Melbourne, Oct 29 (AP/UNB) — An Australian judge has sentenced a man to 36 years in prison for the murder and rape of an Israeli student in the city of Melbourne.
Victoria state Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth on Tuesday ordered Codey Herrmann to serve at least 30 years behind bars for his crimes against 21-year-old Aiia Maasarwe in January.
Herrmann had pleaded guilty to repeatedly beating Maasarwe with a metal pole, sexually assaulting her and setting her on fire in the attack.
Hollingworth said: "Women should be free to walk the streets alone without fear of being violently attacked by a stranger."
The victim had been studying at La Trobe University in Melbourne for the previous five months as an exchange student from Shanghai University in China.
Canberra, Oct 28 (Xinhua/UNB) -- More than 240 leading conservation scientists called on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to embrace stronger environmental laws that might avert what they describe as an "extinction crisis" among native species.
The group of scientists signed a letter to the prime minister, urging him to increase spending and support laws that would prevent the natural world from further devastation.
The federal government is due to announce a 10-yearly legislated review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act this week.
Three native Australian species have become extinct in the past decade and another 17 could follow in the next 20 years, according to the letter. More than 1,800 Australian plants and animals are formally listed as "threatened with extinction", but the scientists say the real figure is much higher than that.
"Our current laws are failing because they are too weak, have inadequate review and approval processes, and are not overseen by an effective compliance regime," the scientists said in an open letter published on Monday.
"Since the laws were established (in 1999), 7.7 million hectares of threatened species habitat have been destroyed. That's an area larger than Tasmania. Meanwhile, the number of extinctions continues to climb, while new threats emerge and spread unchecked."
Environmental law was a point of difference at this year's election, with Morrison pledging to limit "green tape" that he said cost jobs while the opposition Labor Party promised a new environment act and a federal environment protection authority.
Lesley Hughes, a distinguished professor of biology at Macquarie University and a signatory to the letter, said on Monday environmental protections in Australia had been consistently wound back over the past decade, usually by conservative governments.
She said such moves were having a significant impact on native species, pointing to the 2016 state of the environment report that found Australia was facing multiple environment changes and lacked a clear national policy that protected the country's national heritage.
A World Wildlife Fund assessment ranked eastern Australia as one of the world's top 11 deforestation hotspots. Australia was the only developed country on the list.
"It's a very grim picture," Hughes said. "This letter is a pre-emptive strike to say this is an opportunity to do better, this is not an opportunity to weaken and dilute the existing weak laws."
Canberra, Oct 27 (AP/UNB) — Ivan Milat, whose grisly serial killings of seven European and Australian backpackers horrified Australia in the early '90s, died in a Sydney prison on Sunday, ending hopes of a deathbed confession to more unsolved slayings. He was 74.
The road worker and self-styled cowboy who called himself "Tex" had been in custody since 1994. He was diagnosed in May with terminal esophageal and stomach cancer. Milat died in Long Bay Prison where authorities sent him from a hospital last week to ensure he ended his days behind bars, officials said.
Milat was convicted of murder in the deaths of three German, two British, and two Australian backpackers after giving them rides while they were hitchhiking. The serial killings came to light when the mutilated corpses were found in a forest near Sydney over 14 months in 1992 and 1993.
His sentencing judge had described as "inevitable" Milat having had an unknown accomplice. Speculation has also persisted that he is responsible for other homicides and suspicious tourist disappearances.
Clive Small, a former detective who led the murder investigation, said on Sunday that he was confident Milat acted alone. But Small also suspects Milat had more victims, including three people whose bodies were found in other forests from as early as 1971.
"I had absolutely no respect for him at all. I thought that if he had one ounce of decency in him, he could have shown it before he died by admitting and clarifying a number of issues that are outstanding," Small said.
The case set off a frenzy of attention that consumed Australians like few others. Police put a team of investigators on the case, a reward was offered and media intensely covered the hunt for the killer and the possibility of more victims.
The crimes also inspired the "Wolf Creek" horror movies and television series released since 2005.
In September 1992, two runners orienteering in the Belanglo State Forest southwest of Sydney found a corpse hidden under broken branches and leaf litter. Police unearthed a second body nearby, and dental records confirmed the victims were Britons Caroline Clarke, 21, and Joanne Walters, 22, who'd been last seen in Sydney five months earlier.
Two more bodies were found in October 1993 by a man searching for firewood. Police identified them as Melbourne couple Deborah Everist and James Gibson, both 19, who'd gone missing in late 1989.
Police searches of the forest revealed the body of German Simone Schmidl, 21, and later in November the corpses of German couple Anja Habschied, 20, and Gabor Neugebauer, 21, who'd been missing since 1991.
Police established a 20-person team of detectives and analysts, posting a reward of 500,000 Australian dollars for information that would lead to the perpetrator. More than 300 police spent three months searching 3,800 hectares (9,400 acres) of forest.
Milat was arrested on May 22, 1994, following two months of surveillance. Police were aided by a British man, Paul Onions, who had accepted a ride from him while hitchhiking out of Sydney in 1990 and managed to escape from the car, running down the road while Milat shot at him.
Onions reported the attack to police at the time. But it wasn't until he contacted police again after learning of the serial killer investigation through the British media that detectives drew a connection and showed interest.
Small said Onions' identification of Milat as his highway assailant enabled police to execute search warrants targeting Milat.
A search of Milat's Sydney house found several weapons including parts of a rifle that matched one used in the killings, as well as camera, tent and a sleeping bag belonging to his victims. Milat had also given victims' property he had taken as souvenirs to family members.
When his trial ended in 1996, Milat was found guilty of seven murders and sentenced to serve seven consecutive life sentences.
Small said of Milat's death: "A lot of people are going to be very satisfied with the current outcome and will be pleased that it's over."
Ian Clarke, the Northumberland-based father of British victim Caroline Clarke, said: "No matter how Christian one might be, you can't help but be glad that this has happened."
Criminologist and author Amanda Howard corresponded with Milat almost monthly since 1997. She said Milat would never have made a deathbed confession.
"He died in a very painful way, but he was happy that he was able to take these secrets to his grave," said Howard, who suspects Milat has more than seven victims. She said Milat had recently written to her that "he felt for the parents of the German backpackers."
"He goes: 'I can't imagine what they must be feeling knowing that this and this and this had happened to their children,'" Howard said.
"But he then went into the graphic detail, so he enjoyed being able to relive that and retell that story," she added.
He was moved to maximum security solitary confinement after an escape attempt in 1997.
Milat continued to make headlines over the years through hunger strikes and self-harm, including severing a finger with a serrated plastic knife.
He had undergone specialist palliative care at a Sydney hospital for more than two weeks before he was returned to prison on Tuesday last week.
Corrections Minister Anthony Roberts said Milat had been sentenced to die in prison and authorities had ensured he did not end his days in a public hospital bed.
"He showed no remorse. We ensured the sentence was carried out," Roberts said. "He can rot in hell."
Milat was born on Dec. 27, 1944, fifth of 14 children of a Croatian immigrant father and an Australian-born mother.
In a recent television interview, an older brother summed up Milat's infamy.
"He was going to kill somebody from the age of 10," Boris Milat said. "It was built into him. He had a different psyche. He's a psychopath, and it just manifested itself with, 'I can do anything, I can do anything.'"
Karen Milat described her former husband as a "gun nut" who shot and knifed kangaroos in the forest where his victims were found.
He a cat called Gizmo, loved his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and relaxed by painting model trucks and planes in camouflage colors, she said.
Milat's gruesome legacy continued in 2010 when his great-nephew, Matthew Milat, lured his 17-year-old friend into the Belanglo forest and murdered him with an ax.
The then 17-year-old Milat, who was sentenced to 43 years in prison for the murder, boasted to a friend a day after his crime: "You know me, you know my family. You know the last name Milat. I did what they do."
Canberra, Oct 15 (AP/UNB) — Australia for the first time has canceled a tourist's visa over undeclared food as the country tries to keep itself free of African swine fever.
The 45-year-old woman who arrived at Sydney International Airport on Saturday had undeclared food in her luggage including 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) of pork, Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said on Tuesday.
She was sent home to Vietnam and banned from returning to Australia for three years, McKenzie said.
Australia is free of the disease that has wiped out pig populations across Asia and Europe. But the disease was recently detected in East Timor, a near neighbor where Australian veterinarians are working with local authorities on an eradication plan.
Sniffer dogs now examine luggage on direct flights from the East Timorese capital Dili to the northern Australian city of Darwin to prevent contamination.
"We need to keep our pest- and disease-free status as a country strong," McKenzie told reporters.
Australian border officials have seized 27 metric tons (30 U.S. tons) of cooked pork from luggage and parcels since February. The proportion of that smuggled meat contaminated with African swine fever had increased from 15% in February to 48% in September, McKenzie said.
Margo Andrae, chief executive of industry promotion body Australian Pork Limited, said the greatest threat to the industry was if the disease took hold in Australia's wild pig population.
Australia has around 2.5 million domestic pigs while the feral herd was estimated to be five times larger.
Andrae said the devastation to pig herds across Asia had created export opportunities for Australian pig farmers in markets including the Philippines and Singapore.
But she said Australia did not have pork trade arrangement with China, which McKenzie said faces a 10 million metric ton (11 million U.S. ton) annual "protein deficit" due to African swine fever.
Perth, Oct 9 (AP/UNB) — About 500 firefighters were battling out-of-control wildfires in eastern Australia that have destroyed up to 30 homes.
More than 40 bushfires were burning across New South Wales state. Temperatures were cooler Wednesday after strong winds and stifling heat restricted firefighting efforts Tuesday.
More than 100,000 hectares (380 square miles) have burned with the small village of Rappville, population 250, among the worst affected. About 50 people sheltered in the local school overnight.
NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said some people had been taken to hospitals with minor burns and breathing difficulties. The number of injures wasn't given, and the extent of the fire damage was still to be determined.
"We're just making sure we know what properties are damaged or lost, people are accounted for and making those areas as safe as we can so that people who haven't lost their homes can return," he said.
"There's power lines still down, there's a lot of trees falling down, so there's a lot of work to do," he added.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was a dangerous situation. "Fortunately, there's been no loss of life, which is something always to be thankful for, but there are remaining very serious threats today," he said.
Rain is expected across northern New South Wales on Friday.