Smol Melanesian Na Pasifik Nius Digest # 943


1) Komnas HAM releases findings of Papua Freeport mine cave-in

15 February 2014

Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights, Komnas HAM, has released its findings regarding serious human rights violations in the Freeport big Gossan tunnel cave-in that claimed the lives of 28 workers in Papua.

Komnas HAM commissioner Natalius Pigai says the gravity of this case is serious.

He told that the mining multi-national, Freeport, had the ability to prevent this from happening but didn’t, and the lack of effort jeopardized the lives of others.

Mr Pigai has suggested the government follow up the commission’s report by thoroughly investigating the incident to uncover any indications of negligence.

The Big Gossan training facility at Freeport’s Grasberg mine collapsed on May the 14 last year, trapping 38 workers inside a tunnel during a safety course which left 28 people dead and another 10 others injured.C/- Radio New Zealand.

2) Vanuatu daily news digest | 15 February 2014

by bobmakin

  • Daily Post today gives the news that the board of Airports Vanuatu Limited has been terminated. A new board has been appointed. The portfolio has been transferred to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. No comment was available …
  • Radio Vanuatu News this morning announces that a task force of the Government of Vanuatu is to leave for Singapore next week to negotiate the project for a new international airport for Vanuatu. The DG of Foreign Affairs, Johnny Koanapo, said the Foreign Minister would lead the delegation to “negotiate with the straight [correct] authorities in Singapore.” The Chairman of the task force for the international airport, Benjamin Shing, would be accompanied in the delegation by ministerial representatives from Finance, the Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs and Public Utilities. There was no mention of any presence of personnel from the Civil Aviation Authority. The government wants negotiations to take place before Parliament sits next month. One further current issue was said to be negotiation of the promissory note on which both parties must agree. Quite clearly the government is being tight-lipped in the matter, no reasons being given for any of the above and the desirability of a new airport being expressed solely by government. The tourism industry has seen no need for a new airport and should it require completely new broad acres, the land owners have not all been consulted in the matter. It is to be hoped it will not become another scam for Efate custom owners like the Santo Big Bay Free Trade Zone of over 10 years ago when one politician decided he could control ownership of 80,000 hectares of the land of the people of Big Bay, Santo, for a massive project involving airline connections and promissory notes, consular offices and huge investment by foreigners.
  • Deputy Leader of the Opposition Sato Kilman in Post this morning is calling for theprosecution of those involved in the mis-use of the three government vehiclesreported yesterday as having to be seized by the sheriff and sold to make good a public debt concerning them. It is good to hear the Opposition calling for intervention by Prosecutions in matters relating to civil servants’ and politicians’ behaviour, as in most Ombudsman reports. There has always been far too little invocation of the law from both Opposition and Prosecutions.
  • Four suspects have been arrested over cannabis growing at the end-of-airportBauerfield, says Radio Vanuatu, in Operation Tuluki 3, which yielded 636 cannabis plants. They weighed 891 kilos.
  • Daily Post reveals an English yacht owner facing a charge of sexual intercourse without consent.
  • The hospital’s blood bank needs blood.
  • A new diplomat for Thailand has been appointed. It was not said how this affects the role of our former man in Bangkok, the egregious Anh Quan Saken, who when last heard of still had to return his ill-gotten Vanuatu citizenship.
  • Daily Post carries an excellent interview with Sela Molisa, preparing to leave for Beijing at month’s end as Vanuatu’s ambassador. Godwin Ligo points out Molisa was Vanuatu’s highly regarded finance minister for more than eight years and the longest serving MP, for over 30 years. He tackles Molisa over the matter of the Comprehensive Reform Programme (CRP) which has recently arisen again and speaks of the confidence it brought back to government.
  • Godwin Ligo also reports on the life of the last British High Commissioner in the New Hebrides, Andrew Stuart, who has recently died. Andrew Stuart went on to become principal of Atlantic College in Wales where several distinguished ni-Vanuatu students were educated.

3) Vanuatu daily news digest | 14 February 2014

by bobmakin

  • Vanuatu’s Executive has failed to respect the Judiciary. Like the municipality recently, which had to give up valuable property on the Sheriff’s orders. Daily Post today has three ministerial vehicles being seized after their ministerial owners failed to comply with court orders. An officer of the court saw the matter as a constitutional breakdown. It involves police officers and damages totaling VT 4,403,598. Those vehicles seized areG3 of the Minister of Finance, G4 of the Minister for Internal Affairs and G1027 of the Minister of Agriculture. The Sheriff is to offer the vehicles for public tender.
  • Also extremely important in today’s Daily Post are two items from Transparency Vanuatu. The media’s role in the National Integrity of Vanuatu has been put to the test in Transparency research. The vast majority of respondents felt that the media does not sufficiently follow up on corruption stories carried. Fifty people were asked to respond. Accuracy just won over inaccuracy as a score for news accuracy, but the vast majority saw uneven political reporting of the different political parties.
  • The other Transparency item refers to the re-appointment of the Attorney General. Having stood for election and lost, AG Kalsakau was given a six-month period of transition in the post whilst a permanent AG was sought. However, to date, no advertisement has ever appeared for the post. The objectivity of a lawyer who has run for election on a political party ticket is naturally enough questioned by Transparency. Furthermore, Kalsakau sued the State’s Electoral Commission after his electoral loss. One wonders how ministers were advised concerning the Sheriff’s orders relating to the vehicles seized following court orders.
  • Radio Vanuatu News began today with a report that the Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) is looking into the financing of a fuel depot at the fish processing plant on Efate. It will be a very big undertaking. VNPF Chairman Simil Johnson said the project is still in the discussion stage and it may take a long time to make the final decisions. The area is out of town, but one in which there is a necessary working population. Land has been reserved, it was said.
  • 652 students attending regional technical schools and universities represents a record number. They were addressed by Prime Minister Carcasses before departing earlier this week.
  • Daily Post earlier this week reported the arrests of 14 persons in relation to the arson at Malua Bay, North-West Malekula. Those remanded in custody (all but 3) are at the Luganville Corrections Centre. Eight firearms were also confiscated.
  • Post also reported Wednesday that Greens PM Carcasses would attend the “Moderates” national convention on “working together towards the 2016 elections”at the weekend in Luganville.
  • The import duty on whole chickens or chicken pieces has increased to 55% the Council of Ministers advises. Whether this is to protect the large local chicken industry called Chiko Chicken is uncertain, but Daily Post has established that the company has recently been plagued by management issues that have left it essentially bankrupt.
  • Three members of the Suva based Commonwealth Local Government Forum are assisting with local government corporate planning. They will next be dealing with Torba and Penama, having already undergone studies to help Shefa Province’s corporate finances last August.
  • Australia is giving VT 3 million to assist in the dengue reduction efforts. Acting High Commissioner Parkin has also been encouraging everyone to follow Health Ministry advice regarding precautionary measures which can be established at schools, work places and around and within houses.
  • Jean-Yves Chabot has been confirmed by the Green Confederation as their candidate in the April 15 Port Vila election to replace the late Patrick Crowby. He has worked for Vanuatu Beverages. He is approved by the party’s national executive. UMP is similarly working on a candidate who may well be decided by their Luganville convention “working together” this weekend after years of rift. The VP has advertised for suitable candidacy applications. Seemingly no-one stands out from the crowd.


4) Kiribati labour minister resigns

14 February 2014

The Kiribati minister of labour, Boutu Bateriki, has resigned – a week after he was in court on charges of beating his former wife.

The move comes after calls by two MPs for him to step down.

Mr Bateriki and his former wife were in court but their case was adjourned until February the 18th.

One MP, Patrick Tatireta, says government has supported the family bill to protect children and women from abusive men and the behaviour of the minister undermines the confidence of people in the government.c/- radio New Zealand.


5) Richard Branson uses newspaper ads to urge against financial assistance for Qantas

Updated 16 February 2014, 16:11 AEST

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson has taken out a full-page advertisement in News Corp papers urging the Federal Government not to provide financial assistance for rival airline Qantas.

The Government has indicated it supports lifting foreign ownership restrictions and is prepared to provide extra help for the Flying Kangaroo, which could come in the form of a debt guarantee.

Sir Richard warns that international businesses “should think twice” about investing in Australia if the Government provides assistance.

“Should the Australian taxpayer be forced by the Australian Government to prop up the Qantas Group, as Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey is suggesting, business people worldwide should think twice about investing in Australia for fear of such intervention in their sectors,” Sir Richard wrote in the ad.

“Qantas has gone to its shareholders on numerous occasions over the last few years to wage its capacity war against us.

“Now that shareholders have turned that tap off, the company is turning to the Australian taxpayer to try and bail it out.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week gave strong indications that the Federal Government is preparing to lift foreign ownership restrictions on Qantas.

The Qantas Sale Act, brought in under Labor in 1992, prevents more than 49 per cent foreign ownership in the national carrier.

It also prevents any one foreign investor owning more than 25 per cent of the company.

Sir Richard says Virgin is unconcerned with what the Government does with the Qantas Sale Act, but warned against any federal assistance.

“We don’t care what the Government does with the Qantas Sale Act,” he wrote.

“What is most important is that the Government doesn’t provide financial assistance to Qantas.

“It is not right for the industry and it will not benefit the travelling public or the economy.”

We asked what you thought of Sir Richard Branson’s advertisement. This is what you told us.

Opposition urges Government to make decision

It is understood Qantas is lobbying the Government to offer a public guarantee of its debt to secure its credit rating.

The Federal Opposition is demanding the Government makes a decision about whether to provide assistance to Qantas.

Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese says there is a case for the Government to support Qantas in the form of a debt guarantee.

“That’s one of the options on the table – that a debt guarantee would be there,” Mr Albanese told Sky News.

“That’s not government paying cash for Qantas – no-one’s suggesting that at all.

“These circumstances have been exactly the same since the downgrade first happened, which was in, from memory, October or maybe November, so this has been around for months.

“There is no reason why, if it’s going to make a decision, it should stall making that decision.”

Mr Hockey last week said the Government had been “dragged kicking and screaming” into the Qantas debate.

He said on Friday the airline meets several “crucial tests” that he would apply to giving taxpayer money to private enterprises.

6) Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Scrutinizes Overseas Aid
Julie Bishop singles out aid to PNG in speech at university

By Catherine McGrath, Asia Editor

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Feb. 14, 2014) – Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the country needs an aid program with a strong culture of accountability.

Ms Bishop has singled out Australia’s second largest aid recipient Papua New Guinea in calling for greater scrutiny of overseas aid.

In a speech at the Australian National University in Canberra, Ms Bishop says Australia needs a “more effective and efficient” aid program.

“I take issue with those who focus on quantity not quality,” she said.

“There are many examples in domestic policies where billions of dollars have been poured into aid programs, only to find that standards have gone backwards.

“When we get it right, we can make a real difference, and we can do this by focusing on our region.”

There will be new mutual obligations requirements with partner countries so that both parties are held accountable for outcomes, and poor performing programs will be reviewed – and if appropriate, lose funding.

Ms Bishop says there are issues across the region for Australian aid funding, but she’s singled out Papua New Guinea.

“(It’s) distressing to know that despite the fact that Australia invests about half a billion dollars each and every year into Papua New Guinea it will not meet one of its Millennium Development Goals. In fact, it is going backwards,” she said.

The Australian Government has cut $4.5 billion over four years from the aid budget, but Ms Bishop is promising the new approach with trade as its focus will be more effective.

“We’ll work with partner governments to build the critical institutions and the policies that they need to facilitate trade and promote functioning economies,” Ms Bishop said.

“This is all part of what I call ‘economic diplomacy’.

“We are still one of the most generous donor nations in the world. We remain amongst the top 10, per capita.”

[PIR editor’s note: Elsewhere, Radio Australia reports the country’s opposition claims the Abbot government has failed to keep its promises of maintaining foreign aid to the Pacific region. Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Pliberseck says about $63 million in cuts will be hard for donors to absorb and a shock to the region’s governments.]

Radio Australia:


7) Igat tok lukaut long ol Pacific lida ino ken hariap na wokbung wantem Fiji

Updated 15 February 2014, 17:48 AEST
By New Zealand Correspondent Dominique Schwartz, Suva

Lida blong Labour Pati blong Fiji i askim ol lida blong pacific long stap isi liklik na noken hariap long statim ol gutpla wokbung wantem Fiji.

8) PNG Sports bai helpim ol yangpla pipal long noken kamapim trabal

Updated 15 February 2014, 18:32 AEST
Caroline Tiriman

Wanpla lida blong sports long Papua  New Guinea itok ol yangpla pipal imas go insaet long ol kaen kaen sport blong helpim ol long kamap olsem ol gutpla citizen blong kantri.

Chris Amini husat i kepten blong Hebou PNG Barramundi’s Cricket team i mekim despla toktok bihaen long emi stat long helpim wanpla team long Babaka vilis long Central Provins.

Chris Amini i tok Pilai cricket nau iwok long pulim planti yangpla pipal long Babaka vilis long Rigo District, Central Province.

Mr Amini itok, sports i ken helpim long lukautim gut helt blong ol yangpla pipal na tu emi nap stopim ol long kamapim trabal nambaut long ples.

Emi tok tu olsem taem emi helpim ol despla yangpla pipal long Babak vilis, laik blong ol yangpla pipal na ol papa blong ol i go antap tru long pilai cricket.

9) Ol memba blong Vanuatu Palimen i laikim moa develpmen moni

Updated 14 February 2014, 13:14 AEST
Pius Bonjui

Ol back bench memba blong Vanuatu palimen ilaikim Praim Minista Kalosil long holim promis blong em long increasim developmen moni blong ol.

Lain Opposen long  Vanuatu ibin autim wanpela  toktok igo long ol lain nius na  toktok agensim Praim Minista Moana Carcasses Kalosil long promis bilong em long apim moni oli kolim Parliamentary Allocation igo long ol backbench membe bilong em.

Opposition i tok, dispela i gris moni bilong Praim Minista  i blong strongim namba blong em long palimen.

Long wankain taim, ol back bench  memba long sait bilong Gavman i laikim Praim Minista i holim promis bilong em long apim Parliamentary Allocations bilong ol long 1 milian Vatu igo long 10 milian Vatu.

Port Vila nius man Hiliare Bule itok ol back bench memba ibin kamapim dispela petisen bihain long oli bin harim olsem  Praim Minista Moana Carcasses Kalosil ilaik sensim tingting long dispela tok promis blong em.

Na Praim Minista Kalosil itok  i tru igat tok promis emi bin kamapim tasol nau long dispela taim Vanuatu inogat moni long apim mak blong Palimentri Allocation igo long ol wan wan memba.

Tu long dispela wik, ol i surukim taim bilong Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) miting long dispela wik igo long wik bihain.

Dispela miting i bilong toktok long wanpela MSG deligesen husat ibin igo long Indonesia ino long taim igo pinis.


10) PNG: le scandale des baux ruraux spéciaux s’éternise

Mis à jour 14 February 2014, 14:52 AEST
Caroline Lafargue

Six mois après la remise du rapport de la commission d’enquête au Premier ministre Peter O’Neill, aucune mesure n’a encore été prise.

Depuis 2003, 11% de la superficie de la Papouasie Nouvelle-Guinée – soit 5 millions d’hectares – ont été loués à des entreprises, des exploitants, pour des baux ruraux spéciaux de 99 ans. Avant, 97% des terres étaient coutumières. Aujourd’hui cela ne concerne que 86% des terres.

Des centaines de milliers de propriétaires coutumiers, bernés par des développeurs agricoles, attendent du gouvernement qu’il leur rende leurs terres en annulant purement et simplement les baux ruraux spéciaux, dont beaucoup ont été accordés sans le consentement des propriétaires traditionnels.
John Numapo a mené pendant deux ans les travaux de la commission d’enquête sur les baux ruraux spéciaux. Il recommande, pour commencer, de les supprimer et de les remplacer par des baux totalement repensés. John Numapo:

« Pour le moment la loi sur l’exploitation forestière n’autorise la déforestation que de 500 hectares par bail foncier, pour remplacer la forêt par des cultures. Si le titulaire du bail estime qu’il a besoin de plus d’hectares pour des cultures, il doit demander un autre bail spécial, demander l’autorisation de l’Autorité de la Déforestation, de l’Autorité Nationale des Forêts, du ministère de l’Agriculture, etc. S’ils obtiennent un deuxième bail, ils auront le droit de raser 500 hectares de forêt, mais pas plus. »

Actuellement ces baux ruraux spéciaux sont attribués par le gouvernement papou pour une durée de 99 ans, soit 3 générations pendant lesquelles les propriétaires coutumiers ne peuvent pas toucher à leur terre.

« Ces baux fonciers spéciaux devraient être plus courts, nous proposons 50 ans dans notre rapport, ce serait suffisant. Par exemple si on prend le cas des plantations de palmiers à huile, elles n’ont une durée de vie que de 35 à 40 ans. Et il y a d’autres cultures dont la durée d’exploitation n’atteint pas 99 ans. Donc un bail de 50 ans c’est très bien, voire moins. »

Autre réforme urgente des baux ruraux, selon John Numapo : la méthode de rémunération des propriétaires traditionnels.

« Pour le moment les propriétaires coutumiers ne reçoivent pas de loyer, parce qu’ils sont considérés comme des partenaires de l’exploitant de leur terre. Donc ils touchent des royalties. Mais c’est un problème, parce que cela permet à l’exploitant de ne rien leur verser. Il peut dire qu’il n’a pas commencé à exploiter la terre, qu’il n’a rien vendu, ne fait pas de profits et donc ne peut pas les partager. Les conditions de paiement des propriétaires coutumiers ne sont pas précisées par contrat. Donc les exploitants profitent de ce flou artistique et ils ne paient pas ce qu’ils doivent aux propriétaires traditionnels. »

John Numapo, le Président de la commission d’enquête sur les baux ruraux spéciaux, répondait à Jemima Garrett sur Radio Australie.

Pour l’instant le gouvernement papou n’a supprimé aucun bail, mais instauré un moratoire, l’octroi de nouveaux baux est gelé jusqu’à nouvel ordre. Officiellement en tout cas, car au moins deux nouveaux baux ruraux spéciaux auraient été accordés récemment.

11) Les médias du Pacifique sur la sellette

Posté à 13 February 2014, 8:43 AEST
Pierre Riant

C’est à Nouméa que se déroule le troisième sommet des médias du Pacifique, des médias qui ne sont pas assez scrutateurs et trop consentants, selon Colin Tukuitonga, le nouveau directeur du Secrétariat de la Communauté du Pacifique (CPS).

Notre correspondant dans le Pacifique, Sean Dorney, a écouté attentivement le discours de Tukuitonga et nous avons pu le joindre à Nouméa : «  Il a effectivement dit que les médias ont tendance à rapporter des communiqués publiés par des gouvernements ou des organisations comme la sienne et que personne ne pose les questions difficiles. Il a dit aux 150 délégués présents qu’il se ferait un plaisir de répondre aux questions difficiles.
Il a aussi souligné que les médias ont un rôle majeur à jouer, surtout dans le Pacifique, pour que les gouvernements soient obligés de rendre des comptes.

Les gouvernements sont très puissants, a-t-il ajouté, notamment dans les petites nations, ce sont eux qui décident de délivrer des services ou non et les médias ne doivent pas les lâcher et doivent leur poser des questions. »

Colin Tukuitonga a aussi pris la question du changement climatique pour dénoncer une certaine réticence des médias : «Il pense que dans le domaine du changement climatique, la voix des médias pourrait être plus forte. Pour lui, le changement climatique est un défi majeur et que c’est aux médias du Pacifique de parler  de la situation des îles du Pacifique à propos du changement climatique. »

Les journalistes de la région ne sont donc pas assez scrutateurs et se contenteraient d’être un simple relais entre le communiqué de presse d’un gouvernement et le public. Mais est-ce que le directeur de la CPS visait la presse ne général ou tout spécialement les journalistes du Pacifique puisque cette circonspection de la presse n’est pas unique au Pacifique : « Effectivement, elle ne l’est pas. Mais Tukuitonga s’est adressé à une audience composé de délégués des médias du Pacifique et il leur disait qu’ils n’étaient pas assez curieux par rapport à des journalistes extérieurs à la région. Il leur a lancé un véritable défi en soulignant que les gouvernements sont très puissants dans le Pacifique et les médias doivent s’endurcir et pourraient faire mieux. »


12) Pacific Islands Forum praises Fiji’s progress towards democracy

Updated 16 February 2014, 12:23 AEST
By New Zealand correspondent Dominique Schwartz and staff

A group of South Pacific government ministers has praised Fiji’s progress towards democracy, saying it should be rewarded with greater regional involvement.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been part of the six-member Pacific Islands Forum delegation, which has spent two days gauging Fiji’s progress towards democratic elections.

“Collectively we are encouraged by what we’ve seen and we very much hope that by September this year, Fiji would have held an election deemed by the international community to be free and fair,” Ms Bishop said.

The group says there has been significant progress by Fiji over the past year, with the approval of a constitution, the establishment of an election office and the registration of four political parties and more than half a million voters.

Audio: Julie Bishop meets with Fiji’s interim leader (AM)

New Zealand foreign minister Murray McCully says Fiji must prove its elections are fair.

“Ministers encouraged Fiji to welcome full international observation of the election to leave no doubt as to its legitimacy,” he said.

The group says Fiji’s ministers should be invited to take part in the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus trade talks, and meetings of forum trade ministers.

It also discussed the possibility of the country’s return to full membership of the forum after elections, due by October.

But it says more work is needed to ensure freedom of speech, assembly and the media.

Fiji has been subjected to widespread international restrictions since military leader Frank Bainimarama seized control in a 2006 coup.

Mr Bainimarama has announced he plans to run in this year’s elections and will stand down as military leader so he is eligible to be a candidate.


13) Great Lakes almost completely frozen

Updated at 12:41 pm on 15 February 2014

The Great Lakes of the Midwest United States are almost completely frozen for the first time in two decades.

The BBC reports they are currently 88 percent covered with ice. The last time the ice was so extensive was 94 percent in 1994.

The latest snow storm on the Atlantic coast is now blamed for the deaths of more than two dozen people.

More than 440,000 households were still without electricity by Friday morning, mainly in Georgia and South Carolina, down from 1.2 million.

Road conditions were still treacherous: 30 people were injured, five severely, in a multiple pile-up near Philadelphia on Friday morning. The crash spawned a traffic jam stretching for 8km.

Many schools remained closed in eight states from Virginia to Maine, while the federal government in Washington DC opened two hours late after closing completely on Thursday.

The BBC reports almost 1500 flights were cancelled on Friday, compared with 6500 the day earlier. All flights were grounded at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Thursday.

Doctors are trying to save the baby of an expectant woman who was killed by a snow plough in New York.

Min Lin, 36, died after being struck on Thursday by a snow plough as it reversed outside a shopping centre in Brooklyn.

She was taken to a hospital, where her baby, which was nearly full-term and weighed 6lb 6oz, was delivered by caesarean section.

The BBC reports the child is in a critical condition in a neonatal intensive care unit.c/- radio new zealand.

14) Flights resume, but thousands shelter in evacuation centres as alert level remains on Mount Kelud

Posted 16 February 2014, 10:35 AEST

Several airports have reopened on the heavily populated Indonesian island of Java after they were forced to close due to a volcanic eruption that sent a 17 kilometre ash cloud into the air on Friday.

More than 56,000 people were forced to flee their homes and four people were killed when Mount Kelud erupted late on Thursday in East Java province, coating cities and airports as far as 500 kilometres away in a layer of ash and stranding thousands of passengers.

“Four airports (of seven closed) are in operation now,” said Handy Heryudhitiawan, spokesman at airport operator Angkasa Pura 1 late Saturday.

“Juanda airport in Surabaya was reopened at 6pm (Saturday).”

Surabaya, about 90 kilometres north of the volcano, has Indonesia’s third-busiest airport and is a major industrial centre. Its international airport was forced to shut down along with six others across Java in Bandung, Yogyakarta, Solo, Malang, Semarang and the major oil refinery town of Cilacap.

Flights from Australia to South-East Asia are mostly back to normal after cancellations and delays on Friday and Saturday because of the ash cloud.

Virgin, Qantas and Jetstar had cancelled flights to Bali and Jakarta, as well as Thailand and Singapore.

Indonesia’s environment ministry said on Saturday air quality near the volcano remained “very unhealthy” as government emergency response teams struggled to distribute food, masks and blankets to thousands of evacuees in shelters.

The national disaster mitigation agency said seismic activity at Mount Kelud had decreased, but that it was maintaining a 10 kilometre evacuation radius and the highest-level alert on the volcano.

– Reuters/ABC

15) Fresh Japan snow storm leaves three dead, 850 injured

Updated 16 February 2014, 2:50 AEST

A fresh snow storm in Japan has left three people dead and 850 injured amid further disruptions to the country’s road, rail and air travel services following last week’s deadly blizzard.

Snow began falling on Friday morning in the capital Tokyo and piled up to 26 centimetres by early Saturday, a week after the heaviest snowfall in decades left at least 11 people dead and more than 1,200 injured across the nation.

A driver was killed on Friday in a crash involving his car and a truck on an icy road in Shiga, central Japan, while a farmer died after a tractor overturned on a snow-covered road in south-western Oita, local media reported.

In a separate snow-related accident, a driver was killed and three others injured on an expressway in central Shizuoka, the news reports said.

Public broadcaster NHK said some 850 people, including one in a coma, have been injured in snow-related accidents across the nation since snow hit western Japan late Thursday.

Drivers struggled to move their cars in the capital’s residential district of Setagaya, while snow started melting and flooding some roads in downtown Tokyo.

Transport disruptions

At least 628 flights, mostly on domestic routes, were cancelled on Saturday at Haneda and other airports in eastern Japan, NHK said, a day after more than 260 flights were grounded due to heavy snow.

Television broadcast images of passengers resting on benches and floors under blankets at Haneda airport in Tokyo as public transport services were also suspended due to heavy snow.

Two commuter trains collided at Motosumiyoshi station in Tokyo early Saturday leaving 19 passengers injured, officials said.

The accident occurred as train services were disrupted due to the storm but it was not immediately clear if the collision was directly related to the bad weather. Transport authorities are investigating the case.

The storm also caused delays and suspensions on the “shinkansen” bullet train services and the closure of a number of highways across the country.

Some 187,000 households lost power mainly in eastern Japan due to snow and strong winds, NHK said.

The meteorological agency has continued warning of heavy snow in eastern Japan, as well as strong winds and high waves along coastal areas, which may cause snowslides.

Last week, as much as 27 centimetres of snow was recorded in Tokyo, the capital’s worst snowfall for 45 years.

While much of that snow had melted, the remains of larger piles as well as some slightly diminished snowmen were still visible across the city.



16) USP parents orientation

Torika Tokalau
Sunday, February 16, 2014

PARENTS were reminded of the important role they play in their children’s lives at the USP parents and partners orientation yesterday.

USP deputy vice-chancellor Dr Esther Williams said the peer group influence was strong especially for new students at the university.

“You (parents) must trust your child with the decisions that they make. But at the same time, you must be there to guide them along,” she said.

“As they leave home, they will be making their own decisions. You will now have to speak to them not as children but as your level and you must also remember to listen to them.”

She reminded parents to take it easy when delegating house chores for the students so they have enough time to study and finish their assignments.

The orientation at the Laucala campus allowed parents of new students the opportunity to interact with staff and faculty of the university. It also allowed staff the opportunity to answer questions about the structure and dynamics of university life and ways in which parents can be supportive to their children or partner.Fijitimes

17) Toppers scholarships quota expands

Torika Tokalau
Sunday, February 16, 2014

THE government has given the green light to the Tertiary Scholarships and Loans Board to expand the quota of scholarships under the National Toppers Scheme.

Board chairman Dixon Seeto confirmed to this newspaper they can now include more students with suitably high marks.

“We had a quota for each preferred area of study,” Mr Seeto said.

“And in some areas, the cut-off marks are very high and the allocation very small. So, we have now expanded and included the candidates with suitably high marks and they are now being contacted.”

Mr Seeto said this was especially the case for accounting, medicine and engineering programs, for which they received numerous applications.

“Many of the places in the toppers scheme will be filled and because of the expanded allocation, many more students will be qualifying for scholarships, much more than the allocated spaces given to us.

“And we will balance this against the other allocations where there have not been as many applications. And we will balance that again with our budget,” he added.

Mr Seeto said they had a budget of $52.5million on which they would need to keep a close eye as they extended scholarships to deserving students.

He added they were in the process of contacting those students waiting to hear from the board.Fijitimes


18) PNG Moves To Boost Landowner Participation In Mining
Raft of policy changes proposed in ministerial statement

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Feb. 13, 2014) – Papua New Guinea’s government will introduce a policy to promote increased participation and ownership by landowners of resource projects in the mining sector.

Mining Minister Byron Chan said this when presenting a ministerial statement in Parliament on the progress made by the ministry on the matter.

The proposed changes include:

Companies applying for licenses must have local participation with at least a PNG citizen on its board with an office and an onshore bank account in PNG;
Increased equity participation with 5% to landowners and 5% to provincial governments;
Revised improved royalty and compensation schedule;
Revised landowner participation in business activities and ventures to ensure our people participate as responsible shareholders and not only as small-time contractors for small business spin-offs; and,
Abolition of tax incentives that contribute to loss of revenue for the State.

“The state is now creating these opportunities for our people,” he said.

“But everyone must understand that according to PNG laws, while the land may belong to you, the ownership of all minerals found on that land and under water in PNG belongs to the State for the collective benefit of every Papua New Guinean.

“This Government is well aware that the real issue is accountability and transparency in the use and application of mine derived benefits by the beneficiaries.”

He said the ministry had adopted the principles of a National Content Plan within the revised legislation by giving legal emphasis to the requirements that were formerly captured only in project MOA (memorandum of agreement) documents relating to the supply and procurement of goods and services, employment and training and business arrangements,” he said.

“In line with the policy, the Government is also very mindful of the sensitivity and expectations surrounding the issue of mineral ownership.”

The National:

19) Vanuatu Agriculture Ministry Launches Corporate Plan
Plan to guide service delivery, collaboration with other agencies

By Thompson Marango

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Feb. 13, 2014) – Vanuatu’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries, and Bio-Security (MALFFB)now has a standard corporate plan to guide its work of delivering services required by the Government, private sector, and the people.

The minister responsible, David Tosul, when officially launching the Ministry’s 2014 – 2018 corporate plan last week said the event marks a special milestone since the MALFFB has been without a good Corporate Plan.

“The launching of this very important document today paves the way for the Ministry’s joint collaboration within and with other government agencies, notably the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Commerce, the Ministry of Finance and Ministry, of Foreign Affairs and External Trade,” said Minister Tosul.

Tosul said agriculture is often referred to as the backbone of the economy but unfortunately the financial resources granted to the sector by the government on an annual basis is far from sufficient to boost greater growth in the various relevant sectors.

Extension of services has been identified by the Ministry as an area in need of strengthening in order to realize the Government’s overall goal of decentralization. With the blessing of the current Government, Tosul said his Ministry currently embarking on bringing life back to its extension services.

According to the minister, implementing the corporate plan will be a challenging task but is calling on all development partners to increase their support towards the Agriculture Sector.

Appeal has been issued to the Director General and all Directors of relevant units inside the Ministry to ensure that the objectives and aspirations embedded in the new Corporate Plan are implemented strategically and effectively with the available resources.

“The document will be meaningless if we – the Ministry’s staff and respective Departments fail to do our part in driving the vision, mission, and various objectives and strategies contained in the document,” Tosul told his staff.

Vanuatu Daily Post:


20) Call to defend media freedom

Radio Australia
Sunday, February 16, 2014

A former president of the Pacific Islands News Association has appealed to members to uphold the original reason for the formation of the organisation — to defend media freedom.

Monica Miller from American Samoa says too many media organisations have abandoned PINA and it’s almost like a divorce.

She says PINA no longer enjoys the confidence of many of its former members and questions whether the leadership is serious about safeguarding media freedom.

“Are we doing our duty and will the PINA we pass on to the next generation be one that we can be proud of?” she said.

“PINA’s mandate is enshrined in its constitution and, unless it is changed, protection of free speech and freedom of expression is in there.”

Ms Miller led PINA for seven years in the days when it was seen as the major champion of media freedom in the Pacific.

She says PINA needs to refocus on its main objectives if it’s to regain wider support.

“In divorce there is always the chance for the couple to settle their differences,” she said.

“While we don’t want to dwell on the past, we need to look at the causes of the breakup and fix them and make the marriage work again.”

Ms Miller was speaking as part of a panel discussion at the Third Pacific Media Summit in Noumea.

The main subject of the panel talks was the importance of tuna to Pacific Island countries.

She says there are many competing issues surrounding tuna fishing in the region. “So the fishing story is about jobs,” she said.

“It’s about food, it’s about revenue our governments earn from the licences issued to foreign fishing boats to fish in our EEZ’s (exclusive economic zones).

“It’s about the effects of all the fishing and how the fish that are caught in our waters is processed and packed in far away countries like Taiwan and China and then comes back to us in a tin.”

Fellow panellist Robert Matau from the Suva-based Islands Business magazine has followed the tuna story closely.

His son is an engineer on a Fiji-based tuna fishing boat, which is facing an uncertain future.

Mr Matau says overfishing is a real concern.

“We have the healthiest tuna stock in the world,” he said.

21) Proposed Media Law Worries Journalists In Timor-Leste
Press union claims law gives state ‘excessive’ control over media

By David Robie

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (Pacific Scoop, Feb. 13, 2014) – Timor-Leste Press Club has this week transformed itself into the fledgling Timor-Leste Press Union and now seeks to become affiliated to the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists.

It is also seeking collaboration with the National University of Timor-Leste (UNTL) to establish a training programme for journalists in the industry.

These are just two of the current moves by journalists in response to mounting concern over a proposed media law that some fear may curb a free press in the country.

While journalists are worried about the legislation, some are reluctant to openly condemn it. Timor-Leste ranked 77th in the latest 2014 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index report.

Timor-Leste Press Union president Jose Belo, the country’s best known investigative journalist and publisher of the independent Tempo Semanal, has confirmed the new status of his journalists advocacy group and says he is concerned over “government control” of media.

“What I understand from the draft media law is that government will control journalists and media,” he says.

However, media sources say that parliamentary consultation this week has led to some “softening” of the draft law.

Some changes

It is understood the parliamentary committee overseeing review of the bill has agreed to some changes, including “redefining” who will be recognised as journalists.

It was also agreed that a political party could have its own media providing it “follows the laws and rules” applying to media operations.

This provision has great significance for Radio Maubere, a long-established radio station run by the opposition Fretilin party.

According to one Timorese media commentator, who declined to be named, among concerns in particular are “avenues for control of media reporting through the proposed Press Council, which will license journalists.”

Journalists would also be required to have “academic qualifications determined by the Press Council.”

International media outlets and their correspondents intending to report from Timor would in future as well as needing to meet migration requirements would also require “authorisation” from the government.

“Overkill?” asks the commentator.

Foreign investment

“Interestingly it allows for foreign investment in media – what some are calling the ‘Indonesian Xanana-supporter friends’ clause,” says the commentator, in an apparent reference to a prominent businessman with television interests in Timor-Leste.

According to Belo, the government designed the law with three main objectives in mind:

certification of journalists;
approval of who can be journalists; and
licensing of the news media

“The draft media law gives excessive power to the proposed Press Council to remove media access to any journalist,” says Belo.

“The Press Council is empowered to punish journalists or media organisations, forcing them to pay fines to the government if they violated any articles in the media law.

“It seems to me the Press Council is likely to be police or prosecutor – even judge – for journalists and media.”

Sanctions warning

The international news service Al Jazeera reported recently after a conference of journalists to discuss proposed government changes to media policy that sanctions would be taken against journalists “without credentials.”

Timor-Leste’s State Secretary for Communications, Nelio Isaac Sarmento was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying: “Almost all journalists are young and many [started their jobs] after high school.

“They directly entered professional journalism with only one or two weeks’ training. That’s not enough.”

The Al Jazeera report also cited the dual problems of high illiteracy – above 40 percent – and multiple languages in Timor-Leste

“Portuguese and Tetum are the country’s official languages, but about two dozen other languages and dialects are also spoken,” said Al Jazeera.

“Press freedom has improved since the enactment of a penal code in 2009 that decriminalised defamation. Cases of reporters being harassed or attacked, once common, are now rare.”

But leading media personalities fear the draft new law may provide an unscrupulous government with enough legal hurdles to intimidate the media.

Pacific Scoop
All editorial and news content produced under the principles of Creative Commons. Permission to republish with attribution may be obtained from the Pacific Media Centre – [email protected]


22) PNG To Seek Help Over Resettling Refugees In Country
With help from Australia and UN, PNG to develop policy

By Liam Cochrane, Papua New Guinea correspondent

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Feb. 13, 2014) – Papua New Guinea says it will seek the help of the Australian Government and the United Nations in deciding whether to resettle refugees within the country.

Under Australia’s asylum seeker policy, anyone arriving in Australian waters by boat will be sent to PNG for offshore processing.

There are currently 1,300 detainees on Manus Island. PNG’s Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato says officials have started processing refugee applications.

But the country does not have a visa category for refugees and there’s been little public information about how, and where, they might be resettled.

Mr Pato has told parliament the option of resettling refugees in a third country will also be explored.

“So what the cabinet has decided recently is to appoint a group of eminent Papua New Guineans who will be assisted by relevant expertise from the UN, from the Australian Government, and other responsible stakeholders, to come up with relevant policy framework determining the question whether those asylum seekers will or will not be settled in PNG,” he said.

The Manus Island detention centre was first set up by the Australian Coalition government of then-prime minister John Howard in 2001.

It was closed by the Labor government in 2008, but re-opened by Labor in November 2012.

Radio Australia:


23) Climate change: Greg Hunt backs Coalition policy after IMF chief Christine Lagarde urges Australia to remain ‘pioneers’

Updated 15 February 2014, 18:17 AEST

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has backed the Coalition’s direct action policy after the head of the IMF said she hoped Australia continues its “pioneering” role in the debate on climate change.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), told Fairfax newspapers that previous Australian governments were leaders in international debate on climate change, and she wants that to continue.

“Australia was very much at the forefront, Australia was pioneering in this field, and I would hope that it continues to be a pioneer,” she told Fairfax.

“I do think that climate change issues and progress in that regard are critical and are not just fantasies, they are real issues.”

Ms Lagarde, who will be in Sydney for a G20 meeting next week, says assigning climate issues to “the backburner” would be a mistake, and action to reduce carbon emissions could strengthen economic growth as well as protect the environment.

Mr Hunt says he does not see Ms Lagarde’s comments as criticism of the Coalition’s policy.

The Federal Government has pledged to remove the carbon tax and replace it with a direct action plan.

Mr Hunt says the Government is committed to “taking action to address climate change”.

“As a climate change measure, the carbon tax is a failure,” he said.

“Despite being a $7.6 billion hit on the economy, our emissions reduced by only 0.1 per cent in the first year. We can do better.

“We’ll hit our targets and we’ll hit them easily, and that’s what matters to the world.

“My commitment and our commitment to achieving our targets is real and absolute.”

However, Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek says the Prime Minister should heed Ms Lagarde’s words.

“Christine Lagarde is a conservative politician and the IMF is a conservative organisation,” she said.

“Tony Abbott would do very well to listen to Christine Lagarde’s suggestions that tackling climate change can be very good for the economy as well as the environment.”

24) US, China to share policy ideas to fight global warming

Updated 16 February 2014, 5:02 AEST

The United States and China have announced they are joining forces to share more information on efforts to combat climate change.

In a joint statement announced as US secretary of state John Kerry wrapped up a two-day visit to Beijing, both countries said they would work together “to collaborate through enhanced policy dialogue, including the sharing of information regarding their respective post-2020 plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions”.

Both sides said that they recognise the need for action “in light of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and its worsening impacts, and the related issue of air pollution from burning fossil fuels” in their joint statement on Saturday.

Mr Kerry has arrived in Indonesia where he will again be talking climate change on the final stop on his five-day tour of Asia.

During his time in Indonesia Mr Kerry will meet the President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and deliver a major speech on climate change.

The agreement between the US and China includes the sharing of information regarding their plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions post-2020, the statement said

The two sides have also reached an agreement on implementing five initiatives launched under a joint climate change working group, the statement said.

Those initiatives include emission reductions from heavy duty and other vehicles, smart grids, carbon capture utilisation and storage, collecting and managing greenhouse gas emissions data, and energy efficiency in buildings and industry.

‘Unique cooperative effort’

After touring a factory which is a joint US-Sino venture making clean diesel engines for heavy vehicles, Mr Kerry said the two countries were to try to pool their efforts.

“The leaders of China have agreed to join us,” he told workers at the new Cummins-Foton factory, which is set to go into production in April.

“China and the United States will put an extra effort into exchanging information and discussing policies that will help both of us to be able to develop and lead on the standards that need to be announced next year for the global climate change agreement..

Mr Kerry said the factory is a “unique cooperative effort” between the two countries and he hoped it would set “the standard for global seriousness” to fight climate change.

US-based Cummins joined with China’s Foton to build the $US350 million dollar plant on the edge of Beijing, which will initially produce some 60,000 of the new clean engines a year.

When the second phase comes online next year, it is expected to double production of the engines, which will meet new emissions standards set to be adopted soon by Beijing.

The US and China are the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

China’s cities are often hit by heavy pollution, due to coal-burning by power stations and industry, as well as vehicle use, and it has become a major source of discontent with the ruling Communist Party.

Authorities have become more open about pollution levels, in part as a response to public pressure, but officials have implied that it will take years before the situation improves.

The pollution has been linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths, and has tarnished the image of Chinese cities including Beijing, which saw a 10 per cent drop in tourist visits during the first 11 months of 2013.



25) Raiwaqa touch teams dominate

Arin Kumar
Sunday, February 16, 2014

RAIWAQA Red and White made it two from two when they overcame their respective opponents in the USP Touch Association weekly competition.

Week one competition ended on Thursday with Red defeating Metra 8-4 and White pipping Sixers 4-3.

Competition official Tevita Mau said both the Raiwaqa sides had nine points each and Red leads pool one while White leads pool two.

“Early pace is set by Raiwaqa Red in pool one and Raiwaqa White in Pool two,” he said.

“Raiwaqa Red comprises the next generation of touch players to be churned out of this sport-loving neighbourhood and they are guided by Inoke Veresa.

“Already there are special talent identified who could be donning the national jumpers in the sport of touch in years to come.”

Mau said other teams were learning and might pick up on their game in the later stages of the competition.

“Sixers from Raiwai will be a force in the competition after running the champion Raiwaqa White side in a closely contested match-up before losing 3-4.”

Mau thanked USP fitness centre manager Mark Fung and Gabriel Qoro for their support in the establishment of the USPTA program.

Competition resumes on Tuesday at the USP grounds.Fijitimes

26) Early start in Suva netball

Arin Kumar
Sunday, February 16, 2014

SIX teams participated in the Suva Netball Association-organised pre-season games on Thursday night at the National Netball Centre in Suva.

The competition is intended to get teams in competition mode and help players regain fitness.

Competition official of the New World-sponsored association Lusi Robanakadavu said the pre-season games would continue for two more weeks.

“The committee embarked on this as a strategy to bring teams, players and officials together before our season in April and just getting everyone together prior to our annual general meeting to be held on Saturday March 1,” she said.

“This was an initiative by the Suva Netball committee to assist teams in the Suva association to regroup, and have some fun pick-up netball prior to the season opening which is scheduled for April.

“It was a fun way of getting people back into the netball mood and pick up other friends and take the court.”

She said teams still had time to enter the pre-season competition.

“There were a total of six teams and we had several rounds of mixed netball, women’s and men’s netball played alternatively and everyone had several run on opportunities.

“It was also interesting to note that several rugby players were present last night and used the opportunity to pick up on their fitness as well.”Fijitimes

27) FNRL wants more player exposure

Emoni Narawa
Sunday, February 16, 2014

THE Fiji National Rugby League is planning to send more local players overseas in the future.

With a four-year plan until the next Rugby League World Cup, the FNRL revealed it wants more local players to be exposed at international level.

After the recent RLWC in England where only two local players made the cut into the Vodafone Fiji Bati side, FNRL development officer Jo Dakuitoga said they had started the plan for the next RLWC.

“We want to follow what we did in 2008 when 40 players secured overseas contracts and then 16 players made the Fiji Bati side,” he said.

Fiji reached the semi-finals of the RLWC for the first time in 2008.

“Unfortunately, only two players made the Bati side last year and we want more players to compete for a spot in the national side.

“We want to send them overseas now so they can be exposed and gain experience at a higher level.”

Recently, Fiji Residents trio, Ilisavani Jegesa, Sisa Balekolo and Iliesa Cakau secured contracts in the Cook Islands.

Dakuitoga added more local players would be sent overseas in the future.

“When we send them across, it is easier for them to be developed at a higher level,” he said.Fijitimes

28) Warriors out as Cowboys book Broncos Nines final

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Update: 6:39PM THE North Queensland Cowboys have knocked out local favourites the New Zealand Warriors 8-0 in the semi-finals at the inaugural Auckland Nines rugby league tournament at Eden Park.

That’s booked the Cowboys a final against the Brisbane Broncos, who beat the Cronulla Sharks 18-14.

The Broncos qualified for the semi-finals with a 16-11 win over the Newcastle Knights while Cronulla beat the Parramatta Eels 17-6 in their quarter.

The Warriors narrowly beat the South Sydney Rabbitohs 17-16 to reach the semi-finals.

The St George Illawarra Dragons, the Melbourne Storm, NRL champions the Sydney Roosters, the Canterbury Bulldogs, Wests Tigers and the Gold Coast Titans were all eliminated after pool play.

29) Soccer: Man City cruise past Chelsea in Cup

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Update: 4:17PM Manchester City powered into the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday, overcoming English Premier League title rival Chelsea 2-0 to maintain its quadruple chase.

Stevan Jovetic and Samir Nasri provided the goals to avenge a 1-0 league loss this month, with a formidable City in complete control and preventing Chelsea from hitting the target once.

“We can beat everyone,” Jovetic said. “We learnt something (from losing to Chelsea), you could see that on the pitch.”

Although Chelsea lead the league, City is only three points behind in third with a game in hand after its midweek game was postponed due to bad weather.

City also remain in Champions League contention, facing Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday, and meet Sunderland in the League Cup final next month.Sunderland also advanced in the FA Cup, with Craig Gardner clinching a 1-0 victory over Southampton.

Wigan maintained its cup defence by winning 2-1 at Cardiff, with Ben Watson, whose goal clinched the cup before the team was relegated from the topflight last May, netting the winner in south Wales.

With City hosting Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday, beating Chelsea showed the enviable depth of resources available at Manuel Pellegrini’s disposalCity was far more assertive than the side that was beaten by Chelsea less than two weeks ago, with Dzeko also testing Cech with a curling shot.

“We wanted revenge today,” City captain Vincent Kompany said.

After failing to get a sight of goal in the first half, Chelsea striker Samuel Eto’o was replaced at halftime, with Mohamed Salah coming on.

The January signing didn’t help to transform Chelsea’s fortunes.

But it was a City substitution that made a bigger impact as Nasri, in his first appearance in a month, completed an incisive move to score six minutes after coming on.

After receiving the ball from Nasri, Silva squared it back to the Frenchman, who continued his run to dart into space between defenders David Luiz and Gary Cahill, and slot the ball in from close range.

It was City’s 117th goal of a season that should end with a trophy unlike last year under Roberto Mancini.

Chelsea can only win on two fronts – the Premier League and Champions League – and Jose Mourinho’s side has the edge over City domestically having won both league encounters.

“Today there was a different freshness between the teams … and one team had a week without professional football,” Mourinho said.

30) Rugby league shines in union heartland

Sunday, February 16, 2014

AUCKLAND – This time rugby league really was the winner on the day — a sold out Eden Park could attest to that.

In perfect conditions, blue skies, a dry field and a comfortable 23 degrees, the inaugural NRL Nines kicked off at Auckland yesterday in a priceless promotion for the code in the rugby union heartland.

It seems hard to believe that NRL clubs initially voted against the concept.

But nothing venture, nothing gained and those same clubs who finally agreed on the concept should be reaping the rewards for years to come.

Aucklanders embraced the shortform event with almost 100,000 fans to pass through the turnstiles over the two days with a number of them sporting costumes on day one.

The Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man was there, Cleopatra too and the Joker as well alongside an army of rugby league fans clad in their team’s colours. And of course on field there was a streaker.

In a day that had almost everything, comeback king Brad Fittler received the biggest cheer early on his return for the Sydney Roosters after 10 seasons away.

That was before the hometown Warriors roared onto the park to put Canberra to the sword and flex their tournament muscle.

The concourses around the venue were packed with a carnival atmosphere until the Warriors took the field and there wasn’t a spare seat in the house and the football took on a far more serious bent.

With pre-tournament favourites leading the way on the field the football was far more intriguing than the now defunct Sevens format.

As anticipated, touch rugby star Shaun Johnson starred for the home side in wins over Canberra and Manly.

The fans were boisterous and happy and the players loved the occasion too.

“It’s a great event,” Johnson said.

“The crowd is fantastic, it was great to be out there.”

Fittler kept up his end of the bargain too, his intercept try in the Sydney Roosters’ win over Brisbane keeping them in the tournament.

With another day, and the pointy end of the tournament to come, the plot, and the interest is only set to thicken.


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