Vic debt will leave state ‘exposed’: Libs

Climbing government debt despite financial windfalls and mounting taxes on Victorians have been attacked by the state’s opposition in its budget reply.

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Speaking at a Liberal fundraising lunch in Melbourne on Friday, Shadow Treasurer Michael O’Brien accused the Andrews government of not doing enough to tackle the cost of living and increasing crime.

The Labor government delivered its third budget on Tuesday, revealing $1.9 billion over four years to fight family violence and a $1.2 billion surplus for 2017/18.

It also showed debt was to spiral to $29 billion, or about six per cent of gross state product, by 2021 – a climb Treasurer Tim Pallas has urged Victorians to embrace.

Tax income has also grown massively, partly due to the real estate boom.

But Mr O’Brien pounced on the government for increasing debt despite the growing tax income and Melbourne Port lease sale windfalls.

And he said the government’s higher spending and debt based on cyclical revenue was a risk.

“Our budget is now hugely dependent on the heat of the property market and expecting that to continue,” he said.

“But even the budget papers acknowledge if interest rates rise and the property market cools, our budget will be extremely exposed.”

With 18 months until the state election, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy used the event to rally the party faithful around his “hungry” team.

He and Mr O’Brien also accused the government of being more concerned with political point scoring when it came to the commonwealth than working with Turnbull government.

Ahead of the state and federal budget, the Victorian government revealed a $1.45 billion rail revival plan entirely dependent on commonwealth money.

Blues give Thomas freedom to attack Pies

Former Collingwood favourite Dale Thomas has been encouraged to play with freedom when Carlton take on the Magpies in the 254th instalment of the AFL’s most celebrated rivalry.

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Blues coach Brendon Bolton made two changes for Saturday’s highly-anticipated clash at the MCG, with Thomas returning after a two-match break and former Adelaide forward Sam Kerridge also included.

Thomas struggled over the first month of the season before missing the Blues’ 90-point mauling by Port Adelaide.

The 29-year-old was ready to resume last week, but is no longer an automatic senior selection.

With question marks over his future, he responded with a commanding 31-possession performance for the Northern Blues at VFL level.

“Dale played a really good game at VFL level and comes in in-form,” Bolton told reporters on Friday.

“We just want to make sure that he plays with the freedom that he played with in the VFL.”

Thomas played 157 games, including the 2010 premiership decider, in eight seasons with the Pies before his high-profile free agency switch to Carlton.

“That’s not a consideration in selection,” Bolton said of Thomas’ return.

“The integrity around our match committee is based on form, but I’m sure he’d be determined to play well against his old team.”

Both teams have been inconsistent on their way to 2-4 records, but head into Saturday’s clash as last-start winners.

Carlton notched a 19-point victory in round six that kept winless Sydney anchored to the bottom of the ladder, while Collingwood stunned previously unbeaten Geelong by 29 points.

“What I did see last week was a Collingwood team that moved the ball a bit more aggressively through the corridor,” Bolton said.

“So we need to be on defensively, there’s no doubt about that, all our layers of defence need to be strong.”

The Blues have proved difficult to score against at times this season, but are yet to break the 100-point barrier in a game after six rounds and have scored the fewest points in the league.

“All supporters love to see scoring … I think it’s important to understand that we’re working really hard in that space,” Bolton said.

“We are young in our front half, by and large, but it’s a process of developing decision-making at the right time and leading patterns.

“That takes time to gel … it’s a work-in-progress for us.”

Young gun Jacob Weitering overcame a thigh issue to take his place.

The former No.1 draft pick struggled with a corked thigh in the Blues’ win over the Swans, finishing the game with his leg heavily strapped, but Bolton declared him a certain starter.

Youngsters Jack Silvagni (shoulder) and Zac Fisher (hamstring) departed the side, with Bolton hopeful the pair will only miss one game.

The Pies will be without injured speedster Travis Varcoe (hamstring) for the match that will also serve as a celebration of the club’s 125th anniversary.

Jordan De Goey will be keen to impress after serving a three-game club-imposed ban, with important defender Ben Reid and Jackson Ramsay also included.

Weekend sport preview

Sunday afternoon will see the climax to an A-League season that has been dominated by Sydney FC.

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However, Melbourne Victory are level with Sydney on one win each in the two previous Grand Finals played between the sides.

Despite being favoured to win this time around, Sydney defender Alex Wilkinson knows they have to stay focused.

He was part of the Central Coast Mariners side that almost upset Brisbane Roar in the 2011 Grand Final.

Wilkinson says, if they don’t stay on task, they can be beaten.

“You can’t switch off at all. And we’ve talked about that in previous games this year as well it’s about playing the full 90 minutes, 120 minutes, whatever it takes and not switching off at all because you know we’ve seen throughout the past and I’ve seen firsthand you can get punished, but apart from that its business as usual.”

As for Melbourne Victory, the chance to upset Sydney on its own ground would be something to be cherished.

But the pre-game expectations of a Sydney victory will mean nothing if the Sky Blues fail to hit form.

Victory Midfielder James Troisi doesn’t believe his team deserves to be the underdogs.

“I don’t see it as an underdog and if you want to state it that way, that’s fine. Like I said, we’ll go into Sunday arvo as a final and you know both teams on the pitch.”

And you can see that Grand Final match on SBS Viceland on Sunday afternoon.

The final ever Anzac Rugby League Test takes place tonight in Canberra, where Australia takes on New Zealand.

Australia captain Cameron Smith will play in his 50th test match and becomes only the second player behind Darren Lockyer to achieve that milestone.

The match won’t be played again after a review of the Rugby League representative calandar.

The match will give the winning nation an important psychological boost ahead of October’s World Cup.

In the AFL this weekend, tonight’s match is St Kilda against the Greater Western Sydney Giants who are in second spot on the ladder.

Arguably the biggest game of the round sees Richmond taking on the reigning Premier Western Bulldogs.

The Tigers are looking to bounce back from a 76 point drubbing at the hands of Adelaide last round.

Meanwhile, the Sydney Swans remain winless after six rounds.

But coach John Longmire will be hoping to break the losing run on Sunday when his side takes on the Brisbane Lions.

Longmire says he isn’t feeling the pressure.

“Whether you’re a player or a coach or anyone in the football department you understand the responsibility that you’ve got to be able to perform on a weekly basis obviously it’s a bit more pointed as a coach. But we’ve enjoyed some fantastic times at this football club as a collective and we’ll work through the tough times as a collective.”

Sydney is the only team in the competition yet to post a win this campaign.

The Super Rugby season continues, with the Australian Rugby Union yet to confirm which of either the Melbourne Rebels or Western Force will be the franchise to be cut from next season.

It’s been six weeks since the decision was confirmed and the players of both sides are starting to express their unhappiness about not knowing their immediate future.

Rebels Centre Tom English says some of his colleagues are already looking elsewhere.

“Rip the band aid off. Indecision is just going to lead to more players leaving overseas. If you cut down the team that’s just 30 less jobs available so you’ve just got to have a backup plan otherwise you’ll be left with nothing.”

The Rebels play South Africa’s Lions on Saturday afternoon.

Super Netball enters its final month before the finals arrive.

It’s tight at the top with the Melbourne Vixens leading the Sydney Giants by a point on the ladder. The Sunshine Coast Lightning are a further point behind.

The Vixens take on the Queensland Firebirds on Saturday evening, while the Giants travel to take on the Adelaide Thunderbirds on Sunday.

In cycling action this weekend the Giro D’Italia gets underway.

The home nation’s hopes resting on two time winner Vincenzo Nibali.

Australia’s Rohan Dennis will look to take another step to being a contender in all three Grand Tours, the Giro, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana.

The race begins in Sardinia later tonight and ends in Milan in three weeks’ time.

 

 

Key issues for regional Australians in this year’s Budget

For long-time dairy farmer Noel Campbell, feeding his herd of 400 cattle is an unavoidable cost.

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But he says the twice daily milking process, which takes less than two hours each time and costs far more than it should, because of a law stipulating a minimum three-hour shift for engaging casual staff.

“So we’re actually paying if we need someone for four-hours for the day we’ve gotta pay them for six-hours so it makes it quite difficult to do so we tend to end up doing the work ourselves rather than employ people.”

And there’s a view that a lack of flexibility in the labour market is impacting the broader agriculture sector.

Tony Mahar from the National Farmers Federation says the nature of seasonal and sometimes remote work, means an “agriculture specific” visa should be considered as part of the Budget and review to the overall visa system.

“We need to have the capacity to get people from overseas that can come and help us get products out of the ground off the trees and onto the consumers tables and into their kitchens.”

Mr Mahar says the budget must also deliver certainty around the long-awaited inland rail infrastructure project, which would link key agricultural hubs throughout Victoria New South Wales and Queensland

“We’ve had feasibility studies and we’ve had committments from government which is positive – we need to actually get a firm committment of a billion dollars to getting this inland rail actually built.”

If completed, the 1,700 kilometre track will become Australia’s largest rail-freight project, and Jack Archer from the Regional Australia Institute says it will offer significant savings and improved opportunities for the sector

“With better pathways to markets, cheaper pathways to markets businesses and agricultural producers in those areas will be able to tap into the Chinese markets in a different way.”

Other issues front-of-mind for those living outside metropolitan centres include further commitment to mobile phone blackspot funding, access to effective internet facilities and upgrades to the Bruce and Pacific Highways.

Jack Archer from the Regional Australia Institute says – if funded appropriately – regional centres have the potential to provide a solution to a metropolitan problem.

“There’s an opportunity to address the housing affordability crisis by making it easier for people to consider regional living and transfer out into regional areas.”

Another key aspect of incentivising regional living is improving rail transport for those living in country areas centres and commuting to cities for work.

In Victoria the state government says it will spend almost $1.5 billion on regional rail upgrades, but needs the federal governement to release money it says it’s owed from the lease of the Port of Melbourne

Despite the challenges of living in the bush, Tony Mahar says the right high-level decisions could offer progress and solutions.

“As sectors like mining and manufacturing come down from in the mining case peaks agriculture will provide growth productivity and profitability.”

 

Teen critical after botched Qld carjacking

A teenager is fighting for her life in a Gold Coast hospital, while another is in police custody after an apparent botched carjacking.

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The 15-year-old girl suffered severe head injuries when she was flung from a car on a suburban street in Helensvale just after 7.30pm on Thursday.

The girl had allegedly been leaning through an open door brandishing a knife and demanding a 24-year-old woman give up her car.

The panicked driver drove away at speed, with the girl’s head hitting either the pavement or a parked car when she was thrown clear of the vehicle.

Unaware the girl had been injured, the woman called police after driving a short distance to report the attempted robbery.

A boy who was with the girl fled the scene. He was arrested on Friday and is in police custody.

“She just believed that she’d managed to speed off,” Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Procter said of the driver.

“She seized on an opportunity at the time when she thought they’d pulled their hands out of the car.”

The girl was placed in an induced coma and remains in critical condition at the Gold Coast University Hospital.

Det Snr Sgt Procter said the incident began when the teens approached the woman at Harbour Town Shopping Centre and claimed they were being followed by a man.

She offered to give them a lift and they asked her to drive them to Mullewa Crescent, eight kilometres away.

Mr Procter said police were confident the story given by the pair to gain the lift was a ruse and the driver, who suffered a small cut to her hand, was deeply affected by the incident.

“She’s done what most of us would do,” he said.

“She was pretty shaken up.”

Local resident Angus Knox said he could see puddles of blood on the road outside his family home when he arrived at the scene.

Mr Knox, who was initially suspected by police to be the missing boy, had been concerned something had happened to his grandmother inside their home.

“I’m pretty sure there was some blood on the road. You could see big puddles of it. It wasn’t cool,” he said.

Woodside eyes growth, slams govt policy

Energy giant Woodside Petroleum say it is keen to develop Australian resources in the longer term but has called on the government to review its policy towards the energy sector.

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The oil and gas producer on Friday reaffirmed its target to increase production by 15 per cent by 2020, focusing on its existing operations and currently approved projects.

Chief executive Peter Coleman said the company will prioritise near-term value growth, with a focus on developing or expanding existing projects.

He identified the company’s two biggest liquefied natural gas projects in Western Australia, and the exploration work planned in Africa and Myanmar.

“You will hear us talk a lot about Wheatstone, Senegal, Myanmar and Pluto,” told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting in Perth.

“That’s not to detract from the other opportunities we are pursuing, but we see these as priorities for this year.”

Woodside said last month it is likely to meet its full-year production guidance despite bad weather hurting first-quarter production and sales.

The oil and gas giant’s output dropped nearly 10 per cent in the three months to March to 21.4 million barrels of oil equivalent, but it still expects to deliver the full-year production forecast of 84 mmboe to 90 mmboe.

Mr Coleman also confirmed the company’s longer term plan to build a pipeline from the Browse gas fields off the WA coast to the Karratha gas plant in the North West Shelf.

“As operator of both Browse and the North West Shelf, Woodside is well-placed to make this happen and we are talking to joint venture participants in both assets,” he said.

The company called on Canberra to ensure a fiscal regime for development of Australian resources and to avoid any policy changes that could deter investment.

Woodside chairman Michael Chaney flagged “several issues of concern” including the government’s impending review of the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax, recent changes to the 457 visa programme and delays in corporate tax cuts.

He said it will get much harder to attract highly skilled international employees to Australia if they are not confident of being able to stay beyond an initial two-year period, a result of the federal government changes to visas.

He particularly slammed the Labor and minor parties for opposing the government’s proposed cut in the corporate tax rate for all companies.

“It is very clear to anyone involved in business that having a corporate tax rate higher than that in other countries would result in Australia missing out on new investment,” Mr Chaney said, urging all political parties to ensure that the country’s international competitiveness does not suffer further.

Brisbane bid falls flat for Coates

John Coates’ lone gunslinger style is under a spotlight again after he shot from the hip about a Queensland Olympic bid.

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Australian Olympic Committee president Coates has put the nation’s next bid back on the agenda – without telling anyone he was going to do it.

“We have authorised Brisbane and six supporting cities to do a feasibility study,” he told ABC television on Thursday night.

“I have got the experience and what I want to do, whether it’s 2028 or 2032 is to champion that, both in Australia and internationally.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Friday there have not been discussions with the AOC or the federal government about a bid.

And Coates rival for the AOC presidency, Danni Roche, says his comments highlight his autocratic style.

“I would work in a more collaborative manner. And I certainly wouldn’t be making a unilateral decision about the Olympic Games,” Roche told reporters on Friday.

Coates’ remarks are traced to south-east Queensland region councils approving a feasibility study into a potential Olympic bid.

The AOC last September offered its in-principle support but won’t help fund the $2.5m study, slated for completion within 18 months.

Roche, a 1996 Olympic hockey gold medallist, said she would welcome any bid, if it had government backing.

“I would work collaboratively with the governments if that was their interest, both federal and state. And also I wouldn’t be making unilateral decisions,” she said.

No decision on a bid is required until early 2019 when the IOC requires an expression of interest for the 2028 Games.

Trump and Turnbull meet after lengthy delay

Donald Trump’s decision to remain in Washington longer than planned saw him shift the meeting with Malcolm Turnbull from a Manhattan hotel in favour of a shorter, 30-minute meeting on board the USS Intrepid on the Hudson River.

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Trump: “Oh, it’s a very big day. I appreciate you waiting.”

Turnbull: “Well, I know the feeling, we have challenges with our parliament too. We have only 29 seats in a Senate of 76 so you need a lot of work to get legislation passed.”

Trump: “That means you’re doing a good job.”

Turnbull: “When you get it passed, you are!”

Donald Trump labelled the reports of a terse phone call with Malcolm Turnbull over the refugee deal as a little bit of fake news.

Trump: “We had a good telephone call.”

Turnbull: “We had a great call!”

Trump: “You guys exaggerated that call. That was a big exaggeration. I want to tell you, we had a great call. I mean, we’re not babies. But we had a great call.”

The February phone call saw Mr Trump tweet that the refugee deal was dumb but the United States eventually decided to honour the refugee agreement forged by the Obama administration.

The two leaders talked trade, national security and immigration during their truncated meeting in New York ahead of a gala dinner commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The four-day battle between the Allies and Japan was fought off Australia’s northeastern coast between the 4th and the 8th of May in 1942 and was the first air-and-sea battle in history.

The Allies managed a strategic victory which put an end to the Japanese seaborne invasion of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

It was the first time the Japanese had failed in a major wartime operation.

During the dinner, Malcolm Turnbull paid tribute to those who served.

“We thank all those Australians and Americans who served and remember the more than 600 who died in the Battle of the Coral Sea. And to all those who serve in the United States and Australian Defence Forces we honour you, we thank you. You and your families, with your courage and your service, you keep us free.”

Donald Trump offered similar sentiments.

“They saw enemy planes flying toward them by the dozen. They saw the flames erupt in to the air and they saw the true cost of war in the faces of the heroes that never returned. On this special gathering, on this special night, we remember the courage of these men and every man, Australian and American who fought in the Battle of the Coral Sea.”

 

 

NSW Hunter Valley looks to US region’s transition from coal

The Newcastle and Hunter region of the New South Wales Central Coast is known for its beaches, wines and mines.

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Coal mining has a long history here – the industry in Australia began in Newcastle in the early 1800s.

But some in the region are now imagining a different future.

The environmental group Lock the Gate recently hosted Lisa Abbott, coordinator of a group working on the transition in the Appalachian region of the United States.

Centred in the state of Kentucky, it was once the country’s largest coal-producing area.

Ms Abbott, head of the Empower Kentucky Project, says coal mining is deeply ingrained in the Appalachian communities.

“Coal mining is more than just a job. It really is a part of our culture. It’s something that people have sacrificed their health (for) in many cases and have taken extraordinary risks to provide for their families.”

Once a significant employer, the coal industry in the Appalachian region now supports only a few jobs.

The community is in the midst of transitioning away from coal.

Ms Abbott, who works with the social justice organisation Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, says the Empower Kentucky Project is working to reshape the region’s economy.

“That includes supporting local agriculture, supporting the arts and tourism in the region. We believe there’s a lot of opportunity in energy efficiency and helping to retrofit homes and businesses to use less energy, which, in turn, keeps more money in the local community and creates jobs.”

In Appalachia, much of the coal has already been mined, but that is not the case in the Hunter Valley.

New data shows the global demand for New South Wales coal is continuing at near record levels.

In 2016, exports increased by 1.5 million tonnes.

The industry accounts for around 13,000 jobs in the Hunter.

But local miner Kerry Moir, who has worked in the industry for over 35 years, says the industry’s reach is far greater.

“A lot of people supply here to the coalmines, repair gear for the coalmines, do maintenance for the coalmines. So, if the coalmines go down, in the short term, I think a lot of people will be out of work in Newcastle.”

The Federal Member for the Hunter, Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon, says coal mining remains crucial to the economy but a transitional fuel is needed to eventually move away from coal.

He suggests gas is the logical alternative.

“Our future is in renewables, but the transition to renewables, given the technology constraints, will be a long one, and we need a transitional fuel. Obviously, that’s gas. The Hunter is so well-placed to provide that gas generation. We have the land and the buffer zones of the existing coal-fired generators. The high-voltage transmission lines are there. We have the skilled workforce.”

But Lock the Gate Hunter coordinator Steve Phillips says he disagrees.

“Switching from one unsustainable, unreliable fossil fuel to another is not what our region wants. We want sustainable industries. The agricultural industries that have always been here can grow back. Innovative industries in engineering and social services already exist in the Hunter. We are a leader in these things. These can transition us away from coal if they’re allowed to grow. “

What the region does want is employment, and Ms Abbott says that needs to be the focus.

“Regardless of your views about coal and the coal industry, all of us need to be thinking about what’s a just transition for these workers and communities.”

 

Safe-zone plan for Syria, but rebels walk out

The talks in Astana involving armed Syrian rebel groups are part of efforts to try to end the country’s civil war that has killed more than 300,000 people since it began in 2011.

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Russia’s plan involves setting up four so-called de-escalation zones in rebel-held territory in Idlib, parts of Homs province, an opposition enclave near Damascus and Syria’s south.

Rebels and government soldiers would be stationed at checkpoints around the four zones, and foreign troops could also be used in observer roles.

Russian president Vladimir Putin says Syrian and Russian planes would end their bombing in the four districts if opposition groups stop their attacks there.

The plan would allow for aid deliveries and the return of refugees.

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura says he supports the agreement.

“The most important thing is that this initiative today is actually a step in the right direction, because it’s pushing for a concrete de-escalation in addition to the ceasefire in four areas.”

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’Afari, has also spoken in favour of the plan.

“The Syrian Arab Republic supports the Russian initiative on the de-escalation zones and stresses its commitment to the cessation of hostilities agreement signed on December 30, 2016, including not shelling those areas.”

Kazakhstan foreign minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov says the zones would help improve the de-escalation process ahead of a round of talks in Astana in mid-July.

“(We have) adopted the memorandum on the creation of de-escalation areas in the Syrian Arab Republic, which foresees the establishment of de-escalation areas with a view to putting an end to ongoing violence, improving the humanitarian situation, creating favourable conditions to advance the process for a political solution of the Syrian conflict and an effective fight against terrorism.”

But as Russia, Turkey and Iran gathered to sign the pact, Syrian rebel delegates shouted in protest and walked out.

Syria’s armed opposition says it cannot accept establishing the safe zones, saying they threaten the country’s territorial integrity.

And Syrian opposition delegation member Osama Abu Zaid says the rebels do not recognise Iran as a peace guarantor.

“In the name of the Syrian people, one of whose members, Major Yasser Abdul Rahim, who has objected on Iran signing, is present, we refuse any role for Iran and militias affiliated with it. We refuse for (Iran) to play any role as guarantor, considering it is a nation with hostilities against the Syrian people.”