Cormann, Hockey deny report Abbott wanted ADF ground troops in Iraq

Prime Minister Tony Abbott reportedly wanted to send more than 3000 defence force personnel to Iraq to fight Islamic State.

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News Corp Australia reports that Mr Abbott raised the idea of sending 3500 troops to the troubled nation in a meeting in Canberra in November last year, saying the action would help stop IS in the north of the country.

Mr Abbott is said to have taken to the idea to military officials, who told him it would be disastrous for the troops.

It would have made Australia the only nation with troops on the ground in Iraq.

Authorities have said about 90 Australians have gone to the Middle East to fight, including in Iraq and Syria, the latest of whom is reportedly a 23-year-old university student from Perth.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann rejected the claims made in the report.

“That story is wrong. The prime minister never sought such advice,” Mr Cormann said on ABC Radio.

“My advice is that the journalist who wrote that story actually never put that proposition to the prime minister’s office when seeking comment.”

Labor frontbencher Matt Thistlethwaite said this was a very damaging leak from the National Security Committee of Cabinet, one of the most important internal committees of government.

He said Labor had given bipartisan support to actions the government had taken on Iraq. That includes deployment of a special forces team of 200 to advise the Iraqi military.

“But if the prime minister or anyone in the government is considering changing that approach then they need to disclose that to the Australian public and they need to disclose that to the parliament and the Labor Party so that we can consider,” he told Sky News.

Treasurer Joe Hockey also rejected the claim in a tweet.

The story by John Lyons today in @australian is just complete and utter rubbish. Factually wrong. Same as Garnaut in @smh yesterday.

— Joe Hockey (@JoeHockey) February 20, 2015

 

Knights too strong for Raiders in trial

A hat-trick to Newcastle winger Akuila Uate has helped down Canberra 26-4 in a scrappy NRL trial.

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The Raiders’ performance wouldn’t have gone down too well with their 6,000-odd fans who braved the wet conditions at their former home ground of Seiffert Oval.

The Green Machine’s woes kicked off in just the fourth minute.

Captain Jarrod Croker left the field with a match-ending head knock after copping a massive hit from Sione Mata’utia.

“It was precautionary more than anything,” Croker said after the match.

“The match was a little bit scrappy. There were some definite positives, but also a few things we need to work on.

“I went off pretty early, so it’s hard to form combinations and stuff like that.”

The Raiders were unable to muscle up in defence on their left fringe and failed to hold onto simple passes when in good field position.

This was expertly exploited by Knights five-eighth Jarrod Mullen, who fed his backs with well timed passes that led to Uate’s triple.

“It wasn’t really a plan to be honest,” Mullen said.

“We usually attack both sides of the field. We’ve got good players out wide like Dane Gagai and Uate so it was good to give them some early ball and they did their stuff.”

“But probably the most pleasing was our defence, they threw a lot at us.”

The Knights scored their first of five tries through Uate in the 18th minute, then the big man crossed again on the right wing four minutes later to go up 8-0.

Knights centre Joey Leilua managed to overcome a slight leg complaint to return to the field and score his side’s third.

Knights hooker Adam Clydsdale sold Edrick Lee a dummy to scoot over for the fourth, before Uate picked up his third 10 minutes later to go 26-0 up.

The Raiders finally got on the board in the 63rd minute through Shaun Fensom.

Both teams will now prepare for round one of the NRL season in two weeks’ time, with the Knights to take on the Warriors at Hunter Stadium and the Raiders to play the Sharks at Remondis Stadium.

Storm edge Bulldogs in NRL trial

Opposing star fullbacks Billy Slater and Brett Morris both made successful returns after shoulder reconstructions as Melbourne edged Canterbury 32-30 in a high-scoring NRL trial match on Saturday night at AAMI Park.

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The Storm powered home with the last four tries of the match to claim victory on a steamy evening in Melbourne, although the margin would have been bigger had Will Chambers not had an erratic night with the boot, missing all four of his conversion attempts before being replaced.

The Storm outscored the Bulldogs seven tries to five.

Suliasi Vunivalu’s 72nd-minute try for Melbourne levelled the scores at 30-30, with Shaun Nona stepping up to kick what turned out to be the match-winning conversion.

Morris, who ended his nine-year stint at St George Illawarra at the end of the 2014 season to again get the chance to play alongside twin brother Josh, was involved in his first match for the Bulldogs after finally recovering from shoulder surgery.

He scored the opening try in the 15th minute, reacting quickest to a grubber kick from one of the Dogs’ other recruits, former North Queensland winger Curtis Rona.

Morris went from hero to villain a few minutes later, fumbling in the in-goal and allowing impressive winger Young Tonumaipea to touch down for the Storm.

The Bulldogs led 18-8 at halftime and pushed the margin out to 30-12 before the Storm scored the last 20 points of the match, including a 57th-minute try to Slater.

“It was good to get three quarters of the game into me and, hopefully, that will benefit me going into round one,” said Slater, who was forced to miss last year’s Four Nations campaign due to a serious shoulder injury.

He also had an arthroscopy on his left elbow and laser eye treatment.

“Physically, I feel fine,” he added.

“I took the time to get those injuries fixed up and get some run into my legs, which I haven’t had the chance to do for a long time.”

Slater was impressed with the efforts of Storm recruits such as Blake Green and Dale Finucane.

“The 30 points against us doesn’t sit too good with me and I’m sure it doesn’t sit too good with the rest of the players and our coach, but we’ll work on those areas,” he said.

“But all in all, I thought we took a step on the road in the right direction.”

The Bulldogs begin their regular-season campaign away to Penrith on March 8, while the Storm travel to tackle St George Illawarra the following day.

Ukraine prisoner swap announced

Pro-Russian rebels say they will swap prisoners with the Ukrainian side as part of a battered truce the West hopes will cool the deadly conflict.

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“Today there will be an exchange between us and the Ukrainian side,” rebels’ official for human rights, Daria Morozova, said on Saturday.

About 40 prisoners on each side – some of them wounded – are to be handed over, with the exchange to take place deep in rebel territory, in the city of Lugansk, Morozova said.

Journalists were put in a convoy carrying the rebels’ prisoners from the separatist stronghold of Donetsk to Lugansk.

There was no immediate confirmation of the swap from the Ukrainian side, though smaller exchanges have taken place in recent weeks with little fanfare.

If it goes ahead on Saturday, the prisoner exchange would be a rare act of compliance with a UN-backed truce repeatedly violated since coming into effect February 15.

In the most egregious breach, the pro-Russian separatists overran a strategic transport hub, Debaltseve, midway between Donetsk and Lugansk.

That offensive forced 2500 Ukrainian soldiers to flee under fire, with at least 13 killed. The insurgents seized at least 110 troops as prisoners, adding to the unknown number of detainees held by each side.

Germany and France, which brokered the truce agreed by Ukraine, the rebels and Russia, are standing by it despite the many violations.

“We don’t have any illusions” about the difficulty involved, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after meeting French President Francois Hollande in Paris on Friday.

But she said she was “even more convinced” a truce leading to a negotiated solution was the only way to end the conflict, which the United Nations estimates has killed 5700 people since it began in April last year.

Under the truce, both sides were to withdraw heavy weapons from the frontline by March 3, carry out a prisoner exchange, conduct negotiations on greater autonomy in rebel-held areas, and eventually restore Ukraine’s control over its border with Russia.

None of those steps has so far been taken.

Kiev and the rebels continue to trade accusations of shelling, mortar rounds and rocket strikes targeting their positions.

Lyon hurts knee in Roosters NRL trial loss

Captain Jamie Lyon has joined Manly’s list of NRL round-one doubtfuls after hurting his knee on Saturday in the Sea Eagles’ 36-6 trial loss to the Sydney Roosters.

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Lyon didn’t return to the match after limping off at halftime and coach Geoff Toovey conceded the star centre might not be fit for their premiership opener on March 6 against Parramatta.

“He has a sore knee, so it is a concern, but we are hoping it is nothing major,” Toovey said.

“We will have to look at it tomorrow. He is confident but we will see.”

Manly can ill afford the loss of Lyon, after the departure of several experienced campaigners from Brookvale at the end of 2014, including Glenn Stewart, Jason King and Anthony Watmough.

Tom Symonds (elbow) is also in doubt for round one as is Steve Matai (shoulder), Brenton Lawrence (knee) and Jamie Buhrer (knee).

“Steve Matai has had that operation and he may or may not be back – he will be close; Jamie Buhrer, too,” Toovey said.

“I don’t know if they will be ready.”

Manly led early after a Peta Hiku try in the 10th minute, but after new captain Mitchell Pearce dragged three defenders over the Manly line in the 28th minute to score, it was all the Roosters in a slick performance out wide and a dominant one up front.

Coach Trent Robinson was pleased with the performance before around 3500 fans at Central Coast Stadium.

“It was our first major trial and we were a bit scratchy at first, with some guys in different positions, but there were some good things there, some good structures,” he said.

“There was a lot of fitness in getting through the game and a lot of speed.

“I thought our yardage sets, our yardage work was good too.

“Right across the board, I thought we were good. I am not going to single anybody out but I thought we were very clean in our own performance.”

With hooker Jake Friend out for the first six rounds with a shoulder injury, Robinson said he wasn’t settled yet on how to replace him. Matt McIlwrick was solid in the starting No.9 slot before Mitchell Aubusson showed some nice touches as his back-up, including the second Roosters try from a dummy-half pass to Kane Evans.

“I think Matty was really strong there,” Robinson said.

“We decided to use Jacko (Jackson Hastings) in the halves (after Pearce was replaced) but he has been playing hooker for a bit there so he will come into contention.

“But Matty started the game and was really solid. He is very strong defensively and really rolled the ruck forward.

“And then Aubbo, he looked like a hooker. He looked really comfortable there.

“You want to have options up your sleeves – a couple of decisions to make for round one.”

After Evans’ try, the Roosters led 12-6 at the break and went on with it.

Daniel Tupou scored two tries including an 80m effort, with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Dylan Napa rounding out the try-scoring as the Roosters piled on 30 unanswered points.