Malaysia must back off threats: Independent Senator Nick Xenophon

Source: News

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has called on the government to press Malaysia to back off threats against students who attend an event featuring opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim this weekend.

Senator Xenophon said the level of paranoia from the Malaysian government was just extraordinary.

“The Australian government needs to make it absolutely clear to the Malaysian government as a matter of urgency some time on Friday that these threats are completely unacceptable,” he told ABC’s 730 on Thursday.

“These students have a right to attend this forum involving Malaysia’s opposition leader without any fear of retribution.”

Mr Ibrahim, a longtime opponent of the Malaysian government who was jailed for nine years on trumped up sodomy charges, will speak at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday.

But Malaysian students in Australia had been warned against attending.

An email from the student adviser at the Malaysian consulate in Sydney reportedly told Malaysian scholarship students to stay away.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to take stern action to those scholars who are involved. You know really well what you have signed into,” the email said, according to ABC television.

Senator Xenophon, who was barred from entering Malaysia in February and is now banned from returning there, said Mr Ibrahim was an impressive figure who had been jailed, victimised and defamed by the Malaysian government.

“There needs to be a guarantees by the Malaysian government that this threat will be withdrawn and there will be no consequences,” he said.

Emergency fire warnings issued as three major fires burn across NSW near Newcastle, Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands

Plumes of smoke can be seen from a fire near Heatherbrae which has forced the closure of Williamtown Airport in Newcastle.

A HOME is ablaze, a regional airport is closed and authorities are warning of a serious threat to life as bushfires burn across NSW.

In the Southern Highlands, south-west of Sydney, a fire at the village of Balmoral, in Wingecarribee, was moving very quickly.

Rural Fire Service spokesman Joel Kursawe says there are reports one house is on fire.

“They’re saying that one house is already alight, that could be because the house was alight and it’s spread, or not, we don’t know,” he told reporters.

“It’s all happened very quickly.”

Attempts to waterbomb in Lithgow were being hindered by 90km winds, Mr Kursawe said, which were also capable of carrying embers up to six kilometres.

“The problem is when you’ve got aircraft over fires like that with (those) winds, a lot of the time they’re just getting knocked around in the sky,” Mr Kursawe told journalists at RFS headquarters in Sydney.

RURAL FIRE SERVICE MAP OF CURRENT FIRES AND INCIDENTS

Homes at Clarence, Dargan, Doctors Gap and Hartley are expected to come under threat from the fire, which has already burnt more than 1000 hectares of bushland.

Two evacuation centres have been set up at Lithgow Workers Club and Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens.

Meanwhile, more than 130 firefighters are fighting the blaze near Port Stephens.

“Some of the pictures we’re getting from up there, it’s just incredible,” Mr Kursawe said.

“It’s just a mass smoke cloud over the whole town.”

The fire at Balmoral Village was approaching the township of Yanderra and residents were being urged to move towards Bargo.

A total fire ban remains in place for several areas of the state with temperatures of 34C forecast.

It was nudging 34C in Sydney at 1pm (AEDT) with gusty winds.

The Heatherbrae bushfire near Williamtown Airport in Newcastle. Picture: Twitter
Of most concern to firefighters are three fires.

In the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, near Lithgow, more than 100 firefighters are battling a massive blaze that is skirting the village of Oaky Park and spotting into Clarence.

A new fire had also broken out at Springwood.

RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers tweeted: “lithgow fire becoming unpredictable. Residents please take extreme care. Very serious danger to life today”.

A Blue Mountains resident said the RFS had just knocked on his door warning the fire was approaching.

“The sky is very dark with the sun burning orange through the dark smoke,” the resident told ABC radio.

Bells Line of Road has been closed between Lithgow and Bell in both directions.

The Darling Causeway is closed northbound at the Great Western Highway in Mount Victoria.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has closed additional areas of the Blue Mountains National Park because of the threat.

Blue Mountains Regional Manager Geoff Luscombe said all tracks and trails in the Grose Valley, as well as lookouts along the Bells Line of Road, are now closed as a precautionary measure.

“With a very high fire danger rating there’s always a chance that the Lithgow fire could enter the park and if that happens we don’t want people walking in there,” he said.

Residents who hadn’t already evacuated before noon were advised to take shelter in their homes.

And at Port Stephens, north of Newcastle, Williamtown Airport was closed about midday and all flights in and out were suspended because of a bushfire burning nearby.

Passengers are advised to not come to the airport and to contact their airline for flight details.

Smoke from the Port Stephens fires, not far from where four homes were lost on Sunday, was visible from the Newcastle CBD.

The dramatic scene at Williamtown Airport, Newcastle. Picture: Twitter @WynRichards
Similar conditions on Sunday resulted in six homes being lost to fires at Port Stephens, north of Newcastle, and near Kempsey on the north coast.

The airport was closed after a fire burning near Heatherbrae breached containment lines fanned by gusty winds, the RFS said.

Properties around Tomago Road, Cabbage Tree Road, Barrie Close, and Williamtown Drive may also come under threat, the RFS warns.

Smoke from the fire is visible from the Newcastle CBD.

In the Blue Mountains region, residents of Clarence and Oaky Park have been urged to seek shelter and protect themselves from flying embers, with properties there expected to be threatened.

Those who had planned to leave their homes in a bushfire should have left by noon (AEDT), NSW Fire Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

Conditions were worsening with winds expected to reach up to 95km/h.

“History will show, too many lives are lost when people flee at the last minute,” he said.

The fire broke out near an army range on Wednesday afternoon, with explosions and detonations making it too dangerous to send in firefighters and aircraft.

Mr Fitzsimmons says the fire would take some time to control given the sweltering conditions and its geographic location.

It’s expected to skirt to the northeast of Lithgow and head into the mountains as the winds pick up.

Conditions were worsening this afternoon with winds expected to reach up to 95km/h.

If the high winds do fan the blaze, it could disrupt the Western rail line through the area, Mr Fitzsimmons said.

A 367-hectare bushfire is also burning 15km east of Singleton, in the Hunter Valley, but is being controlled.