An Australian news roundup

OECD backs Howard on family tax

John Howard's insistence that the family benefit system is not a form of middle-class welfare, which he will reinforce in a speech today, has been backed by the OECD. Labor has criticised the family payments scheme in the lead-up to next month's budget, claiming it punishes welfare recipients re-entering the workforce. But in a vigorous defence of the scheme, the Prime Minister will use today's speech to the Menzies Institute to say the benefits provide tax relief, rather than welfare for high-income earners. The OECD data shows the average industrialised country gives three times as much assistance to high-income families as Australia does.

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Lebanese Muslim guilty of gang rape



Sydney man Bilal Skaf has been found guilty for a second time of gang raping a teenage girl. The 12-person jury at Skaf's NSW Supreme Court retrial took just two days to find him guilty of two counts of aggravated sexual intercourse without consent in company. The charges arose from an attack on a 16-year-old girl in August 2000, in Greenacre's Gosling Park. His co-accused, who can only be referred to as AA, was found guilty of being an accessary before the fact of the attack. The pair had previously been convicted of taking part in the rape of the girl, which involved up to 14 men. But the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal in 2004 quashed the convictions of Skaf and AA and ordered retrials after it was revealed two jurors at the original trial had conducted investigations at the park where the alleged rape occurred.

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Muslim gets life for murdering wife

A 42-year-old immigrant who fled Saddam Hussein's regime in 1991 has been sentenced to life in jail for murdering his wife at his family's Perth kebab shop. Father-of-six Dlshad Mahmood was arguing with his wife when he inflicted a 9cm wound to her throat in July 2004. The murder occurred on a Sunday morning at the eatery, which is located on a popular cafe strip. He was sentenced in the West Australian Supreme Court today after a jury trial in which he pleaded not guilty to wilful murder. He will be eligible for parole after 18 years.

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Lauren's news is all good



Australia basketball star Lauren Jackson received a double boost today. She signed a lucrative new contract with Seattle Storm in the WNBA and the Australia team doctor also gave her good news regarding her long-term injury concerns. Jackson, the 2003 WNBA most valuable player, signed a multi-season deal with the Storm today understood to be worth $US91,000 ($124,529) in 2006, the maximum allowed under the league's salary cap. According to the WNBA pay scale, Jackson's salary should then rise to $US93,000 ($127,266) next season. Under league policy, terms and length of the deal weren't disclosed. After leading the Opals to a gold medal at last month's Commonwealth Games, Jackson will contest her sixth WNBA season in Seattle this year, starting with a clash against arch-rival Los Angeles on May 21. The 24-year-old guided Seattle to the 2004 crown, the city's first national championship in any sport since 1979, and is eyeing off another in 2006.

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Tasmanians sell vodka to Russia

A small Tasmanian distillery has achieved what many thought was impossible - it is selling vodka to Russia. The Tamar Distillery at Beauty Point, north-west of Launceston, is now hoping for the same success at home. The distillery has just opened its doors to the public and is aiming to produce around 200,000 bottles of vodka a year. Managing director Philip Ridyard says the Russians were so happy with their first consignments, they are considering a long-term deal. "The Russian market is very sophisticated and we're looking to break into that area along with other imported spirits internationally," he said. "The main attraction is the quality of the wheat grain alcohol we're using and also the quality of the Tasmanian natural spring water." Mr Ridyard hopes there will also be strong demand locally. "We can probably produce up to 10,000 litres a day if we had to and hopefully we will have to at some stage," he said.

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