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Earth to satellite: When will you hit?

Or, say, Iran or India.

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Pinpointing where and when hurtling space debris will strike is an imprecise science. For now, scientists predict the earliest it will hit is Thursday US time, the latest Saturday. The strike zone covers mostof Earth.

Not that citizens need to take cover. The satellite will break into pieces, and NASA put the chances that somebody somewhere will get hurt at just 1-in-3,200.

As far as anyone knows, falling space debris has never injured anyone. Nor has significant property damage been reported. That’s because most of the planet is covered in water and there are vast regions of empty land.

If you do come across what you suspect is a satellite piece, NASA doesn’t want you to pick it up. The space agency says there are no toxic chemicals present, but there could be sharp edges. Also, it’s government property. It’s against the law to keep it as a souvenir or sell it on eBay. NASA’s advice is to report it to the police.

The 20-year-old research satellite is expected to break into more than 100 pieces as it enters the atmosphere, most of it burning up. Twenty-six of the heaviest metal parts are expected to reach Earth, the biggest chunk weighing about 136kg. The debris could be scattered over an area about 800km long.

Jonathan McDowell, for one, isn’t worried. He is in the potential strike zone – along with most of the world’s seven billion citizens. McDowell is with the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“There’s stuff that’s heavy that falls out of the sky almost every year,” McDowell says. So far this year, he noted, two massive Russian rocket stages have taken the plunge.

As for the odds of the satellite hitting someone, “it’s a small chance. We take much bigger chances all the time in our lives,” McDowell says. “So I’m not putting my tin helmet on or hiding under a rock.”

All told, 544kg of wreckage is expected to smack down – the heaviest pieces made of titanium, stainless steel or beryllium. That represents just one-tenth the mass of the satellite, which stretches 10.7 metres long and 4.6 metres in diameter.

The strike zone straddles all points between latitudes 57 degrees north and 57 degrees south. That’s as far north as Edmonton and Alberta, Canada, and Aberdeen, Scotland, and as far south as Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America. Every continent but Antarctica is in the crosshairs.

Back when UARS, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, was launched to study the ozone layer in 1991, NASA didn’t always pay attention to the “what goes up must come down” rule. Nowadays, satellites must be designed either to burn up on re-entering the atmosphere or to have enough fuel to be steered into a watery grave or up into a higher, long-term orbit.

The International Space Station – the largest manmade structure ever to orbit the planet – is no exception. NASA has a plan to bring it down safely sometime after 2020.

Russia’s old Mir station came down over the Pacific, in a controlled re-entry, in 2001. But one of its predecessors, Salyut 7, fell uncontrolled through the atmosphere in 1991. The most recent uncontrolled return of a large NASA satellite was in 2002.

The most sensational case of all was Skylab, the early US space station whose impending demise three decades ago alarmed people around the world and touched off a guessing game as to where it might land. It plummeted harmlessly into the Indian Ocean and onto remote parts of Australia in July 1979.

The $740 million UARS was decommissioned in 2005, after NASA lowered its orbit with the little remaining fuel on board. NASA didn’t want to keep it up longer than necessary, for fear of a collision or an exploding fuel tank, either of which would have left a lot of space litter.

Predicting where the satellite will strike is a little like predicting the weather several days out, says NASA orbital debris scientist Mark Matney.

Experts expect to have a good idea by Thursday of when and where UARS might fall, Matney says. They won’t be able to pinpoint the exact time, but they should be able to narrow it to a few hours.

Given the spacecraft’s orbital speed of 28,162k/ph or eight km per second, a prediction that is off by just a few minutes could mean a 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) error. It probably won’t be clear where it fell until afterward, Matney says.

If it happens in darkness, it should be visible.

“If someone is lucky enough to be near the re-entry at nighttime, they’ll get quite a show,” says Matney, who works at Johnson Space Centre in Houston, also in the potential strike zone.

Brown expects Gillard to back gay marriage

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown says he expects Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the ALP to back same-sex marriage at its national conference.

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Every state and territory Labor branch, except NSW, have passed motions supporting same-sex marriage, and the issue is expecting to come before the party’s national conference in December. Senator Brown said he expected the party to change its platform.

“It is becoming a milestone as far as the Labor Party,” he told reporters in Hobart on Friday.

“You’ve only got to look at the state conferences and the territory conferences to know they’re going to support it.

“Under those circumstances, I think we’ll find Prime Minister Gillard joining the incoming tide to fix up the marriage laws and allow equal marriage rights to people regardless of their sexuality.”

Senator Brown also backed moves from his Tasmanian counterpart Nick McKim to legislate for same-sex marriage.

The state’s lower house this week became the first Australian house of parliament to move a motion supporting marriage equality.

Mr McKim, who introduced the motion, said he would bring legislation before the state parliament to legalise marriage if the federal government did not act on the issue “in a timely way”.

Premier Lara Giddings, who voted in favour of the motion, said she had legal advice that indicated it was a Commonwealth issue.

But Senator Brown said it was at least worth testing the waters. “I think the states have the power to do that.

The one way to ensure that’s sorted out is by legislating,” he said. “You don’t say at the outset, as Ms Giddings is doing, ‘Oh, there might be a question about it, so we won’t do it, even though it’s the right thing’. “You go ahead and do it. Let someone challenge it if they want to.”

Morrison maps out welfare changes

Mothers, young people and women over 65 will be encouraged to get off welfare and into work under proposals being considered by the government.

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On the same day he delivered a major report into welfare reform, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison outlined three areas he was keen to pursue in the May budget and beyond.

Parents, especially single mothers, should be encouraged to work by making child care more affordable and simpler, he said.

Seniors, especially women, should remain in the workforce as long as they could.

“Because it’s good for their families, it’s good for their income, it’s good for their support,” Mr Morrison told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

And young people should be either learning or earning and prevented from a life of welfare dependency through early intervention programs similar to those in New Zealand.

Mr Morrison said the system needed reform, but would not be drawn on whether he was likely to accept advice to reduce the number of welfare payments to just five.

That is a recommendation of the McClure welfare review which argues for a tiered working-age payment, supported living pension, child and youth payment, carer payment and the age pension.

The minister said long-term reform should not be rushed, but wanted to lay the groundwork for Australians to start thinking about necessary, but hard, changes.

“What we sew now in apathy will be reaped in a future harvest for generations who will not get the safety net provided by those who went before us,” Mr Morrison said.

MCCLURE REVIEW RECOMMENDATIONS:

* People with a disability, parents, carers, students and the jobless would get a tiered working-age payment recognising their ability to work.

* Those with a more severe disability who cannot work more than eight hours a week would get a supported living pension.

* A means-tested payment would be paid to parents or guardians with kids under 22, but conditional on regular immunisations and school attendance.

* A means-tested payment for carers.

* No change to existing age pension payment.

* Supplements for housing, child and family, education and carer and disability costs.

* No reduction in the value of payment rates.

* A “Passport to Work” that ensures no disincentives to work if employment hours change and ensures retention of concession cards.

 

Greece moves closer to getting aid money

It persuaded international debt inspectors to return to Athens and resume reviewing its austerity program.

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The euro jumped on the news, trading up 0.7 per cent at $US1.370.

The common currency and global stocks had been up for most of the day amid growing expectations that Greece will get the next 8 billion euros ($A10.73 billion) batch of aid money.

Without the money, the country would default on its debts within weeks, a major blow to the European banking system and wider economy.

The decision to resume the review early next week implies that Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos convinced officials from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund that Greece will be able to cut its budget deficit in line with promises made last year in return for 110 billion euros ($A147.58 billion) in rescue loans.

“Good progress was made, and technical discussions will continue in Athens over the coming days,” a Commission statement said after a two-hour conference call on Tuesday between the so-called troika and Venizelos.

“The full mission is now expected to come back to Athens early next week to resume the review, including policy discussions.”

A Commission spokesman declined to say whether Venizelos offered new cuts or taxes beyond what has already been announced.

The Greek finance ministry said technical experts were still finalising spending plans for 2011 and 2012 and that talks would resume at the annual IMF meeting in Washington this weekend.

Prime Minister George Papandreou will chair a Greek ministerial meeting on Wednesday that is expected to focus on the outcome of the teleconference.

The troika’s assessment of Greece’s efforts to cut spending, privatise state assets and reform its struggling economy is key to the eurozone finance ministers’ decision on whether to transfer the next aid instalment at their meeting in early October.

The money had originally been expected in September but the troika left Athens earlier this month amid disagreements over whether Greece was fulfilling its promises.

Without the aid money, Greece’s cash reserves will run out around mid-October, forcing it to stop paying public-sector salaries and eventually default on its debt.

A default could plunge Europe’s banking system into turmoil and potentially push Europe and other parts of the world back into recession.

Greece has been depending on rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the IMF since May 2010, when its borrowing costs went through the roof following revelations that Athens had been under-reporting data on an alarmingly bloated budget deficit and public debt.

In July, eurozone leaders agreed on a second, 109 billion ($A146.24 billion) bailout supposed to keep the country afloat until mid-2014, when they realised that the first rescue package would not be enough.

However, eurozone countries are still haggling over details of the plan and the talks with banks, which are also supposed to contribute, have not yet concluded.

Most analysts still think Greece will have to restructure its debts at some point, especially if its economy remains mired in recession.

Fitch Ratings said in a report on Tuesday that it expected Greece to eventually default but to do so while remaining in the eurozone.

Some experts believe the country may even have to drop out of the 17-nation eurozone, a notion Venizelos dismissed earlier on Tuesday.

“Greece’s participation in the eurozone and the euro is an irrevocable and fundamental national choice that the Greek population is making sacrifices to safeguard, in full knowledge of how priceless it is,” Venizelos said, rejecting a Greek newspaper report that the government was considering a referendum on the issue.

The Socialist government has already taken a series of highly unpopular austerity measures over the past 20 months, cutting public sector pay and pensions and hiking taxes and retirement ages. Unions have responded with strikes and demonstrations.

Earlier on Tuesday, hundreds of civil servants demonstrated peacefully in central Athens, while about 250 high school students marched in a separate protest against shortages in schoolbooks and other supplies at state-run schools.

Public transport workers have called for a daylong strike on Thursday, while air traffic controllers have declared a 24-hour strike on Sunday and a four-hour work stoppage on September 28.

‘Small chance’ satellite may hit Australia

Scientists say there is a small chance debris from a satellite due to crash to Earth this weekend could land in Australia.

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NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), which weighs more than five tonnes, is expected to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at 1058 AEST on Saturday.

The US-based Centre for Orbital and Re-entry Debris Studies estimates that re-entry could occur up to seven hours before or after this time.

The satellite’s flight path includes several passes over Australia.

The Australian Space News website said the satellite poses a negligible threat to life and property on Earth.

“Most of the satellite will burn up on re-entry, with perhaps as many as 26 stronger or harder small pieces surviving to reach the surface,” editor Jonathan Nally said in a statement.

“But with the majority of the Earth comprising oceans or uninhabited (or very sparsely populated) remote regions, the chances are overwhelming that any pieces of UARS that survive re-entry will fall harmlessly and never be seen again.”

The UARS was launched in September 1991 and was decommissioned in December 2005.

After the satellite’s productive days were over, NASA deliberately placed it into an orbit about 200 kilometres lower than its operational orbit.

“This was done to accelerate its eventual demise and means it is re-entering the atmosphere 20 years earlier than it would otherwise have done,” explains Mr Nally.

“This was a very responsible thing to do. The longer a spacecraft stays in orbit, the more chance it has of being hit by other orbital debris, leading to a destructive breakup and therefore more bits of debris.”

Debris from SkyLab, another satellite which plunged to Earth, was scattered over parts of Western Australia in 1979. Skylab weighed about 77 tonnes, many times more than the UARS.

Dr Alice Gorman of the Department of Archaeology at Flinders University in Adelaide said the re-entry of the UARS brings back memories of Skylab 32 years ago.

“There is the same exaggeration of the hazard through the media, public anxiety as the advance warning allows for speculation, and a lack of understanding of what the risks actually are,” Dr Gorman said in a statement.

“Should it land in Australia, we might expect the same rush for souvenirs as we saw with Skylab, as anything that has been in space has a special meaning on Earth.”

Offshore buyer fees won’t address issues, economists say

New fees and penalties for foreign investors designed to make housing more affordable for Australians will have a “feel good” effect but won’t address the real affordability issues, economists say.

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday announced new rules for foreign property investors aimed at giving locals “the fairest possible go” at entering the housing market.

A new register will be set up to keep track of property bought by foreigners, who will be charged a $5,000 application fee when buying a residential property under $1 million.

For properties over $1 million it will be $10,000 for every extra $1 million in the purchase price.

The new fees will raise more than $200 million a year, which will go to better enforcement of the rules.

Anyone breaking the law will be fined up to 25 per cent of the value of the property and forced to sell it.

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said the new rules were a positive step but would do little to make housing more affordable.

“I think it’s more of a feel good factor that the government is tightening it up. I don’t think it necessarily solves the property problem,” Dr Oliver said.

“The problem is that we don’t build enough houses in Australia.

“Foreign buying of Australian property is really a bit of a sideshow in the context of all of that. It’s very regionalised, it’s mainly happening in parts of Sydney, parts of Melbourne, but it probably wasn’t having a huge impact on areas where first-home buyers buy.”

Market Economics managing director Stephen Koukoulas said having new fees that would help with keeping better records showing the true level of foreign investment in Australian property was a good start.

But he agreed it wouldn’t do much to make housing more affordable.

“The fact that we haven’t had a register of foreign holdings of property is an issue that had to be addressed,” he said.

“But if your main objective is to make housing more affordable for young people, do this, that’s fine, but you’ve got a lot more to do.

“We need to build more houses and make sure there’s not this silly leverage going on for investors who take advantage of the tax system to bid prices higher.

“Negative gearing is part of the problem and I think it should be phased out.”

China rebukes US over jet sales to Taiwan

The United States has announced a $US5.

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85 billion ($A5.71 billion) upgrade of Taiwan’s F-16 fighter jets, leading to a swift rebuke by China even though the deal stopped short of selling new planes.

Taiwanese and US officials insisted that the upgrade would improve the island’s defences as it faces a rising China, which has ramped up military spending and has widened its strategic edge over the self-governing territory.

“After the upgrade, the air force’s combat capability will be advanced hugely,” Taiwan’s defence minister Kao Hua-chu told a hastily called media conference in Taipei on Wednesday.

China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and has repeatedly warned the United States not to sell weapons, summoned the new US ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, and warned of repercussions.

“The wrongdoing by the US side will inevitably undermine bilateral relations as well as exchanges and cooperation in military and security areas,” China’s vice foreign minister Zhang Zhijun said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Zhang Yesui, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, also lodged a strong protest in Washington, Xinhua said.

The Pentagon formally notified the US Congress of the package for Taiwan on Wednesday, ending prolonged speculation over the extent to which Washington would help modernise the island’s air force.

TAIPEI’S REQUEST

Taipei applied in 2007 to buy 66 F-16 C/D fighters, which have better radar and more powerful weapons systems than its F-16 A/Bs, in response to China’s growing military muscle.

The US offer to upgrade Taiwan’s existing fleet of 146 US-made F-16 A/Bs falls short of that ambition and is seen by some observers on the island as a “consolation prize”.

US politicians across party lines had pressed President Barack Obama’s administration to sell new jets, saying that the move would both protect Taiwan and create badly needed jobs in the United States.

Republican Senator John Cornyn accused the Democratic administration of kowtowing to China and failing to meet obligations under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which requires Washington to ensure Taiwan’s self-defence.

The arms decision “bestows upon Communist China a newfound sway over American national security, and this capitulation should be met with concern by US allies everywhere”, Cornyn said.

“Taiwan must have the tools to defend itself against potential Chinese aggression,” he said.

Cornyn has introduced legislation that would force the sale of 66 new F-16s. The senator represents Texas, which would be expected to benefit economically from arms production for Taiwan.

However, both the Pentagon and Taiwan’s defence ministry said that the upgrade, which would take 12 years to complete, would give the island’s F-16 A/Bs a significant boost.

The jets will be equipped with radar capable of detecting Chinese stealth aeroplanes and may also be armed with precision munition, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry.

The Pentagon said that the retrofit of the aircraft, to be led by weapons giant Lockheed Martin, “will greatly enhance the recipient’s ability to defend its borders”.

“This proposed sale serves US national, economic and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernise its armed forces and enhance its defensive capability,” the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement.

The Pentagon agency also said that Taiwanese pilots would travel to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona for training in “disaster relief missions, non-combatant evacuation operations and other contingency situations”.

Sanctions applied to Egyptian terror group

The federal government has imposed strict sanctions on Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, a militant group behind a string of deadly attacks in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

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The group also has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Wednesday announced targeted financial sanctions would be applied to Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis (Supporters of the Holy House), under a United Nations resolution aimed at preventing and suppressing terrorist acts.

The listing of ABM, which earlier in February released a graphic beheading video, makes it a serious criminal offence to use or deal with the group’s assets, or to make assets of any kind available either directly or indirectly.

The offence is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and attracts substantial fines.

An Egyptian court ruled in April last year that ABM was a terrorist organisation. The group declared its allegiance to Islamic State in November last year.

ABM released a video on February 10 showing the beheading of eight men from North Sinai tribes, allegedly for collaborating with Egyptian armed forces and Israeli Mossad.

The video shows eight men being decapitated by militants wearing military uniforms and disguised by black scarves around their heads, which analysts have said represented a warning to tribes in North Sinai not to collaborate with the Egyptian security forces.

Anyone who believed they held an asset that may be owned or controlled by a listed person or entity must immediately notify DFAT at [email protected]广西桑拿网, and the Australian Federal Police, Ms Bishop said.

NTC troops probe Gaddafi hometown

Desperate residents fled Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown Sirte on Friday as fighters of Libya’s interim government probed the city’s eastern outskirts in anticipation of a final assault on one of the fallen leader’s two remaining bastions.

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A commander of National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters near Sirte said pro-Gaddafi forces were targeting residents even as they fled, with a fighter killed and a packed family car destroyed when their convoy washit.

NATO said it was nearing the “final phase” of its air war in Libya, a day after warplanes struck just one target in an intense bombing campaign that has lasted six months.

And a commander of the new regime said a captured general loyal to Gaddafi had said the fugitive Libyan leader was secretly moving around in the southern desert.

One month to the day since Gaddafi’s compound fell to rebels in Tripoli, the campaign to take Sirte and the ex-Libyan leader’s other principal remaining bastion of Bani Walid was on hold for another day.

But commanders and fighters said they had probed the city’s eastern outskirts without resistance.

“Our fighters are in control of the eastern gate of Sirte,” commander Ahmed Zlitni from the operations centre told AFP.

“They are two kilometres ahead of the gate and holding positions there. Technically we can say that we entered Sirte from the east,” Zlitni said, adding that the fighters “did not face any resistance” when they crossed.

“Three to four brigades have entered through the eastern gate,” confirmed commander Mohammed al-Marimi.

Asked why NTC fighters were delaying a final assault on Sirte, commander Osama Muttawa Swehly told AFP: “We’re trying to get the families out.

“We are averaging between 400 to 500 cars a day. We are basically trying to starve (the Gaddafi forces) out.”

He said one escape convoy had come under fire from anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.

“One fighter was killed and one family car was destroyed,” he said, with an unknown number of occupants also presumably killed.

“We are giving the families every chance to get out. Once that stream turns into a trickle then stops, then it will be time to act,” he added.

Meanwhile, NTC officials announced fresh talks on Saturday on forming an interim government after a previous round failed last weekend.

One official insisted the meeting would be “decisive” and that there would be “agreement on the new government lineup”.

When rebel fighters stormed and captured Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya headquarters on August 23, they found no trace of the strongman, who has since made several broadcasts claiming he is still in Libya.

While the country’s new authorities do not know where he is, they are focused on taking Sirte and Bani Walid, two places where some think he might be.

But reports also emerged that he may be in the south.

“General Belgasem al-Abaaj, who we captured on Monday, said that Gaddafi had contacted him by phone about 10 days ago, and that he was moving secretly between (the oases towns of) Sabha and Ghat,” an NTC commander, Mohammed Barka Wardugu, told AFP.

Abaaj had said that Gaddafi “is helped by Nigerian and Chadian mercenaries who know the desert routes”, added Wardugu, spokesman for the Desert Shield Brigade.

Earlier this week, NTC forces announced they had captured Sabha, southern Libya’s largest city, but the situation in Ghat, a remote town close to the Algerian border, remains unclear.

In recent days, new regime forces have also claimed full control over all three main towns of the Al-Jufra oasis, north of Sabha, leaving Gaddafi loyalists in Sirte and Bani Walid effectively cut off from any line of escape to the south.

While a full-scale assault on Bani Walid was on hold Friday, an AFP correspondent with NTC fighters a few kilometres outside the town said clashes had erupted there early in the day.

In other developments, the UN atomic agency confirmed the existence of raw uranium in Libya after US news channel CNN reported that new regime forces had found potentially radioactive material.

International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor said the uranium, stored by the Gaddafi regime, had been declared to the agency and that it hoped to examine the material “once the situation in the country stabilises”.

French oil giant Total meanwhile announced it would restart production from an offshore oil platform off Libya within days, making it the first major to return to work since the fall of Gaddafi.

Pattinson fires Vics on Shield return

Inspired bowling from Australia Test paceman James Pattinson and leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed helped Victoria rip through the in-form Queensland batting line-up, breathing some life back into the Bushrangers’ Sheffield Shield campaign.

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Queensland limped to 9-206, compiling barely two runs an over on day one of the first Sheffield Shield match to be played in Alice Springs.

Recently-capped Test batsman Joe Burns played a lone hand for Queensland, top-scoring with 86 before Pattinson had him caught behind amid a last-session slump by the Bulls.

It was a strong return to form for the Vics who have suffered two hefty defeats since the mid-season break, including a three-day loss against NSW last week.

Pattinson, who has played just one other first-class match in the past 12 months as he continues to rehabilitate following a serious back injury, looked strong throughout his 17 overs collecting 3-34.

At the other end Pakistan-born leg-spinner Ahmed was equally impressive nabbing 4-49 off 26 overs to move top of the Shield wicket-takers list for the season.

“We have been down for the past two games, so it is a good effort in this hot weather, especially from Jimmy (Pattinson) and the fast bowlers,” said Ahmed.

“It was a good effort from everyone bowling at the other end, and I was really relaxed because of that.

“The wicket reminded me of playing back home in Pakistan with no grass and hot weather. The wicket was slow which was hard for the batters but for us bowlers as well. It will be a good test for our batsmen.”

Opener Charlie Hemphrey made 31 while middle-order batsman Michael Philipson hit 39 but the latter’s dismissal kick-started a collapse which saw the Bulls lose 5-32.

Burns said the wicket was extremely slow and will offer an opportunity for the Queensland bowlers to achieve similar success.