Former Liberal minister Philip Ruddock returns to politics as mayor in Sydney’s north

Counting is continuing after Saturday’s vote to elect 46 New South Wales councils

Former Liberal minister Philip Ruddock has been elected mayor of the Sydney suburb of Hornsby.
 Former Liberal minister Philip Ruddock has been elected mayor of the Sydney suburb of Hornsby. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

Former federal government minister Philip Ruddock will return to politics as mayor of a northern Sydney council after NSW’s local government elections.

Millions went to the polls on Saturday to elect 46 councils and, while final results are almost a week away, many mayors have already taken to social media to claim victory.

Ruddock, Australia’s second-longest serving federal politician, came out of retirement on a Liberal ticket to snatch the mayorship of Hornsby by a convincing margin.

He secured 48.44% of the vote with all the formal votes counted on Saturday evening, eclipsing the second-placed candidate by almost three times as many votes.

“I’ve come back into [politics] with a very clear focus,” Ruddock said.

“Hornsby Shire is not known as bushland shire for no reason. We’re between major national parks. We have a particular heritage which is important for Sydney. I often make the point we are the city’s lungs. You need to maintain them. There are a whole range of development issues which people will be looking to voice concerns on.”

In Newcastle, Labor candidate Nuatali Nelmes was re-elected with 43.86% by the time all formal votes were counted.

The race tightened in Wollongong, however, with Gordon Bradbery leading David Brown by only a few thousand votes. It was still too close to call on Saturday night.

About 2.8 million people were enrolled to vote in the 46 council areas which went to the polls, the first council elections since the state government walked away from its controversial amalgamations plan.


Local sports clubs in the Coffs Harbour electorate are being invited to apply for grants of up to $20,000, with Member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, saying the focus this year is encouraging more talented girls and young women into sport programs.

“Around half of all Australian boys are active through a sports club during their childhood compared with just 33 per cent of girls, and the participation rate for girls drops sharply after girls turn 12,” Mr Fraser said.

“I encourage all local clubs and sporting organisations to use this opportunity to boost their female programs and events, because we want to see girls not only take to the field, but stay on the field.”

Thousands of local clubs across the State are now eligible to apply for funding under the NSW Government’s Local Sport Grant Program. The grants will cover initiatives such as new sport programs, upgrades to facilities or projects that improve participation in sport.

Minister for Sport, Stuart Ayres said the program is part of a $10 million sport grants package announced by the NSW Government.

“Women’s sport is the fastest growing area of many codes and we are now seeing more big name sponsors and media networks recognising the public’s appetite for prime time viewing,  but more needs to be done, including cultivating participation at a grass roots level,” Mr Ayres said

“From the bush to the city, sport is the lifeblood that unites communities. This is not just about female programs though, I encourage all sporting groups to apply for grants that will help people of all ages and abilities get involved in their local club or become more active.”

Grants are now open until 6 October 2017. For more information visit or phone 13 13 02


The phoney war on same-sex marriage is over, and the real contest starts    now.

The High Court has spoken and the plebiscite  will go ahead.

From next week, voters will start receiving their survey papers.  (We should not call them ballot papers, since the process is explicitly a survey not a vote.)

The “yes” and” no” campaigns will now get into their stride. Let us hope that, as all Australians deserve, those campaigns can be carried on with respect and restraint.

The Turnbull Government will be mighty relieved at its victory, even though it is as thin as tissue-paper.

Although the Plebiscite or rather survey, is entirely unnecessary in law, it has become vital in politics. Not the politics of the country but the internal politics of the Coalition, which remains deeply divided on the issue.

It is a devastating commentary on the current state of the  nation that this exercise, for which taxpayers  must shell out $122 million, has had to be conducted  solely in order to convince the governing parties’ recalcitrants  to back a measure that Australians, according to opinion polls, already overwhelmingly endorse.

It is an equally devastating commentary that the survey has no legal force.

A majority vote  for or against same sex  marriage binds no one.  If ”yes’ wins and MPs who oppose same-sex marriage find their  consciences as inflexible as ever they can vote against change.

 If “no” wins,  and the Government loses the next election, an incoming Labor government could simply change the Marriage Act with a majority vote in both houses of Parliament.

To pile absurdity onto costly absurdity, as we have reported, the government was preparing, if it lost yesterday in the High Court, to go ahead with the plebiscite anyway by other, undisclosed, means.

Never has an essentially meaningless vote apparently mattered so much.

Even so, a loss yesterday would have made an already struggling government look impotent and incompetent, tripped up by constitutional details, and unable to manage the processes of governing which means, in this case, the internal squabbles of the Coalition.

For Mr Turnbull, who is looking more and more bedraggled as the roll of negative opinion surveys grows longer, the win is a lifeline. He will be voting “yes”, encouraging others to vote “yes”, but stopping short of “campaigning” for the cause – those tricky Coalition politics contriving yet again to make him look something less than a leader. Rather paradoxically, the decision will also give heart to those in the government who oppose same-sex marriage. Their spoiling tactic is still on foot, an d they can hope to make inroads into support for change.

But that the High Court has declared the plebiscite legal and constitutional does not make it right.

Let us hope this flawed, optional, unscientific postal survey sets no precedent as a mechanism for governments.

If it has value, and that is debatable, it is that a majority for the “yes” campaign may persuade those who take a conservative view of marriage that the future has arrived: times have decisively changed, and they will have to accept that the assumptions behind the “no” campaign are no longer shared by the mainstream.

Given that marriage is a central institution in our society – as it is in all societies – that might be something positive to salvage from this absurd episode.



air raid in the Arhab area near Sana’a, the capital of Yemen
 Red Crescent workers at the site of an air raid in the Arhab area near Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, last week. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

Aquick quiz. No Googling, no conferring, but off the top of your head: what is currently the world’s worst humanitarian disaster? If you nominated storm Harvey and the flooding of Houston, Texas, then don’t be too hard on yourself. Media coverage of that disaster has been intense, and the pictures dramatic. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this supposedly once-in-a-thousand-years calamity – now happening with alarming frequency, thanks to climate change – was the most devastating event on the planet.

As it happens, Harvey has killed an estimated 44 Texans and forced some 32,000 into shelters since it struck, a week ago. That is a catastrophe for every one of those individuals, of course. Still, those figures look small alongside the havoc wreaked by flooding across southern Asia during the very same period. In the past few days, more than 1,200 people have been killed, and the lives of some 40 million others turned upside down, by torrential rain in northern India, southern Nepal, northern Bangladesh and southern Pakistan.

That there is a disparity in the global attention paid to these two natural disasters is hardly a novelty. It’s as old as the news itself, expressed in one, perhaps apocryphal Fleet Street maxim like a law of physics: “One dead in Putney equals 10 dead in Paris equals 100 dead in Turkey equals 1,000 dead in India equals 10,000 dead in China.”

Most of this amounts to a pretty basic form of racism to which, lord knows, the media are far from immune. Perhaps Eurocentrism would be more accurate. But whatever term you favour, it surely represents the most fundamental form of discrimination one can imagine: deeming the lives of one group of people to be worth less than those of another – worth less coverage, less attention, less sympathy, less sorrow.

Still, blaming the media is the easy option here. It allows everyone else to assume that, left to their own devices, they would be perfectly equitable in their distribution of empathy. But many western consumers of news would be more truthful if they admitted that images of a submerged US city do indeed strike them with greater force than images of a drowning Nepalese one, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps because the American city looks more like their own, or at least more familiar, thanks to films and television. Or simply because havoc in the US is more surprising than natural disaster in, say, India or Bangladesh – developing nations where extreme suffering and regular beatings from the elements have come to seem like part of the terrain.

A tiger killed by floods in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam.
 A tiger killed by floods in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam. Photograph: Uttam Saikia/AP

The media deserve to be attacked for the discrimination they have shown this week. But if those attacks are predicated on a presumption that were it not for all those wicked editors, the audiences they serve would be full of universal fraternity and undifferentiated, boundless compassion, then they are built on shaky foundations.

But I’ve not yet given an answer to my quiz question. Full marks if you put your hand up to say … Yemen. In July the UN determined that it was “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis”. If you think it’s hard to get westerners interested in flood victims in Nepal, just try talking about Yemen.

The scale of the suffering in the Arab world’s poorest country is clear. Since it became the site of a proxy war in March 2015, 10,000 people have been killed, with 7 million made homeless. The UN is especially anxious about cholera, which has already killed 2,000 people and infected more than 540,000. It threatens to become an epidemic. That’s no surprise, given that sewage plants have been among the infrastructure bombed from the sky. The Saudi-led coalition has kept Sana’a airport closed, which means food and medicines cannot get in and the sick cannot get out for treatment. Pictures of gaunt children, listless babies and starving mothers recall the worst of Africa’s famines – but this disaster is entirely human-made.

Nor is this a remote story utterly unconnected to us. On the contrary, the Saudi government is armed to the hilt with weapons supplied by the UK and the US: £3.3bn worth of British firepower in the first year of this vicious war alone. And yet Yemen has barely registered in the western consciousness, let alone stirred the western conscience.

Of course, there are all the usual factors explaining public indifference to horrible events far, far away. But there is one that is relatively new. Before 2003, whenever word came of some distant catastrophe that posed no threat to our own safety, a discussion soon followed on what “we” should do about it. The two sides would take up their positions: the “something must be done” brigade pitted against those who argued that, however awful things were, it was none of our business and we would only make matters worse. Sometimes the latter camp would prevail – think of Douglas Hurd and mid-1990s Bosnia; sometimes, the former: witness Tony Blair and Kosovo.

After Iraq, that changed. Thanks to the invasion, as well as the bloodshed and mayhem in Afghanistan and Libya, the argument is now settled – and the non-interventionists won. The test case is Syria, where Bashar al-Assad has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people – more than Saddam ever did – and yet has been allowed to retain his throne untroubled by outside challenge.

If there has been little western public appetite for action to shield Syria’s people from their dictator, there’s less to protect the people of Yemen. There’s not much interest even in pressuring London and Washington to stop arming the Saudi regime that is responsible for the country’s torment, despite the warnings that Yemen risks becoming the next Syria: its soil soaked in blood, rendered fertile for the next generation of violent jihadists.

This is not the place to re-litigate all the old arguments for and against intervention. (In the Yemen case, there is already western intervention – on the side of those doing most of the killing.) But it is worth noting one consequence of this shift: it’s as if, now that we know that we will do nothing about these distant tragedies, we have lost interest in them altogether. If we are not going to act, then why bother knowing about them?

The result is that the children of Yemen are dying cruel deaths, while the rest of the world ignores them. They are not drowning in Texas or Mumbai. They are dying under a hot desert sun, killed by our allies – and by our inattention.

 Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist


Documents that emerged this week offer insight into Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, legal experts say

Robert Mueller departs Capitol Hill following a closed-door meeting in Washington.
 Robert Mueller departs Capitol Hill following a closed-door meeting in Washington. He reportedly possesses a draft letter explaining Trump’s rationale for firing James Comey. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

Two of the most intriguing questions in US national political discourse – what does the special counsel Robert Mueller have on Donald Trump, and what more is he looking for? – were filled in at a remarkable pace this week, as details of highly sensitive documents and internal Trump Organization emails became public for the first time.

Taken together, the documents could indicate that the special counsel is looking seriously at whether Trump committed an obstruction of justice on potentially various fronts, legal experts say.

Certain additional documents whose existence was revealed for the first time – meeting notes taken by the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and a letter of intent reportedly signed by Trump to build a tower in Moscow – seemed to undercut previous statements by the president, his son and others about relationships now under the scrutiny of Mueller’s team.

Mueller is charged with investigating alleged ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian operatives, and he is believed to be examining the past financial relationships of Trump, Manafort and others.


The Wall Street Journal revealed this week that Trump lawyers had submitted memos to Mueller arguing that the president did not obstruct justice by firing the former FBI director James Comey. Those memos were probably not written in a vacuum, said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and legal commentator.

 “One important implication that you can draw from the fact that they sent the memo is that they believe that Mueller is seriously looking at obstruction,” Mariotti said. “They would not send that memo otherwise.”

In any obstruction of justice case against Trump, Mueller might also review reports from this week that Trump had directly contacted the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee after it was announced that Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, was scheduled to speak with the committee, said Mariotti.

Mueller might additionally review this week’s report that before pardoning the Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, Trump asked the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whether it would be possible to drop federal criminal charges against Arpaio.

“I think that all goes into the same bucket of things that could be used by Mueller if he’s looking at obstruction of justice,” said Mariotti.

Draft letter

The documents were still flowing on Friday afternoon, with a New York Timesreport that Mueller was in possession of a draft letter explaining Trump’s rationale for firing Comey. The draft was reportedly written by Trump and an aide, Stephen Miller, but rejected by the White House counsel, on unknown grounds.

Trump has said he fired Comey while experiencing frustration at the FBI investigation of his campaign’s alleged Russia ties and at Comey’s refusal to publicly exculpate Trump. The firing ironically hastened the appointment of a special counsel, under whom the investigation has expanded.

Former US attorneys judged the draft letter and its possession by Mueller as significant. “Logical assumption: If WH Counsel wouldn’t let him send it, [Trump] had improper if not illegal motives for firing FBI Director Comey,” wrote Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor in Birmingham, Alabama, and now a University of Alabama law professor.

“Hard to assess significance without knowing the actual contents of the draft firing letter and why WH counsel vetoed it. But can’t be good,” wrote Preet Bharara, the former US attorney for the southern district of New York and now a professor at New York University’s law school.

 Ryan Goodman, a former special counsel at the defense department, tweeted that a “big implication” of the draft letter’s existence was that Miller, the aide who helped Trump draft the letter, is “perhaps implicated in conspiracy to obstruct justice”.

Other documents revealed a changing narrative in Trump campaign contacts with Russian agents. The Washington Post reported Monday that during the campaign, Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen wrote an email to an aide to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, asking for help with a real estate deal.

It was further revealed that early on in the presidential campaign, Trump signed a non-binding letter of intent to build a tower in Moscow, Cohen confirmed in a statement to ABC News. Trump claimed during the campaign that he “knows nothing about Russia” and had “no loans” and “no deals” there.

In a separate incident, Manafort took notes, since obtained by Mueller, about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower arranged by Trump Jr, who expressed eagerness to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton, NBC News reported on Friday.

Manafort’s notes reportedly referred to political contributions and to the “RNC”, or Republican National Committee. The president personally dictated a statement released by Trump Jr saying the meeting “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children”, the Washington Post reported in July.

The details of any Trump deal or debt with a Russian connection, if any exist, are not publicly known – but yet another headline this week indicated that Mueller may have gained insight on the subject. According to a Daily Beast report on Thursday, the special counsel has enlisted the help of agents from the criminal investigation unit of the Internal Revenue Service.

“I think he got everybody’s tax returns,” said Mariotti, now a defense attorney at Thompson Coburn in Chicago. “I have no professional, personal knowledge of it, but when you’re looking at someone for something unrelated to taxes, still to get tax return information is very valuable information that tells you a lot of valuable things: who owes them money, who they owe money to, and where they keep their money.”



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