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Family of murder victim wait for answers

Marnie Dean, 40, sister of Mandy Lee Yodgee, who was murdered in 1984. Photo: Glenn Hunt Marnie Dean, 40, sister of Mandy Lee Yodgee, who was murdered in 1984. Photo: Glenn Hunt
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Cold-case evidence bungle

Mandy Lee Yodgee was days from turning 18 when she was flung from a car being driven between Sassafras and The Basin.

Two boys wandering in the Dandenongs found her body one lunchtime, lying in an embankment and covered in scrub, near the Mountain Highway. That was on May 8, 1984. She had been there for weeks.

A post-mortem found no cause of death. Police believe she may have been poisoned, but nothing was certain.

That was 30 years ago, and uncertainty lingers.

Mandy’s sister Marnie Dean was told by The Age on Thursday that police had destroyed cold case evidence, and not even detectives knew which files were complete.

The file might not have anything missing – after all, the only evidence in there is likely to be remains of her clothing. But it is another uncertainty that will weigh on Ms Dean until the killer is found.

“There was a lot of weirdness about the whole case, and I don’t know if evidence was destroyed because it has been years since I spoke to police,” she said.

Ms Dean is 40, and lives in Brisbane. She sells cars from a car yard in the eastern suburbs. She was 10 when her sister disappeared.

When you search Mandy’s name online, it doesn’t take long to come across posts from Marnie: on psychic forums asking for help in the case, commenting on the Victoria Police Facebook page about a reward offered in another 30-year-old cold case.

She is in contact with one of the boys who found the body on Facebook.

He told her that he had kept newspaper clippings of the case for years, fascinated about what had happened to the teenager he found.

Then, one day, the clippings disappeared. He doesn’t know who took them. Another uncertainty.

Ms Dean was told that on the night her sister vanished she had been drinking at a pub with an older man.

“He was with his nephew and she went to his house in Prahran, which was near where she was living, and that’s where she was last seen.

“The police spoke to them, but for whatever reason let them go, and when some of the family went there a few days later, there was a girl exactly the same as Mandy – same height, weight, age, everything.

“They told the police again, and when they went back the whole place was empty.”

In 1999, Mandy’s mother Lois Yodgee was quoted in a newspaper article about a police squad that was set to investigate unsolved homicides. She said she knew who had killed Mandy and the squad had given her hope that justice would be done.

Lois and Mandy lay together now, in Clunes cemetery.

“Lilac trees are blooming, for mother and daughter’s reunion,” the plaque reads.

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Massive Iranian support has made Asian Cup ‘like playing in Tehran’ says Ashkan Dejagah

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz and captain Andranik Teymourian have dedicated the team’s progress to the second round of the Asian Cup to their vocal supporters, describing the Team Melli’s fans as like playing with a “12th man”.
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Star winger Ashkan Dejagah went one step further after the 1-0 win over Qatar in Sydney on Thursday night, saying “it was fantastic, it was is if I was playing in Tehran.”

After a 17,000-strong crowd in Melbourne for their opening win over Bahrain, that number swelled to 22,672 at ANZ Stadium, with the narrow win booking their progress to the second round. All bar a few were backing the Persian giants.

The group’s earlier match in Canberra, between the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, ended in a 2-1 win for the Emiratis, meaning they too advance and that the clash between the Iran and the UAE in Brisbane on Monday night will determine top spot.

But Iran are sure to have something of a quasi-home ground advantage once again, with the entire expatriate community seemingly on board as Iran seek their first Asian Cup triumph since 1976 – their third consecutive continental title.

“I think we deserved to win the game and I would like personally to dedicate this win to our fantastic, united fans that came here to support the team,” Queiroz said. “This qualification to the second round I would like to dedicate to the special ones in the past month that have been supporting the team and the players. They trust and believe in the players. The game is for them.”

Teymourian said the dressing room was completely overwhelmed by the support they had been receiving from the stands.

“It was a difficult match but we got the three points and we have qualified. We played a good game tonight but we are very thankful to our fans, who have been our 12th player in the last two games,” he said. “I want to thank all the Iranians here in Australia for supporting the team.

“I think we have the second most supporters here in Australia after the Socceroos. It’s an absolute privilege for all the Team Melli players.”

Queiroz said his side had “one, two, three, four, five, six chances … but we didn’t finish them” and they nearly paid the price.

“It was a very difficult game. Both teams were trying to win the game since the first minute,” he said. “There was a moment when it was our time to suffer and play with a fighting spirit, but we were always trying to score again.

“Unfortunately the second goal did not come and that made our life difficult until the last second. But it was a good win and we had the best opportunities in the game.”

Perhaps the more controversial press conference came from Qatar’s coach Djamel Belmadi, when asked about why their star player Khalfan Ibrahim was left out of the team.

“Are you really ready to listen and to understand the reason why?,” Belmadi asked the journalist who put the question to him. “First of all [before the game] nobody asked at this moment why Khalfan is not in. I don’t like to talk too much about my choices. This was – let’s say – more tactical than something else.

“I prefer to talk about the players that played today. They played a great game and it was cruel to take. I believe that if we didn’t concede this goal, so early in the second half, we could have done better because after that goal, we tried to [attack] and we played a little bit in a hurry. When you play like this, you miss your organisation and it’s not the right thing to do, to win a game, especially against a good time like Iran.

“I know I didn’t answer your question. But I just want to talk about the players who played.”

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Queensland State Election: LNP likes chances in Ashgrove

Premier Campbell Newman at the Emerald Carrying Company in Emerald. . Photo: Renee MelidesQueensland Election: Full coverage
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The LNP is growing increasingly confident Campbell Newman will hold his seat of Ashgrove.

While a recent poll has former Labor MP and minister Kate Jones as the preferred candidate, it also indicated that the voter perception was Mr Newman would win.

The government has spent more than $100 million shoring up the seat for the LNP, with Mr Newman promising an additional $18 million worth of commitments as part of the “Ashgrove Plan” on the first day of the LNP policy releases.

The high number of public servants who live within the electorate had given the LNP pause that it would lose the seat – and thereby it’s parliamentary leader – but sources say the party is growing more confident “every day” that Mr Newman will prevail.

“They have a choice between having the Premier and an opposition backbencher as their local member, that is the choice,” one party source told Fairfax Media.

“And people aren’t stupid. Especially in Ashgrove. They’ll go with who can get stuff done for them, so why would they vote him out?

“It will go like it did last time, steady and then a spike of support for him at the end.”

Ms Jones and Labor have shied away from running a public campaign, after the circus that descended upon the electorate in the 2012 election.

Instead, the Opposition has focused on running a strong grassroots campaign, largely away from the cameras.

Ms Jones will officially launch her campaign on Saturday.

Fifteen days remain until the election (from Friday).

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Sussan Ley makes first mark with flip on medicare rebate

Sussan Ley said she would speak with doctors.OPINION:Ley’s action, a new way?
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EDITORIAL:Ley’s move a good step

A FEDERAL government backdownon Medicare rebate cuts has beenwelcomed by the Border’s peak medicalbody.

The government had plannedto strip $20 from rebates for shortvisits to the doctor but yesterdayscrapped the plan.

Health Minister and member forFarrer Sussan Ley said the cuts,which were to be implemented fromMonday, were now “off the table”.

Other measures, including the$5 GP co-payment, were still on theagenda, but Ms Ley told The BorderMail the co-payment was up fordiscussion and she did not rule outfurther changes.

Border Medical Association chairmanEliza Tweddle welcomed thescrapping of the rebate reductionbut said the group “awaited furtherdevelopments”.

“I think there has to be somethingdone to address health budget costs,”she said.

“It has to be well thought out,rational reform.

“There was significant concern inthe medical community about theproposed changes.

“Patients may have chosen notto see a doctor and delayed theirpresentation.

“The emergency departmentsof both Albury and Wodonga arealready under significant pressure,and that’s one of the primary areasthat needs to be addressed withgovernment funding.

“Any changes that result in thesudden increase in patients’ use ofthese already under pressure servicesis not good.”

Doctor Bill Walton is slightly disappointed the rebate reduction was dropped. Picture: JOHN RUSSELL

But Wodonga doctor Bill Waltonsaid he had supported the rebatereduction.

“It was aimed at improving thequality and I didn’t have a problemwith it, so I’m a little disappointed,”he said.

“I think it would stop this so-calledsix-minute medicine where people …are rushed through their consultations.

“I think what GPs want to do is move towards preventative health measures, and a lot of that takes longer than six minutes.

“I was glad to see the standard consultation was expected to be longer than 10 minutes.”

Ms Ley said the “overwhelming feedback” on the rebate cut was that it was not supported.

She said she was open to meeting with doctors and the Border Medical Association as part of consultations.

“I’m happy to discuss what doctors want to raise with me,” she said.

“They were concerned about changes to the Level A and B rebate.

“I have acted on that.”

Ms Ley said Medicare needed to become sustainable.

“The $5 co-payment is yet to be the discussion of either regulation or legislation,” she said.

“It’s a bit too early to talk about the detail of it.”

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What is synthetic cannabis?

Synthetic cannabis has been seized n a series of raids on Queensland adult shops. Photo: Supplied Commercial-type packaging feeds a perception that synthetic cannabis is safe, according to police. Photo: Supplied
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It’s been described by police as a drug not fit for human consumption, so what exactly is synthetic cannabis and what makes it so dangerous?

The manufactured substance this week linked to the deaths of two men in Mackay exploded onto the Australian illicit drug scene in 2009, according to Queensland Police Detective Acting Sergeant Clay Butler.

The State Drug Squad synthetic drugs investigation specialist said the drug was manufactured in clandestine production houses, often with untested chemicals imported from overseas in powder form.

The compounds are mixed with acetone, sprayed on dried, readily available green herbs and sold in retail outlets such as adult stores and herb shops, where the drug is often packaged and marketed as a legal alternative to cannabis.

But it is far from legal, Detective Sergeant Butler said.

The chemicals used aim to mimic and often magnify the high of cannabis by stimulating the same cannabanoid receptors in the brain, he said, and though it continued to trail the drug it aims to replicate and methamphetamines in street popularity, it is no less concerning.

“These drugs are sometimes developed for medical research, some are brand new, there are no human trials and people selling the products are using the public as the guinea pigs,” he said.

“If there is an adverse reaction, they don’t care.”

The ever-changing array of the chemical compounds used also provide a challenge to health practitioners who treat those who use synthetic cannabis.

Professor Jennifer Martin,of the University of Queensland’s Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said the differing compounds used often meant doctors did not know exactly what they were dealing with.

“With standard cannabis you know what you get when you take it, but with these other chemicals you mix with a whole lot of other chemicals that switch on or off different pathways in the brain and can have a whole lot of effects on other organs,” she said.

“It could be things we use to kill animals, to get rid of weeds, there is one agent that comes from a plant used to treat cancer, so if you had enough of that, it’s enough to kill healthy cells.

“We are certainly not advocating people go out and use cannabis but the effects of synthetic cannabis can be much worse.”

Detective Sergeant Butler said there remained a perception the drug was safe, due to its initial ready availability in retail stores and commercial-type packaging.

“Those people who are selling it aren’t retailers, they are drug dealers,” he said.

“All they are interested in doing is selling the product to make money. You are buying a product that has no ingredient list, you don’t know what the potency is and you are putting your life at risk when you have no idea what you are taking.”

Professor Jake Najman, director of the Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre, said many people were looking to avoid possible legal implications of buying cannabis by purchasing a product they thought to be legal.

“What worries me is people have died, it is unlikely they would have died had they used cannabis,” he said.

“If you stop young people from using one drug, you don’t stop them from using drugs.

“The government is busily trying to put out fires but not really doing anything about the underlying problem, which is that a lot of young people experiment with drugs.

“The question is, what should we be doing to try and limit the harm and risk to them.

“We certainly don’t want anyone dying.”

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BT’s best: We name Queensland’s top 10 markets

Jan Powers Markets have kicked off the year as biggest farmers’ markets in Brisbane. Photo: SuppliedEach week, Brisbane Times is on a mission to find the best of pretty much everything in Queensland, and with a little bit of help from our Facebook audience, we’ll be compiling a Top 10. 
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Not everyone will agree. We know that, so stand up for your favourite during the discussion. This week, we’re off to market – on the Sunshine Coast, in Cairns, Toowoomba, the Gold Coast and Brisbane.

From fresh produce, to arts and vintage clothing, there are no shortage of markets around the state. Here are 10 of the best.

1. Eumundi Markets Open Saturdays 7am to 2pm and Wednesdays 8am to 1.30pm

For decades the Eumundi Markets have continued to be a Queensland favourite, attracting customers from far and wide with their vibrant atmosphere, mouth-watering street food, diverse array of produce and inspired artworks and homewares.

Add in the town’s friendly and nostalgic ambience and some beautiful beaches just a stone’s throw away, the Eumundi Markets make an ideal weekend activity.

2.Carseldine Markets

Open Saturdays from 6am to 12pm

A welcome addition to the north side, the Carseldine Markets are growing to be the largest farmers market in the area, with more than 180 stalls ranging from fresh produce to a variety of street food to treatments and homeware products.

Open every Saturday from 6am to noon, vendors from as far away as Redcliffe and the Sunshine Coast present fresh, locally made yoghurt smoothies and hand-crafted trinkets for customers to treat themselves to.

3. Toowoomba PCYC Markets Open Sundays from 7am to 12.30pm.

For around 25 years, the Toowoomba PCYC Markets have been a staple in the area as well as a prime example of grassroots markets, with proceeds going towards the PCYC and the wider community.

Selling goods as varied as crafts, bric-a-brac, store-type new items and their famous fruit and vegies, these markets pride themselves on their basic, ‘what you see is what you get’ approach, with low prices and cheap rates for stallholders.

4. Brisbane MarketPlace Rocklea

Open Saturdays and Sundays from 6am to 12pm.

Heralding itself as Brisbane’s premier public market facility, the Brisbane MarketPlace in Rocklea is so diverse it has two styles of market to choose from over the weekend; Saturday Fresh Markets and Sunday Discovery Markets.

Saturday Fresh Markets are for the foodies and nature lovers, with a huge range of plants, fresh produce and delectable cuisines, while Sunday Discovery Markets cater to those looking for a bargain on collectables, home renovation products, books, CD’s, DVD’s and more.

5. The Noosa Farmers’ Market Open Sundays from 7am to 12pm.

“From humble beginnings in 2001 serving just a few hundred customers, The Noosa Farmers’ Market has excelled in attracting around 6000 customers from Australia and overseas, and was voted “#1 market in Australia” on TripAdvisor in 2013.

These markets provide fresh, local produce to a range of customers, with nut milk for vegans, freshly squeezed lime drinks for Paleo people, and for meat lovers, one regular farmer kills a cow every week just for this market – can’t get much fresher than that!

6. Jan Powers Farmers Markets Opening times: Powerhouse – Saturdays 6am to 12pm (was previously every second Saturday, but moving to every Saturday from February); Queen Street – Wednesdays 10am to 6pm; Manly – every third Saturday every month, 6am to 12pm; Mitchelton – every first Sunday every month, 6am to 12pm

Kicking off the year as the biggest farmer’s market in Brisbane, Jan Powers Farmers Markets offers a huge variety of stores and produce across four locations, including New Farm, Queen Street, Manly Harbour and Mitchelton.

Along with diversity of location comes diversity of fresh produce for these markets, with a range of seafood, oils, breads, meats, pasta, cakes and spices to set your taste buds tingling.

7. The Gap Farmers’ Market Open the second and fourth Sunday every month – next scheduled for January 25.

The Gap Farmers’ Market is a not-for-profit market that began June last year and has already become one of the most successful farmers’ markets in the state thanks to Moggill Market operators Erica and John Parker’s input.

Boasting 80-90 stalls and often attracting roughly 3000 visitors, the Gap Farmers’ Market has a make it or grow it policy upheld by local farmers and craftspeople, and fosters community spirit by turning market proceeds back over to local schools and community initiatives.

8. The Handmade Expo

Opening times: Ipswich – next scheduled for Saturday, February 21, 8am to 2pm; Morayfield – next scheduled for Sunday, March 1, 9am to 2pm; Rockhampton – next scheduled for Saturday, February 14, 9am to 2pm; Bundaberg – Saturday, February 22, 9am to 2pm; Rockingham – Sunday, February 8, 9am to 2pm; Forest Hill – no scheduled dates.

Priding themselves on ‘making, baking and growing’, The Handmade Expo is a chain of markets which began at the Ipswich Showgrounds in 2008 before expanding out into a 90 to 150 stall monthly event for homemade goods makers.

Take your pick of expo locations from Ipswich, Morayfield, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Perth (Rockingham) and Forest Hill, and explore funky fabrics, beautiful baby goods, and cute crochets.

9. The Collective Markets South Bank

Open Fridays 5pm to 9pm, Saturdays 10am to 9pm and Sundays 9am to 4pm.

Bribanites all over have soaked up the warm, vibrant atmosphere of The Collective Markets in Stanley Street Plaza for a couple of years now, taking in inspired works of art, craft, fashion and photography from local stallholders.

What really makes these markets a memorable activity is the lively South Bank location, with many a cafe or bar to relax in and observe fellow shoppers enjoy some handmade handicrafts.

10. Carrara Markets

Open Saturdays and Sundays from 7am to 4pm.

Carrara Markets is one of the older venues on the circuit, open for more than 20 years. It’s also one of the largest, with more than 400 stalls offering a wide range of products.

There’s plenty of imported fashion and handicraft, but a nice mix of locally-produced goods as well, including paintings and timber art for around the home. Take your walking shoes and bring the family.

Brunswick Street Markets – watch this space!

The Fortitude Valley Markets have been operating in Brisbane for 22 years, but for 2015 are coming back revamped, with a greater focus on designer fashion for young people.

With its new layout set up along Brunswick St and Chinatown Malls, the Valley Markets will be open from 9am to 4pm Saturday and 9am to 3pm Sunday, with plans for a new night time market in the works for 2015.

Eat Street Markets

Where: Macarthur Avenue, Hamilton

When: Friday (4pm – 10pm) and Saturday (4pm – 10pm)

Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets

Where: 7/13 Therwine Street, Kuranda.

When: Every day from 9.30am to 3pm.

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Cold case evidence bungle never reviewed

Elvira Buckingham with a picture of her daughter Michelle. Photo: Ray SizerThe pain of not knowing
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Cold-case murder evidence – destroyed during a bungled Victoria Police relocation 20 years ago – could have been lost from about 140 unsolved murders, with detectives in the dark about how badly homicide investigations have been compromised because force command has never investigated what was lost.

Some detectives have revealed they only learnt of the 1994 mistake when they reopened cold-case investigations years later and discovered evidence was missing. Families of murder victims, who have waited decades for answers, fear that the bungle will mean they never see justice for murdered loved ones.

An Age analysis has found that about 140 murders remain unsolved from between 1943 – when the homicide squad was formed – and 1994, when the evidence was destroyed.

Of these cases, it is believed evidence – including samples which could now be tested for DNA – was taken from up to 40 files, but police will not explain why a review of the missing evidence, and the cases affected, was never completed.

After questioning from The Age, force command confirmed on Thursday that an urgent review had now been ordered into the missing evidence.

“Until the review and prioritisation is completed, we are not in a position to comment on the status of exhibits relevant to cold-case investigations,” a police spokeswoman said.

Families who may have been affected, and current and former homicide squad detectives, said the force needed to explain why it had taken 20 years for a review to occur.

Detectives said that  although making public the cases that had lost evidence could hamper investigations, there was no reason why families should not be told privately that their cases had been affectedif it appeared material was missing from their files.

In 1994, as Victoria Police prepared to move exhibits from Russell Street to Collingwood, the eight crews of homicide squad detectives were asked to review cases to determine which evidence was no longer needed.

Police sources say that each crew developed a list and gave that to the squad’s inspector. Detectives estimated evidence in up to 40 cold cases was signed off on for destruction.

The exhibits could have been destroyed for a number of reasons – they were labelled “biohazards” or they had been through the inquest stage – but the decision infuriated some police, who say the possibilities of new DNA technology were just being realised.

The inspector who approved the destruction of evidence is no longer in the force and could not be contacted. It is unclear what has happened to the original audit document.

Retired homicide squad detective Charlie Bezzina remembers the audit being conducted. He said the decision to destroy evidence would have been based on ignorance of what future technology could do for old exhibits.

“It was all crystal ball stuff in those days, I wouldn’t attest to the word negligence. DNA in those days weren’t as big as it is now and judgments were made,” Mr Bezzina said.

“If was up to investigators we would hold everything … but the cold, hard facts are we don’t have the facilities, no one has the facilities, to keep umpteen exhibits.”

He said property management has always been a problem for Victoria Police.

“Exhibits do get lost.”

Sources also say it was more likely exhibits in lesser-known cases were destroyed. Victoria’s most prominent unsolved murders are likely to have complete files, with the 1977 Easey Street killings and the 1953 Shirley Collins case, for example, still intact.

One low-profile case, the 1983 killing of Shepparton 16-year-old Michelle Buckingham, is the only homicide that Fairfax Media has been able to confirm had exhibits destroyed in 1994.

Michelle’s mother, who still lives in Shepparton, first learnt of the bungle during a committal hearing last November.

Other families who Fairfax Media contacted, most of whom had loved ones slain in the ’70s and ’80s, had never even been told that evidence was destroyed.

In 1990, Sarah MacDiarmid disappeared from a train station near Seaford. It remains one of the state’s most well-known cold cases. Her father, Peter MacDiarmid, is adamant a cigarette lighter, found where the 23-year-old was last seen, has gone missing.

“You’re dealing with human beings and human beings are prone to error, but if they were lost in the move, if it was a deliberate order to destroy them because they didn’t think they would need them again, that’s the height of negligence,” he said.

Daryl Floyd, whose brother Terry Floyd was abducted and murdered in 1975, is in contact with the families of about 14 unsolved murder victims.

“They don’t feel there’s enough contact in relation to what’s going on with their case. A family can live a lifetime of not knowing what happened to their loved one let alone what’s going on with their case,” Mr Floyd said.

“This is not [a criticism] of Victoria Police, there are great detectives within the rank and file. Unfortunately, they’re hampered by budget constraints, resources and time.”

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All together now, for Australia Day

Organisers hope singer Anja Nissen will be joined by 23 million people around the country in singing the national anthem on Australia Day. Photo: Daniel MunozA nationwide rendition of the national anthem and an overt display of military muscle are among new features of this year’s Australia Day celebrations.
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Taking centre stage in the salute and amid the flotilla of vessels on Sydney Harbour this year will be the Royal Australian Navy’s newest and largest warship, HMAS Canberra, which will be berthed between the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

Sydney organisers pushed hard to design a moment that will unite all Australians and bring a diverse country together. They have settled upon synchronised choirs around Sydney Harbour that will lead spectators in song before a 21-gun salute as part of a “ceremonial display of respect”.

But perhaps the most ambitious element of the day is the council’s hope that Australians across the nation will down barbecue tools and cold stubbies at noon and stand shoulder to shoulder in song for a mass rendition of Advance Australia Fair, a tradition the council is hoping will catch on.

Australia Day Victoria chairman Stefan Romaniw supported the salute and the singing.

“I think we should be proud. Will everybody do it? Probably not. But we would certainly encourage all those who feel part of the Australian community to do it,” he said.

“We think anything that’s going to promote Australia Day and make people aware is a good thing.

“We’re also saluting all those that have served Australia, all those that make it safe, and all those that protect us.”

Melbourne’s official celebrations will centre around the Town Hall, where the Royal Australian Navy Band and children from the Victorian State School Spectacular will perform, and the Australian flag will be raised.

Once the flag is hoisted, a parade will proceed through Swanston Street and St Kilda Road to celebrate the city’s vibrant multicultural communities.

At the same time, Kings Domain and the Treasury Gardens will be transformed into festival sites, celebrating the traditional Aussie picnic and Aboriginal dance and culture.

At 4.20pm, at the Shrine of Remembrance, a sombre flag lowering ceremony will mark the centenary of World War I.

HMAS Canberra, commissioned in November, is the star vessel in the navy’s relatively modest fleet.

Mr Frangopoulos said: “This is by far the biggest and most ambitious Australia Day we’ve staged.”

Those of us who struggle to remember lyrics beyond the first verse of the anthem’s “joyful strains” might well agree.

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Ley’s action, a new way?opinion

Federal Health Minister Sussan LeyCALL it vacation interruptus. Squared. One day after Tony Abbott interrupted his holiday to defend his government’s revamped Medicare rebate, his new Health Minister terminated her holiday to dump it altogether.
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If you think this a very bad look — and it is — contemplate the alternative.

“It was going to be carnage,” is how one insider described what awaited the federal government if it had held firm.

With patients facing the prospect of paying an extra $20 to see their GP from Monday, every doctor’s surgery loomed as a baseball bat to be wielded against the government. And to what end?

With opposition and crossbench senators committed to disallowing the rebate changes when Parliament resumes next month, the government was facing a huge dose of pain without a purpose.

So why did Abbott give no hint of the backdown when he spoke on Wednesday, instead challenging Labor and other critics to come up with an alternative to make the health system sustainable?

Maybe he needed more time to think it through.

Maybe he needed Sussan Ley to deliver her blunt verdict.

Either way, after the two spoke on Wednesday, the government’s second major Medicare retreat was ticked off in a conference call yesterday, with Abbott addressing his colleagues from his vacation spot on the NSW south coast.

“People often think you send the Health Minister an email (and) she never reads it,” Ley said.

“In fact, I’ve read an awful lot over the last fortnight and … I’ve heard, I’ve listened and I’m deciding to take this action now.”

If the conclusion is that the government has started the new year in the same chaotic manner it finished the old one, the Ley template for listening and acting could provide a “new way”.

But her task is unchanged. It includes addressing the rising cost of Medicare by introducing a “modest co-payment” for those who can pay. No wonder Ley cut short her leave.

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No drop but there is a gain

THE median residential land value in Albury fell by 1.19per cent this past year, from $101,000 to $99,800.
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The figures from the NSW Valuer-General’s office were announced yesterday and next week the city’s landowners will receive notification of the values, which will be referred to by Albury Council as it prepares its 2015-16 budget.

The council has moved to promote the value decline ahead of the inevitable question from ratepayers — will my rates fall?

The answer, it seems, is no, with council general manager Frank Zaknich dispelling what he described as a common misconception regarding a correlation between a fall in land values and lower rates.

He says Albury may have seen residential values decline slightly this year, but there had been an overall 2.34per cent increase over the past three years.

Real estate agents appear confident the declining land values will not see house prices fall.

Ray White agent James Brown says the local market remains attractive with existing interest rates and the release of the values may drive further activity.

The rise in commercial land values is seen as a sign of the city’s progress.

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