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Three alleged terrorists shot dead in Indonesia

A taped-off area in the street in Ubud, Bali, where a suspicious backpack was recently found. DFAT has warned of an ongoing terror threat across Indonesia, including Bali. Photo: Supplied Jakarta: The Australian government has issued an updated travel warning to Indonesia as three suspected terrorists were killed after a bomb was thrown at police officers during a raid of a house in South Tangerang, about 25 kilometres south-west of Jakarta.
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The raid came as DFAT’s smart traveller website warned that Indonesian authorities continued to arrest terrorists allegedly in the advanced stages of attack planning.

Police believed the three were plotting to carry out a terror attack on Christmas Day targeting police posts in South Tangerang, part of the Greater Jakarta metropolitan area.

“The information we received was there were three bombs ready to explode inside the house – pipe [bombs inside] three backpacks,” Jakarta Police spokesman M. Iriawan said.

The alleged terrorists were believed to be linked to arrests in the east Jakarta suburb of Bekasi earlier this month over a plot to attack the presidential palace in Jakarta using a pressure cooker bomb.

This plot sent chills through Indonesia because one of the women arrested – Dian Yulia Novi – had been tasked with suicide bombing, indicating militants were now recruiting women to mount the deadly attacks.

Indonesian police said earlier this week that 14 people were being interrogated over the presidential palace plot and a second suspected plot to carry out a suicide bombing outside of Java.

Police spokesman Awi Setiyono told Fairfax Media the second bomb attack had been planned for Bali “based on the evidence we have”.

Mr Setiyono said this evidence was based on the interrogation of terrorists arrested in Solo on December 18 and Purworejo, also in Central Java, last week.

Jakarta Police spokesman Iriawan said on Wednesday that Dian, the alleged female suicide bomber, had provided information leading them to a man named Adam who was arrested following a raid at a home in South Tangerang at 8am on December 21.

Adam told police three of his friends planned to stab a police officer.

“Once police and people gathered at the crime scene, they would come and blow up a suicide bomb,” National Police spokesman Rikwanto said.

He said the three suspected terrorists were killed after one of them threw a bomb at a police officer during a raid on a rental property in Setu in South Tangerang at 9.45am on December 21.

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“Thank God it did not explode and action was taken to stop them,” he said.

The Indonesian counter-terrorism force Detachment 88 had seen a big bomb but did not wish to trigger it and so called the bomb squad.

Mr Rikwanto said Christmas and New Year events remain the target of terrorists.

“It’s like this every year,” he said. “Police keep following their tracks to avoid end of year events being disturbed by them.”

In an updated travel warning released on December 21, DFAT warned terror attacks could occur anywhere at any time in Indonesia, including in Bali.

“Indonesian authorities continue to arrest terrorists who have allegedly been in the advanced stages of attack planning,” it said. “The terrorist threat level in Indonesia remains high.”

Police spokesman Awi Setiyono later said one of the alleged terrorists who had been killed – Omen – was a convicted murderer who had been recruited by an ex-terrorist convicted of the Myanmar embassy bombing in 2013.

He said the other two – Irwan and Helmi – were members of Jemaah Anshar Daulah (JAD), which the National Counterterrorism Agency recently said was the most dangerous terrorist organisation in the country.

The spiritual leader of JAD is firebrand cleric Aman Abdurrahman, one of Indonesia’s most influential jihadist ideologues and a vocal promoter of Islamic State.

The group has been linked to a number of terror attacks in Indonesia including the attack in January near Sarinah shopping mall in Central Jakarta, which left eight people dead.

He is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence for terrorism on the penal island of Nusakambangan.

President Joko Widodo expressed his highest appreciation to Detachment 88 and other police units for finding the bomb before it had time to explode.

“I think we should be grateful and we hope people stay alert to their surroundings and report anything to the security apparatus,” he said.

“We hope all people participate in guarding this nation from terrorism and radicalism.”

With Karuni Rompies and Amilia Rosa

Follow Jewel Topsfield on Facebook

Weird weather 2016: Year of melting ice, monster storms and Australia’s big wet

At risk: shrinking Arctic ice is bad news for polar bears – and the planet.If Santa really lived at the North Pole his sleigh would run the risk of falling through the ice this week, empty or fully laden.
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Temperatures in the high Arctic will approach melting point on Thursday, including near the North Pole, a massive 30 degrees or more above average for this time of the year.

Wide departures from temperature norms – usually on the warm side – have been a feature for a long while in the Arctic but this year’s extremes qualify the region as home to probably this year’s world’s weirdest weather.

The polar extremes are part of what is highly likely to be declared as the hottest year in records going back to the 1880s. And so, with 2016 eclipsing both 2015 and 2014, the world would have set a new high mark for three years in a row.

Here are some of this year’s outstanding weather and climate events: Extreme ice melt

This week’s bizarre temperature forecasts for the North Pole have been a regular – if usually less extreme – feature of 2016 for the Arctic.

Many northerly regions, such as in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, were 20 degrees above normal for the first half of November, for instance.

The situation is even worse further north, with computer modelling forecasting freakishly high temperatures in the high Arctic. Around the North Pole, temperatures were predicted to soar between 40 and 50 degrees above normal, approaching melting points despite this being the coldest time of the year.

“That’s pretty intense,” said Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with WeatherBell Analytics.

(See below for the coming abnormal heat over the North Pole, via The Washington Post.)

As a result of warmer air and sea temperatures than normal, Arctic sea ice was 17.7 per cent below the 1981-2010 average in November, and the smallest extent for the month since the satellite era began in 1979, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says.

Less sea ice means that there will be less reflection of solar radiation when the sun returns to the far north, and therefore, more heat being absorbed by the now exposed oceans.

A similar retreat of sea ice is underway at the other end of the planet.

Last month, the extent of the Antarctic sea ice was 11.1 per cent below the 1981-2010 average, also the lowest for this time of year in 37 years of records.

The Antarctic story, though, is more complex given the impact of the great southern continent on the climate, with wind strengths one factor in shifting sea-ice totals.

Still, the spring sea-ice melt in the south is running about two weeks earlier than average and one week earlier the previous rapid melt, Blair Trewin, senior climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, said. Early storms

Tropical cyclones had an unusually early start for the year, with Hurricane Pali becoming the earliest such storm on record for the central Pacific basin when it formed on January 11.

Only two other January cyclones had formed in the basin since 1949 data began, Weather南京夜网 said.

Two days later, on January 13, Hurricane Alex formed in the North Atlantic, the first such storm for the month in that basin since 1938, the NOAA, said.

Later in January, the north-eastern US copped Winter Storm Jonas, which dumped 70 centimetres (27.5 inches) of snow on New York City, the most since records began in 1868, NOAA said.

Scientists have drawn links between the loss of Arctic sea ice (see above) and longer winters across eastern North America as the polar vortex zone of frigid air encircling the Arctic weakens and buckles, sending ice blasts far to the south. Coral bleaching could have been worse

Coral bleaching caused by extreme warmth at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Climate Council

El Nino events in the Pacific typically produce unusually warm sea-surface temperatures, which, when overlaid on the background heating from climate change, push coral beyond key tolerance thresholds.

For the Great Barrier Reef, the extreme warmth resulted in its worst bleaching event, with more than 22 per cent of the corals dying. Many other reefs around the world also suffered bleaching.

Tourism authorities and governments were relieved that the impacts were mostly confined to the northern reefs away from the more accessible corals near Cairns and further to the south.

In fact, they have a monster storm to thank for that, with the powerful category-5 Cyclone Winston moving over southern Queensland after devastating Fiji and Tonga with its 285km/h winds in February.

The storm worked to cool the waters of the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef long enough and just in time, to prevent worse coral mortality. Extreme heat records

Death Valley National Park in California is one of the world’s hottest spots. Photo: Alamy

Global warming sceptics like to highlight long-standing heat records. But hot-day records are in fact falling much faster than cold day ones.

In Australia since 2000, for instance, a record hot day is now occurring 12 times faster than record cold days. During the first half of the 20th century, the ratio was roughly one-to-one, the Bureau of Meteorology says.

In 2016, though, the world has also had some bouts of remarkable daily heat, including the 54 degrees recorded in Mitribah, Kuwait, on July 16.

According to the Weather Underground blog, it was the hottest on record outside Death Valley in California.

The latter, at the aptly named Furnace Creek Ranch, was 56.7 degrees, recorded on July 10, 1913, although historians debate that high mark.

Other extreme heat in 2016 included 51 degrees recorded in Phalodi, Rajasthan, in India on May 19, making it the hottest day of record for that country.

The previous record of 50.6 degrees was set in May 1886, although a similar and perhaps more reliable reading was also recorded in 1956, the website said.

Among the year’s most significant heatwaves was one that swept across southern Africa in January, Dr Trewin said. Temperatures reached 43 degrees in Pretoria and 39 degrees in Johannesburg, both cities located more than 1000 metres above sea level, and breaking previous records by about 3 degrees.

“They are very high temperatures for such high locations,” Dr Trewin said. Strongest storm

Typhoon Meranti had one-minute sustained winds reaching 305km/h . Photo: Weather Channel

Whether known as Typhoon Meranti or Ferdie, this tropical cyclone was the most powerful in 2016 when it emerged in September.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Centre estimated the storm had one-minute sustained winds reaching 305km/h at its peak as it crossed the Philippines island of Itbayat. More than 10,000 people were affected.

It was still powerful when it reached the Chinese mainland, becoming the most powerful storm to hit Fujian province in at least 67 years when standard records began, Agence France Presse reported.

Hurricane Matthew was another significant storm, leaving at least 550 dead in the Caribbean nation of Haiti, before causing widespread flooding along the US south-eastern states in October.

Typhoon Lionrock at the end of August was also a major event, described as the worst natural disaster for North Korea in that state’s history. Big wet

As in every year, there were more than a few candidates for large-scale flood events.

The US provided several, including severe floods in May in Texas, and the widespread heavy falls along the eastern seaboard in September when Hurricane Hermine became the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 11 years and then hugged the coast as it moved northwards.

The most costly floods, though, probably came in the Yangtze River region of China, where sustained rains caused a damage bill of more than $10 billion and left hundreds dead.

Central and western Europe also saw big floods in Paris in June.

Australia, though, warrants a mention because of the share scale and sustained nature of much of the rainfall.

It was officially Australia’s second-wettest winter, but taking the five months from May, the big wet was even more notable, especially for the eastern half of the country which had record rain.

(See chart below of how much of Australia had very much above or record levels of rain for May-September.)

Awaiting some wet relief are regions that were hard hit by drought during the El Nino of 2015-2016.

These include south-east Asia and southern Africa. While the latter region has had reasonable summer rains recently, the region has a long way to go before the dry years of 2014-15 and 2015-16 are made up, Dr Trewin said.

One positive in 2016 was a good monsoon in the sub-continent after a couple dry years. Hottest month

Surfers out early at Tamarama on a hot December day. Photo: Jessica Hromas

From a climate point of view July is typically the hottest month of the year. Temperatures over land fluctuate more than over water, and during northern summers more land is facing the sun than in southern summers so the mercury is higher than in January.

And so, with the lingering effects of the El Nino, this past July was the hottest month recorded, according to NOAA.

Average temperatures were 16.67 degrees across the planet that month, beating the previous July – then a record – by 0.06 degrees.

The biggest departure from the norm, though, came earlier in 2016. March was 1.23 degrees higher than the 20th century average, pipping the previous month for the record.

Of the 15 warmest monthly anomalies for global temperatures, all but one of them – January 2007 – have occurred since the start of 2015, NOAA says.

And if you were wondering when the last below-average month was globally, you have to go back to December 1984. Assuming December 2016 doesn’t freeze over in the next week, the tally of above-average months in a row will be 384 by year’s end. Hottest year

With so many warm months in both 2016 and 2015, this year is likely to only just edge out last year as the hottest on record.

Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, tells Fairfax Media this year will come in at about 0.14 degrees warmer than 2015.

NOAA, which includes less of the exceptional warming in the Arctic than NASA, will probably report a narrower margin of about 0.04 degrees, he estimates. Might not feel like it today, but 2016 will be the warmest year in the surface temperature records, 1.2ºC/2ºF above the late 19th C pic.twitter南京夜网/npGM1741Vf— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) December 15, 2016

While both years were boosted by an El Nino, a weather pattern in the Pacific that results in less heat being absorbed into the ocean compared with neutral years.

That said, it is notable that both 2015 and 2016 will be about one-third of a degree warmer than the year of the biggest El Nino event on record, which sharply lifted temperatures in 1998. (See NOAA chart below.)

Britain’s Met Office this week estimated temperatures will ease back in 2017 as any lingering El Nino boost dissipates.

Still, next year is likely to come in as third warmest, underscoring the warming trend in the climate as greenhouse gas concentrations climb ever higher.

And there will be more extreme weather events to come.

Weatherzone is owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of this website.

Follow Peter Hannam on Twitter and Facebook.

ACT Brumbies laud interim chief executive Phil Thomson after ending 24 years in rugby

Phil Thomson. Photo: Karleen MinneyDeparting ACT Brumbies boss Phil Thomson is confident the organisation has found calm waters after one of the most turbulent years in the club’s off-field history.
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Thomson will end a 24-year rugby administration career on December 31 when he steps away from the game and opts against returning to his role as the ARU integrity manager.

Thomson was appointed interim Brumbies chief executive seven months ago following an ugly boardroom war between the club’s directors and former boss Michael Jones.

The former ACT rugby representative and inaugural Brumbies team manager in 1996 became the voice of reason in Canberra’s rugby community and helped mend broken bridges in the capital.

The Brumbies board was keen to find a role to keep Thomson involved at the club, potentially as a general manager of high performance, but Thomson decided it was time to try something new.

“It’s been an enjoyable seven months even though I came in at a difficult time, I enjoyed coming in and engaging with a wide-range of people,” Thomson said.

“We worked through a lot of the issues we had and hopefully the things we’ve put in place since then can assist the organisation moving forward into 2017 and beyond.

“There were a lot of challenges, but nothing insurmountable. It was just about engaging with people and improving on what’s been done in the past.”

Thomson will finish his stint at the Brumbies on Friday and is set to remain in Canberra after commuting to Sydney in recent years to work at the ARU.

He has been working to finalise player contracts, including Wallabies lock Rory Arnold’s new deal, while playmaker Wharenui Hawera is set to be signed and the Brumbies are locked in negotiations with Tevita Kuridrani.

Brumbies chairman Robert Kennedy praised Thomson, a former AFP detective, for giving the Super Rugby club stability when it needed it most.

“Phil’s level and depth of knowledge of the rugby industry has been invaluable to the board setting us up and taking us forward from here,” Kennedy said.

“He’s helped set us up for the selection of a new coach and general manager of high performance, he brought a huge amount of knowledge with him.

“Phil was doing far more than warming a seat. He was adding a huge amount and we’re very appreciative of all he’s done. We would have found any role for him, but they probably would have been below him in terms of skills and knowledge.”

Michael Thomson will step into the chief executive role in January after leaving his job at the Australian Sports Commission.

The Brumbies have also advertised for a new coach, with Stephen Larkham set to leave at the end of 2017 to start his full-time Wallabies assistant coaching job.

It is hoped the Brumbies will be able to appoint Larkham’s successor by the end of February to allow for a handover period and for the new coach to play a role in player recruitment and retention.

The Brumbies have a massive list of off-contract players and will be fighting overseas clubs and Super Rugby rivals to keep their roster together.

Thomson will tie up loose ends this week as he prepares to end a career that has gone full circle.

He was the ACT under-21s team manager from 1993-95 before joining the Brumbies for their first season in Super Rugby, working with the likes of Larkham, George Gregan and Brett Robinson for five seasons.

Thomson then became the Wallabies team manager for nine years before taking a role as the ARU integrity manager.

“For Phil to finish as chief executive of the Brumbies is a good top and tail for his rugby career,” Kennedy said.

Asia’s top wildlife experiences: Best places to see the world’s most elusive creatures

Japanese Snow Monkeys in Yudanaka, Nagano, Japan. tra10cover-century Wildlife Encounters ? Brian Johnston Credit: iStock Photo: iStock An Indian tiger in the wild. Royal Bengal tiger in national park of India. Photo: iStock
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Giant panda eating bamboo. Photo: iStock

PANDA SPOTTING, CHINA

Zoo pandas are cute, but encountering these rare and elusive creatures in the wild is a major thrill. The only place the public can track wild pandas is in Foping National Nature Reserve in central China’s Qinling Mountains. See ecotours南京夜网.PARA-HAWKING, NEPAL

Combine the adrenaline of paragliding and up-close encounters with Egyptian vultures (they aren’t hawks, despite the sport’s name) in the Pokhara Valley, where the birds of prey are lured to your arm with buffalo meat, and mark your way to rising thermals. See parahawking南京夜网.DIVING WITH WHALE SHARKS, MYANMAR

The uninhabited Mergui Archipelago is way beyond usual scuba-diving haunts and teems with reef sharks, barracuda, dogtooth tuna and many more large fish species. But when whale sharks come within arm’s reach, you know you’re somewhere special. See divetheworldburma南京夜网.TIGER SAFARI, INDIA

Of several places to spy tigers in India, Bandhavgarh National Park has a particularly high density of the striped predators. A 4WD safari – or more unnervingly, guided walk – through grassland and woods provides close encounters with the big cats. See abercrombiekent南京夜网南京夜生活.BIRD SPOTTING, SINGAPORE

The world’s biggest walk-in aviary at Jurong Bird Park houses 365 species, full-size trees and a waterfall, and gets you closer to our feathered friends than you’d ever be in the wild. Mandarin ducks, macaws, penguins, flamingos and ostriches are among the attractions. See birdpark南京夜网.sg.ORANG-UTAN ENCOUNTERS, MALAYSIA

It’s a magic moment when an orang-utan approaches through the tree canopy and you’re face to face with this endearing – and endangered – creature. Semenggoh Orang-utan Centre is just one of several Borneo reserves for semi-wild orang-utans and their babies. See sarawaktourism南京夜网.SNOW MONKEYS, JAPAN

The Japan Alps near Nagano ski resort is home to Japanese macaques. The world’s most northerly non-human primates spend much of the winter wallowing in hot springs. With their red faces and spiky hair, the cute factor is off the charts. See hakubatourism南京夜网.KOMODO DRAGONS, INDONESIA

Just the opposite of cute yet strangely compelling, the world’s largest lizard inhabits just a small group of islands, including Komodo. The fierce predator has poisonous saliva and can kill a water buffalo. Very impressive, and a bit revolting. See komodonationalpark.org.SCUBA DIVING, MALDIVES

Who says animal encounters mean sacrificing luxury? In the Maldives you can combine resort living with fantastic scuba-diving and snorkelling, and easily spot manta rays, giant trevally and abundant coral and tropical fish in waters with 40-metre visibility at times. See visitmaldives南京夜网.SNOW LEOPARD TRACKING, INDIA

The attempt to see one of the world’s most elusive animals high in the Himalayas of India’s remote Ladakh region isn’t always successful, but the chase is a thrill – and the combination of alpine scenery and Buddhist temples is stunning. See intrepidtravel南京夜网.

China-Australia Year of Tourism 2017: What does it mean for Australians?

Chinese Tourists enjoy the Sydney sun at Sydney’s Lady Macquaries Chair. Photo: Brendan EspositoThere couldn’t have been a greater contrast in the relations between China and the US and China and Australia this week. While President-elect Donald Trump is set to spend 2017 and beyond poking the dozy Chinese panda with a noticeably large and sharp stick, Australia is, officially, planning to spend the next 12 months stroking it.
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The Year of the Rooster, to add yet another creature to the mix, in 2017 is also going to be the Year of the Two Bears – the panda and the koala – with the Chinese and Australian governments having this week declared it “China-Australia Year of Tourism”, beginning on January 1.

While such official years of tourism can be a gratuitous yuan a dozen in Asia, the China-Australia Year of Tourism 2017 is actually imbued with a semblance of meaning and timeliness, no less considering the contrasting tense relations between China and the US, as well as a host of other factors.

The China-Australia year also coincides with the second golden age of Australian tourism – the first being the formative “shrimp on the barbie” era – with the number of Chinese visitors to Australia now totalling almost 1.2 million, up more than 20 per cent on a year ago. Next year will almost certainly see New Zealand, traditionally Australia’s largest tourism market, surpassed for the first time by China.

Although we only receive 1.5 per cent or so of all Chinese tourists travelling abroad, the numbers are sufficient to have dramatically boosted record inbound tourism numbers and economic benefit for Australia. Chinese tourists, after all, are set to contribute $13 billion to the national economy by 2020, up from the $9 billion contribution today.

The tourism industry’s total contribution to Australia’s gross domestic product is now almost $53 billion with one in 20 Australians, or a total of 580,000 of us, now employed directly in tourism-related jobs.

Really, with such growth in Chinese tourism Down Under, James Packer could conceivably build his controversial Barangaroo hotel in Sydney sans a high-rollers casino and still make a tidy profit. Furthermore, the Year of the Two Bears, is an opportune moment to reflect on why Chinese tourists really are good for us (and why we should take care when wielding a Trump-like big stick).

See also: The rise of Chinese airlines in AustraliaBETTER HOTELS, RESORTS AND ATTRACTIONS

The corollary of this extraordinary growth in visitors from China is that there is, and will be, a greater need for more, and hopefully superior infrastructure and investment in order to meet the demand. The rise and rise of Chinese tourism to Australia may also serve as a catalyst in finally addressing Australian service standards.

These standards can tend to be excellent to world-class in our top restaurants but sometimes average-to-poor in our hotels and resorts. But, whatever the case, more infrastructure means more choice and quality for the growing ranks of Australian domestic travellers, as well as for Chinese and other foreign visitors. BETTER AIR LINKS TO CHINA AND THE WORLD

Thanks to the boom in Chinese tourists there now are more Chinese airlines flying to and from Australia than any other nation. Each year more than 720,000 Australians visit China, which, of course, the China National Tourist Office would like to see grow.

For Australian travellers, with seven (more if you count Hong Kong) carriers flying here, it means more choice of airlines and greater affordability, with the standards of Chinese carriers steadily improving. Chinese cities – of which 13 have direct links to Australia – have emerged as major and viable hubs to Europe and elsewhere.

“You can now fly direct to [and from] Australia from more than a dozen different cities in mainland China and the level of recent aviation activity gives you a pretty good indication of how the major Chinese airlines see future demand.” says John O’Sullivan, managing director of Tourism Australia.

“Many of these new flights are from China’s secondary cities – places such as Kunming, Hangzhou and Wuhan – effectively opening up parts of China which are, as yet, largely untapped for us.”

See also: 20 things that will surprise first-timers to ChinaBETTER STOPOVER OPTIONS

An impediment to visiting China in the past has been the somewhat cumbersome visa process but Australians can now utilise a generous visa-free transit policy which have seen conditional stays in Shanghai, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang increased from 72-hours to up to 144 hours (or six days). This makes Chinese cities, at the very least, a viable stopover option to Europe.

“Many Australians view China through the prism of our trade in goods and commodities,” says Luo Weijan, director of the China National Tourist Office in Australia, “but China is much more than just an economic powerhouse. We have rich and diverse ethnic groups, different cuisines [and] breathtaking scenery.”

From the inevitable self-interested Australian economic standpoint, O’Sullivan also points out that the introduction earlier this month of a 10-year multi-entry visas for Chinese tourists should also give a significant boost to repeat visits by Chinese tourism and the incentive to explore areas beyond Australia’s main urban attractions such as in regional areas. BETTER CHINESE FOOD

Okay. So this one is a bit of a long shot. But Chinese cuisine, and standards of service in Chinese restaurants, in Australia has generally been in the doldrums for years. Food plays a central part in the lives of the Chinese and it’s no less important to them when they travel abroad.

The growth in Chinese tourist numbers may finally encourage more regionally-focused Chinese restaurants here that will benefit both Chinese and Australian foodies alike, as well as generate more employment in the hospitality segment.

Fortunately, according to research by Tourism Australia, the perception of the quality of Australian food (and not just Chinese cuisines) among tourists to China from Australia is greater after they’ve visited here, impressed as they are by the freshness, quality and diversity of our local produce.

Anthony Dennis is Fairfax Media’s national travel editor, traveller南京夜网南京夜生活

To read more of Anthony Dennis stories, click here.

Twitter @AnthonyTravelEd

See also: What Chinese tourists like (and dislike) about Australia

The most amazing man-made structures in Asia

Sunrise at Borobudur temple on Java. Photo: iStockSHANGHAI TOWER
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Faster, higher, longer and older: there’s no doubt Asia plays the one-upmanship game when it comes to architectural statements. It’s hard to believe that in 1999, Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers broke the US’ hold on skyscraper glory. Those towers have long been surpassed by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, but the newest, pointiest addition to the Asian architecture scene is Shanghai Tower. Opened in September, the world’s second highest building measures 632 metres. GARDENS BY THE BAY, SINGAPORE

Another hotbed of modern architecture, Singapore gleams with man-made marvels, with the fantastical Gardens by the Bay rivalling the voraciously Instagrammed SkyPark infinity pool – the largest of its kind in the world – atop the three-legged Marina Bay Sands skyscraper. BOROBODUR, INDONESIA

Wreathed in mysticism, Asia’s ancient spires of faith are hidden in jungles, or secreted away high in high mountains. The world’s largest Buddhist monument, Borobodur, was built in the 9th century in central Java, Indonesia. Like its peer in Cambodia, the Angkor complex, it was gouged from voracious vines centuries after its significance had faded for the local population. TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY , BHUTAN

Fading into obscurity was never an option for Taktsang Lhakhang. Bhutan’s favourite pin-up, the Tiger’s Nest monastery can be reached only by a steep trek up the side of the Himalayas, but the birthplace of Bhutanese Buddhism hasn’t been out of the country’s consciousness since its heroic construction in 1692. SKYGARDENS, SEOUL

South Korea’s capital, Seoul, is again in the 2017 must-visit lists, and has proven a pro at balancing old and new, with Namdaemun, the country’s first National Treasure and the 14th-century South gate in the Fortress Wall of Seoul neatly balanced by Dame Zaha Hadid’s curved aluminium Dongdaemun Design Plaza on the east wall of the city centre. Not content to sit on its laurels, Seoul’s 17-metre high Skygarden overpass, dubbed the High Line of Asia, opens April 2017. PALACE OF THE WINDS, INDIA

Turrets, fluted columns, curlicues and ramparts, the Rajasthani desert city of Jaipur has an overload of architectural beauty, but Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, wins for its outrageously elaborate facade. Built in 1799, over a thousand windows allowed the women of the royal household to observe life, unobserved. UZBEKISTAN

Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Uzbekistan

In Central Asia, Uzbekistan’s stupendous Bibi-Khanym Mosque was built in 1404 by Tamerlane. A statement of power (that needed elephants to help construct it), it was the largest mosque in his world, thought time didn’t save it. Today’s replica recreates its turquoise domes and elaborate mosaic-clad columns. SHOPHOUSES

Wedged modestly between the ancient world and skyscrapers, Asia’s shophouses are enjoying a revival in fortunes, with a slick of bright paint from Singapore to Vietnam’s Hoi An, Penang in Malaysia, Phuket Old Town and Bangkok’s Old City. Downstairs for trade, upstairs for family, a covered corridor at the front for cool perambulations free from the lashing rain and burning sun of the tropics.

‘Hope has been washed away’: MH370 families condemn decision to halt search

Paul and Danica Weeks on their wedding day in 2007. Danica Weeks, whose husband was on board MH370, with her children Lincoln and Jack. Photo: Janie Barrett
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Families of passengers who were on board missing flight MH370 say a government decision to end the search for the plane and ignore game-changing new evidence of its location is “another kick in the guts”.

Danica Weeks, whose husband Paul was one of 238 passengers and crew on the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet, told Fairfax Media that new analysis showing the plane likely crashed in a stretch of the Indian Ocean north of the existing search zone should trigger an extension of the operation.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau review, conducted by a panel of international experts and released this week, found that the 120,000 square kilometre search area likely never contained the wreckage and that salvage teams should instead scour a 25,000 square kilometre area further north.

But the Australian government quickly knocked the idea on the head, saying countries involved in the two-year, $200 million search agreed it will terminate soon unless credible evidence about the “specific location” of the aircraft is found.

Mrs Weeks said the new information was credible and suggested Malaysia should take over and continue the operation if Australia was unwilling.

“They have to find it. It’s not just about us. It’s about the aviation industry as a whole. And if we don’t find out what happened to this plane, it could happen again,” she said.

The Malaysian government, however, has also dismissed the ATSB review.

“Obviously it’s another kick in the guts for the families,” Mrs Weeks said of government responses to the new evidence. “We’ve had so much hope and then each time we’ve got the hope up and it’s been washed away.”

Of the 239 passengers and crew on board MH370, 152 were Chinese nationals and six were Australian.

Jiang Hui, whose 72-year-old mother Jiang Cuiyun was on the flight, has been a vocal representative for Chinese families and has just returned to Beijing from a two-week trip to Madagascar and Mauritius, searching for washed-up debris from the plane with seven other relatives from China, France and Malaysia.

“The search cannot stop,” he told Fairfax Media. “I remember the three governments all told us the search would be continuous, would not end, and would not ge given up on. It is a promise to all families, and to the international community.”

The search for answers has taken a damaging toll on Mr Jiang, who has been let go from his job and diagnosed with clinical depression.

He said families want greater transparency into why the original search area had come up empty, and what information had prompted investigators to define a new one. He said they will not stop searching.

Armed with new information, the panel of experts now believe the wreckage is likely somewhere along what is called the “seventh arc” – a line calculated from when the plane made its final contact with a satellite before it ran out of fuel and went into the sea.

Transport Minister Darren Chester said the search has stretched the ability of technology and global experts and has been the largest ever undertaken.

“The information that they had available to them and the work they’ve done has indicated that they’re in the vicinity of where the aircraft went down,” he told Sydney radio station 2GB.

“Now, obviously, If we don’t find the aircraft in that 120,000-square-kilometre search area, we are open to the criticism that you had looked in the wrong place.

“If it is not there it must be somewhere else and that’s a pretty obvious assumption to make.”

Mrs Weeks, who has two young children, said life since March 2014 has been an emotional rollercoaster.

“If they’re not going to take [the review] on board, I want to know why. We’ll just keep fighting for justice and to bring our loved ones home,” she said.

“I’m going to find him.”

– with David Wroe

RSL broadens inquiry into allegations of financial misbehaviour in NSW hierarchy

Former NSW RSL president Don Rowe at Sydney’s Hyde Park war memorial. Photo: Ben Rushton The RSL has widened the scope of investigations into alleged financial misconduct that flourished for years in the league’s NSW leadership.
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Reeling from revelations that a string of state councillors accepted unauthorised “consultancy fees” from nursing home provider RSL LifeCare and former NSW RSL president Don Rowe withdrew more than $200,000 in cash on his RSL credit card, the national body wants to throw the spotlight on all financial dealings from 2004 onwards.

“We are broadening the internal investigation to ensure we fully investigate all of the allegations of financial misconduct by some RSL NSW council members,” acting RSL national president Robert Dick said on Wednesday.

NSW RSL has agreed to form a board of inquiry to investigate the use of expenses, LifeCare consultancy fees and the funnelling of donations from sub-branches and the women’s auxiliaries to LifeCare – all concerning aspects of an initial forensic audit by advisory firm KordaMentha.

The board of inquiry will now be presided over by a former High Court, Federal Court or State Supreme Court judge appointed by the national RSL, Mr Dick said.

It will also be assisted by legal counsel to be announced early in the new year.

“The board of inquiry will identify the nature and extent of all the payments made to the individuals specified in the initial KordaMentha report; and investigate the influence those individuals had over decisions for payments or donations made by the district council and sub-branches to RSL LifeCare,” Mr Dick said.

“It will also investigate the circumstances surrounding Don Rowe’s resignation and the alleged misuse of expenses.”

NSW Veterans Affairs Minister David Elliott last week referred allegations against Mr Rowe, including that he withdrew $200,000 in cash from an RSL credit card and provided five family members with mobile phones paid for by the league, to police.

KordaMentha found Mr Rowe and former national president Rod White were among NSW state councillors who received $2.5 million in consultancy fees from RSL LifeCare without the needed permission of the state government under charities laws.

Councillors Bill Humphreys and Bob Crosthwaite, who were also RSL LifeCare directors when the payments were made, have refused to stand aside but have been relieved of all committee duties for the time being.

Mr White has refused to explain any of his actions despite repeated requests for information from KordaMentha.

The initial audit revealed Mr Rowe and Mr White had both used their positions within the RSL to steer donations from other, needier parts of the organisation towards RSL LifeCare while they were receiving consultancy fees.

The board of inquiry will commence hearings soon after KordaMentha submits its next report in about March next year.

Mr Dick said: “We will work in unison with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) and other government agencies who are currently conducting their own investigations into these matters.”

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Canberra teen Nickoletta Flannery wants to tap into Lisa de Vanna’s brain

Canberra United recruit Lisa de Vanna with coach Rae Dower after the Matildas captain signed a deal to play in the W-League. Photo: Capital FootballCanberra United young gun Nickoletta Flannery wants to tap into the brain of one of Australian soccer’s greatest players as she prepares to battle Matildas captain Lisa de Vanna for W-League game time.
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De Vanna started her stint with W-League ladder leaders Canberra with a pre-Christmas beep test on Wednesday as she sacrifices a holiday at home to begin her mission in the capital.

Canberra coach Rae Dower said the international veteran must train with the team this week and return on Boxing Day if she wants to be considered for selection to play against the Melbourne Victory on December 28.

De Vanna jumped at the chance and was put through a gruelling fitness session after the 32-year-old took a two-month break from the game.

Canberra is already at the top of the ladder and has scored more goals than any team in the competition, but de Vanna’s arrival gives their championship dreams a major boost.

Despite being one of the most decorated players in Matildas history, de Vanna insists she has to earn her place in the Canberra line-up. That includes battling with 17-year-old Flannery for an attacking spot.

“I think it’s going to be good for the team, [de Vanna] is a world-class player and I think everyone can learn something from her,” Flannery said.

“Even at training [on Wednesday] she was giving out orders which kind of lifted our training environment.

“There’s a lot of learning to be had. Lisa’s in my position so I can learn a lot – shooting, crossing, position. It’s good to be here with her. I’ll just try my hardest and see what happens.” Look who is in town! Welcome @lisadevanna11pic.twitter南京夜网/WfnGFrR2Mv— Canberra United (@CanberraUnited) December 19, 2016

Sons of James Sutherland and Steve Waugh make names for themselves

Following on: Austin Waugh, son of Steve, made a one-day ton at the under-17 championships. Photo: Brody Grogan Pedigree: Steve Waugh with Austin during the former Test skipper’s playing days. Photo: Tim Clayton
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As the son of the boss of Australian cricket, Will Sutherland has heard the barbs before.

“You get a bit of sledging,” the talented junior said. “You get selected from your dad.”

The teenager knows it’s not true – and he has the runs on the board to show it. Given the potential he is showing, there will be plenty more opportunities for opponents to trash-talk him.

Sutherland, whose father James is the chief of Cricket Australia, is among a group of precocious youngsters progressing through the governing body’s pathways system.

Among his contemporaries is Austin Waugh, the son of former national captain Steve, who has already made headlines for his deeds with NSW in the under-17 national championships.

There are huge wraps on the pair, who along with NSW’s Jason Sangha, are considered well above their age group.

Sangha, 17, became the youngest player contracted by the Blues this year when he was signed as a 16-year-old.

All three have been named to play in a Big Bash League curtain-raiser at the SCG on Tuesday as part of a CA initiative aimed at keeping talented juniors in the game.

Sutherland will lead a Ponting XII consisting of the best performers from this year’s under-17 national championships, against a Gilchrist XII from the under-19s tournament.

Sutherland’s performances with bat and ball are proof there is no nepotism behind his rise in the game.

Batting in the middle order for a CA XI consisting of under-17s at the national under-19 championships, he averaged 51 with a strike rate of 101, and claimed 10 wickets at 16. His standout game came against Queensland, producing a match-winning double of 95 and 5-27.

CA’s pathways manager Graham Manou, a South Australian stalwart who played his only Test in the 2009 Ashes, does not believe it will be long before Victoria sign up Sutherland, who has already made his first-grade debut.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Cricket Victoria look to contract him in the next year or two. From an all-rounder perspective, he’s someone who I can see having a bright future,” Manou said.

Sutherland, a student at Melbourne’s Scotch College, is also a promising footballer, but is committing to cricket despite interest from Oakleigh Chargers, who play in the AFL’s feeder competition the TAC Cup.

“Cricket’s the way to go at the moment, I just enjoy footy with my mates at school,” Sutherland said.

Waugh is already on NSW’s radar as the recipient of a Basil Sellers Scholarship this year. He has not made his first-grade debut and is considered one or two years away from contending for a rookie contract with the Blues.

Waugh, who also had a strong under-19s tournament, bears an uncanny resemblance to his father.

“It was very scary, the first time I saw him – his mannerisms,” Manou said. “Genetically, I suppose you’d expect [it], but it’s like he’s watched a tape of his old man for years. They’re very, very similar.”