Republican healthcare bill to dismantle Obamacare progresses to Senate

After weeks of negotiations, the Republican healthcare bill passed the House of Representatives 217 to 213.


It was just enough support to push the legislation through, sending it to the Senate for consideration.

No Democrats voted in favour.

The vote to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law is Donald Trump’s first major political win.

The bill was previously abandoned when Republicans were unable to agree on its provisions.

Mr Trump says Obamacare is now “dead”.

“This is a great plan. I actually think it will get even better. And this is make no mistake, this is a repeal and replace of Obamacare, make no mistake about it. Make no mistake.”

It is also a political victory for House Speaker Paul Ryan, demonstrating his ability to pull together a fractured Republican caucus.

“The truth is, this law has failed and it is collapsing. Premiums are skyrocketing and choices are disappearing and it is only getting worse, spiraling out of control. And that is why we have to repeal this law and put in place a real, vibrant market place, with competition and lower premiums for families.”

Around 20 million Americans gained healthcare coverage under Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act.

But Republicans have long attacked it, seeing the program as government overreach and complaining that it drives up healthcare costs.

The Republican bill aims to repeal most Obamacare taxes, including a penalty for not buying health insurance.

It would slash funding for Medicaid, the program that provides insurance for the poor, and roll back much of Medicaid’s expansion.

Soon after the vote, Republicans went to the White House Rose Garden to celebrate their victory.

Mr Trump says he’s confident of the future of the bill.

“I went through two years of campaigning and I’m telling you no matter where I went, people are suffering so badly with the ravages of Obamacare. And I will say this that, as far as I’m concerned your premiums, they’re going to start to come down. We’re going to get this passed through the Senate. I feel so confident.”

But Democrats have slammed the bill.

Protesters rallied in Washington DC, shouting at congress members as they left Capitol Hill.

Democrats are hoping that the vote will spark a voter backlash in next year’s mid-term congressional elections.

Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi questioned the timing of the bill.

“This is not a health bill. This is a tax bill disguised as a health bill to have one of the biggest transfers of wealth from working families to the richest people and corporations in our country. That’s why they have to do it now so they can do their tax bill.”

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders is accusing Mr Trump of being out of touch with working-class Americans.

“When you throw 24 million people off of health insurance, when you raise premiums for older workers, When you defund Planned Parenthood and when you cut Medicaid by $800 billion, and then on top of all of that, you give 300 billion in tax breaks to the top two per cent. That is not standing with the working class of this country, that is going to war against the working class of this country.”

The legislation now faces new hurdles in the Senate, where the Republicans have only a 52-seat majority in the 100-seat chamber and where just a few Republican defections could sink the bill.



Vixens on verge of Super Netball finals

Melbourne Vixens are expecting a desperate Queensland Firebirds outfit with their Super Netball season on the line in a double-header at Hisense Arena on Saturday night.


The Vixens and the Firebirds, who won the trans-Tasman title last year, will be followed on court by the Collingwood Magpies and the Sunshine Coast Lightning, in a battle of the sharpshooters in Caitlin Thwaites and Caitlin Bassett.

The Vixens are flying at the top of the ladder and can wrap up a finals’ berth with four rounds to go, while the Firebirds are sitting fifth.

“The Firebirds played well last week even though they didn’t get the win and we want to keep our top spot on the ladder,” Melbourne goal attack Tegan Philip said.

“We’ve acknowledged that Firebirds do need a win if they want to be in the finals so it will be a very important match for them.”

Philip has returned to her best, after she was sidelined in 2016 with a serious knee injury, and is set to reclaim a spot in the Diamonds line-up.

In 2014 she won the grand final player of the match award, as the Vixens claimed their last title, and featured in the Commonwealth Games gold medal team.

“I’m really happy with how things are going at Vixens as I didn’t know the form I was going to be able to come back in,” Philip said.

The 28-year-old has formed a lethal shooting combination with Malawi shooter Mwayi Kumwenda, who shot 41 goals from as many attempts in their big win over the Lightning last week.

The fourth-placed Magpies posted a two-goal win over the Firebirds last round in Launceston and are on a three-game winning streak.

With four rounds remaining, Thwaites (429) and Bassett (428) lead third-placed Sam Wallace from the Swifts by some 60 goals.

Collingwood captain Madi Robinson will be going head to head with her younger sister Kelsey Browne, who plays for the Lightning.

Focusing on native-language literacy to teach English

At a refugee Welcome Day event in Newcastle, the city’s diversity is on show.


Generations of migrants are here to celebrate their own cultures and their neighbours’ cultures.

Music is one way to share culture.

Language is another.

But refugee advocate Sister Diana Santelban is concerned that, as younger migrants integrate into Australian culture, they often lose their mother tongues.

“We’re finding, five years after these families are getting here, the kids are not speaking those languages very well. The mothers hold the culture, and we want the mothers to hold the culture as strong as possible, and one of the ways is literacy.”

Sister Diana is the project coordinator of a refugee women’s support centre named Zara’s House.

She says most women who visit the centre are taking English language lessons but many cannot read and write in their original language.

“Most of these women are very intelligent, gifted, creative people. But they never got to go to school. And that’s the truth. So they do not have proficiency in reading and writing their mother language. When the culture is lost because the women haven’t got the ability to pass on the culture, the culture is gone.”

Sister Diana wants to run native-language lessons, believing that, if the mothers can read and write their own languages, their children are more likely to do so.

She says those who are literate within the refugee communities will become the teachers.

“We’ve got young folk here who go, ‘I can do that, I can be a teacher. You know, I used to be a teacher in Afghanistan, and, you know, I’d love to do this,’ or, ‘I used to be a teacher In Syria, mum was a teacher …’ You know? So there are people in the community who can’t wait to get involved.”

One of those is 16-year-old Syrian refugee Mawra Alkasim, who arrived in Newcastle from Damascus six months ago.

She says she believes the lessons could empower the women.

“If you are a kid, and you (say) to your mum, ‘Mum, I can’t understand this lesson in my school, can you just help me doing it, can you tell me the way I have to follow?’ … if the mum is not educated, she will be like, ‘What’s going on? I don’t know. Go to someone else.’ But if she is, her kids will be really proud of her.”

Ms Alkasim says the women should be afforded such an opportunity.

“It gives them a sense of belonging to their culture, to their language, so they just want to do it, because they didn’t have the chance to do it in their country, because of marriage or they had to work or had to have children. So they want to do it now, in Australia.”

But language and literacy researcher Dr Sally Baker, from the University of Newcastle, warns learning English and original language literacy at the same time could be troublesome.

“There isn’t a lot of research that tells us about the impacts of learning first-language literacy at the same time as learning a language and literacy such as English. So it’s difficult to say what the impact will be, and, of course, it depends on the individual and it depends on the instruction. But worst-case scenarios, it could be really confusing. It could actually impede literacy development in either language.”

Still, she acknowledges there are benefits to becoming literate in native languages.

“The literature tells us really strongly that it provides all sorts of good, positive aspects for identity, for a sense of belonging, for a sort of diaspora to the home country.”


Qld, fed govts divided over prawn funds

Queensland prawn farmers are breathing easier but the state and federal governments are at odds over a $20 million reimbursement package the commonwealth has provided to combat white spot disease.


Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on Friday announced the Turnbull government would deliver $20 million for eight prawn farms on the Logan River to battle the disease outbreak.

Seven farms were shut when the highly contagious virus was detected late last year, placing the industry in peril.

Mr Joyce, the agriculture minister, says the money will help cover the costs of farms being out of action for a season as part of an agreed eradication response plan.

“This additional funding of $20 million will be delivered directly to the prawn industry, with $4 million to be repaid by prawn farmers through an industry levy once affected producers are back on their feet,” he said.

The funding is in addition to $1.74 million in emergency assistance previously given by the coalition government, including $1.3 million to the Queensland government to assist with its response costs

Mr Joyce was “bitterly disappointed” the state Labor government had not contributed to the funding package.

“We were expecting them to kick the tin for a further $16 million. They’re not,” he said.

“They’ve come up with a hypothesis that this is a commonwealth biosecurity issue. There’s no proof of that whatsoever.”

But the Queensland government says the assistance package was too slow in coming.

Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne said the Palaszczuk government had shouldered the financial burden of the response to white spot disease.

Mr Byrne said the state had already spent $11 million, which would rise to $17.6 million by the end of the year, as well as making $30 million available in concessional loans to prawn farmers.

“Prior to today we have done all the heavy lifting in terms of resources and finance on this outbreak,” he said.

Serena Zipf, owner-operator of the last farm to test positive early this year, welcomed the federal assistance package.

“It’s a bit of relief that one big piece of the puzzle is solved for us. At least the next 12 months financially we can keep our staff on board,” she told ABC radio.

But Ms Zipf pleaded with the two warring governments to work together “to help get our industry back on board”.

Murray River Organics shares plunge

Shares in Murray River Organics have tumbled by more than 40 per cent after the organic dried fruit producer cut its full-year profit forecast, citing “teething issues” with its expansion and harvest delays.


The company, which listed on the ASX in December, said 2016/17 pro forma revenue will be down by $10 million, in a trading up date on Friday.

Earnings are now expected to be between $12.5 million to $13.5 million, compared to $15.9 million in its prospectus forecast, and pro-forma full-year net profit is expected to be $4.2 million to $4.9 million.

The downgrade rattled investors with shares in Murray River Organics plunging 44.5 cents, or 43.2 per cent, to 58.5 cents.

Managing director Erling Sorensen said “teething issues” with the group’s rapid expansion had blown out costs while wet weather had slowed sales.

He said half of the company’s revenue miss was due to harvest delays from an unusually cool and wet spring, coupled with heavy rain in the Sunraysia growing region, which covers parts of southwestern NSW and northwestern Victoria.

“In the Sunraysia region they encountered a very wet April,” he said.

“We had about 52 mm of rain in the latter part of the month and this compares with a long historical average of only 18.5 mm for the month of April.”

He said Murray River Organics was only 20 per cent into its harvest when the rain hit and about 14 to 20 days of clear weather was needed to complete it.

A slower-than-anticipated uptake in sales following delays to the refurbishment of the company’s processing factory – which held up the processing of dried vine fruit, was the second major factor that weighed on the group’s revenue.

However, about $8 million of that missed revenue is expected to be added to what is expected in the 2018 financial year.