French rightwing party vows ‘unanimous’ support for Fillon

“The political committee, after a wide-ranging exchange, unanimously renewed its support for Francois Fillon,” Larcher told reporters after around 20 party seniors met to “evaluate” the crisis sparked by the fake jobs scandal clouding Fillon’s campaign.

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Former prime minister Alain Juppe ruled out a run for the French presidency on Monday, boosting embattled rightwing party colleague Francois Fillon whose campaign has been thrown into chaos by a fake jobs scandal.

Juppe, 71, was the most likely candidate to replace Fillon and unite their deeply divided Republicans party only seven weeks from the start of the two-stage election.

Polls suggested Juppe would be more popular with voters, but the centrist is considered too soft on immigration and other social issues for many of Fillon’s supporters on the right flank of the party.

“I confirm for a final time that I will not be a candidate to be president of the republic,” Juppe said in a downbeat statement that criticised Fillon and said France was “sick” and suffering from a “profound crisis of confidence”.

His decision removes a major rival for Fillon, who is sticking with his bid for power despite the prospect of criminal charges later this month as well as mounting criticism within the party and falling poll numbers.

The conservative 63-year-old was once the favourite to be France’s next leader but his campaign is mired in accusations he used public funds to pay his wife hundreds of thousands of euros for fake parliamentary jobs.

“No one today can prevent me being a candidate,” Fillon told France 2 television late on Sunday, emboldened by a rally of tens of thousands of supporters in Paris earlier in the day.

Party leaders met for crisis talks on Monday evening, with allies of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy still pushing Fillon to step aside and name a replacement.

“He’s got some breathing space but he needs to ask himself if he can still win the presidential election,” one lawmaker known to be close to Sarkozy told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The infighting among Republicans and Fillon’s chaotic campaign have made an already unpredictable election even harder to call.

The disarray appears to have benefited centrist, pro-business candidate Emmanuel Macron in particular, as well as far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who are shown in polls to be the likely top two candidates in the first round of voting on April 23.

Polls suggest 39-year-old Macron would beat Le Pen in the decisive second round on May 7 — but after Donald Trump’s victory and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, analysts caution against bold predictions.

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Juppe bows out

Juppe, now the mayor of Bordeaux, voiced Monday his critical view of the state of the election campaign.

“Never under the fifth republic have we had an election in such confused conditions,” Juppe said, stressing the dangers of National Front leader Le Pen’s “anti-European fanaticism” and Macron’s “political immaturity”.

Fillon’s defiance and accusations that the government, justice system and media were plotting against him have “led him into a dead-end”, Juppe added in one of several criticisms of his colleague.

Both Le Pen and Macron — one a far-right anti-establishment figure, the other an independent who founded a new political movement last year — have tapped into widespread anger at France’s political class.

“French people want a profound renewal of their politics,” Juppe, a veteran politician with a conviction over a party finance scandal, told a press conference in Bordeaux.

“Evidently I do not embody this renewal,” he added.

National Front vice-president Florian Philippot said Monday that many French people who were thinking of voting Fillon would now opt for Le Pen.

“They want a free, safe and prosperous France, not a France that is subjected to the most brutal winds of globalisation,” he told LCI television.

Current President Francois Hollande also warned in an interview published Monday that the threat of a Le Pen presidency was real but that he would fight to prevent it happening.

Sarkozy intervenes

Fillon, a devout Catholic, beat Juppe in the Republicans’ primary in November, pulling off a surprise victory by campaigning as a “clean” candidate.

He was the frontrunner in the presidential race until Le Canard Enchaine newspaper revealed in late January that he had paid his wife Penelope and two of their children nearly 900,000 euros ($950,000) as his parliamentary assistants.

Ahead of the meeting of Republicans party leaders later Monday, Sarkozy had piled pressure on Fillon to meet Juppe and find a way out of the crisis.

The former president urged the two men to meet “to find a dignified and credible way out of this situation which cannot continue and which is creating serious problems for the French people”.

A number of Sarkozy’s closest allies have already called on Fillon to step aside.

First woman in space turns 80

Russia has honoured the world’s first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, who recalled tense moments of her pioneering mission on her 80th birthday.

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Soviet officials at the time said the 1963 mission went without a hitch, and only a few years ago Tereshkova first spoke about a technical glitch that could have left her stranded in space.

“When the spacecraft reached the orbit, I realised that I wouldn’t be able to return to Earth because the ship was programed to move to a higher orbit instead of deorbiting,” Tereshkova said in remarks broadcast by Channel 1 television. “I reported the situation to the mission control, they told me how to change the parameters and everything went on without trouble.”

Soviet space officials started planning for a space mission by a woman soon after Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly to space on April, 12 1961, seeing it as a way to cement the nation’s lead in a race for space supremacy against the United States.

Tereshkova, a textile factory worker who liked parachute jumps, was chosen for the flight after a rigorous selection from hundreds of candidates. While heading to the launch pad, she told her relatives that she was going to attend a parachute competition – a reflection of deep secrecy that surrounded the Soviet space program.

The three-day mission made her an instant global celebrity and a poster figure for Soviet space glory. Tereshkova received a hero’s welcome after the flight and was showered with awards and honorary titles.

“It was hard, but we realised that we were working to make the country’s glory shine and prevent the competitors from thrusting ahead,” Tereshkova said on Monday. “It was a great happiness to be the first in space.”

Her birthday led the news on national television.

President Vladimir Putin hosted Tereshkova at the Kremlin, praising her as “a role model for us and a symbol of service to the Fatherland.”

Tereshkova is still a member of the Russian parliament, serving as a deputy chair of committee for municipal issues.

Turnbull lands in Jakarta for trade talks

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has landed in Jakarta and is soon to meet his Indonesian counterpart where they are expected to continue talks on trade and security.

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Mr Turnbull will meet with President Joko Widodo for the second time in less than two weeks when he heads to the 20th anniversary of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in the Indonesian capital on Tuesday.

President Widodo spruiked the waters as the “future” – with the region home to 2.7 billion people and a transport route for the majority of the world’s oil and half the world’s container ships.

During the IORA summit on Monday, and through a series of bilateral meetings with Indonesian ministers outside the forum, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop continued to talk up the two countries cooperation on countering terrorism, increasing trade and working towards increased maritime security.

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Mr Turnbull will continue to build on these talks on Tuesday.

He said he welcomed Indonesia’s proposal for an IORA Concord – that would include a commitment to international law and promoting regional economic growth.

Indonesia is keen to create a statement of governance in the region – hoping that by creating clear guidelines it will prevent the Indian Ocean from turning into disputed waters – like that seen in the South China Sea.

While in Jakarta, Mr Turnbull will also meet with Australian delegates to Indonesia Australia Business Week.

Trade Minister Steven Ciobo is also in town Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA), which both countries hope to have finalised by the end of next year.

NBN Co works to address dissatisfied users

NBN Co has more than doubled its revenue as connections to the network accelerate, but the company acknowledges it is months away from addressing growing frustrations among customers.

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With 2.4 million homes and businesses now active NBN users through service provider’s like Telstra or Optus, NBN Co’s revenue rose from $421 million in the 2015/16 financial year to $1 billion in 2016/17.

But while the NBN provides download speeds of up to 100 megabytes per second, the majority of customers have selected speeds of 25Mbps or less – reflecting the network’s under-utilised potential.

Telecommunications expert Paul Budde said Australians can’t afford the highest speeds.

“NBN Co’s business model is set by the government,” he said.

“Instead of rolling out to those who want or can afford a premium service – like a normal commercial enterprise – the company’s objective is to link the entire country like a social-economic investment.”

Mr Budde said the cost of this investment is then borne by retail service providers (RSPs) which are selling broadband.

“(The RSPs) are burdened by the market reality that $60 to $70 dollars only gets you a second rate service with disappointing speeds,” he said.

NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow also admitted the process of transferring customers onto NBN services has not always been user-friendly.

“We know we have an issue with the activation process for too many end users, we have daily meetings about how that is getting addressed,” he said.

“We’re working closely with the RSPs to be able to rectify this and it is the top priority within the company.

“I believe its going to take us a number of months before we can actually address this adequately.”

He said 75 per cent of users have transferred to the NBN within 18 months of it rolling out in their area, ahead of the company’s target of 74 per cent.

In the 2016/17 financial year, 2.8 million premises were connected to NBN infrastructure, bringing the total to 5.7 million.

Regional construction is now two-thirds complete and the metro footprint is one-third complete, and average weekly activations 45,000 homes are expected to increase as the rollout ramps up in major cities.

Mr Morrow said the company’s 2020 targets remain in place, with a completed build connecting 8 million homes, driving $8 billion in annual revenue.

Australia needs a population plan: Smith

Entrepreneur Dick Smith says Australia needs a population plan to help save the country from an addiction to “endless growth” and increasing inequality.

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Mr Smith on Tuesday launched a campaign calling for a limit on the number of immigrants entering Australia to stabilise the population below 30 million.

The Dick Smith Fair Go advertisement also targets the country’s wealthiest individuals, demanding the top one per cent of income earners publicly reveal the amount of tax they pay.

His controversial $1 million ads reimagines the 1980s “Grim Reaper” AIDS campaign and features the same voice actor, John Stanton.

“All Australian families have a population plan, they don’t have 20 kids, they have the number of children they can give a good life to,” Mr Smith told AAP in Sydney.

“But our politicians don’t have an equivalent plan for the country as a whole.”

The campaign calls for an inheritance tax for the wealthiest one per cent of the population to ensure Australia doesn’t end up like the United States, Mr Smith said.

“When I was a young person in the 1950s all Americans were wealthy and Australians were poor by comparison (but) now you have about 40 million Americans on minimum federal wage.”

Mr Smith believes endless growth and greed means finite wealth has to be divided between more people “and that means less for most”.

Citing US entrepreneur Nick Hanaeur he suggested rising inequality always led to the poor taking up pitchforks.

Mr Smith, at Tuesday’s launch at the Hilton hotel, waved a plastic devil’s pitchfork for emphasis.

The former adventurer insists he’s pro-immigration but argues the current rate is too high.

He does, however, want Australia to increase its humanitarian intake to 20,000 a year.

Mr Smith’s advertisements will air daily for three weeks on television, radio and online.

Sydney mum convicted over abortion pills

A Sydney mother of five who took abortion pills to try to terminate her 28-week pregnancy has been convicted and placed on a three-year good behaviour bond.

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Blacktown Local Court Magistrate Geoffrey Hiatt said he was satisfied the woman, who was 28 at the time, acted intentionally to illegally try to have a miscarriage by taking the abortion pills.

In a July judgment made public on Monday, Mr Hiatt said the woman – who had pleaded not guilty – had been about 19 weeks pregnant when her partner of three years told her he did not want her to have the child because they were not married.

”The accused did not act upon this and continued to attend medical check-ups,” Mr Hiatt said in his judgment.

”At about 26 weeks into the pregnancy, her boyfriend again urged her to terminate the pregnancy.

”She told her boyfriend that it may be too late to have an abortion.

”She contacted a number of clinics in NSW and interstate and was refused from all of them on the basis that her pregnancy was past 20 weeks.”

Mr Hiatt said the woman, who had five children aged between four to nine, eventually found someone she believed was in Darwin, known as “Patrick”, who was prepared to facilitate an abortion when she was 28 weeks’ pregnant.

Patrick told the woman it was possible to have a termination up to 30 weeks and he would send her abortion pills for $2000.

She received a package from South Africa in early September 2015 containing a pack of 10 pills each containing 200 milligrams of misoprostol, a hormone-type substance.

She took six pills the next day before becoming unwell and was taken by a friend to Blacktown Hospital.

An emergency caesarean section was performed and the child was born.

”The ongoing debate regarding pro- and anti-abortion is a polarising issue within the community,” Mr Hiatt said.

”In my view, the clear intent of the parliament was to enact provisions which would hold persons criminally responsible for unlawful acts towards a foetus causing either a miscarriage or an abortion to occur.

“In essence, protection for a foetus from the time of conception through all stages of pregnancy to the point of birth.”

Business gets poor marks for Asia skills

Ninety per cent of Australia’s top 200 countries are clueless when it comes to understanding how to do business in Asia.

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A report by think tank Asialink reveals most of corporate Australia lack a sophisticated knowledge of Asian markets along with trusted relationships, language skills and cultural awareness.

“Just as we wouldn’t send our top athletes onto the field without ample training, we shouldn’t expect business leaders to kick winning goals in Asia until they are match fit,” Asialink Business CEO Mukund Narayanamurti said.

Out of a possible total of 30, the average Asia capability score of ASX 200 boards was only 6.42.

Non-listed companies proved more agile in Asia, often outperforming their ASX colleagues, especially at the senior executive level.

The report found large public companies are out-performing smaller ones.

Energy and resources and financial services sectors are getting better marks but manufacturing, healthcare and pharmaceuticals groups are the least match-fit for Asia.

Senior female executives in the top ASX 200 companies, however, were four times more likely than male counterparts to have Asia literacy in their skill set.

PwC Asia practice leader Andrew Parker said corporate Australia needed to lift its game.

“If the last 25 years have been about shipping our commodities to Asia, the coming decades will be a story of services and consumption fuelled by a rapidly expanding Asian middle-class,” he said.

“If we aspire to be more than casual observers, Australian businesses will need to be where the consumers are – and that is increasingly in Asia.”

Institute of Managers and Leaders chief executive David Pich said a shift in long term growth over short term returns was well overdue.

“Asia offers businesses the chance to achieve double-digit growth but these returns are characteristically seen in the medium to long term,” he said.

Matulino out, Foran in for Rabbitohs clash

Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman will make his 250th NRL appearance in Friday’s dead-rubber NRL clash with the Rabbitohs in Sydney, but will do so without regular front-row partner Ben Matulino.

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Matulino has been handed a one-match ban by the NRL judiciary for a late-match shoulder charge on Canberra’s Elliot Whitehead in last week’s 36-16 home loss.

The 23-cap Kiwis enforcer made an early guilty plea and was duly slapped with a one-game ban on Tuesday, ruling him out of Friday’s game.

Sam Lisone has been named in the No.10 jumper in Matulino’s place and will partner the 33-year-old Lillyman, who joined the Warriors in 2009 after 62 games for the Cowboys and has gone on to play for the club 187 times.

Off-contract at the end of the year, the coming weeks could be the 14-time Queensland representative’s last in Auckland.

Elsewhere, the Canterbury-bound Kieran Foran returns to the starting line-up after missing Sunday’s loss to the Raiders with a shoulder issue.

He’ll partner Ata Hingano in the halves, with Mason Lino – originally chosen to replace the injured Shaun Johnson – demoted to an eight-man extended bench.

Issac Luke remains on the pine after being dropped for his recent poor form, where he’ll be joined by the returning Charlie Gubb.

Both sides’ NRL finals hopes are long gone.

WARRIORS: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), David Fusitu’a, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo, Kieran Foran, Ata Hingano, Jacob Lillyman, Nathaniel Roache, Sam Lisone, Bunty Afoa, Ryan Hoffman, Simon Mannering. INTERCHANGE: Issac Luke, Chris Satae, Isaiah Papali’i, Charlie Gubb, Mason Lino, Toafofoa Sipley, James Bell, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.

OECD warns of ‘rout’ in house prices

The OECD’s latest review says house prices have increased by 250 per cent – in real terms – over the last two decades.

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It has cautioned that any rapid downturn would be disastrous for the economy.

But Treasurer Scott Morrison has rejected the warning and says the economic survey fails to properly assess the landscape.

“Well I’ve always found with assessments often from northern hemisphere organisations that they don’t always quite appreciate the supply demand and balance here in Australia.”

He added that the Turnbull Government is working on a housing affordability package, but Australians will have to wait for the details be released in the May budget.

The Paris-based body says a continued rise of the market, aided by investor and owner-occupier demand, could result in a significant downward correction that spreads to the rest of the economy.

One it’s biggest concerns is that if iron-ore and coal prices plummet, so too, will property prices which would lift unemployment and mortgage stress.

“The OECD also said something today and they warned about the effect of a housing shock and the only way you get a housing shock in this market is if you’ve got the Labor party’s policy of taking a tax sledgehammer to the housing market. “

The sledgehammer the Treasurer refers to is Labor’s plan to reform negative gearing, the most generous tax concession for property investment in the world.

The Opposition’s Treasury Spokesman Chris Bowen seized on the report pushing Labor’s case for reform, which it says would help young people get into the housing market.

“Right across the country, young people are wondering how they will ever afford to get into the housing market. Commentators, experts have pointed out the budget is in need of repair and negative gearing reform helps repair the budget.”

Mr Bowen said the Government was flipping from policy thought bubble to thought bubble and should work with his side of politics to implement reform.

Treasurer Scott Morrison says that won’t be happening.

“Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen are putting out a very cruel hoax on young Australians who want to buy a house. They’re saying you’ll be able to buy a house anywhere you want for the price you want, and all you have to do is put up taxes. Now I think that is a very simplistic and disappointing view.”

Housing market expert Dr Andrew Wilson says house prices in the hot spot major cities are expected to calm down as they have elsewhere in the country.

“Certainly there’s a multi-speed market. Melbourne and Sydney well ahead of the rest, in fact in Perth we’ve got house prices at three or four year lows at the moment. But there’s no secret that lower interest rates have been the clear catalyst for higher prices.”

Those interest rates are expected to be left on hold when The Reserve Bank meets next Tuesday.

 

 

 

75th anniversary of Japanese attack on Broome commemorated

Off the coast of Broome, when the tide goes out, you can see the bombed out wreckages of 16 Dutch boats.

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They were sunk on the morning of the 3rd of March 1942, 75 years ago, when Japanese planes bombed the town of Broome.

The Dutch boats sitting in Roebuck Bay were an easy target for the Japanese fighter pilots.

On board the boats were Dutch military personnel, their wives and children, fleeing from the Japanese advance on Java, then a colony of the Dutch East Indies.

More than 80 of those who died were Dutch.

Eighty-five year old Ellie Koens survived that day.

“It’s very difficult to say my emotions on it because there were no emotions I just did as I was told.”

Ms Koens was 10 years old at the time, but she remembers that even as fire from the Japanese planes rained down on their boats, she did not want to get in the water.

“I said no mum, I’ve got to take my shoes off and she said that doesn’t matter get in the water and I said no my shoes have got to come off and, of course, my mother was as anxious as could be.”

The bombing has been commemorated at a ceremony in Broome for survivors and their descendants.

Sidney Muller is visiting Broome from the UK.

His father, Jo Muller was a 31 year old radio operator on a plane which was shot down north of Broome.

He walked for three days along with one other survivor of the crash, before finding help.

“It would be nice to understand what went through his mind at that time. But it does bring back to you terror of the war and the conditions they must have gone through with those burning wrecks.”

Mr Muller says the trip to Broome to see where his father’s plane was shot down, has helped him gain a better understanding of who his father was .

“I feel I understand my father more, he is a 31 year old man at the time. To be put through this sort of trial under these sort of conditions, yeah, you sort of can’t have anything put admiration”

 

 

 

EU’s big four meet to seek impetus in face of Brexit

The heads of continental Europe’s biggest economies meet in the gilded splendour of the Palace of Versailles on Monday, seeking ways of strengthening an EU facing Britain’s exit and mounting populism.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande —  whose two countries are often described as the European Union’s “engine” — will be joined by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni.

“The idea is to try to give political momentum to the four nations,” a French diplomatic source said.

The meeting comes in the run-up to celebrations on March 25 of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which founded what is now called the EU.

That date, combined with last year’s referendum in Britain on leaving the EU and the rise of populist and nationalist figures, has triggered a wave of angst about Europe’s future.

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The EU faces legislative elections in The Netherlands this month, followed by presidential elections in France in April and May.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and paymaster, holds legislative elections in September.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is widely forecast to reach the runoff in the French vote, while the party of firebrand anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders is expected to perform strongly in the Dutch race. Merkel, meanwhile, is facing pressure from the hard-right populist party Alternative for Germany.

Of the five options that European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed in a White Paper on the bloc’s post-Brexit future, ranging from a simple single market to even deeper integration, Paris and Berlin have already made their choice: a “multi-speed” Europe.

In this scenario, countries wanting to move ahead on issues such as economic growth, border protection and defence could form smaller groupings, leaving reticent members behind.

“We certainly learned from the history of the last years that there will be as well a European Union with different speeds, that not all will participate every time in all steps of integration,” Merkel said after a summit in Malta last month.

Berlin and Paris say the challenges of Brexit, coming after the eurozone crisis, migration and the Ukraine conflict, make a fresh drive to bolster the EU’s authority more urgent than ever.

Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg have signed on to the multi-speed idea, as they worriedly eye the rise of anti-European parties.

But to avoid antagonising member states who resist the idea, including many in eastern Europe, no concrete project is planned to be announced after the meeting in Versailles, which will be followed by a working dinner.

 

 

Barnett downplays One Nation relationship

West Australian premier Colin Barnett says neither he nor his state take One Nation leader Pauline Hanson seriously, despite his party having signed a preference deal with her.

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As Senator Hanson was touring south of Perth on Monday, Mr Barnett was trying to downplay any suggestion of a relationship between their two parties, other than an arrangement in the mechanics of vote distribution.

“We are just simply trying to maximise the Liberal vote and the Liberal result, as simple as that,” he said.

“Its a decision made by the party. I support the decision that the Liberal Party made, but its not a decision that I have any involvement in…I’ve got no relationship with One Nation at all.”

Mr Barnett moved to distance himself from the controversial One Nation leader’s comments on vaccination and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, telling reporters he had never met Senator Hanson.

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“I do not take Pauline Hanson’s comments seriously, and can I tell you the vast, vast majority of Western Australians don’t either,” Mr Barnett said.

“Pauline Hanson is not the opinion maker of Australia and my opponent is the Labor Party and Mark McGowan, that’s my only concern.”

Senator Hanson arrived in Perth on Sunday night in a cloud of controversy, standing by her praise of President Putin and defending remarks she made about childhood vaccination, encouraging parents to do their own research on the topic.

Speaking in Mandurah on Monday, Senator Hanson reiterated her party was not in the election to boost Mr Barnett or Opposition Leader Mark McGowan, but said a deal was done with the Liberals to get One Nation seats in the upper house.

Senator Hanson said voters were fed up with the major parties and were looking for change.

She described her candidates as down to earth, upfront and honest “grassroots Australians” who had had enough.

Mother charged with murder over Murray River drowning

A NSW mother accused of trying to drown her two sons in the Murray River has now been charged with murder as well as attempted murder.

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The 27-year-old was last week charged with attempted murder after she allegedly took her two sons, aged five and nine, to the river on Thursday evening and tried to hold both boys underwater. The nine-year-old boy wriggled free.

A body believed to belong to the five-year-old was recovered on Saturday, and his older brother remains in a stable condition in the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne after suffering bites from a dog that intervened.

The mother’s matter was heard briefly in Deniliquin Local Court again on Monday morning and she was additionally charged with murder.

A psychiatric report has been requested, and the woman is due back in court in Deniliquin on May 2. 

The boys’ heartbroken grandmother has accused child protection services of “miserably” failing the family.

The grandmother, through her lawyer, has said she holds police and corrective services responsible because the daughter was essentially “off-loaded” on her after being released from prison.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said agencies will urgently look into the family circumstances and make sure “any response is appropriate”.

She said there would be a thorough investigation into what she called “a human tragedy of the highest proportion”.

The dog involved in the incident was taken by the local council under a police order last week and its owners have started an online petition demanding its return.

The pitbull cross, named Buddy, had no history of biting anyone before the incident, the petition said.

“He has clearly seen a child in distress and attempted to help.”

A police spokeswoman on Monday said police no longer required the animal.

The Murray River Council is yet to comment on the matter.