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Rooney keen to end league drought against Liverpool

“I am very happy and grateful, but I go back to Manchester, get back into training and start focussing on Liverpool.

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Hopefully getting two goals in the last two games will mean I continue scoring,” Rooney said.

“There’s no better game to go into than Liverpool at home after losing our last game (2-1 at Swansea City). It is a game we have to win and it’s something I’m looking forward to,” the former Everton striker added.

“To achieve what I have (by becoming England’s top scorer), I would be lying if I said it didn’t put a spring in my step and make you want to carry on scoring,” Rooney, who also scored in the 6-0 win over San Marino that booked England’s place in the Euro 2016 finals in France, said.

Meanwhile, Ander Herrera has said United’s midfield needs to start chipping in with goals to take some of the pressure off both Rooney and new signing Anthony Martial.

The Red Devils have struggled for goals in the early part of the season and have just three in their four league games so far, including the own goal by Kyle Walker in the 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the season opener.

“We don’t have to give all the responsibility on scoring to Wayne or Anthony Martial. We have to help. It is very important as a midfielder to score. We all have to help,” the Spanish midfielder said.

“Wayne is very important to us. Most of the time he will score but when he doesn’t, he is helping the team and he is always fighting for the team.

“He runs for the rest of the team and he likes to provide assists. We are very lucky to have him,” the 26-year-old added.

(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by John O’Brien)

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Debate over Iraq-Syria fight timeframe

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews says Australian forces involved in Syria and Iraq could pull out after two to three years, but a former military chief believes it’s more likely to be a decade.

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Mr Andrews is the first cabinet minister to put a timeline on the fight against Islamic State, which military strategists believe will take a decade or more.

Asked to define how many years the fight would take, he told the Nine Network: “Two, three years. I can’t say for exact terms.”

Former defence force chief Peter Gration said the prospect of sorting it out in two to three years was remote.

“We are in for a longer haul – I’d be thinking in terms of a decade,” he told the ABC.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who on Wednesday announced RAAF military aircraft would be allowed to cross from Iraq into Syria to target IS fighters, said personnel would return when the job is done.

His comment was backed up by Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss who said in response to a Labor question in parliament on the military pullout: “I cannot give you a date as to when that will be. We all hope that it will be soon but we will not be leaving until the job’s done.”

Labor has thrown its support behind the government in extending the mission into Syria.

Australia’s representatives to the United Nations wrote to the president of the security council on Thursday morning giving notice of the expansion.

The legal basis is Article 51 of the United Nations charter which states all member nations have a right to individual or collective self defence against armed attack.

However, Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said the ultimate solution lay in finding a political resolution in Syria, as well as defeating Islamic State.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spoke overnight with US Secretary of State John Kerry about how to disrupt IS bases and supply lines in eastern Syria.

Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs warned that bombing IS targets in Syria would create more refugees.

Australia’s policy of accepting 12,000 people fleeing the conflict and conducting air strikes was “contradictory”, she said.

“I think it’s inevitable that will increase the refugee flow and it will almost certainly lead to the deaths of more civilians.”

Mr Andrews likened the Iraq-Syria border to something closer to home.

It made sense to be able to go over the border because it was a bit like the border between NSW and the ACT.

“We know where it is on a map but most people wouldn’t know where it is and Daesh (IS) certainly doesn’t respect it.”

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Perrett closing in on new Canterbury deal

An elusive premiership ring is the sole reason why Canterbury veteran Sam Perrett is close to re-signing with the club on an multi-year deal.

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In an added boost ahead of Saturday night’s elimination final with St George-Illawarra, the self-managed Perrett revealed he is on the verge of a contract extension at Belmore.

“It’s not official yet, but everything’s looking good to stay here,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of putting it all on a formal contract.”

Perrett, 30, said he was comfortable looking after his own contractual affairs because, at this stage of his career, his priorities aren’t about extracting the most dollars.

“For me, there’s a lot of other things that hold value for me – comfort, momentum, opportunity, and a good, healthy environment,” he said.

“That’s really important for me and my family.”

However, the former Sydney Rooster said he had been in the game long enough to know other players had differing demands when it came to taking a seat at the negotiating table.

“They don’t really want to focus on that. They want to focus on their football and they’re not too interested in that side of it,” he said.

“In that instance, it’s good to have someone else working for you.”

Having lost three grand finals over his 12 seasons in the NRL so far, Perrett said winning that elusive premiership ring was his sole motivation at this stage of his career.

The former Kiwis representative gets another chance when he begins his fifth finals campaign in his past six years this weekend.

“It’s another shot for me personally that I’ve been looking forward to, and another opportunity to get that ring. It’s something that I’m pretty hungry for,” he said.

“To fall short just one step, it’s heartbreaking.

“But they are always opportunities to learn from, so long as you can the lessons and apply them.

“Hopefully the last couple of GFs that we’ve missed out on, we can fill in the missing pieces to the puzzle.”

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Services sector ends 2015 on a weak note

The services sector ended 2015 on a poor note, with activity falling in December for a third month following weak demand and heavy discounting before Christmas.

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The Australian Industry Group’s Performance of Services Index (PSI) dropped 1.9 points to 46.3 points in December, falling further below 50, indicating the sector is contracting at a faster pace.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said the survey’s respondents said spending before Christmas was selective.

“Businesses reported an early onset of price discounting as competitors tried, largely without success, to maintain sales volumes,” he said.

Mr Willox said the outlook for the start of 2016 was far from encouraging, with another decline in new orders continuing falls that began in September.

During December, only the health and community services and personal and recreational services sub-sectors enjoyed a lift in activity.

Hospitality was steady, while the seven remaining sub-sectors all contracted.

Of note was the downturn in activity in the property and business services, which dropped to it lowest level June.

The sub-sector enjoyed solid expansion in the third quarter of 2015, but conditions deteriorated in the last two months of 2015.

Respondents to the survey put the poor end to 2015 down to commercial banks increasing their mortgage interest rates in order to meet increased capital requirements set by the financial regulator.

A cooling housing market, and ongoing weakness in business-to-business services also weighed on the sub-sector.

But CommSec’s chief economist Craig James said the survey’s results didn’t appear to line up with other recent retail or business surveys, employment data or anecdotal evidence.

“Retail sales are growing at a normal four per cent annual pace; Christmas sales figures were solid; and employment in the services sector has been soaring,” he said.

“So the services gauge may be more of an outlier at present.”

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Fears over unvaxxed kids at Qld centres

Queensland’s government is fearful infection could spread at childcare centres that accept high numbers of unvaccinated children.

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New legislation allows centres to refuse children who aren’t immunised. However, at least two providers have said they would welcome these enrolments.

“I would caution against that because you are creating a bed where infection can spread rapidly,” Acting Health Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said on Wednesday.

“If you have a cohort of children that are essentially all unvaccinated that would be extremely dangerous.

“I would be very fearful of an outbreak at a particular childcare centre, very fearful indeed.”

Dr Lynham said the centres would be leaning on those children that had been vaccinated to stop the spread of disease.

However, he said it was a personal choice for both parents and providers.

Churches of Christ Care, which runs 20 centres across Queensland, announced late Tuesday that it would welcome unvaccinated children.

“While unvaccinated children are not excluded, we do encourage all families to vaccinate children,” general manager Jane Carter said.

The centres will take precautionary measures including keeping records and monitoring, and special consideration will be given to unvaccinated babies.

Childcare provider C&K, believed to be the state’s largest, made a similar announcement last week.

Under the federal “no jab, no pay” law, which came into effect on New Year’s Day, parents who don’t immunise their children will stop receiving childcare benefits and rebates.

The legislation, passed in state parliament last year, gives centres the power to refuse to take children under five whose parents have failed to ensure they complete mandated vaccination schedules.

AAP cleo/mjg/glg

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‘Bikies behind Vic strip club shooting’

Bikie gangs are behind a drive-by shooting at a Melbourne strip club in which a man was shot in the face.

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The man, aged in his 40s, was shot outside the Kittens club in South Melbourne late on Tuesday night – the second drive-by at the venue in less than two months.

A car carrying at least two people drove past and three shots were fired from the passenger side, before the vehicle took off, police say.

The vehicle was later found burning in Melton West, about 40km away from the strip club.

Detective Superintendent Peter De Santo said the injured man was a bouncer who was hit three times in the forehead by shotgun pallets.

He blamed outlaw motorcycle gangs.

“At this stage, there appears to be a connection between the shootings, which are targeted, and OMCGs involvement in those drive-by shootings,” Det Supt De Santo told reporters on Wednesday.

He reassured Victorians the shootings were not random.

“These are targeted shootings and not indiscriminate shootings, and unfortunately even though they’re happening in the community, they’re more targeted than not,” he said.

The Echo Taskforce has taken over the investigation.

Det Supt De Santo said he did not believe it was a drug war or feud between bikie gangs, but would not go into more detail due to an ongoing investigation into two other shootings in early 2015, and 2014, believed to be linked to Tuesday night’s drive-by.

He warned those involved they were putting innocent lives at risk.

“South Melbourne is a very populated area, there’s a lot of restaurants there, and these shootings put innocent lives at risk,” he said.

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Record high for new car sales in 2015

The automotive industry is in 2016 gunning for a seventh straight year of more than one million new car sales, after setting another record in 2015.

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Motorists bought more cars than ever before last year, snapping up more than one million new vehicles for the sixth successive year.

Australians purchased 1.155 million new vehicles in 2015, eclipsing the previous full-year record of 1.136 million sales set in 2013, Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) data show.

FCAI chief executive Tony Weber expects a further 1.1 million new vehicles to be sold in the new year.

“When you have had a record year three years out of the last four, you wonder where the market will obviously go,” he said.

“(But) we don’t see anything on the horizon that will slow sales in terms of the broader economy.”

Mr Weber said the industry outperformed general economic conditions last year, with sales up 3.8 per cent compared to 2014.

“This is an outstanding result in that environment,” he said.

And the falling exchange rate won’t drive prices up for consumers, with competition red hot and interest rates at all time lows, Mr Weber said.

“That’s what’s driving the market. Competition is so strong prices remain low despite the depreciation of the Australian dollar,” he said.

CommSec chief economist Craig James said car affordability is at the best levels ever recorded.

“Car affordability is even stronger on a `quality adjusted’ basis – vehicles built in 2015 are far superior to those sold in the early 1970s,” he said.

It would take someone on the average wage to work for 23.8 weeks to purchase a new Ford Falcon in 2015, whereas it would have taken 31.6 weeks in 2010, CommSec research shows.

Mr James said vehicle sales should remain solid in 2016, with employment rising, record wealth levels and the Reserve Bank likely to remain on the interest rate sidelines.

“The area to watch is the housing market, as softer home prices could restrain car buying enthusiasm,” he said.

Encouragingly, it’s not just so-called `standard’ vehicles being sold, but luxury rides are taking a bigger share of total sales, Mr James said.

Sports Utility Vehicle sales continued to skyrocket in 2015, making it the fastest growing sector for a sixth year in a row.

SUVs now account for around 35.4 per cent of the market, up from 31.7 per cent in 2014.

And Toyota continued its reign as Australia’s favourite in 2015, posting the company’s 13th straight year as the market leader and 19th time overall.

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Govt rejects suggestion of $30 pap smears

Health Minister Sussan Ley has slammed claims the removal of bulk-billing incentive payments for pathology services will leave women paying $30 for a pap smear.

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Pathologists have warned of potentially fatal consequences if women are forced to fork out $30 for the cervical cancer screening test.

They say the cost will need to be passed on for all pathology tests, insisting previous government cuts mean laboratories will be unable to absorb the costs if the government goes ahead with its plan to scrap the payments from July 1.

Labor has vowed to block the measures in the Senate with opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King calling on the government to allow debate on the issue, amid concerns the measure could be bundled up with other Medicare regulations, making it harder to defeat.

Ms Ley’s office hit back on Wednesday, insisting the removal of the incentive payment was separate to the Medicare rebate paid for procedures like pap smears.

It argues stock exchange-listed pathology companies are concerned about the impact on shareholders, not patients.

“Medicare is not designed to be a guaranteed bankable revenue for corporations, nor is a taxpayer-funded payment like this provided to cross-subsidise other costs of doing business for pathology companies,” a spokesperson said.

The health minister has previously conceded “some may be worse off” under the changes.

Ms King says the government should have negotiated with the pathology sector to ensure bulk billing was protected.

Any barrier to accessing pap smears would have health consequences, she added.

“They introduce a very big blunt instrument, no warning, no negotiation with the sector,” she said.

Labor made cuts to pathology when in government, but Ms King said those savings were made in consultation with the sector and some were redirected to bulk billing incentives.

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Exercise link to prostate cancer survival

Exercise training is being examined as a possible treatment for prostate cancer in a pioneering new study.

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A group of men with the illness are being put through their paces with weekly aerobic sessions by researchers to explore the possible health benefits.

Previous evidence has suggested that exercise can improve survival chances for those diagnosed with the disease.

Backed by Cancer Research UK, it is hoped the year-long study will lead to a full trial, thought to be the first of its kind, to determine if exercise should be used as an NHS treatment.

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer among men, with 43,400 cases diagnosed each year, claiming around 10,800 lives.

Volunteer David Curtis, 68, was diagnosed with the illness last March and is counting increased exercise as one of his New Year’s resolutions.

He said: “I was never someone to go to the gym, even though I’ve always been active, but now I go to the gym twice a week and do lots of walking.

“Since starting on the study, I’ve started to lose weight and my PSA level has come down which is a really positive indicator.

“I feel privileged to be on the study and pleased to be part of any research which might be useful to others.”

High levels of PSA, a protein produced by prostate cells, in the bloodstream can be a sign of cancer.

Current forms of treatment for prostate cancer include surgery and radiotherapy, both of which carry risks and side effects.

Study leader Dr Liam Bourk said: “Evidence suggests that men who are physically active after a prostate cancer diagnosis have better cancer survival than men who aren’t active.

“It’s not clear yet how this works, but it might be that exercise affects the way some genes regulate cancer cell growth and DNA repair.”

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Parents struggle to get kids to ‘unplug’

Convincing children to turn off the TV or computer is more difficult than getting them to do their homework, go to bed or take a bath, a UK poll suggests.

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Almost one in four mothers and fathers (23.1 per cent) found it difficult to control the amount of time their son or daughter spent watching television or playing on computers, tablets and phones, according to the Action for Children survey.

In comparison, just one in 10 parents (10.3 per cent) found it difficult to get their youngsters to do their homework, while 17.5 per cent struggled with getting them to bed, 10.5 per cent had trouble getting their child out of bed and ready in the morning and 4.6 per cent found it difficult to encourage their offspring to take a bath.

The poll, which questioned around 2000 parents, also revealed that healthy eating is an issue for some mothers and fathers, with nearly one in five (18.6 per cent) admitting that they found it difficult to get their child to eat the right foods.

The findings come amid continuing concerns that youngsters may be spending too much time online or watching TV, with some experts previously warning that pupils can turn up to school tired after spending time in front of a screen late at night.

Carol Iddon, managing director of operations at Action for Children, said: “Technology is an often necessary part of the lives of children and parents alike, but it’s important to maintain a balance with other activities and quality family time.

“We know from our extensive work with families that strong relationships with parents build resilience in children, making them less susceptible to bullying or abuse outside the home, and encouraging them to speak to their parents about any fears or concerns.

“As well as the conscious effort to cut down on screen-time, some parents benefit from additional support, such as dropping in for a chat or attending support groups at children’s centres, to learn how to better connect with their children.”

The children’s charity has published a series of tips to help parents to get their children to “unplug” from their TV and computer screens. These include planning family activities that do not include technology, and creating a weekly schedule based on the idea of one hour of technology use equalling one hour on other activities.

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PM facing discrimination, Dutton pressure

Labor continues to pursue the government over the Jamie Briggs affair, calling on the federal police to investigate the leaked photo of the public servant who complained about the former minister.

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Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has all but ruled out an investigation, even though he said Mr Briggs shouldn’t have shared the photo of the female public servant which ended up in the media.

But shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus says the “federal police or some other appropriate agency” should be called in to look into the matter.

Mr Dreyfus linked the Briggs affair to the government’s delay in appointing a full time Sex Discrimination Commissioner, four months after Elizabeth Broderick left the post.

Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs has been acting in the role, while Attorney-General George Brandis told parliament in November an “announcement will be made very soon”.

Mr Dreyfus said it’s unacceptable women suffering discrimination have been left with no dedicated advocate for four months.

“I’m floored that the government doesn’t seem to care that Australia has no Sex Discrimination Commissioner,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

The Greens have also called on Mr Turnbull to sack immigration minister Peter Dutton who labelled News Corp journalist Samantha Maiden a “mad f***ing witch” over a column she wrote criticising Mr Briggs.

The prime minister has described Mr Dutton’s text, which he accidentally sent to Ms Maiden instead of Mr Briggs, as clearly inappropriate.

But Greens leader Richard di Natale said Mr Dutton should be replaced by a “capable woman”.

“There’s no question there is a boy’s club in Canberra,” Senator Di Natale told reporters in Melbourne.

The actions of Mr Briggs and Mr Dutton have dominated the start of an election year for the coalition.

Mr Turnbull’s predecessor on Wednesday urged him to keep his promise of holding the poll toward the end of the year.

Tony Abbott made the comment while renewing his push for a registered organisations commission and the re-establishment of the construction watchdog, following royal commission findings into trade unions.

“Swift passage of the `clean unions’ legislation should mean an election at the usual time towards the end of the year as the prime minister has promised,” he wrote in The Australian.

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Vic govt wants Aust-wide hoverboard ban

Hoverboards could be banned in Australia after an explosive fire destroyed a Melbourne home.

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Victoria’s consumer affairs minister Jane Garrett has written to her federal counterpart Kelly O’Dwyer, asking her to consider a permanent ban of the toy following the blaze on Monday.

She has also spoken to colleagues in other states, and says there is widespread concern.

“It has been an issue that has caught the attention of consumer affairs officials right across the country,” Ms Garrett told reporters on Wednesday.

“We just can’t take those risks with, particularly, children’s safety.”

A hoverboard charging in a Strathmore home triggered a fire 10 minutes after it was plugged in on Monday night.

Fire investigators say the toy’s battery exploded, setting the device alight and sparking a fire which spread quickly through the home.

Ash Ibraheim fled with his four daughters and pets after trying to extinguish the blaze with a bucket of water.

Energy Safe Victoria said the unmarked hoverboard, purchased from a NSW distributor, did not comply with national safety standards.

The regulator is trying to figure out the model and supplier of the board, and what part of the toy triggered the battery explosion.

Authorities are urging consumers to check hoverboards they may have at home, with seven products recalled to date.

The device and its charger should be stamped with the Australian Regulatory Compliance Mark, a tick surrounded by a triangle.

If they’re not, the toy is probably illegal and dangerous, and it should be reported and returned, energy and resources minister Lily D’Ambrosio said.

“Please do not risk it. It is simply not worth it,” she said.

A squad of inspectors started visiting stores around Victoria on Wednesday, making sure they’re selling safe models that hadn’t been recalled.

Non-compliant products will be seized, with individuals doing the wrong thing facing fines of $4000 and companies $20,000.

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Malaysia Airlines lifts baggage ban

Malaysia Airlines says it has lifted a ban on check-in baggage on flights to Paris and Amsterdam, after the move angered many passengers who slammed the airline on social media.

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The U-turn came less than 24 hours after the airline announced that passengers cannot check-in baggage for Tuesday and Wednesday flights to the two European cities due to “unseasonably strong headwinds” on a longer flight path it is taking.

The airline said it recently had to operate a longer route to Europe, via Egyptian airspace, for safety reasons.

It said strong headwinds over the past four days were in excess of 200 knots, which can add up to 15 per cent to fuel burn on its Boeing 777 aircraft.

“Based on its current risk assessment, done on a daily basis, the airline is now able to take a shorter route on European flights. Malaysia Airlines maintains that safety is of utmost priority in its operations and will not hesitate to adjust its flight path based on its daily risk assessment,” it said in a brief statement.

It didn’t elaborate on the change in route, and airline officials could not be reached immediately for comment. A Malaysia Airlines jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a missile in eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

Many passengers left angry comments on the airline’s Facebook page, slamming it for being the only airline to impose such a ban.

Some of them said the airline should have limited the number of passengers and rejected freight instead. Others asked for a refund of their tickets.

Losses of two flights in 2014 hit the finances of already struggling Malaysia Airlines. One flight heading to Beijing disappeared and is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean. That tragedy was followed months later by the Ukraine disaster.

Last year, the airline appointed its first foreign CEO, Christoph Mueller, the former head of Ireland’s Aer Lingus, to oversee a major restructuring.

Mueller has said the airline can break even by 2018 after cutting 6000 staff, selling surplus aircraft and refurbishing its international fleet.