Police search sand hills for Ronald Penn

SPECIALIST police and cadaver dogs will continue searching sand dunes for the remains of a Central Coast man believed to have been murdered nearly 20 years ago.

Ronald Penn, 61, was last seen at a Bateau Bay house on October 12, 1995 – the same day he was stopped by police at Charlestown regarding an apprehended violence order.

Two weeks later, Mr Penn’s white Mazda van was found burnt-out in bushland on Berkeley Road, Berkeley Vale.

Strike Force Rankmore detectives recently received information suggesting three men may have been in the near vicinity of Mr Penn’s car shortly after it was set alight around 10pm.

Two of the men are described as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander appearance, while the third man is described as being of Caucasian appearance.

A police statement released on Wednesday said all three were seen leaving the scene of the burning Mazda van in a red Ford Laser hatchback.

Ronald Penn. Pic: NSW Police

Detectives have also been provided with information suggesting Mr Penn’s body may be buried on a sand-hill within the Tuggerah Lakes area.

Detectives, along with the assistance of specialist police and a cadaver dog, commenced a search of local sand-hills on Tuesday.

The dig will continue on Wednesday.

“We are absolutely committed to solving this case and putting those responsible for Mr Penn’s death behind bars,” Tuggerah Lakes crime manager Detective Inspector Dave Waddell said.

“Mr Penn’s family and friends have suffered for far too long; they need to know what happened to Ron.

“The information and support we have received from members of the community has been invaluable, and we are very grateful for the help they have provided.

“If there is anyone else out there who can assist detectives, please do get in touch.

“We don’t need to know who you are; all we need is the information you have to hand. You can contact Crime Stoppers anonymously and your call will be treated in the strictest of confidence.”

Investigations have revealed Mr Penn had his clothes and personal belongings with him when he vanished.

None of his bank accounts have been accessed and his driver’s licence has not been renewed since he went missing.


Closing the gap 150 indigenous programs consolidated to cut waste

The government plans to save $500 million over five years by consolidating more than 150 indigenous programs into a five-pronged strategy to be run out of the Prime Minister’s Department.

Despite repeatedly promising to maintain funding levels before the election, it now insists it can achieve the savings by eliminating the waste and duplication highlighted in the National Commission of Audit report.

Treasurer Joe Hockey maintains the savings can be achieved without compromising the goal of closing the gap, citing the Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s “heartfelt” commitment to tackling disadvantage. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann claims the scope to tackle waste and duplication exists across all service-delivery departments.

But the savings will be attacked as another broken promise by Labor after Mr Abbott repeatedly insisted funding levels would be maintained and the Coalition’s election policy document said: “The Coalition will continue the current level of funding expended on Closing the Gap activities.”

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said $4.8 billion would be spent on the streamlined programs of jobs, land and the economy, children and schooling, safety and wellbeing, culture and capability and remote Australia strategies.

“The five new indigenous programs will make it easier for organisations delivering services on the ground,” Senator Scullion said.

He said the Stronger Futures policy developed by the former government would be revised “with the Northern Territory Government to place greater emphasis on results, rather than process”.

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Indonesia’s oldest political rivals to propel Joko Widodo to presidency

Jakarta: Indonesia’soldest political enemies are edging towards joining forces to propel popular Jakarta governor Joko Widodo to the presidency.

Golkar, the party of strongman Suharto is talking with the party which grew out of the Suharto-era opposition, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), with a view to supporting Mr Joko as president and his agenda in parliament.

Though nothing is yet signed, the candidates for the two parties, Mr Joko (known as Jokowi) for PDI-P and businessman Aburizal Bakrie for Golkar, appeared together late on Tuesday at a traditional market in Jakarta to announce their “cooperation”.

“This a further step towards forming a coalition. If we think we match, I’ll talk to PDI-P chairwoman Megawati [Sukarnoputri] and Jokowi,” Mr Bakrie said.

Mr Joko said the two nationalist, secularist parties had much in common, but added a strong rider to maintain his image as a cleanskin in a country rank with money politics and dealmaking.

“We want to keep the co-operation pure, so we won’t talk about [giving out posts such as] vice-president or ministers,” he said.

Mr Joko has not announced a running mate despite fevered speculation leading up to the nomination deadline on Monday.

A coalition would align the two parties which won most votes in the parliamentary election, and form the backbone of a potential majority in the lower house, or DPR.

If it comes to be, particularly on Mr Joko’s terms, the coalition would signal that Golkar has given up entirely on getting the desperately unpopular Mr Bakrie elected as president against him.

It would also be another sign that Golkar is the ultimate pragmatist that will do almost anything to stay on the government benches.

The announcement made it clear that Golkar’s earlier coalition talks with Mr Joko’s presidential rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, have come to nothing.

The potential deal is extraordinary even in Indonesia’s byzantine political scene.

Golkar was formed under Suharto’s New Order in 1971 to contest sham elections that gave a patina of electoral legitimacy to his rule. Real opposition was eliminated and Suharto’s party won crushing parliamentary majorities at each of the six elections it contested.

PDI-P grew out of the tame, state-sanctioned opposition, the Indonesian Democratic Party, or PDI, which was so dysfunctional that in 1977 Suharto was forced to appoint his home affairs minister to run its party congresses.

The party was reinvigorated and added the word “Struggle” to its name in 1998 under the leadership of Ms Megawati,  the daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno. Stronger opposition was part of the impetus for the collapse of the New Order regime in 1998 and Ms Megawati led her party to near victory in the post-New Order election in 1999.

Golkar’s deputy secretary general, Tantowi Yahya, said if a deal was signed it would be the first time in government that the two parties had formed a coalition.

Mr Joko is the runaway favourite to win the election. But, like his opponent, Mr Prabowo, he is busy talking to the other parties in Indonesia’s 10-party parliament to try to form a workable majority for the five-year term that starts in October.

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Responsibility was mine, says Garrett

Peter Garrett arrives for his grilling in Brisbane at the royal commission into deaths from the home insulation program. Photo: Glenn HuntFormer environment minister Peter Garrett has taken responsibility for the Labor government’s failed insulation scheme, but revealed prime minister Kevin Rudd refused to approve a change to the installation system just weeks before the first installer died.

Mr Garrett told of Mr Rudd’s involvement via a statement given to the Royal Commission into Home Insulation Program (HIP), which is sitting in Brisbane.

On Tuesday Mr Garrett, the former front man for the band Midnight Oil, became the highest profile minister to appear before the inquiry, which is due to hear evidence from Mr Rudd on Wednesday.

In his statement, Mr Garrett said: ”I was responsible for the rollout for the HIP and bore ultimate responsibility for its implementation.”

He also revealed that he had tried to introduce a requirement for two quotes for insulation jobs because he ”felt there was a need for a rigorous process that ensured value for money”.

But he said his requirement for two quotes was removed from the initial roll-out in phase two after advice from the department.

Then on August 27, 2009, he said he sought the prime minister’s approval to make the change, but Mr Rudd did not approve the request.

Four installers died during the program – the first, Matthew Fuller, was electrocuted on October 14, 2009, less than four months after the main program started. The following month 16-year-old Rueben Barnes was electrocuted.

Mr Garrett confirmed he received a ministerial briefing three weeks before Mr Fuller’s death, warning that ”concern about new entrants to the market were not meeting skills competencies and overcharging”.

He also blamed public servants and ministerial advisers for not providing information to him about safety issues.

Giving evidence as to why he had not seen a key risk assessment raising installer safety concerns, Mr Garrett said it would be a matter for his department and advisers to ”highlight” for him if they determined it necessary.

”In the ordinary course of the role of a minister I would have to seek to see it if I’m advised about it … but in the normal practice or necessity I wouldn’t ask to see it,” he said.

He reiterated this in his statement to the inquiry, saying at no time were the risks of death or serious injury communicated to him via briefings from the department.

Mr Garrett confirmed that as a consequence of Mr Fuller’s death he became distrustful of the department’s advice, including its recommendation not to ban foil insulation.

Mr Garrett said, in hindsight, he would have recommended the scrapping of the program after the death of the scheme’s first victim in October, 2009.

He said he suggested mandatory training for all installers in the wake of Mr Fuller’s death.

However, a briefing from his department, titled ”Mandatory Training for all Installers”, advised Mr Garrett against the move.

The department advised Mr Garrett that a workforce of 19,000 installers could not be trained in such a short period of time.

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The Voice recap: Joel Madden ramps up the rivalry with Kylie Minogue

Growing rivalry … coaches Joel Madden and Kylie Minogue (from left) fought hard to add singers to their teams as Ricky Martin and will.i.am danced along this week. Photo: The Voice Powerful and soulful … Thando Sikwila during her blind audition. She chose Kylie Minogue. Photo: The Voice

Like its rival reality show, the Federal Budget, The Voice is a terrifying glimpse of our nation’s future. Unlike the Federal Budget, tonight’s episode sees the rivalry between Joel Madden and Kylie Minogue come to a head. Although I wasn’t watching the Budget, so it’s possible that happened there too.

But first we have to meet two women from Perth who call themselves Divalicious and say things that don’t instill confidence like: “We have the same warped sense of humour.”

Divalicious sing The Flower Duet, which confuses the judges, who think they are listening to a car commercial. None of them turn their chairs around but everyone has a lot of fun and that’s the main thing. “You guys did a great job,” says Joel in defiance of all the evidence. Back they go to Perth, to have warped senses of humour and laugh like hyenas over wine.

Up steps John, son of Gordon, who hopes to one day be a full-time musician, but is appearing on The Voice anyway. He is playing a ukulele, which is just adorable. Will.i.am plays his air ukulele. I think. (Unless he’s actually … no, I think it’s supposed to be a ukulele.)

Anyway John sings that song Riptide that you’ve heard somewhere and he sounds radio friendly and plays well. Eventually Will and Joel and Kylie spin around. Will informs John that his voice he has that “special thing”, which I am pretty sure is sexual harassment.

Speaking of which, Kylie is next to speak to John, asking him about his ukulele in a way that makes you wonder if she is talking about the instrument or something else. Will and Joel and Kylie begin fighting over John, but John’s dad told him to go with his gut, and his gut says Kylie. Although again, when he says “gut” I wonder whether he means “ukulele”.

Next is Tasha, pronounced “Tarsha”, who is willing to set aside the excitement and wonder of working in a clothes shop to pursue her dream of becoming rapidly anonymous after this season of The Voice ends.

She sings Ho Hey confidently. Kylie starts dancing, but she still hasn’t hit her button so she can’t be enjoying it that much.

Then Will hits his button, and then EVERYONE hits their buttons because this is apparently just a weird game of chicken to these people.

Joel says he waits for a moment in each song to “knock him over”, and claims that Tasha achieved this, but suspiciously fails to specify which moment it was. Ricky says he wants to know more about Tasha, because someone just told him this episode is running a little bit short.

Joel says he’s going to take very good care of Tasha, which coming from Joel … well we can all tell what he means. She picks Will, because he’s been licking his lips the least this whole time.

Next is Peter, who is from Adelaide, where the hairbrush has yet to be invented. Only apparently he’s not next, it’s a girl called Thando. Did I fall asleep for a bit there? We just met Peter and then he was gone.

Thando starts singing and the judges are all bopping away in their chairs to prove that, in fact, they understand the concept of music and are aware that it is what they are currently listening to.

Joel stands up and claps but doesn’t turn. Kylie turns, though, which Ricky finds hilarious.

Finally Joel does turn and the crowd goes moderately wild. Joel and Kylie are locked in a fierce battle for Thando’s charms, but she chooses Kylie, opting for strength in sisterhood.

There is now a brief interlude for Joel and Kylie to gallantly pretend that their rivalry is real and that they care about any of this. “I’m going to crush her,” says Joel, in the voice of a man selecting a new brand of muesli. They then do a sort of improvised comedy skit where Kylie puts on a weird voice and everyone watching just shrugs. I don’t think Kylie even knows what this show is about.

On with the auditions, and Annabelle has an emotional backstory so she’ll probably win the whole thing. But is her voice conventional enough to drive the judges wild? It sure is! Or maybe not. Ricky is either lost in the beauty of the music or has a muscle spasm in his neck.

Kylie keeps thumping her knee, believing it’s the button and wondering why her chair won’t turn around. Eventually it comes down to Kylie and Joel, who have to fake a bit more rivalry, which is hard because they are very close to falling asleep. “You would fit perfectly on my team,” says Joel. It’s a tense moment, but eventually Annabelle chooses Joel.

Time for another interlude where the judges sit in a bit white space and talk some MORE about the Joel-Kylie rivalry. It still doesn’t sound like very much of a thing.

Here is Andrew, who sings Coldplay’s Yellow, wanting to give a fresh, limp spin on Chris Martin’s greatest hit. “Girl or a guy?” Kylie asks Will. The judges nod along with the song, in an extremely sarcastic manner given none of them turn around. “Stuffed it,” Andrew accurately says. “No no, far from stuffed it,” Kylie says soothingly but it is clear he fell short.

Next up is someone we can’t see, because The Voice is doing the thing where we get to know how the judges feel, by only hearing the singer and not seeing her.

Of course, we don’t know exactly how the judges feel, because we don’t have production staff constantly refilling our vodka flasks, but anyway we hear her sing and her voice is quite nice and then we see her and she looks fairly normal really. I feel a bit cheated – I was hoping she’d turn out to be just a head in a jar or something shocking.

The next contestant is Luna Envy, who describes her look as “a bit of everything thrown together” even though her look is actually a bit of Goth thrown together with Goth, and then some Goth put on top.

Also her name is Luna Envy, so you know. Strap yourselves in. “I don’t think my mum has ever been as proud of me as for me being in The Voice,” says Luna, proving either that her mother has terrible priorities, or that Luna has literally never done anything worthwhile. Luna sings My Immortal but doesn’t win over hearts or minds or judges.

At the end of the song the judges learn that Luna Envy’s name is Luna Envy, and congratulate themselves on an excellent decision in not pressing their buttons. “You’re a star,” Ricky says with cruel irony.

Joel and Kylie engage in a bit more awkward banter and then – oh it’s Peter! The guy with the hair who we saw before and then he didn’t sing.

For some reason we’re subjected to another introductory sequence in addition to the introductory sequence they played earlier in the show, but finally, they’re going to let him sing. Peter’s dad hasn’t come to see him sing, because he doesn’t like to fly. But since they live in Adelaide and would not have had to fly, he probably just doesn’t like listening to his son sing.

Peter begins to sing and Kylie pulls a face. It’s that face people sometimes pull when they hear a guy sing really badly. He’s singing Sweet Disposition, which is a bit funny when you think about it. After a shaky start in falsetto, Peter opens up with his chest voice and starts nailing the notes. Kylie stands up and waves her hands and then thinks better of it and sits down again, ashamed of her exhibitionist streak.

Then Ricky hits his button and Joel hits his button and Kylie hits her button and everything is just going crazy out there, it’s an Escape To Victory-style comeback story as he chooses Ricky as his coach and gives hope to everyone out there who dreams of singing songs that are a bit out of their range.

We then have to sit through the other three judges doing their Ricky impressions in a fairly vicious example of workplace bullying. And then it’s over, but next week promises to have episodes that go even further over their scheduled running time!

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