Papua New Guinean voters prepare to go to the polls

Top of the election agenda are the economic management, provision of basic services, the perennial problem of corruption and there is little concern for external affairs.

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Australia is PNG’s biggest aid donor, with about $500 million spent annually, but the illegal asylum seeker detention centre on Manus Island and the Kokoda track are the two issues that dominate media coverage of its nearest neighbour.

This year’s election is receiving little foreign media attention with the ABC, Radio New Zealand, Al Jazeera and SBS among the very few reporting in country, which may also be because of the difficulty in obtaining journalist visas.

Polls in PNG are a raucous, colourful and sometimes violent affair, with tens of thousands gathering, often in full traditional costume, for campaign rallies by party leaders.

There are over 3,000 candidates standing and 44 political parties in the country of 7.5 million people.

PNG election campaigning in full swing.Stefan Armbruster

Apart from the established parties like Mr O’Neill’s People’s National Congress, National Alliance, People’s Progress Party and Triumph Heritage Empowerment (or THE) Party, there is a selection of Monty Python-esque names called the Paradise Kingdom Party, Wontoks in Godly Service Party and PNG’s very own One Nation Party (no relation). 

Ideology plays little part in the political system, rather wontoks (common language groups or clans) predominate parties.

A near 50 percent turnover of the 111 seats in parliament occurs, with an unpredictable scramble for power after a two-week polling period. The party with the most votes is invited by the governor-general to try to form a government.

No party has ever won a majority and ungainly coalitions are created, held together by strategic political appointments and largesse, but still in the last 42-years since independence the country has only had seven prime ministers. 

When Mr O’Neill was elected as prime minister in 2012, it was with a promising agenda of free education and health care, the establishment of an anti-corruption taskforce and an ambitious infrastructure program.

Underpinning this was expected revenue from a liquefied natural gas development but that fell short of expectations, which the government blames on low global commodity prices and saw it borrow heavily to meet its election promises.

Highway construction is promoted by the government as opening the rest of the country to improved health, education and other services.

PNG is getting ready to vote.Stefan Armbruster

Now debt repayments and a foreign exchange shortage has hit the economy, which suffered a rating agency downgrade two years ago.

Drug shortages in the health system have occured and the education is under-resourced to cope with the many children now in school for the first time.

The government points to its achievements of infrastructure development, especially in the capital, and raising the country’s international standing by hosting the Pacific games and securing the APEC world leaders meeting next year.

In their shadow are the settlements of Port Moresby and elsewhere in the country, where people live in poverty. 

The promise of further revenues from another major LNG project and a gold mine are again being held up as economic saviours.

A turning point for the O’Neill government was when corruption allegations by Taskforce Sweep saw an arrest warrant issued for the prime minister. 

Concerns about the government’s direction escalated when the anti-corruption body set up by the prime minister was shut down.

Far from putting the matter to rest, it escalated and peaked last year with university student protests demanding Mr O’Neill stand down.

Peter O’Neill at a PNG election campaign.Supplied

PNG’s human rights record, already heavily criticised by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, took a further battering when police turned their guns on students last June and more than a dozen were injured. 

The incident led to a vote of no confidence in parliament. Mr O’Neill comfortably won with the support of 85 to 21 MPs.

Preparations for the 2017 election have also been hit by budget difficulties – the election commission suffering a funding short-fall, raising concerns if there will be a free and fair poll.

Eight hundred election observers from the Commonwealth, Pacific nations and other invited bodies are in the country to monitor the outcome. 

In 2012 the Commonwealth election observer report was highly critical of many aspects of the poll but only a few recommendations, which is all they can make, have been acted on.

This year Australia has chipped in $8 million and defence force assets to make the election happen, less than half of what was provided for the 2012 poll.

Stefan Armbruster

Concerns about ballot papers being printed in Indonesia, an incomplete electoral roll and security of ballot boxes is heightening tensions.

So far the eight-week pre-polling period has been more peaceful than previous years, with only a few deaths attributed to the campaign.

PNG has mobilised about 10,000 security personnel but again lack of funds has hampered deployment.

There is no opinion polling in PNG and Mr O’Neill has said he is confident of being returned to power but opposition parties say they sense a mood for change.

The results will be known some time in late July but the outcome will be subject to legal challenges, which took and under-resourced court system four years to finalise after the last election. 

MORE FROM PNG

Elvis comeback more likely than carbon tax on cars: Frydenberg

The front page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reported the government was planning to apply a carbon tax to family cars, which would force up prices by thousands of dollars.

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The government was quick to calm down the story, with Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg telling the ABC there would be no carbon tax.

“This is a complete beat-up. There is as much chance of a carbon tax on cars as Elvis making a comeback. The only thing that the government is interested in is, how do we reduce the fuel costs for families on their vehicles? There’s been consultation going back as far as October 2015 on fuel efficiency standards and the government has made no decisions on the policy to go forward in this particular area.”

While no decision has been made, the government is still considering new rules that would regulate how much carbon cars can emit.

But it says that’s different to a carbon tax.

The Infrastructure Department has proposed new standards that would force car-makers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or face fines.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten says Labor does not have any plans for a carbon tax either, but the opposition is ready to support new emissions standards.

“We offer Mr Turnbull our cooperation to get on and tackle climate change. You know, really, Mr Turnbull should stop faffing about (dithering) and just establish vehicle emissions standards to reduce pollution. We will work with Mr Turnbull. We just say to Mr Turnbull, just get on and do something!”

Consumer advocates are concerned fines for non-compliant car-makers would be passed on to buyers.

The Australian Automobile Association warns the proposal could see the price of the average family car rise by thousands of dollars.

The debate over vehicle emissions comes during a busy week for the energy minister, who is preparing for a meeting with his state counterparts on the recommendations of the Finkel Review.

The government has already endorsed 49 of chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s 50 recommendations to improve the reliability and affordability of electricity.

Among them are a plan for more battery storage, and a new requirement that coal-fired power stations provide three years’ notice before shutting down.

But the party room has not yet reached a decision on the most controversial suggestion: a clean energy target that would require power companies to source a percentage of their electricity from renewables.

“I’m sure the states would like to discuss it and I’m happy to talk to them about it, but the point of the government’s position on a clean energy target is that we haven’t finalised our internal discussions. There are a number of issues that have been raised around modelling assumptions, and the like, and we’re continuing to consult with key stakeholders. So this is a very big decision to move down the path of a new mechanism. It’s one that Dr Finkel himself said should be in place by 2020, so we don’t have to rush it.”

The COAG meeting of state and federal energy ministers takes place on Friday.

 

 

PNG PM defends record as polling starts in confusion

Commonwealth election observers have expressed surprise as sporadic voting started in some parts of the country, causing confusion after the Election Commission said there would be no voting until Monday.

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Mr O’Neill hopes his People’s National Congress (PNC) party will be returned as the largest party and be called on to form a coalition government at the end of two weeks of polling, which begins in earnest on Monday.

The official opposition Triumph Heritage Empowerment (THE) party, led by Don Polye, has joined with former members of Mr O’Neill’s ruling coalition to try and remove him from power.

We have delivered: PNG PM

Mr O’Neill in an exclusive interview with SBS says he stands by his record in office.

“There is a substantial change in infrastructure across the country and I think that is delivering a much better level of services to our people and continues to assure there is growth in our economy,” Mr O’Neill said.

“We are telling the people we will strengthen the policies we have been able to deliver over the last five years and we have to continue to build on it.”

Voters in Central Province on Saturday (Photo credit: Commonwealth Observer Mission)Commonwealth Observer Mission

Five tumultuous years in government began in 2012 with optimism and core promises of free education, universal healthcare and the establishment of an anti-corruption taskforce.

An Exxon-Mobile LNG projects was to underpin his ambitious policies but a collapse in resource prices saw the economy slumped, the currency fall dramatically and budgets were cut.

“When you have a drop in revenue of over 2bn kina (A$800m) you have to take some drastic action and we have been able to do so,” he said.

“Perceptions we are not able to meet commitments are absolutely false.”

‘We must not let leaders fool us’

One million more children are reportedly attending school, but class numbers have blown out with the government unable to keep up with building new facilities or employ enough teachers.

In the lead-up to the election, severe drug shortages hit the health system.

The government has had to borrow heavily to keep its promises and now spends 10 per cent of its budget on debt servicing.

“We must not let Peter O’Neill and other leaders deceive us and fool us,” opposition leader Don Polye said.

“The biggest mistake is the breaking of the constitution and the rule of law and the taking of massive loans through the breaching of the law.”

A veteran of PNG politics has returned to the fray and is locked in a bitter feud with the prime minister.

PNG women election bids to take on ‘big man’ politics

PNG is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman, say human rights groups, and that makes running for parliament even more difficult.

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Rarely do women get elected in the culture of the “big man” PNG politics and there is little money available. Most are grassroots campaigns.

Once in office they hope to change the ever present threat of violence and offer a different perspective on addressing economic and social problems.

“It’s a culture (where) men must be the boss, and we must listen to our husbands, and if we don’t listen to our husband, that’s where the violence is coming in,” said Kathy Tom, candidate for Gulf Regional seat.

For decades she has a campaigned for women’s rights and against domestic violence.

PNG is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for women.

Domestic violence rates high: UN

There are no reliable statistics, but the UN estimates two in every three women experience violence in their lifetime, often with fatal consequences.

Recent brutal sorcery-related murders of women in PNG has drawn UN condemnation, especially after 20-year-old Kepari Leniata was burnt to death on a pile of tyres in the Highlands after being accused of being a witch in 2013.

“We know there is a clear link between gender-based violence and women’s participation, and more so when it comes to political life and taking up leadership roles,” said UNDP’s head of governance Julie Bukikun.

‘I broke the rules’

Among the more than 3,300 candidates there are only 165 women and the UN’s focus is on preparing them for taking their place in parliament.

“It’s supposed to be a men’s house, not a women’s house, so I broke the rules,” said Nahua Rooney, one of three women elected to the first parliament post-independence in 1977, one of the few ever.

“I had nine years of my 10 years as a member as a cabinet minister. My experience is that when it comes to decision making and issues, men will be talking big things, and they’re up on cloud nine, while I’m talking about the basic essentials, the water, the needs.

“It’s to do with money and with women now (gaining) their own economic sustainability, they’re not going to put up with any bullshit any more, that men think he is the only one that control them.” 

The missing jigsaw piece

A new generation of women, in business and the public service, are appalled at being locked out of power but are optimistic they can make a change.

“We fix things domestically, that’s the part of the jigsaw that’s missing from this national agenda on development; the woman’s perspective on how something could be fixed,” said Julienne Leka, a candidate for the Rigo Open electorate.

Women have never held more than three of the 111 seats in any PNG parliament.

IS leader al-Baghdadi reported dead after loss of Mosul

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a longtime conflict monitor, said it had heard from senior IS leaders that Baghdadi was dead.

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If confirmed, his death would mark another devastating blow to the jihadist group after its loss of Mosul, which Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Monday declared had been retaken from IS after a gruelling months-long campaign.

The Britain-based Observatory’s director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that “top tier commanders from IS who are present in Deir Ezzor province have confirmed the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, emir of the Islamic State group, to the Observatory”.

“We learned of it today but we do not know when he died or how,” he said.

The report could not be independently verified. Baghdadi has been reported killed several times.

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Deir Ezzor, in eastern Syria, remains largely under IS control but the group has rapidly lost territory elsewhere in Syria and in neighbouring Iraq.

Abdel Rahman said Baghdadi “was present in eastern parts of Deir Ezzor province” in recent months, but it was unclear if he died there or elsewhere.

There was no official confirmation or denial of the news on IS-run social media outlets.

Persistent rumours of death

The US-led coalition fighting the jihadist group in Syria and Iraq said it could not verify the Observatory’s information.

0:00 US military on IS leader death reports Share US military on IS leader death reports

“I don’t have a clue” about Baghdadi’s status, said US Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, who heads the coalition.

“Hope he’s deader than a doornail. And if he’s not, as soon as we find out where he is he will be,” he said in a video call from Baghdad.

Asked if the coalition was examining the claim, its spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said: “We have professionals who use all information at their disposal to verify reports before we would confirm any allegations.”

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday tweeted “Big wins against ISIS!”

It was not immediately clear if that was a reference to Mosul’s recapture, Baghdadi’s reported death, or both.

There have been persistent rumours that Baghdadi had died in recent months. Russia’s army said in mid-June that it was seeking to verify whether it had killed the IS chief in a May air strike in Syria.

The US-led coalition said at the time it could not confirm whether the Russian strike had killed Baghdadi.

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With a $25 million US bounty on his head, Baghdadi has kept a low profile but was rumoured to move regularly throughout IS-held territory in the area straddling Iraq and Syria.

The 46-year-old Iraqi has not been seen since making his only known public appearance as “caliph” in 2014 at the Grand Mosque of Al-Nuri in Mosul.

IS destroyed the highly symbolic site before Iraqi forces could reach it as they pushed the jihadist group from Mosul.

Iraqi forces launched their campaign in October to retake Iraq’s second city, which was seized by the jihadists during the mid-2014 offensive that saw them take control of large parts of Iraq and Syria.

Abadi announced in Mosul on Monday that the campaign had ended with the defeat of IS in the city, hailing “a victory over darkness, a victory over brutality and terrorism”.

Devastation in Mosul

The cost of victory has been enormous: much of Mosul lies in ruins, thousands are dead and wounded and nearly half the city’s residents have been forced from their homes.

In Mosul’s Old City, where buildings lie crumbling and burned-out cars and other debris choke the streets, security forces were still searching for remaining IS fighters.

“What we are doing today is just combing the area and clearing it of sleeper cells,” said Staff Lieutenant General Sami al-Aridhi, a senior commander in Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service.

“There are groups that are hiding in shelters,” but they surrender or are killed, Aridhi said.

Since the Mosul operation began in October, 920,000 people have fled their homes, only a fraction of whom have returned, according to the United Nations.

Rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition of exposing civilians to “relentless and unlawful attacks” in west Mosul.

“Pro-government forces launched barrages of indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks using explosive weapons unsuitable for such a densely populated urban area,” Amnesty said.

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苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/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.