to the regions, with ministers to report back by August on which agencies would be suitable.

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As the controversial decision to relocate the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s electorate continues to create headlines, Fiona Nash has revealed more moves are in the coalition’s sights.

The regional development minister will by mid-year develop a template for ministers to assess which other public servants could also be relocated.

“All portfolio ministers will be required to report back to cabinet by August on which of their departments, functions or entities are suitable,” she told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

Business cases would have to follow by December.

The minister said there would be cost-benefit analyses conducted for all agencies involved, but she was hesitant to say whether the findings would be made public.

“My expectation is that it would be, but clearly that’s not a decision just for me,” she said.

Senator Nash insists moving government bodies to the regions means more people in regional towns, shops and more volunteers for the local fire brigade.

It is also a smart tactic in the housing affordability battle as it relieves pressure on capital cities and creates the lure of quality careers in the country, she said.

Asked what the government could do to ensure agency relocations weren’t dismantled by a future government, Senator Nash said she was hoping for a level of bipartisan support.

“We are not talking about doing radical things. We are talking about making sensible and balanced decisions about investing in regional Australia and decentralisation being part of that,” she said.

“I would hope all good and sensible colleagues in other parties would have that same view as well.”

The deputy Nationals leader also outlined how the government was working with business to discuss ways of encouraging companies to relocate.

Last week she talked to business groups about corporate decentralisation.

Ideas raised during the meeting included mapping out regional populations and what services are available to help employers find areas they could relocate to.

Salt makes you hungry not thirsty: study

Salt actually makes you hungrier not thirstier, according to a new study.

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German researchers at the Max Delburck Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) studied two separate groups of 10 men during a simulation of a trip to Mars at the German Aerospace Center.

Over 200 days the “Cosmonauts” were given identical diets except for their salt intake.

Results of the investigations published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that a salty diet actually caused the men on the high salt diets to drink less.

The men who ate more salt, retained more water, weren’t as thirsty and needed more energy, according to the findings.

Scientists have known that increasing a person’s salt intake stimulates the production of urine and it has been assumed that the extra fluid comes from drinking more because they were thirsty.

But it now appears that salt triggers a mechanism in the kidney that causes the kidneys to hold onto water and produce urea – a process which consumes energy, causing hunger not thirst.

“Nature has apparently found a way to conserve water that would otherwise be carried away into the urine by salt,” said Professor Freidrich Luft from the MDC.

Studies in mice have previously hinted that the production of urea was responsible for this increased appetite, Prof Luft added.

Urea is a compound and is the end product of protein metabolism. It is formed in the liver and excreted by the kidneys in the urine.

It is generally thought of as a waste product but Prof Luft said that’s wrong.

“Instead it turns out to be a very important osmolyte, a compound that binds to water and helps transport it,” said Prof Luft.

“Its function is to keep water in when out bodies get rid of salt.”

British PM to meet London fire survivors at Downing St amid protests

May, who has faced criticism of her response to the tragedy in which at least 30 people died, will meet victims, volunteers and community leaders, a Downing Street spokesman said.

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“The prime minister is this morning chairing a cross-government meeting to ensure everything possible is being done to support those affected by the Grenfell tragedy,” the spokesman said.

“Afterwards, she will meet a group of residents, victims, volunteers and community leaders in Number 10.”

Queen Elizabeth II said Saturday that Britain had been plunged into a sombre mood after the deadly London tower block inferno, as public anger swelled and dozens were still reported missing.

Furious residents heckled Prime Minister May and stormed the local authority headquarters on Friday, demanding justice for the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster which left at least 30 people dead.

There were angry scenes at the offices of the Kensington and Chelsea council, which was responsible for managing the 1970s social housing block in a working-class enclave of one of Britain’s richest areas.

“It was a death trap and they knew it,” one person shouted as demonstrators stormed inside the offices.

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Some 19 patients are still being treated in hospital, of whom 10 are in a critical condition, the National Health Service said Saturday. The emergency services expect to find no more survivors.

More than 70 people reportedly remain unaccounted for and the area surrounding the tower has been plastered by distraught relatives with pictures of the missing, from grandparents to young children.

Resolve in adversity 

Queen Elizabeth and her grandson Prince William visited a community centre Friday where some of the survivors are being housed, and where volunteers have been inundated with donations of clothes and food.

The head of state said a saddened country was showing resolve in the face of adversity and a determination to rebuild wrecked lives.

She stood for a minute’s silence at the start of her birthday parade on Saturday.

“It is difficult to escape a very sombre national mood,” she said in a message marking the event.

“In recent months, the country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies,” the monarch said, referring to the fire and the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.

“I have been profoundly struck by the immediate inclination of people throughout the country to offer comfort and support to those in desperate need.

“United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favour, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss.”

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Anger at May 

But besides the drive to help survivors, the sense of anger was palpable on the streets.

May was criticised for avoiding locals when she visited the burnt-out shell of the 24-storey tower on Thursday and faced cries of “Shame on you” and “coward” when she returned the following day.

Dozens of police officers held back booing crowds and broke up scuffles as her car drove off from a local church, where she had met survivors, residents and volunteers.

In a television interview, she sidestepped questions over whether she had misread the public mood.

Protesters marched to the edge of the police cordon around the tower, shouting “no justice, no peace”, where a few young men tried unsuccessfully to break through.

Another demonstration took place outside May’s Downing Street office, while hundreds of mourners later gathered near the tower for a candlelight vigil.

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May has announced a judge-led inquiry into what happened, and on Friday promised £5 million ($6.4 million, 5.7 million euros) for emergency supplies, food and clothing. 

First Secretary of State Damian Green, May’s deputy, said the prime minister was “distraught” and shared “the same degree of sympathy and horror” as everyone else.

He told BBC radio that the inquiry would have interim reports and “we want the response to be as fast as possible”.

Green said the government would pay for residents’ legal representation at the inquiry and reiterated May’s promise to rehouse those displaced by the fire within three weeks as close as possible to home.

Protesters stand in the lobby of Kensington town hall in west London, the headquarters of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (AAP)AAP

Desperate survival attempts 

There are questions about why the block was not fitted with sprinklers or a central smoke alarm, and whether a recent refurbishment, including new external cladding, helped fuel the flames.

The fire forced residents to flee through black smoke down the single stairwell, jump out of windows or even drop their children from the 120-apartment building.

One of the victims was Mohammed Alhajali, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee who came to Britain in 2014 with his brother and was studying civil engineering.

A second victim named Friday was Khadija Saye, a 24-year-old photographer who had exhibited at the Venice Biennale.

Seven Moroccans are among the dead, the north African country’s foreign affairs ministry said.

Police have said the recovery process could take weeks, and warned some of the bodies may be too burned to be identified.

Pope Francis sent a message of “heartfelt condolences”, in which he invoked God’s blessings of “strength and peace” on the local community.

Syrian refugee victim

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Gatland ramps up rugby niggle as Lions win

The All Blacks and British and Irish Lions have both officially shown their hands, securing clinical victories within 24 hours as they gear up for next Saturday’s blockbuster first Test at Eden Park.

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Following on from the All Blacks’ 78-0 demolition of Samoa, the Lions turned the second-half screws on Saturday to down the Maori All Blacks 32-10.

Holding a slender 15-10 lead early in the second half, the Lions were handed a major shot in the arm through the controversial sin-binning of Maori halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow – who hit a slipping Leigh Halfpenny high with his shoulder.

Down a man, the Maori struggled to compete with the Lions’ set-piece and were 29-10 behind when Kerr-Barlow returned to the field 10 minutes later.

The Lions surprised no one with their tactics for the Rotorua encounter, sticking to the brawny “Warrenball” style that served them so well against the Crusaders – even allowing for an improved performance from Johnny Sexton.

The unerring Halfpenny put away six penalty goals, with a penalty try and a Maro Itoje close-range effort during Kerr-Barlow’s absence enough for victory.

Coach Warren Gatland labelled the match another step in the right direction for Saturday’s opening Kiwi Test – and took his first shot in anger at All Blacks boss Steve Hansen, labelling him “worried” about the Lions’ potential.

Hansen spent part of his side’s build-up to the Samoa clash goading Gatland on his side’s ‘dull’ style and correctly predicting he’d bring in new players.

Welshmen Cory Hill, Kristian Dacey, Gareth Davis and Tomas Francis joined the side on Saturday. Scots Allan Dell and Finn Russell will link up with the team on Sunday in Hamilton – all to play as reserves in mid-week matches.

“Normally, he’s pretty calm and stuff – he’s been doing a lot of press conferences in the last couple of weeks, (and) I can only take that as a sign of respect in that, potentially, he’s a little bit worried,” Gatland told reporters.

“Some of the stuff people have been saying puts a bit of a dampener on the tour – but that’s professional sport now – you’ve got to live with that.

“It’s not anything that’s been worrying for us (and) all I’ve taken from it is, you know, maybe he’s a little more worried than he normally is.”

Regardless of Gatland’s fighting talk, Hansen would have seen nothing unexpected from the Lions, who outmuscled the Maori at the set-piece and kicked strategically via five-eighth Sexton and Conor Murray at the base of the ruck.

The Maori ran the ball with less abandon than expected and couldn’t get their attack going, bar a breakaway try for Liam Messam.

Gatland scoffed at suggestions his side were divided on Test and non-Test grounds, insisting they were as united as ever.

They move on to Hamilton to play the Chiefs on Tuesday, with a squad made up mostly of players who will skip the All Blacks game.

“I look back at 2013 and we made, between the first and third Tests, nine different selections, so the players who – for whatever reason – may not be involved in the first Test, they have to stay alive – they have to stay in it,” Gatland said.

Tiger wins battle, Swans claim AFL war

Alex Rance took the honours in his much-anticipated battle with Lance Franklin but Sydney won the war at the MCG.

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The Swans came from 36 points down in the second quarter to break Richmond’s hearts with a stunning 12.8 (80) to 10.11 (71) win on Saturday.

The tantalising match-up between the two superstars delivered as promised after a week of hype, with Rance keeping Franklin to one goal.

The Sydney forward had 16 possessions, took six marks and was involved in several heated scuffles with Rance, who gathered 21 disposals and took five marks.

“I thought Rance was outstanding … but Buddy certainly had some (good) periods,” Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said.

“It was interesting in that last quarter they moved him up the ground to get him into the game but Rance was having a significant impact at various stages.

“The fact of the matter is you can look at individual achievements or you can look at who won the four points – Sydney walk away happy and we walk away disappointed.”

For pure football theatre, the engrossing duel was hard to beat.

The pair went toe-to-toe after Franklin was reported for a high bump on Connor Menadue in the second quarter and they got into a push and shove in the third term as the Swans stormed back.

When Sydney kept coming in the last quarter, Rance stood tall time and again as he repelled repeated Swans forward forays.

“That’s the strength of him as a player – his ability to win one-on-ones and control the contest,” Hardwick said.

“When the game asked for someone to stand up I thought he did that pretty well.”

The loss was Richmond’s fourth this season by nine points or less and put them back into the pack of team’s jostling for a top-four finish.

“I think that’s what our side has to get used to,” Hardwick replied when asked if the close losses could become an issue in tight games in the back end of the season.

“We’re very competitive, we’ll keep games close but we’re not going to win games by 10 goals and we’re not going to lose games (hopefully) by 10 goals either.

“It’s always going to be an arm wrestle.

“You look at the Bulldogs last year and we’re probably similar. We’re probably under-sized up forward so we compete hard – that’s what’s going to win us games and that’s what’s going to keep it close in games as well.”

Port sink Brisbane by 40 points in AFL

Despite yet another AFL loss, Brisbane coach Chris Fagan feels the tide turning.

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The Lions were sunk by Port Adelaide by 40 points on Saturday and remain last on the ladder.

But Fagan senses a shift at Brisbane.

“It feels like the tide is turning,” the first-year head coach said after Port’s 18.13 (121) to 12.9 (81) win at Adelaide Oval.

“I have only been there for a short time but that is the feeling around. There’s a lot of belief around the young boys that they can see some blue sky at the end of it all.”

The Lions were plucky yet outclassed by Port, who took fourth spot on the ladder with the victory.

But Brisbane’s stoic effort – they could have crept within three goals midway through the last quarter – heartened their coach.

“We are on a growth pattern,” Fagan said.

“At this point of time last year, the team had suffered somewhere around seven or eight losses by more than 10 goals.

“At this point of time for us, it’s two. So they’re little things we look at.”

Dayne Zorko inspired the Lions with 32 disposals, a dozen tackles and two goals.

But Brisbane ultimately couldn’t counter Port’s upper-class – Ollie Wines was superb with two goals and 29 disposals, Chad Wingard kicked three majors.

Port’s Brad Ebert (24 disposals) and Sam Powell-Pepper (two goals, 16 touches) impressed but the Power lost winger Jared Polec to a hamstring injury in the last quarter.

“It looks like a pretty natural hamstring injury … if it is, he’ll miss two to three weeks. That is just the way it goes in footy,” Port coach Ken Hinkley said.

Hinkley was satisfied with the victory, noting Port weren’t in peak form.

“We found a way to win by 40 points against a side that has improved a fair bit,” he said.

“We are just in that patch where we are not quite at our absolute best.

“Sometimes that is opposition-driven, sometimes that is certainly us and at the moment we are just a tiny bit off sharp.”

Port started brightly, kicking the initial three goals of the game.

Yet they couldn’t shake the Lions, who were three points down late in the second quarter.

Port then went on a match-defining scoring burst, booting seven of the next nine goals but only landed knockout blows on Brisbane late in the game.

Sunshine Coast win Super Netball title

Sunshine Coast Lightning coach Noeline Taurua has hailed her defensive stars after a crushing victory over the Giants in the inaugural Super Netball grand final in Brisbane.

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The battle between the two new franchises saw the hosts recover from a quarter-time deficit to control the rest of the contest and run-out 65-48 victors in front of 8,999 fans.

Geva Mentor, Laura Langman and Karla Mostert were imperious in defence for the Lightning with the least-heralded of the international trio, Mostert, picking up a deserved MVP award.

Former Silver Ferns coach Taurua said the award was deserved for the “quiet achiever” who racked up three interceptions and two deflections.

“She’s always a Trojan, I always see in the fourth quarter she comes out to play and gets turnovers.

“This week I said to her can she do it a wee bit earlier. She’s got very good movement, really light on her feet. Like a springbok.”

The NSW outfit began better with Bec Bulley and Sam Poolman blocking the path to goal shooter Caitlin Bassett as the Giants established an early 8-3 lead before the Lightning restricted access to their shooter, Kristina Brice.

“We’d have liked to have settled a lot faster but we put a lot of pressure on to force the changes,” Taurua said.

“Previously its been very difficult to be able to contest the ball against (Brice).

“Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been working on that quietly. They did that beautifully and they forced turnovers. Credit also to (Lauras) Langman and Scherian who put pressure on the outside.

Giants skipper Jo Harden agreed the defensive pressure of the Lightning was key.

“They had a really good defensive game against us tonight – especially in the second quarter – and when they grasped that lead it was just too hard to get it back.

“They put pressure on us, me to shoot longer than I have been and more pressure on the ball into KB.

“That really told in the end. It’s about retaining composure and we didn’t do that well enough.”

The Lightning whittled the Giants’ lead down to 15-13 at the first break.

A10-3 scoring run in the second quarter then set up a five-point half-time advantage that never looked threatened.

In the second half, the Giants found it impossible to stop the feed through to Bassett (49 goals from 51 shots), with Stephanie Wood also providing 20 assists and scoring 17 from 21.

At the other end Brice managed 24 from 29 and Harten 20 from 25.

The lead was extended to 10 goals by three-quarter time and Sunshine Coast visibly relaxed as they romped to victory.

It’s the third straight year the Brisbane Entertainment Centre arena has witnessed a Queensland grand final triumph after the Firebirds’ back-to-back wins in the Trans-Tasman tournament.

Amir fit and plays in Champions Trophy final

A back spasm kept Amir out as Pakistan defeated hosts England brilliantly on Wednesday but Arthur is now pinning his hopes on a full-strength attack to contain India’s batsmen better than most other sides have managed so far.

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“If we can get amongst them with the new ball, we can expose the middle order that hasn’t batted much in this competition, so that’s pretty much our aim and focus,” the South African Arthur said on Saturday.

Arthur believes that the way his players recovered from a heavy defeat by India in the group stage with impressive victories over South Africa and England proves that it was merely “an aberration”.

“That was something we hadn’t prepared for,” he said.

“We knew how hard the guys had prepared. So what we’ve produced after that doesn’t come as any surprise because that’s how we trained, and that’s what we worked at.

“It was very disappointing to see that go wrong in the Indian game. But we’ve closed the chapter on that. We’re now moving forward. And the guys have played really well.”

With eight wins in the teams’ previous 10 World Cup and Champions Trophy meetings, India are firm favourites but Arthur has taken confidence from their defeat in the group stage by Sri Lanka.

“Sri Lanka batted exceptionally well there. They played fielders’ cricket. They took the game on. But we’ve got to look at our strengths, and our strength has been the fact that we’ve been able to take wickets consistently through the middle periods.

“We’ve got to play to our strengths, and our strength certainly is with the ball. I said it before the England game, if we put our “A” game together and do the basics well, we can beat anybody.”

As for the intense pressure that will surround the final, Arthur said he hoped his young players could draw on their experience of the Pakistan Super League.

“Exposure to high-pressure situations is what India have had above Pakistan,” he said.

“The PSL has been a very, very successful competition. So that exposes more and more young players to pressure situations, and I think the more we can expose our guys to those situations, the better results we get out on the ground.”

(Reporting by Steve Tongue; Editing by Ian Chadband)

Sailing – Generation ‘F’ sets sights on Youth America’s Cup

Among the crews in the 2017 Red Bull Youth America’s Cup in Bermuda, which culminates next week as eight teams battle for the title, one team found a novel way to boost sailing’s youth appeal.

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“Interested in dating one of the boys?” was splashed across the Austrian team’s sails. The advertising image, for a dating app, has been widely shared on social media in the high profile event for the world’s top 18-24-year old sailors.

“We’ve never had so many people watching us, helicopters following us and people cheering,” Heli Schulz, who is the sail trimmer for Austria’s Candidate Sailing Team, told Reuters.

Although this is the second youth event, it is the first time the sailors have raced the foiling AC45F catamarans which are used by America’s Cup sailors to train.

The boats can hit speeds of over 30 knots (56 km per hour) as they ‘fly’ on hydrofoils, a spectacle which is winning over television audiences and spectators but has heads shaking among sailing traditionalists.

However, the championship has already shown it can be a path to success. Winning the debut event in San Francisco in 2013 turbocharged the career of Peter Burling.

The 26-year-old is now the youngest helmsman in the America’s Cup for Emirates Team New Zealand, which is challenging defending champions Oracle Team USA.

“I see some incredible hooks evolving here for young people, this is the world of Formula One on the water. It’s really exciting,” said John Bertrand, who skippered Australia II to victory in the 1983 America’s Cup.

The introduction of foiling boats into the youth event has levelled the playing field between the national teams of varying experience ranging from near professional multi-hull sailors to those who stepped on a catamaran for the first time a year ago.

“We had no multi hull or foiling experience, it’s been a steep learning curve,” Bermudan skipper Mackenzie Cooper said.

Rapidly developing technology on the demanding foiling boats has also opened a door into the sport for athletes such as Bermudan bowman Philip Hagan, a swimmer who has competed internationally, and wing grinder and soccer player Mustafa Ingham.

“I don’t think they realised how emotionally intense it is, I don’t know any other sport where you’re so dependent on the actions of others and moving on a platform that is potentially deadly,” said Laura Cutler, Bermuda’s team manager.

The sport still has some way to go in other areas.

Britain’s Annabel Vose is the only woman racing in the competition and is doing strategy for her team.

Female participation on high performance multi-hulls has previously been curtailed by a high weight limit and the physical demands, but a lower weight limit in this competition helped Vose to get on board.

“I think we would struggle to get there without a lighter person,” British skipper and bowman Rob Bunce said.

(Editing by Alexander Smith and Ed Osmond)

Rugby – South Africa overpower France to clinch series

Jan Serfontein, Siya Kolisi, Coenie Oosthuizen and Elton Jantjies scored tries for South Africa and Jantjies added 17 points with the boot.

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Scott Spedding and debutant Damian Penaud went over for the French.

The Springbok forwards laid the platform for success as they edged the French in a bruising battle, dominating the breakdowns and proving tenacious in defence.

South Africa, who lost eight of 12 internationals in 2016 in the worst year in their history, were 37-14 winners in Pretoria last week in the first test and have a 2-0 lead going into the last game of the French tour at Ellis Park in Johannesburg next Saturday.

Jantjies got his first test try after Kolisi set him up with a break in the closing stages but it was in the last 20 minutes of the first half that the home side found their stride as they dominated the breakdown and established a 23-7 interval lead.

France were ahead after just three minutes as South African-born Spedding scored in the corner but Serfontein and Kolisi dotted down for the Boks before the break.

Kolisi’s try was a moment of magic. A punt up field was fielded by Francois Trinh Duc but he was caught by Serfontein and popped the ball up in the tackle for the rampaging Bok flanker to grab it millimetres off the ground and sprint from outside the 22 to dive over behind the posts.

Jantjies’ boot also punished French forward infringements to give the Boks a handy lead but they had to defend ferociously for the first 15 minutes of the second half to hold out the visitors’ efforts to get back into the game.

“We managed to hold them out at that stage which was very important. We are extremely excited with our improvement,” South Africa captain Warren Whiteley told a news conference.

A raft of substitutions with 15 minutes ago allowed fresh attacks from South Africa with prop Oosthuizen bursting through for their third try, only for Penaud to evade several tackles straight from the resultant kickoff and touch down for France.

Kolisi, who had won several turnovers and showed sharp handling skills a day after his 26th birthday, created an exciting finale for the 41,000-strong crowd with a break to set up Jantjies and put the seal on a convincing home performance.

“Things are really falling into place but we haven’t achieved anything yet. If we continue building like this we’ll definitely be a force to be reckoned with again,” South Africa coach Allister Coetzee said.

(Editing by Ian Chadband and Ed Osmond)

New Commissioner brings hope to Victoria’s African communities

Standing alongside the Victorian Multicultural Affairs Minister Robin Scott, Sisay Dinku shakes hands and greets the dignitaries like old friends.

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It’s the launch of a new state government initiative and a truck offering members of the public a virtual reality experience of the life of a new migrant takes centre stage.

VMC members and state government officials experience virtual realitySBS

It’s one of Mr Dinku’s first official functions as a Victorian Multicultural Commissioner, but the Ethiopian born migrant has long been an advocate for the state’s various African communities.

Chair of the Victorian Multicultural Commission Helen Kapalos said Mr Dinku’s appointment forges an essential link with the communities.

“It’s an important community, they do need our help. That community’s intelligence and seeing that leadership back in the community is an incredibly potent symbol for them.”

And it couldn’t come at a more important time, with the state’s African communities – in particular the Sudanese-born communities – experiencing unprecedented levels of negative media attention.

Sisay Dinku (centre) greets state government officialsSBS

The 2015 census shows Sudanese-born citizens make up just 0.11 percent of Victoria’s population.

But Victorian Crime Statistics report the group is over-represented in its data – accounting for 5.65 per cent of car thefts, 7.44 per cent of  home invasions, and 13.9 per cent of aggravated robberies.

Sisay Dinku said more support is needed for integration and settlement programs.

“There’s a lack of understanding, a lack of awareness of the rule of law, especially with young kids engaging with the justice system. But in terms of the majority of African communities, they are law abiding.”

He said addressing negative perceptions of African-Australians is a major first step in his battle to promote social cohesion.

Sisay Dinku among AFL Multicultural CommissionersSupplied

Chairman of the African Think Tank, Dr Berhan Ahmed, said a lot of misconception about Australia’s African-born communities comes down to cultural differences.

“We come from a communal society. And as a communal society we go as friends and brothers, in groups. In a western system, going in groups is gangs. Yes crime is crime, and I’m not saying crime is not bad but to label them that way is to fail them.”

Sisay Dinku sees his role as not just a conduit for the community, but to also come up with new ways to promote social cohesion with the wider Australian community.

Mr Dinku said a whole of community approach is the best way to achieve integration.

“Not only focusing on African communities working across the spectrum of all society, between African communities, between Vietnamese communities, between Chinese community.”

Sisay Dinku (far right) with Victoria PoliceSupplied

As part of his role, Mr Dinku will be representing the interests of these communities to the government.

But Dr Berhan Ahmed said the commissioner’s appointment also provides youth in the African-born communities a role model.

“This is a step in the right direction, that our kids will be inspired to dream big and see that the future is brighter because they can get into parliament, they can get in to government.”

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Cosby jury deliberations now longer than trial

Since Thursday morning, when the jurors told Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven O’Neill they were having trouble reaching agreement, they have spent nearly 24 hours either discussing the case in a conference room or re-hearing trial testimony in the courtroom.

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All told, the deliberations, which began on Monday, have lasted approximately 52 hours – longer than the trial testimony.

Cosby’s lawyers have repeatedly urged O’Neill to declare a mistrial, given the length of the jury’s debate, but the judge said on Friday he could not intervene without a fresh signal that jurors remained deadlocked on the three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

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Cosby, 79, once one of the country’s most beloved entertainers, is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home near Philadelphia in 2004. About 60 women have made similar allegations, although only Constand’s is recent enough to sustain a criminal prosecution.

Cosby has denied all of the accusations, which have shattered the reputation he built as “America’s dad” while starring in the 1980s hit TV series “The Cosby Show.” He has said the encounter with Constand was consensual.

O’Neill and Cosby’s lead lawyer, Brian McMonagle, clashed on Friday, with the defense attorney complaining that the jury was essentially getting a replay of the entire trial. But the judge said he would allow the jury to work toward a verdict as long as it wanted.

O’Neill also appeared to take issue with comments that Cosby’s spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, made to the media on Thursday night, when he said the judge should end the trial and send the jurors home for good. McMonagle has said Wyatt was not speaking at his direction.

If the jury cannot break its impasse, the judge would have to declare a mistrial. In that case, prosecutors would have the option of seeking to retry Cosby before a new jury.

The jury has spent days reviewing large chunks of trial testimony, including both Cosby’s and Constand’s accounts of the night in question.

Cosby did not testify but his version of the encounter was shown to jurors in the form of a police interview he did in 2005, as well as sworn depositions he gave in 2005 and 2006 during Constand’s civil lawsuit.