We're with you, Julia Gillard tells US

The Australian

Julia Gillard has hardened Australia's military commitment in Afghanistan, telling the US congress Australia remembers America's help in World War II and will always stand by it as "a true friend down under". Conceding that the transition to local control in Afghanistan will take "some years", the Prime Minister this morning threw herself fully behind US President Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy, saying the two nations were inextricably linked by shared values and common aims. Ms Gillard also challenged the US to use its capacity for reinvention to join Australia in pressing for new rounds of trade liberalisation and economic reform.

Labor star Mike Rann loses his shine

The Australian

Mike Rann, the nation's longest-serving current state leader and the man who once ranked as the nation's most popular premier, has suffered a devastating fall in his personal standing with voters. Mr Rann's unpopularity in South Australia has also dragged Labor's vote down to its lowest level of support in Newspoll in 16 years. Almost a year since the Rann government won re-election for a third term, a Newspoll conducted exclusively for The Australian last week will alarm all levels of state and federal Labor. The woes of the ALP in South Australia reflect the damage done to the Labor brand across the nation during the past 12 months.

Euthanasia divides parties, but not patient


A small inheritance from her father's estate is all that stands between Loredana Alessio-Mulhall and despair. Within a year, the 61-year-old, who suffers from rapidly deteriorating multiple sclerosis, expects to spend the money on a plane fare to the Netherlands, where she will be able to seek euthanasia provided legally by medical practitioners. ''With MS there are so many losses,'' said Ms Alessio-Mulhall, who is in escalating pain from nerve damage. ''I cannot move. I cannot write. I badly miss being able to read. I can't move my chair any more … I love gardening but I'm getting to the stage where I'm losing interest, and that upsets me. It takes a lot of courage to stay on top of it, and I've reached the end of mine.''

Greens propose bill of rights


NSW citizens would have guaranteed legal rights to shelter, work, food, clean water, education and health under a human rights bill proposed by the Greens. The draft proposal aims to enshrine, in law, 30 broad principles, including a person's right to privacy and a right to cultural expression. Under its provisions, individuals could take the government of the day, public servants and police to court if they felt their rights were not being upheld.

Hanson adds a touch of unpredictability to election

Sean Nicholls - SMH

Pauline Hanson and her group of independents would need more than 160,000 votes at the election to be eligible for public funding and can only claim back money that was spent on their campaign. Ms Hanson, the One Nation party founder who is standing as a candidate for the Legislative Council with a group of 16 independents, yesterday defended her reasons for running, saying she would focus on privatisation of state assets. The Premier, Kristina Keneally, branded her a racist, the Greens claimed her candidacy would drag politics in NSW to the far right and Labor and the Coalition announced they would not allocate her preferences.

Churchgoer loses fight over unwanted sex comments

Leesha McKenny - SMH

A parishioner's response to emails asking him to stay away from an Annandale church service has cost him more than a place to worship. Bruce Haddon, 60, lost his defamation case against a minister, Dominic Steele, and church counsellor, Evan Batten, of St Aidan's Anglican Church. Mr Haddon has been ordered to pay their legal costs, which he estimates will be $350,000. Mr Haddon, a management consultant, had alleged Mr Steele and Mr Batten, a Network Ten journalist, branded him a serial sexual harasser of women in two emails sent to him and copied to others, in order to expel him from the congregation.

In Hanson's vacuum, everyone can hear her scream


Pauline Hanson generates plenty of publicity, but will this turn into votes? Walking billboards abound in Australian politics, but Pauline Hanson is a real standout when it comes to celebrity politics. With three weeks to go in the election we just switched from reaching for the travel pillow to the sick bag with one jolt. And in the process she's managed to push the NSW election back onto the front page of the newspapers: something that was looking unlikely until much later in the campaign.

Preacher ban 'infringes fundamental human rights'

Adelaide Now

Banning preaching on city streets interferes with fundamental human rights and conflicts with international law, a court has heard. A group of Christian street preachers today asked the Full Court of the Supreme Court not to re-instate a by-law keeping them out of Rundle Mall. Preacher Caleb Corneloup, for the group, said Adelaide City Council's regulation must not be allowed to stand.

Greens MP calls for handgun ban


A Greens MP has called for a statewide ban on handguns, calling them the weapon of choice for criminals in NSW. The party renewed its call for a ban on semi-automatic handguns after three people were shot on Tuesday night during a home invasion in Sydney's inner west. "There is simply no reason why people, criminals, should be getting access to semi-automatic handguns, because they're the weapons of choice for criminals here in NSW," David Shoebridge said.

In defence of same-sex unions

Frank Brennan - Eureka Street

The messy same-sex marriage debate continues in Australia and in the US. I remain of the view that we should not extend the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions; that we should legislate to recognise same-sex unions; and that we should leave questions about the legal availability of new technologies for the creation of children by same-sex couples for determination at a later date. In Australia, the issue is focused in the Parliament; and in the US in the courts. Here the Prime Minister has committed her party to consulting with the public while deciding how to deal with the Greens on the issue. There the President has decided his Administration will no longer argue for the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in court proceedings.

My School shows funding disparity

Jewel Topsfield - The Age

Some Catholic schools in Melbourne receive more government funding per student than the public primary school down the road, according to the My School website. The discrepancy is even further widened by the fees charged by Catholic schools. Our Lady of the Southern Cross Primary, a Catholic school in Wyndham Vale, receives $13,732 in combined state and federal funding per student - almost double the $7234 allocated to Iramoo Primary, a government school just four kilometres away. This is despite the fact that Iramoo Primary is considered more educationally disadvantaged than Our Lady of the Southern Cross, based on an index that measures parents' occupation and education.

Lady Gaga falls out with Target over anti-gay donations

Herald Sun

Lady Gaga has ended her deal to sell an exclusive version of her new album, "Born This Way", at Target. The flamboyant singer is upset over the big-box retailer Target over its controversial political donations, the New York Post has reported, citing national gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate. Target came under fire after it was reported that it donated funds to several anti-gay politicians and organisations.

Christians and Muslims in Fatal Clash Near Cairo

New York Times

Thirteen people died in overnight fighting between Christians and Muslims in the suburbs of Cairo, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday, in the deadliest unrest since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last month. The clashes broke out during a protest by several hundred Christians over the burning of a church in the village of Soul last week and raged into the early hours of Wednesday morning, adding to a sense of unease as the country begins to chart a post-Mubarak future.

Illinois Bans Capital Punishment

New York Times

Illinois became the 16th state to ban capital punishment as Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday signed an abolition bill that the state legislature passed in January. “Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it,” Mr. Quinn said in a statement. “With our broken system, we cannot ensure justice is achieved in every case.” Mr. Quinn, a Democrat who became governor in 2009 and was elected to a full term in November, said during the 2010 campaign that he supported the death penalty when applied “carefully and fairly,” but added that “I am deeply concerned by the possibility of an innocent person being executed.” He had kept the question of whether he would sign the bill unanswered since it passed on Jan. 11.

A blow to religious freedom in Pakistan

Washington Post

Last week, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) was awakened by a 2:20 a.m. call. His first response was to fear bad news about his children or grandchildren. But when the American ambassador to Pakistan came on the line, Wolf immediately knew that his friend Shahbaz Bhatti had been killed. Bhatti was Pakistan's federal minister of minority affairs, the only Christian in the cabinet and an advocate for the rights of religious minorities. Wolf had sent letter after letter to the State Department, warning that Bhatti's life was "in grave danger." In December, along with then-Sen. Sam Brownback, he wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "to ask that Ambassador Cameron Munter be immediately instructed to communicate to the most senior officials of the government of Pakistan that Minister Bhatti's security is a matter of high importance to the United States."