PNG election: Electoral roll disputes and cancellations disrupt vote

Delays and cancellations hit polling in Papua New Guinea’s Highlands on the first day of widespread voting over allegations of electoral roll inaccuracies and ballot paper discrepancies.

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Polling booths in the Eastern Highlands province capital Goroka, PNG’s third largest city, did not open until late afternoon causing chaotic scenes as people tried to cast their votes before they closed at six o’clock.

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Heated exchanges at police headquarters saw candidates delay the start of voting by more than six hours.

Day one #PNG election problems mar polling #frontpage news @SBSNews pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/MlqdswYMh7

— Stefan Armbruster (@StefArmbruster) June 25, 2017

Thousands of university students at Goroka University claim they only found out on voting day that their names were not included on the electoral roll.

“We’ve had a false start, we were supposed to start at eight o’clock this morning. This is the time gazetted by the PNG government for Goroka,” said incumbent MP Bire Kimisopa for Goroka Open.

“Unfortunately there’s some disputes among the candidates about the distribution of ballot papers, but more importantly it reflects poorly on the electoral commission in terms of their transparency.

“Some candidates found out through scrutineers that some of the votes expected to be cast in specific polling booths all of a sudden dropped or in certain places increased dramatically.

“That points the finger at the electoral commission how the distribute the election papers.”

Candidates argued for hours in the police compound with a heavy police presence, while hundreds of people gathered outside and periodically had to be chased out of the station grounds.

“The candidates want to see the electoral roll and the total numbers of electoral ballots and that should have been done by the returning officer,” said Eastern Highlands election manager Steven Gore Kaupa.

“They have failed to do that quickly and that’s why candidates have been arguing.

“Fortunately we’ve reached an understanding, and we’ve given an undertaking the election is go now.”

Several hours later hundreds of people gathered at polling booths around the sprawling town waiting for the chance to vote.

The country’s electoral commission is under scrutiny over claims it failed to properly maintain voter records.SBS World News

‘If we say PNG is a democratic country, we are totally deprived’

Overlooking the township is the campus of the University of Goroka where the student body had gathered after earlier trying to appeal to Mr Kaupa.

“As you can see, these students and staff are waiting to exercise their democratic right at this election. It seems like this university has been forgotten,” said Vice-Chancellor professor Musawe Sinebare.

“As the head of the institution I’ve written to the electoral commissioner informing him that we have four, five thousand students and staff members here who need to vote and requesting University of Goroka to be a polling area. 

“Now to date there is no polling gazetted for University of Goroka.”

Several hundred gathered to hear Mr Sinebare speak saying they had only just found out their names were not on the electoral roll.

“We were expecting to exercise our democratic right to vote to elect our leaders but the unexpected thing happened, our democratic rights were deprived,” said Peter James, a second-year political science student, speaking on behalf of fellow students.

“The student body in here are confused what really happened. This is totally, totally unfair. There are 4,000, close to 5,000 students here. If we say PNG is a democratic country, we are totally deprived.”

Rush to vote in Goroka

By late afternoon there were large queues milling around polling booths in Goroka.

When voting started officials were overrun by people trying to vote before the 6 o’clock close.

The four cardboard booths surrounded as people tried to fill out their forms and put them in the ballot boxes, followed by having their little finger dipped in ink to prevent them voting again.

‘That’s symptomatic with the current state of affairs in PNG in terms of the economic stress,” said incumbent MP Bire Kimisopa.

“The election commission are one agency of government that are being hampered, especially at this time of the election.”

“I’ve been advised in Chimbu that they are deferring the election until Wednesday. They had issues with most of their seats, numbers astronomically increasing and decreasing, it should have been sorted out years ago. 

“The Electoral Commission has failed miserably.”

Trump says son Donald Jr is innocent

US President Donald Trump has defended Donald Trump Jr as “innocent” following emails that showed his eldest son welcomed Russian help against his father’s rival Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election.

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“My son Donald did a good job last night,” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to a television interview by his son on Tuesday.

“He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

The emails, released by Trump Jr, are the most concrete evidence yet that campaign officials welcomed Russian help to win the election.

The messages show the younger Trump was open to the prospect of “very high-level and sensitive information” from a Russian lawyer that a go-between described as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump” before a meeting on June 9, 2016.

“If it’s what you say I love it,” Trump Jr responded.

He released the messages on Twitter after the New York Times said it planned to write about them and sought comment from him.

The messages indicate Trump’s campaign manager at the time, Paul Manafort, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a top White House adviser, also planned to attend the meeting Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who denies having Kremlin ties.

Trump Jr said Veselnitskaya did not provide damaging information about Clinton and instead sought to discuss Russian sanctions.

“In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently,” Trump Jr said on Fox News.

“For me, this was opposition research.”

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was “wild” that Trump Jr was being blamed for meeting the Russian lawyer.

“I learned with surprise that a Russian lawyer, a women, is being blamed and Trump’s son is being blamed for meeting. For me, this is wild,” Lavrov said during a visit to Brussels.

“Because when any person speaks to a lawyer, what problem or threat could be there? I didn’t know about this, I learned about it from television.”

Australia nearly a shoo-in for UN Human Rights Council seat as France drops out of race

Australia’s two-year-long campaign for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council may end with a no-contest victory thanks to French diplomats pulling out of the race, SBS World News understands.

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Australia, Spain and France were competing for two vacant seats on the Council, with the winners to be decided by a vote of all United Nations member countries in October.

But now, SBS World News has learned France will postpone its bid until 2021.

The two vacant seats are reserved for countries in the Western European and Others Group, of which Australia is a member.

“Unless there is a late candidate, Australia will effectively be elected later this year,” said Professor Donald Rothwell, an expert in international law at the Australian National University, who was informed of the development by SBS World News.

Australia and Spain will still need to win the majority-approval of the UN General Assembly at the elections in October, but Professor Rothwell points out the UN will have little choice but to approve the bids unless another applicant materialises.

The Turnbull Government has been pushing hard for a place on the HRC, with former Liberal minister Philip Ruddock flying around the world as the country’s Special Envoy on Human Rights in a bid to shore up votes.

In May, the ABC reported Mr Ruddock’s campaigning in 23 countries had cost taxpayers more than $200,000.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s office would not comment on reports of France’s withdrawal but told SBS World News that Australia’s bid would continue.

“The Australian Government is continuing its positive campaign for a seat on the Human Rights Council,” the minister’s statement read.

“We will continue to campaign to ensure the South Pacific region is represented, for the first time, on the Council and we are looking forward to making a positive contribution.”

Australia has made a series of “pledges” to the United Nations as part of its HRC bid. It promised to hold a referendum to recognise Indigenous people in the Constitution, campaign to end violence against women and girls, and advocate for the protection of journalists and freedom of speech, among other issues.

Elaine Pearson, the head of Human Rights Watch in Australia, said it was a shame the process would be stripped of its competitiveness.

“Australia, France and Spain all signed up to a joint statement reinstating the importance of a competitive nature of these elections, and that’s why it’s particularly surprising and disappointing that France would withdraw from this race,” Ms Pearson said.

“A competitive process puts more pressure on the candidates to win a seat, so this means there is more scrutiny of the human rights records of the individual candidates.”

Australia still needs to address its own human rights abuses: advocates

Human rights groups have long criticised Australia for failing to address human rights concerns at home, particularly on Indigenous affairs and the treatment of asylum seekers.

Amnesty International Australia’s Michael Hayworth said it was important for Australia to still follow through on its commitments.

“This makes it even more critical that Australia demonstrate leadership on human rights,” Mr Hayworth said.

“We need a national plan of action to address the incredibly high rates of Indigenous youth incarceration. We need to stop the offshore detention of people who’ve come here seeking our safety.”

“We need to urgently act not just because of this human rights council bid but also because those human rights abuses are causing irreparable harm to families and communities.”

The HRC has been criticised in the past for allowing the membership of countries with poor human rights records, including Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Egypt.

“I don’t think any country who sits on the Human Rights Council right now has a perfect human rights record,” Ms Pearson said, accusing Saudi Arabia of deliberately undermining the work of the Council.

Professor Rothwell said the human rights records of applicants was “not actually critical” in practical terms.

Award-winning cancer scientist credits refugee story for her success

Each week scientist Dr Tien Huynh spends several hours in a greenhouse in Melbourne’s north tending the Asian plant known as ‘Red Gak’.

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Dr Huynh is contributing to research into the plant’s potential to help treat several varieties of cancer.

“Carcinoma, Melanoma and a few other breast cancer – we’ve had other students work on it, very effective. We’re talking about 80 to 98 per cent killing of them but it leaves normal cells alive,” Dr Huynh said.

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After spending part of her early childhood under house arrest in Vietnam, Tien, her sister and mother made the perilous journey to Australia.

The trio squeezed into a single seat in a four-metre vessel bound first for Indonesia then Australia where they re-united with their father.

He was exiled from their homeland as a result of his role as a high ranking officer in the South Vietnamese Army.

But young Tien was most inspired by her mother’s strength and tenacity in making the voyage to their new homeland.

“She wanted us to have a future and freedom, and she just decided she was going to sacrifice everything – it was all-or-nothing to go on this journey to Australia and I think it’s quite remarkable,” she said.

The sisters in Indonesia in 1982 en route to Australia.Supplied

It helped engender a can-do attitude and sense of optimism in Tien – at the time the only Asian female in her university science class.

“It was daunting, but it was a challenge – it was exciting like you were the first one there and the first one to make those changes with your perspective, and I think that was a strength as well.

“I focus a lot of my research on Asian medicinal plants, and to me I see that as an opportunity that I’ve got because of my background and difference in culture,” Dr Huynh said.

But it was another high-achieving woman – renowned scientist Adjunct Professor Ann Lawrie who inspired the young Tien Huynh.

“Like a mother figure – and that role-model was really important because she led by example and you see that she’s successful and you see that she can achieve great things just being in her presence was a privilege enough.”

Dr Tien Huynh, left, with her mentee Dao Nguyen.SBS World News

She passed her knowledge to me so generously giving me that inspiration and the passion if I can do that to my own students then I think it’s a great homage to her, she said.

Dr Tien Huynh is now mentoring Dao Nguyen – a masters graduate from a Vietnamese University – the pair is collaborating on the ‘Red Gak’ research project.

According to Dao, Tien is proving to be every bit the leader.

“She’s a great lecturer and she has a big ambition how to inspire other women how to do to inspire woman that they can do anything that they love to do,” Dao Nguyen said.

Her role as a leader in her field and developing conservation programs to protect the potentially life-saving ‘Red Gak’ plant in Vietnam landed Dr Huynh a coveted national ‘STEM’ award for her work as a role model for young women in the field of science – which will be formally presented at a ceremony next month.

October 1970: Dr Tien Huynh’s father during the Vietnam War was the leading lieutenant for the navy (left) and his platoon (right).Supplied

Two Australians among Crown staff released from China jail

Two Australians are among some of the Crown Resorts employees released from jail in China for gambling crimes.

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Those released are believed to be ‘Jane’ Pan Dan and Jerry Xuan.

“Two Australians were released on 12 July at the conclusion of their sentence,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday.

“Due to our privacy obligations, we will not provide further comment on the individuals,” DFAT said in a brief statement

The Australian government has provided consular assistance to three Australian Crown employees since they were detained in Shanghai in October 2016.

Crown Resorts is yet to comment.

A Reuters report on Wednesday said that 10 of 16 employees who were jailed in June were released from two detention facilities in Shanghai on Wednesday.

It is believed that another employee will be released on Thursday.

The employees were taken into custody by Chinese authorities last October.

Nineteen current and former Crown Resorts staff, including three Australians, pleaded guilty to charges of illegal promotion of gambling on the Chinese mainland at a hearing in China in June.

Of the 19, 16 were fined and sentenced to a jail term.

Three defendants, who had been released on bail last November, were not fined or sentenced to prison

Eleven of those fined and jailed received a sentence of nine months, and five a sentence of 10 months, with time in detention taken into account in all cases.

Crown’s head of international VIP gambling, Australia’s Jason O’Connor, was sentenced to 10 months in jail and fined RMB2 million, or $A390,000.

Mr Xuan and Ms Pan, both Australian-Chinese dual nationals, received sentences of nine months’ imprisonment and were also fined $A78,000 and $A39,000 respectively.

The marketing of casinos and organising overseas gambling trips for 10 or more people are illegal on mainland China.

Chinese authorities have been cracking down on gambling as part of the fight against corruption.

Crown Resorts, which is controlled by billionaire James Packer, had been luring wealthy VIP gamblers from China to Crowns’ casino-hotel resorts in Melbourne and Perth, and to jointly operated casinos in Macau.

Since the detentions, Crown has scaled back its Chinese ambitions, selling down its stake in the Macau-based joint venture Melco Crown, before offloading its final stake in Melco Resorts & Entertainment for $US987 million.