Morcombe parents face accused killer

More than a decade after losing their schoolboy son Daniel, Queensland parents Bruce and Denise Morcombe have come face to face with his alleged killer.


The Sunshine Coast couple were so close to accused man Brett Peter Cowan when he walked past their seats in the Supreme Court public gallery on Monday, they could have touched him.

Dressed in a grey suit jacket, navy trousers and striped tie, Cowan, 44, did not return the Morcombes’ gaze as he entered the dock for the opening of his long-awaited murder trial.

Mr and Mrs Morcombe have relentlessly campaigned for justice since Daniel vanished in 2003 aged 13, and said outside court they felt closer to discovering what happened.

They were allowed to sit in the crowded courtroom with sons Bradley and Dean, and supporters as Cowan entered a plea. But they had to leave soon after because they are witnesses.

“(After) 10 years, two months and three days we find ourselves here, so it’s been a long grind,” Mr Morcombe told reporters before he entered court.

“But we certainly thank the media, police, the SES and the community for getting us to this point and we’ll see what the next few weeks unfold.”

The couple are set to be the first witnesses to give evidence in the trial, which is expected to run for six weeks.

Three undercover police officers from Western Australia, State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers and a bus driver from Daniel’s home suburb of Palmwoods are among 158 potential witnesses who could be called to give evidence.

Cowan, whose alias is Shaddo N-unyah Hunter, pleaded not guilty to indecently dealing with Daniel and murdering him on December 7, 2003 at the Glass House Mountains in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

He also pleaded not guilty to interfering with Daniel’s corpse.

Eleven people originally selected on the jury raised concerns about their place on the panel after Justice Roslyn Atkinson told anyone who thought they could not be impartial to come forward.

Six were excused.

The judge warned the jury of six men and six women who were eventually selected – as well as three reserve jurors – to ignore the publicity surrounding the case and focus only on the evidence.

“This is a daunting task and no doubt on Friday when you thought about what you were doing next week I don’t imagine too many of you thought you would be sitting exactly where you’re sitting now,” she said.

The prosecution is expected to open its case when the trial resumes on Tuesday.

Daniel disappeared while waiting for a bus at Woombye on the Sunshine Coast in 2003, as he planned to buy family Christmas presents.

Toyota plan ‘may kill car supply industry’

Toyota’s decision to stop making cars in Australia has prompted the nation’s automotive component suppliers to warn that they urgently need government assistance to stop massive job losses.


The Federation of Automotive Product Manufacturers president Jim Griffin says as many as 28,000 people work in the supply sector, representing far more than the major car makers, and the majority of workers in the industry.

Toyota announced on Monday it would stop making cars in Australia by late 2017, following Holden and Ford’s decisions to do the same, ending local car manufacturing.

Mr Griffin, the CEO of Melbourne component suppliers Diver Consolidated Industries (DCI), said as well as job losses within three years the economy would lose valuable technology, research and development.

“Unless we get some stimulation, unless we get some volume and we get some activity happening in manufacturing then the country’s going to have a very big problem,” he told AAP.

Mr Griffin is worried the three major car makers will actually cease their Australian operations before their planned closures in 2016-2017.

“General Motors, Ford and Toyota will look after their employees,” Mr Griffin told AAP.

“Any (government) assistance needs to be considerate of the vast majority of employees which are in components sectors … many of them in small companies, tier two or three suppliers that are not huge foreign multinationals.

“The most important thing now is for a very calm and clear discussion and consultation between the government, the three car makers and the component industry to make sure that any programs and assistance packages rolled out are well considered, measured and well targeted.”

He said his company DCI had started diversifying away from cars and towards other areas, such as trident workbenches, but conditions were difficult in manufacturing generally and government assistance would buy time to reorganise or close.

“Today is another terrible day and it ups the ante because we are looking at the the demise of the complete industry and the network behind it,” he said.

“What else is there for them to do?”

Five unions named in royal commission

Five unions have been named as specific targets in a royal commission into corruption.


The Australian Workers Union, Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, Electrical Trades Union, Health Services Union and Transport Workers Union were named in the terms of reference released in Canberra on Monday before parliament resumes for 2014.

“This royal commission is designed to shine a great, big spotlight into the dark corners of our community to ensure that honest workers and honest businesses get a fair go,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters.

Honest workers and honest unionists should not be ripped off by corrupt officials and honest businesses should be able to go about their work without fear of intimidation, corruption (and) standover tactics, he said.

The commissioner will not be limited to looking at the five unions, or at employers who may have engaged in improper conduct or criminality.

“This is a sword that will cut both ways,” Employment Minister Eric Abetz said.

Former High Court judge Dyson Heydon will lead the inquiry, which is expected to report to the Abbott government at the end of 2013.

During the past two years there have been many allegations against union officials – some of which are before the courts – including misuse of member funds, standover tactics, kickbacks, bribes and secret commissions.

Mr Abbott said he believed the royal commission could run concurrently with court cases or police investigations without causing any problems.

Attorney-General George Brandis said a royal commission was the right mechanism to deal with allegations of widespread, systemic and ingrained wrongdoing.

“This is not a question of sporadic cases, this is a matter of a widespread culture which requires the powers and the thoroughness of a royal commission,” he said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, a former AWU national secretary, said if the government was “fair dinkum” it would set up a multi-agency task force led by the Australian Federal Police.

“Tony Abbott has never seen a situation affecting real people which he won’t turn into a political stunt,” he told the Labor caucus on Monday.

The government expects the cost of the inquiry will be much less than the $100 million spent on the Cole royal commission into the construction sector a decade ago.

Australian Industry Group chief Innes Willox said that although the Cole commission did not result in any criminal charges, it had its merits as would the Heydon commission.

“It led to a very clear shining of the light on some really poor practices within the construction industry, and led to the establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission,” Mr Willox said.

ACTU president Ged Kearney said the inquiry was designed to weaken unions just when workers’ conditions were under attack from the government.

Unions had “zero tolerance” for corruption, which should properly be pursued by police.

Syria’s warring sides head for fresh talks

Syria’s warring sides are heading into a new round of UN-brokered peace talks, 10 days after a debut session managed little beyond a pledge on evacuating civilians from the besieged city of Homs.


After government and opposition delegates arrived at their Geneva hotels on Sunday, they held separate closed-door meetings with UN and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

The Algerian veteran peacemaker, who in late January brought the two sides to the table for the first time since the war began in 2011, was scheduled to hold talks with the opposition at 0900 GMT (2000 AEDT) on Monday.

He is then set to meet with the government delegation, helmed by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who was also in charge of the regime’s team in the first round.

It was not clear if the two sides will sit down together on Monday for a meeting under the auspices of Brahimi, nor how many days the round was expected to last.

The so-called Geneva II talks – spurred by the United States, which backs the opposition, and Russia, a key ally of Syria – mark the biggest international push so far to end the war.

The aim is to build on an international conference held in the Swiss city in 2012 at which world powers called for political transition in Syria.

That plan was never implemented, however, owing to spiralling fighting in Syria’s increasingly sectarian conflict, and deep divisions between the two sides over what a transition would imply.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whose crackdown on Arab Spring inspired demonstrations in March 2011, insists that his future cannot be up for discussion in Geneva.

But the opposition counters that there is no place for him or his entourage in a future Syria.

Besides appearing far from reaching any compromise on how to craft a transition government, the two sides also disagree on which of a string of other issues should be on the table.

ICC revamp good for cricket: India

A controversial shake-up of the governance and structure of cricket’s world body will benefit the game and ensure its financial health, India’s powerful boss N Srinivasan said on Monday.


“I think it’s good for cricket overall, good for the financial health of all full, associate and affiliate members. There is meritocracy,” Srinivasan told The Hindu newspaper.

The reforms, which will give more power and money to India, Australia and England, were passed by the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Executive Board in Singapore on Saturday.

Eight of the 10 Test nations approved the proposals – which also make Srinivasan the first incumbent of the newly created post of ICC chairman – while Pakistan and Sri Lanka abstained.

Srinivasan, asked if he would try to convince Pakistan and Sri Lanka to come on board, said it was for the entire ICC, and not him alone, to work on it.

“It’s an ICC resolution and eight members have approved it. It (reaching out to Sri Lanka and Pakistan) is not just my responsibility. It’s for everybody to work on.”

Srinivasan, who heads the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), defended Cricket South Africa’s last-minute decision to vote in favour of the revamp after it had supported Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the lead-up to the meeting.

“Maybe some members had some lingering doubts on the proposals. When the doubts got clarified, the proposals found support.”

Srinivasan vehemently denied accusations that the cricket boards of India, Australia and England had formed an oligarchy, which could even veto suggestions made by other members.

In the revamped ICC, India – which contributes 80 per cent of global revenues – and fellow powerhouses England and Australia will have permanent seats on a new, five-member executive committee.