Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Multicultural murder in Australia: Father kills two little daughters

Charles Mihayo is African

A MAN accused of murdering his two young daughters sat quietly and without emotion when he appeared at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court this morning.

Charles Mihayo, 35, had no supporters in court and was represented by a lawyer from Legal Aid.

Mr Mihayo’s daughters, Savannah, 4, and Indianna, 3, were found dead at their grandmother’s home in Watsonia on Sunday.

Flanked by three guards, Mr Mihayo appeared in the dock behind glass, a move that is usually reserved for unruly or high-risk defendants.

Few details were revealed during his 50-second appearance.  Magistrate John Doherty remanded Mr Mihayo in custody to reappear for a committal mention on August 12.

Treasured photos of the playful, smiling sisters, hand in hand, were released by the family last night as their mother spoke of her grief.

“We are utterly devastated at the loss of Savannah and Indianna,” she said in a brief statement, released by police.

Mr Mihayo who was living in a granny flat at the back of the property, was married to the girls’ mother, but they separated about a year ago.

The family had gathered at the Longmuir Rd home on Sunday, but about 2.40pm the Easter celebrations quickly turned to horror.

A relative frantically called 000. Emergency services rushed to the scene, but nothing could be done to save the girls.

Police have not released details about how the girls died or whether a weapon was used.

The double murder, which brought even hardened police officers to tears, has prompted an outpouring of public anger and mourning.

Grief-stricken family returned to the house yesterday to collect some belongings, but declined to speak to media before leaving.

Neighbours, and complete strangers touched by the girls’ deaths, also came to the house to pay their respects.

As the day passed, more and more people visited the usually quiet suburban street — where Savannah and Indianna were often spotted playing — to leave the family flowers and messages of support.

One card read: “Two beautiful angels forever in heaven. May they both be surrounded by angels to protect them.”

A toddler clutched his mum’s leg as he waved at the house, while a girl — no older than Savannah and Indianna — placed a pot plant of pink cyclamen, a plant that symbolises sorrow and sincerity, at the fence.

She held her dad’s hand as the two of them stood briefly in silence on the footpath, staring at the unassuming red brick home.

Neighbour Laura Birckel, who lives “just doors away” said her family was devastated by the tragedy.  “Still feeling so sick in the stomach,” she said. “Such beautiful little girls, such innocent lives.  “May they rest in peace. Absolute heartbreaking times for the families involved.”

A friend of the girls’ mother could not believe the news.  “It is such a tragic event,” the friend said. “Those kids are the mother’s world.”


More popular than ever

This year is shaping up as an annus horribilis for Australia’s republicans. They have had to contend with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s reintroduction of Knights and Dames, and now a highly successful visit by the royal family’s new glamour couple.

These pale into insignificance, though, compared to a recent finding that young people are abandoning the cause. It puts paid to the old adage that a republic is inevitable.

Republicans have assumed that they have time on their side. They can afford to wait because the passage of time will see older generations replaced with younger people more likely to want an Australian as the nation’s head of state.

A Fairfax-Nielsen poll has confounded this view. It reported that community support for a republic has dropped to 42 per cent, the lowest level in 35 years and down from a peak of 58 per cent at the 1999 referendum.

A major reason for this drop is that, rather than renouncing the monarchy, young Australians are embracing it. The poll found that only 28 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds support a republic, with 60 per cent rejecting change. It reveals the first Australians in decades that are more supportive of the monarchy than their parents.

This result provides a long overdue wake-up call for republicans. They would be wrong to pin the blame on younger Australians being wooed by the celebrity factor of William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. This is part of the story, but the bigger problem lies within republicans’ own ranks.

Republicans have always had to argue their case in the face of strong community affection for the Queen or other royals. In the past, they have proved adept at convincing Australians that they can feel this way and yet still cut the nation’s last symbolic tie to the monarchy.

All but a few of Australia’s elected representatives stopped making the case for a republic many years ago. No leader has embraced the idea since the 1999 referendum, and in that time the reform agenda has moved on to the recognition of Aboriginal Australians in the Constitution.

The Australian Labor Party needs to accept its share of responsibility for the decline in republican support. The party is staunchly republican in its policies and sentiment, but gives the impression that it has given up trying.

The election of the Rudd government in 2007 was meant to herald another referendum on a republic. Kevin Rudd lifted hopes early, but then decided to put the issue aside until a second term.

After Rudd failed to serve out his first term, his replacement, Julia Gillard, said that a vote should be put off until the death of the Queen. Her policy attracted bipartisan support as prominent republicans within coalition ranks also welcomed a delay.

This was not a well thought-out strategy, but an excuse for inaction. It was also a revealing insight into modern Labor’s discomfort with symbolic, nation-building changes of the kind once promoted by leaders such as Prime Minister Paul Keating.

The republican cause cannot advance without strong political backing. In its absence, the idea attracts only sporadic media attention and has been off the radar of most Australians for the best part of 15 years.

During this period, a new generation of Australians has come of voting age. Unsurprisingly, most are happy with the status quo. It is easy to be taken in by the allure of the young royals when so few are arguing for an alternative.


Sushi boom increases rice markets for Riverina growers

The growing popularity of Japanese cuisine in Australia is driving up demand for speciality rice in southern New South Wales.

While the Riverina and Murray Valley specialises in medium grain rice production, premiums on short grain Japanese style rice is helping to drive grower interest.

Earlier this month, SunRice announced a higher price for the 2014 Koshihikari crop grown in the region.

The company's chairman Gerry Lawson indicated it'll be calling on growers to increase the area planted to the variety later this year.

With markets in Canada, the UK, South East Asia, South Korea and now Russia, SunRice hopes the industry can triple production for sushi rice in the next three years.

Craig Young, the company's senior marketing manager, says its wants to improve the sushi experience from paddock to plate.

"We're researching and working across the whole business to make sure that we're always improving and understanding what our customers want.

"So we're working with some sushi chefs on understanding their needs and what they look for, so we can make sure we incorporate that into our process, whether that be in breeding, growing, milling or storing."

Peter Snell, senior rice breeder with the NSW Department of Primary Industries, is working on two new lines in the breeding program and says they're showing some promise.

"These new varieties can go later and growers will be more confident with their water budgets and the area prepared for rice can expand dramatically."


Some details of the Manus Island riots

About 35 asylum seekers rushed out of the gate from the Oscar compound of the Manus Island detention centre, as if on impulse, when it opened for the truck carrying their evening meals to enter.

Their aim was to seek refuge at a church a few kilometres away, but sources say they ran straight into a group of angry PNG locals who were walking towards the camp to begin their shifts as security guards employed by the contractor G4S.

It was about 6.15 on the evening of February 16 and the tensions that had been simmering for weeks had just been ramped dramatically up by a meeting with camp officials that confirmed the asylum seekers’ worst fears.

The take-out of the meeting, as one security guard described it, was that they faced years in detention in PNG and, even if their claims for refugee status were recognised, they would not be going anywhere.

Their rage and despair manifested itself in a dramatic change in the tone of their nightly protests, which had until then mainly involved peacefully marching around their compounds and pleading for their freedom.

Now they were angry, and their ire was directed not at the Australian government that sent them here, but at the country holding them, prompting guards in riot gear to enter their compound.

“F… PNG!” some of the asylum seekers chanted. A few, according to security guards and local residents, said worse, more hurtful, things. “PNG, AIDS country!” A small number, according to Australians who were working as security guards, even exposed themselves to those outside the centre.

The PNG nationals walking up the road were not of a mind to sympathise with their predicament, or rationalise that the statements came from a small minority of the 1300 who are detained in conditions described by Amnesty International as hopelessly inadequate and by the UNHCR as unsafe.

Untrained in conflict resolution, unprepared to deal with situations like this one and possibly riled by malicious rumours spread about the asylum seekers' intentions if they escaped, they turned on the hapless escapers, quickly outnumbering them.

Some of the asylum seekers were armed with sticks and ready for a fight, an Australian security guard says. Most turned and ran for the safety of the centre they had fled. A few tasted freedom of sorts before being rounded up and taken to the local prison. Some suffered frightful beatings and broken bones. One had his throat cut.

The video footage obtained by Fairfax Media captures one scene of this drama, when asylum seekers who ran back into the centre sought refuge in a building and were pursued by PNG nationals in their G4S uniforms. An Australian guard restrains them.

Earlier, some of the asylum seekers and some of those outside the fence began throwing the same rocks at each other. Who threw the first rock is unclear, though asylum seekers insist their area was cleared of any potential missiles before the disturbance and they were simply returning fire.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison reported the next day that 19 detainees had attended the clinic for medical attention, none of whom were “exhibiting life–threatening conditions”. The next morning, five remained at the clinic. It is also clear that some security guards were injured, mostly when hit by rocks thrown into the centre.


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