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Minister pays tribute to Vic firies

Victorians living in the fire-ravished Kilmore area owe their homes, and lives, to the state’s firefighters, the bushfires minister says.

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The Mickleham Road/Kilmore blaze has claimed 13 homes so far as it continues to burn out of control in Melbourne’s north.

At least 40 homes have been destroyed in the latest Victorian fires, but that number is expected to rise as residents return to their properties.

Victorian Bushfire Response Minister Kim Wells hailed the extraordinary efforts of firefighters as they continued their fight across the 23,000-hectare fire ground at Kilmore.

“When you compare it to the worst conditions since 2009, this has been an extraordinary effort by emergency services and every single person involved deserves every credit by every person in Victoria,” Mr Wells said on Thursday.

“They have gone to the end of the line to protect houses and lives.”

Firefighters have welcomed milder conditions and hope to have the Kilmore fire under control within the next 24 hours.

CFA operations officer Justin Dally said crews had spent the last day consolidating previous efforts and ensuring control lines were well-established.

“The danger is reducing … we’re hoping we will be able to contain this fire within the next 24 hours,” Mr Dally said.

“Having said that, without significant rain this fire will still need work for weeks.

“The threat from bushfires is not over, so if you were not impacted in this fire there is still an ongoing threat from bushfires in Victoria.”

The firefighters injured while battling the Kilmore blaze are all expected to make a full recovery.

Across the state, bushfires continue to burn out of control in the Gippsland region and at the Latrobe Valley but those fires have been contained, the State Control Centre said.

More than 140 CFA and MFB members are battling the Hazelwood open mine fire, and have concentrated their efforts on preventing smoke from wafting across the state.

While rain is forecast for parts of the state in coming days, it is not expected to help firefighters.

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Darwin bars bring in drinks limits

Bars in Darwin have agreed to limit the number of drinks patrons can buy in a bid to reduce alcohol-related violence in the city.

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Under the Australian Hotels Association initiative, member bars have agreed to limit drinks to four per customer during happy hours and after midnight, and to ban shots after 1am.

Shots with an alcohol content of more than 51 per cent will be banned altogether.

“It’s important we’re seen as part of the solution and not just part of the problem,” said Mick Burns, senior vice president of the AHA NT.

For the past year Chief Minister Adam Giles has refused to implement a Newcastle-type solution to alcohol-related violence in the NT, and told an AHA awards dinner last year that the NT’s drinking culture was a “core social value”.

He denied his government was too close to the liquor industry.

“Darwin is not Newcastle, it is not Kings Cross, it is not Wollongong, ” he told reporters on Thursday.

“We don’t want to be a government of a nanny state that puts in place rules without working in co-operation with local people.”

The new regulations apply only to the Darwin city centre, and there are no plans to roll it out across the rest of the Territory.

Earlier closing times were considered but not implemented, Mr Giles said.

Lord Mayor Katrina Fong Lim said Darwin’s night-time economy is worth $444 million a year and “it’s very important that people participate” in it.

The NT government has pointed to statistics showing that per capita alcohol consumption in 2012-13 was four per cent less than the previous year, and that wholesale supply dropped two per cent.

Since 2011 the government has introduced a mandatory alcohol treatment program and alcohol protection orders (APOs).

Mr Giles said there were now more police on the beat, and in its first month of operation, more than 500 APOs have been enforced, with a 15.8 per cent drop in acts intended to cause injury while under the influence of alcohol.

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Few believe account of Mexican murder

A slain Mexican journalist was found alongside the body of a union leader whose kidnapping he had investigated, casting doubt on officials’ claim the journalist was killed in a personal vendetta.

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Veracruz state authorities said Gregorio Jimenez’s body was buried in the backyard of a house in the town of Las Choapas, along with union leader Ernesto Ruiz Guillen’s body and the corpse of a taxi driver whose name wasn’t released.

Jimenez, a police beat reporter for the daily newspapers Notisur and El Liberal, wrote at least two stories about the disappearance of Ruiz Guillen, who was kidnapped in January during an assembly of Mexico’s Workers Confederation.

Jimenez is at least the 12th journalist slain or missing since 2010 in the Gulf coast state.

At least five gunmen kidnapped Jimenez, 42, from his home in the city of Coatzacoalcos last week and drove him away in an SUV.

Veracruz state spokeswoman Gina Dominguez said Wednesday that Jimenez was ordered killed by an acquaintance in a personal vendetta.

She said four men arrested for participating in the killings told investigators that Teresa Hernandez, who owns a cantina in Coatzacoalcos, paid them for kidnapping and killing Jimenez.

Hernandez had threatened Jimenez three months ago after her son and his daughter, who had dated, had a falling out, Dominguez told MVS Radio.

Journalists expressed scepticism.

“I don’t believe in what the government says because Gregorio was not one to get into fights. He was a kind, humble person,” said Elizabeth Avina, who works for the newspaper El Heraldo de Veracruz.

Gregorio Hernandez, another colleague of Jimenez, said the slain reporter often wrote about crime even though his byline didn’t appear in his stories.

“There has to be a serious investigation because he often looked into disappearances, crimes and kidnappings,” Hernandez said.

Journalists throughout Mexico organised protests since Jimenez disappeared to demand authorities look into his work as a possible motive.

“We want justice. We want authorities in charge of solving the case to take responsibility. We don’t want scapegoats,” said Victoria Rasgado, a reporter with Diario del Istmo, a Veracruz newspaper.

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Idris the new Jennings for Penrith

Penrith believe the late signing of Jamal Idris will be as important to their premiership ambitions as Michael Jennings was to the Sydney Roosters’ grand final heroics last year.

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It was the Panthers who cut ties with NSW star Jennings less than two months before the start of the 2013 NRL season, allowing the Roosters to unexpectedly bolster their squad ahead of their successful tilt at the title.

Now it’s Penrith who have landed a prized representative centre in Idris at the eleventh hour, and in a roundabout way filled the void left by Jennings.

The Panthers may have decided at the time they needed to cut Jennings loose for a combination of personality and financial reasons, but the reality is his departure robbed them of a key attacking strike-weapon out wide.

Jennings’ partnership with the Roosters worked because both needed one another – the player a fresh start and the club a game-breaker.

The Roosters won the competition and Jennings returned to Origin and Test football.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary hopes Idris – a player yet to reach his full potential – and Penrith – a club on the rise – can also prove a perfect match.

“I think Jamal is exactly what we need,” Cleary told AAP.

“It’s a really good fit for both Jamal and the club and in that sense it’s probably a similar thing to Michael Jennings, where he was a good fit for the Roosters and they were probably a good fit for him as well.

“Hopefully we can see that with Jamal.

“I think in his personal life he’s happy to be back in Sydney with his family.”

After suffering a sickening ankle injury last year, Idris has come from the Gold Coast a little behind the rest of his Penrith teammates in regards to fitness, but the 1.92 metre giant is on the right path under the tutelage of veteran trainer Ron Palmer.

Idris has been tried in the second row before, including at State of Origin level for the Blues.

But despite the Panthers’ rich depth in the backline, Idris’ power, size and strength will be utilised by Cleary in the position where he cut his teeth at Canterbury back in 2008.

“We’re looking at him for the centres,” said Cleary.

“He’s a footballer so he’ll play wherever he needs to. But I think he’s going to give us some strike power in the centres and be a really good addition.”

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Webb almost hit with another penalty

Veteran Karrie Webb narrowly avoided another major embarrassment as she teed off in the opening round of the women’s Australian Open.

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The long-time leading Australian female golfer, who was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard at the Ladies Masters in Queensland last week, almost found herself involved in another rules infraction.

Among the early starters in perfect playing conditions at the Victoria Golf Club on Thursday, Webb started her round on the 10th tee.

The former world No.1 and seven-time major champion was setting up for her opening shot when a brave call from match referee John Hopkins saved her a potential two-shot penalty.

The Golf Australia chairman and Webb’s pro-am partner a day earlier interrupted the Queenslander to inform her that her ball was millimetres in front of the tee markers.

“How’s that?” Webb questioned after she moved her ball back.

She then smashed her tee shot 20 metres past her playing partners, American Stacy Lewis and world No.2 Norwegian Suzann Pettersen.

Webb was inconsistent early on before finishing with birdie to sign for a 71 which was five off the pace.

“It wasn’t as good as I would like but I made twice as many birdies in the one round today as I did in two last week,” the world No.8 said.

“I didn’t drive the ball as well as I would like but it really hung tough and made a couple of nice putts on the way in to get into one under.”

She appeared more annoyed than upset by the first tee showdown.

“John Hopkins thought that my ball was ahead of the tee markers, which no one else in my group did, but as long as he did,” Webb said.

“As long as he felt useful, I guess that’s a good thing.”

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Comment: Could Australia ever have its own Silicon Valley?

By David Ireland, CSIRO and Louise Osborne, CSIRO

Silicon Valley is a bit like the ancient city of Babylon.

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A confluence of the right geography, right timing, and the right mix in the melting pot allowed them both to thrive.

Even the mythological status is fitting. After all, it’s not easy to replicate what circumstance has brought together.

And yet, many are looking for the secret recipe to copy what Silicon Valley has achieved. But is it just a matter of understanding the recipe, picking the right scale, and being patient?

There have been successful innovation hubs elsewhere and in disciplines outside of information technology. Take the Cambridge Science Park for instance. The site was donated to Trinity College in 1546, but wasn’t developed until 1970. It is now one of the leading innovation and research hubs in the world.

One imperative for the development of the Cambridge Science Park was a push from the then UK Government to improve returns on investment in basic research and higher education through increased technology transfer and new technologies. There are strong parallels here with the current push in Australia to improve the connection between research and industry.

In Cambridge, it took a decade for the number of companies in the science park to grow to 25. Initially being close to the world class research activity of Cambridge University was the pull. As a mini-cluster of technologies and talented people emerged in the 1980s it became attractive to more people and organisations, and so the effect snowballed. Venture capitalists and spin-outs joined the mix.

Importantly, there was also investment in accommodation and sporting facilities, conference and meeting places, and eating places. These facilities helped to develop the culture of the Cambridge Science Park.

In the 1990s, the number of companies grew to around 64 with larger and better funded companies present, and a focus on life sciences emerged. Some degree of evolution to the natural focus for the geographical area has been in the recipe for success in Cambridge.

There are also plenty of examples of less successful innovation clusters. The One-North Science Habitat in Singapore encompasses a number of other science parks creating better integration and private sector participation. It was built with further investment from the Singapore Government after the initial Singapore Science Park only achieved modest success. The Singapore Science Park was originally largely government directed in its set up with a low density design and no direct academic links.

The lessons from these examples are that culture is critical. Silicon Valley, Cambridge Science Park, and other successful examples of clusters have brought people together and actively facilitated interactions between them.

The benefits of this kind of collaboration extend beyond immediate economic growth. Close interactions give rise to new networks. New networks then facilitate the flow of expertise and knowledge between people and organisations which is essential for supporting future discoveries and breakthroughs.

Networks are important for the types of challenges we are facing. Think about climate change, biosecurity, and food security; these span country, organisational and disciplinary boundaries. Collaboration across traditional disciplines and between sectors (particularly between the research and industry sectors) is an essential ingredient in developing solutions to the world’s most wicked challenges.

Then there are the efficiency dividends from joining up the players, and lowering the costs of interacting.

Australia can learn from these international examples to improve its own collaborative effort. The 2013 Global Innovation Index placed Australia at 19 out of 142 countries, behind countries such New Zealand, Israel, the Republic of Korea and Ireland.

Two of the areas in which Australia performed poorly related to our ability to form clusters and export high technologies. Increasing collaboration and knowledge adoption are key areas that need to be improved if Australia is to remain globally competitive.

In Australia, we have a number of successful programs that improve collaboration such as Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs), Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence, Enterprise Connect, Research and Development Corporations, Technology Parks, and CSIRO’s National Research Flagships. CSIRO is also currently developing five Global Precincts.

At the moment, however, we still don’t have anything that combines the right geography, the right scale and the right mix in the melting pot to get the broad and deep connections of a Silicon Valley or Cambridge Science Park.

There are certain areas in Australia were there is sufficient expertise and industry activity to build collaborative melting pots of global scale. We have natural focus points such as manufacturing in Melbourne, and resources in Perth. Taking key lessons from around the globe we can build on these strengths to improve collaboration. High density, shared facilities and direct links to academia would also improve flows between industry, research, and government.

With scale comes international visibility, easier access, greater efficiency of investment for public and private funds, and that magic that happens when people with different backgrounds collaborate. The critical part will be to get the culture right.

With patience we can bring research and industry together and improve our collaborative performance. CSIRO’s own Global Precincts aim to do just that by emphasising physical closeness, direct linkages, and active facilitation of collaboration.

Australia might not have a Silicon Valley, but these kinds of projects already underway, will help Australia compete in the increasingly global innovation system.

David Ireland is the General Manager: International, Precincts and Innovation Systems Business Services and is involved in developing the Australian Global Precincts mentioned in this article.

Louise Osborne works for the CSIRO in the Global Precincts program.

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Four NFL playoff spots at stake

The National Football League’s last four playoff berths will be decided by Sunday’s final regular-season games, two of them showdowns in which the winner advances and the loser is done.

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Chicago entertain Green Bay and Philadelphia will visit Dallas with the winners in each capturing a division crown and first-round home playoff game and the losers packing up for the season .

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who had back surgery on Friday to repair a herniated disc, will be replaced by seldom-used backup Kyle Orton when the Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles to decide the NFC East champion and a playoff spot.

Romo threw for 3,828 yards and 31 touchdowns in 15 games this season for the Cowboys.

It’s the third year in a row in which the Cowboys will either make or miss the playoffs based on their final game, having fallen to Washington and the New York Giants the past two years.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was named on Thursday as the Packers’ starter at Chicago against the team that sidelined him in a road triumph last month.

A victory gives the Bears or Packers the NFC North crown and spells the season’s end for the loser of the NFL’s oldest rivalry, which will be contested for the 188th time.

Seattle, Carolina and San Francisco have secured National Conference playoff spots with the Chicago-Green Bay and Dallas-Philadelphia winners joining them.

The sixth and final NFC spot will go to either New Orleans or Arizona. New Orleans can clinch the berth by winning at home over Tampa Bay but anything less would allow the Cardinals to take the final wildcard berth by beating visiting San Francisco.

Seattle can seal a home-field edge throughout the path to the Super Bowl with a home win over St Louis but a loss opens the door for San Francisco to overtake them for the NFC West title.

Carolina need a victory at Atlanta to clinch a first-round bye and the NFC South division crown.

In the American Conference, playoff spots have been clinched by division champions Denver, New England, Cincinnati and Indianapolis as well as wildcard qualifiers Kansas City.

That leaves four teams — Miami, Baltimore and San Diego at 8-7 and Pittsburgh at 7-8 — vying for the last wildcard spot in a complicated mess where all of the clubs need help from results in other games to advance.

Miami need a home victory over the New York Jets and either a loss by Baltimore at Cincinnati or a San Diego home victory over Kansas City.

A win by reigning Super Bowl champions Baltimore would still need Miami or San Diego losing to keep the Ravens in the running to defend their crown. San Diego must win and have Baltimore and Miami lose.

Pittsburgh need a win and losses by the other three contenders to reach the playoffs. If all four teams lose, the Ravens advance.

Denver clinched a first-round playoff bye but must win at Oakland or have New England fail to beat visiting Buffalo to ensure the Peyton Manning-led Broncos have a home-field edge all the way to the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati could deny New England a first-round bye with a victory if the Patriots falter against Buffalo and Indianapolis could take the bye by beating Jacksonville if the Patriots and Cincinnati both lose.

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Twitter shares fall on overvaluation claim

Twitter shares have tumbled after a brokerage analyst warned the popular messaging network was overvalued following a meteoric rise since its initial public offering in November.

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Twitter shares closed down 12.99 per cent at $US63.79.

But the stock has more than doubled from its offering price at $US26 on November 7.

Jon Ogg at 24/7 Wall Street said Friday’s decline followed a five per cent gain on Thursday which put Twitter at a record high of $US73.31.

“Twitter’s stock valuation has been difficult or impossible for Wall Street analysts to deal with,” Ogg said in a blog post.

Ogg said at the start of the day, Twitter was trading at roughly 62 times expected 2013 revenues and about 35 times expected 2014 revenues.

“Another negative is that the company is expected to lose money in 2013 and in 2014,” he added.

Twitter has become massively popular around the world, but some analysts are sceptical about its ability to boost usage and revenues to become profitable.

The catalyst for the selloff came from Ben Schachter at Macquarie who changed his rating to “underperform” from “neutral,” noting that Twitter was up 40 per cent since December 11.

“We continue to believe that Twitter as a company has a bright future and many opportunities ahead. However, as a stock, we believe nothing has changed over the last 15 days to justify the rise in valuation,” Schachter said.

Meanwhile Bespoke investment group released a chart on Twitter noting that the stock appears to have paralleled Google market action in its early trading days.

Following up on that tweet, the investment firm tweeted, “Didn’t say $TWTR was $GOOG, just highlighting how closely their caps have tracked in their early days after IPO”.

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Steyn’s six put South Africa on top in decider

India lost their last nine wickets for 136 as they crashed from 198 for one to 334 all out, with Steyn the catalyst for the collapse as he ended a barren run of 414 deliveries between wickets in the series with a fiery spell of bowling after lunch.

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South Africa raced to 82 without loss in their reply during a marathon three-hour final session with openers Graeme Smith (35 not out) and Alviro Petersen (46 not out) to resume on Saturday as the Proteas aim to build a big lead.

Nine of the 10 Indian wickets were caught behind as the South African pace barrage that had looked so meek on day one came to life with Steyn’s inspired spell in the afternoon session in which he took three wickets in 10 balls.

“I said to (bowling coach) Allan (Donald) that it was one of my best fifers because I had gone so long without a wicket. Most people would have capitulated,” Steyn told reporters referring to his haul of more than five wickets.

After the morning was completely lost to rain, Cheteshwar Pujara (70) was Steyn’s first victim as India added 17 runs to their overnight 181 for one, caught by wicketkeeper AB de Villiers pushing forward to a pitched-up ball.

It brought to an end a fine second-wicket stand of 157 between Pujara and Murali Vijay that had so frustrated South Africa on the opening day.

REVERSE SWING

“After it rained there was a little bit of moisture in the wicket and in the first hour it was doing a bit. The ball had more carry and was skidding off the wicket,” Pujara said in a TV interview.

“We could have got 400, but we are happy with this total we have. The ball has started turning a bit and once we get the reverse swing the fast bowlers will come into the picture.”

Vijay moved to within three of his century before he succumbed to Steyn’s short-pitched attack, gloving the ball down the leg-side to De Villiers.

On the very next ball Rohit Sharma (zero) misjudged the bounce as he shouldered arms to a delivery that always looked destined to crash into middle stump.

Virat Kohli was on course for his third half-century in as many innings in the series before he was out 10 minutes before tea for 46, another catch down the leg-side by De Villiers, this time off Morne Morkel.

India advanced to 320 before they lost their sixth wicket, MS Dhoni (24) providing a catch for Smith at first slip off Steyn.

Jacques Kallis, playing his 166th and last test, reached perhaps one final milestone when he pouched Ravindra Jadeja (zero) at slip off spinner JP Duminy – his 200th catch in five-day cricket.

Kallis is second only to former Indian batsman Rahul Dravid (210) on the all-time list for a fielder.

INNINGS COMPLETE

Zaheer Khan (zero) and Ishant Sharma (4) became Steyn’s fifth and sixth victims as they edged to De Villiers, before the innings was complete when Mohammed Shami was taken at first slip by Smith off Morkel.

Steyn finished with figures of six for 100 in his 30 overs, while Morkel recorded three for 50 in 23.3 miserly overs. T

Morkel said South Africa were determined to “make something happen” and win the test in honour of Kallis.

Steyn added: “There are three days left, so I hope we can get a result, especially for Jacques. We will do everything in our power to try and win it for him.

“We were on the edge of winning in Johannesburg and then we didn’t, but rather than go 1-0 down there, we stand a chance of winning the series here.

“He (Kallis) sat down and had a little talk with us and said he didn’t want to play his last test in Durban and for it to fizzle out and be a draw.

“So we have to do whatever it takes. Whatever it is, whether we have to score quickly, take 10 wickets again, whatever, we’ll do it.”

(Reporting by Nick Said; editing by Justin Palmer and Ken Ferris)

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Pakistan win Sri Lanka ODI series 3-2

Dinesh Chandimal kept his nerve to pull off a sensational two-wicket win for Sri Lanka in the fifth and final one-dayer in Abu Dhabi on Friday, but Pakistan took the five-match series 3-2.

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Chandimal finished with 64 not out off 70 balls and added a match-turning 40 runs for the ninth wicket with Ajantha Mandis (19 not out) to see Sri Lanka through with two balls to spare.

Mendis hit the winning boundary and smashed one of the two sixes in Umar Gul’s penultimate over which cost Pakistan 15 runs and the match.

Chandimal hit his only boundary to reach fifty before hitting a six off Gul to clinch an unlikely win after Sri Lanka had wobbled at 8-195, derailed by Junaid Khan (3-31) and Saeed Ajmal (2-43).

Sri Lanka, who chased down a 285-run target in their second one-day win in Dubai, were cruising along at 1-113 after Kusal Perera (47) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (45) gave them a brisk start of 75.

When on 31, Dilshan completed 8,000 one-day runs, becoming the sixth Sri Lankan to achieve the milestone.

“We were just good enough to win the game,” said skipper Angelo Mathews.

“Once again, a little disappointed with the batsmen who got starts but didn’t go from there. Mendis came to the party, along with Chandimal, and got us over the line.”

Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq said the series win was satisfying.

“Our team is in good shape,” said Misbah.

“Of course, it’s disappointing to lose the last match but overall I am happy the way team won the series.”

Earlier, Misbah top-scored with 51 while in-form batsman Hafeez, who scored three centuries in the series, made 41 as Pakistan were bowled out for 232 in the 50th over.

Anwar Ali chipped in with a fiery 38-ball 41 not out spiced with one six and two fours.

Pakistan found the going tough after openers Ahmed Shehzad (17) and Sharjeel Khan (18) by 13th over.

Lasith Malinga took 4-57.

Misbah hit two boundaries and a six during his 74-ball knock, finishing with 1,371 runs in 34 one-day matches this year – the most by any player.

The two teams now play a three-match Test series, with the first in Abu Dhabi from December 31.