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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Milford expected to re-sign with Broncos

Brisbane five-eighth Anthony Milford is poised to sign a multi-million dollar four-year contract extension with the NRL powerhouse in the coming days.

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Broncos CEO Paul White says the club expect a decision from the highly sought after playmaker early next week, after the 22-year-old reportedly shunned interest from Melbourne to accepted a $4 million deal.

The Storm are desperate for a marquee half to replace departing No.7 Cooper Cronk and offered Milford a deal worth a reported $1.2 million a year.

Milford’s Broncos deal is sweetened by the capacity for third party deals and the club’s dominance of the Brisbane sporting market.

Months after halfback Ben Hunt announced he will play for St George Illawarra next year, it was feared Brisbane would lose a second playmaker when the Storm made a play for Milford.

However, White all but confirmed that Milford, who will play for Samoa in Saturday’s Pacific Test against England, has agreed to stay at Red Hill.

“We’re not in a position to declare that yet,” White said on Friday.

“Anthony will get through his game on the weekend and hopefully we’ll be in a position to make an announcement or know one way or another early next week.”

White said the Broncos were not surprised by the interest in Milford’s services but were always confident of retaining him.

“These things are never easy processes and particularly when they’re marquee players,” White said.

“We acknowledge there’s a real developing market out there for those sorts of players and Anthony fits that bill.

“We’ve worked really hard through this negotiation process to make sure that Anthony remains at our club and we’re happy with the work we’ve done and we’re happy with the progress.

“We’re looking forward to him re-signing with our club.”

Milford’s expected re-commitment will allow the club to turn their focus on retaining other off-contract stars, including skipper Darius Boyd, Alex Glenn, Jordan Kahu and James Roberts.

Bridge funds on Tassie’s budget watchlist

Happy with the Turnbull government’s latest schools funding model and satisfied with a decade-long commonwealth sponsorship of a major hospital, Tasmania’s Liberal government is unlikely to be optimistic about additional big-ticket items in the federal budget.

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The only state or territory to welcome Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Gonski 2.0 scheme, championing an extra $200 million over 10 years compared to what was on offer for the state 12 months ago, Tasmania was quick to praise the schools deal this week.

And April’s promise of a $730 million cash injection to pay for the northern Mersey Community Hospital for the next decade has eased what’s been a chronic funding headache for the island state’s administration for several years.

“The government is anticipating a ‘no surprises’ budget that locks in recent commitments like … education funding and the Mersey Hospital funding deal,” a spokesman told AAP, also noting the recent $150 million commonwealth pledge for redeveloping the University of Tasmania’s northern campus.

But there are still a few key infrastructure items that Tasmania will be hoping make the cut for budget 2017/18.

In 2016, Infrastructure Australia named a specialist science, technology, engineering and maths university research and training facility in Hobart as one of the nation’s most significant future projects.

The University of Tasmania is keen on the idea but would be seeking federal dollars to co-sponsor the project.

Canberra has previously agreed to fund a new $535 million four-lane Bridgewater Bridge over Hobart’s Derwent River with construction due to start in 2019-20 and it should get a mention in the financial plan.

There’s an outside chance Tuesday’s budget could include funds for a new Launceston water treatment plan, for which federal Labor pledged $75 million in the lead up to the last election.

There should be previously announced funding for ongoing irrigation schemes and a rail freight corridor, while a federal pledge for a second Bass Strait electricity cable seems unlikely.

Tasmania’s opposition leader Rebecca White said the state was still reeling from $2.1 billion in cuts from the coalition’s 2014 budget.

“The federal government has done nothing to help fix Tasmania’s water and sewerage challenges,” Ms White told AAP.

“Labor committed $75 million to fix Launceston’s storm water problem. That commitment should be matched as a first step by the Turnbull government.”

The Labor leader said Tasmania was in desperate need of further education funding, adding that the state government was wrong to accept the latest schools deal.

Furthermore, public hospitals in Hobart and Launceston continued to operate under enormous pressures which could be eased by federal funding, Ms White added.

TASMANIA’S KEY FEDERAL BUDGET WISHLIST:

* Promised $730 million cash injection to pay for the northern Mersey Community Hospital

* $535 million four-lane Bridgewater Bridge over Hobart’s Derwent River

* University of Tasmania wants funds to co-sponsor a specialist science, technology, engineering and maths university research and training facility

* Funds for a new Launceston water treatment plan, ongoing irrigation schemes and a rail freight corridor

SVG sets Perth Supercars practice record

Defending series champion Shane van Gisbergen has vented his frustration to set a new lap record and dominate Supercars practice at Perth.

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The flying Kiwi clocked 54.77 seconds on the tight 2.4km Barbagallo Raceway circuit, shaving 0.21 of a second off Holden teammate Jamie Whincup’s 2011 practice mark.

Series leader – Ford’s DJR Team Penske driver Fabian Coulthard – was also under Whincup’s old record in 54.79 to finish second fastest in Friday’s final 45 minute practice session.

Six-time series champion Whincup was third quickest.

Van Gisbergen is second in the standings after three rounds, just seven points behind Coulthard, but claims he had arrived in Perth with a point to prove.

“I am pretty frustrated with my year so far,” he said.

“Apart from (opening round) Adelaide, the other rounds have been really crazy.

“I am disappointed but I am still second (in standings).

“It shows we have pretty high standards from last year and need to put it all together again.”

Remarkably, Van Gisbergen’s effort helped him jump from fourth-last in the 26-strong field to the top in the dying moments of the day’s second practice session.

Mark Winterbottom was fourth fastest, while Ford teammate Chaz Mostert completed the top five.

Coulthard had a spring in his step after staying in touch with Van Gisbergen, in front of legendary team boss Roger Penske.

The US motorsport giant is in Perth for his annual visit to Australia and watched first hand as Coulthard maintained his hot 2017 form.

Penske was seen holding an inspirational chat to his troops in the team garage after final practice on Friday.

“It was a pretty cool moment,” Coulthard said.

“For him to give us a pep talk gives the boys confidence.

“It’s early days but to be leading the championship and to have Roger come into town is perfect timing.

“He is rapt with how the team is going but we have a long way to go.”

The sole red flag on Friday emerged midway through the final practice session after 16-year-old Alex Rullo tussled with Whincup, locked it up and found the sand on turn seven.

Holden’s Garth Tander was fastest in the opening practice session in 55.64 but was only 19th quickest on Friday afternoon.

The opening 120km race will be held on Saturday.

Qualifying starts at 1355 AEST.

Collie WA mine owners in receivership

Workers in the West Australian coal mining town of Collie face an uncertain future after the Indian owners of the Griffin mine went into receivership.

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It comes on the same day it was separately announced a power station would close.

PricewaterhouseCoopers have been appointed receivers and managers at Indian-owned Lanco Resources.

The mine has posted large financial losses since Indian conglomerate Lanco Infratech paid what is now regarded as a grossly inflated figure of $740 million for it in 2010.

Lanco Infratech has high debt problems and is fighting KordaMentha in court claiming it was misled into paying that price.

Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union WA secretary Steve McCartney said workers were worried about losing their jobs and entitlements, on top of losses they had already suffered due to an ongoing pay dispute.

Mr McCartney said he wanted government intervention to protect the workers, saying the company was exploiting loopholes in the Fair Work Commission system to avoid paying workers their rightful entitlements,.

The Griffin workers take home pay and redundancy entitlements were controversially cut by 43 per cent after the Fair Work Commission ruled in March that employees should go back on an award rate.

However there are now fears the mine will be shut, leaving only the Chinese Yancoal-owned Premier Coal Mine.

“We are all paying for their (Lanco Resources) incompetence. They definitely paid too much for the mine,” Mr McCartney told 6PR radio.

“The workers have got punished but their mishandling of the mine since they took over has been a disaster as well.

“This company going into receivership is the worst possible outcome for these workers, and it is unacceptable that the accrued entitlements they rightfully earned at $62 an hour will now be paid out at only $30 an hour.”

It was also revealed on Friday that Collie’s ageing Muja AB coal-fired power station would be closed, despite the former Liberal National government spending $310 million to revive it in recent years.

Premier Mark McGowan said the decision to close the power station for commercial reasons was made by the previous government, which also chose to refurbish it.

“So now the megawatts have been withdrawn from the system at huge cost to taxpayers,” he told reporters.

One in 16 refugees to be paid for by private sponsors

The federal government will use next Tuesday’s Budget to announce it will shift the costs involved in settling 1000 refugees onto private companies, community groups and individuals.

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SBS World News can reveal the changes to the humanitarian program will take effect from July 1, 2017, with the government calling on the business sector to make their “corporate social responsibility obligations matter”.

“The idea is of course to have that support there provided by business groups who may know refugees in different camps, who they want to bring out [those] who have the skills,” Assistant Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told SBS.

Any business or community group wanting to sponsor refugees under the scheme would be required to cover associated costs for their first year in Australia including airfares, medical screening; and all visa application charges.   

“You hear regularly in the public domain businesses say, ‘well the government should help refugees more.'”

They would also need to foot the bill for any settlement services on arrival but the government denies it’s all about saving money.

“You hear regularly in the public domain businesses say, ‘well the government should help refugees more and we want to help them help refugees more’,’’ Mr Hawke said.

But the changes to the humanitarian program will help the budget bottom line, with sponsoring the most vulnerable people entering Australia costing about $19,000.

In addition, sponsors will also need to contribute $20,000 to a “welfare bond”, a fund the government said it will draw from should the refugees end up relying on welfare. 

 “What it looks like from the outside is, this is a cost saving measure,”

Henry Sherrell, a research officer at the Development Policy Center of the Australian National University, wants to know why the government isn’t offering additional humanitarian places, and instead taking from its yearly target of 16,250 places.

“I think it’s really troubling if these places come out of the existing humanitarian program because what it looks like from the outside is, this is a cost saving measure,” Mr Sherrell said.  

“This is basically the government saying we don’t want to be responsible for the costs associated with these 1000 people.” 

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull flagged the proposal in 2016 during the Leaders’ Summit in New York, and this implementation basically extends the trial program, which has been in place for three years.

Sherak Dawood is the beneficiary of the government’s pilot program.

The Christian refugee was kidnapped by extremists in Iraq and told he had three choices: leave the country, convert to Islam, or be killed. He chose the former.

He ended up in a Jordanian refugee camp before Melbourne’s Assyrian community paid all the costs associated for Mr Dawood and his family to come to Australia earlier this year.

“I need to build our life and to make my kids live in peace and make for them the good life,” the father of three said.

Alex Hawke on the humanitarian program changes

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The opposition said it welcomes the chance for the community to help with the refugee intake but has slammed the way the government is making the changes.

It wants to see the detail but the government doesn’t to see Labor’s support because the scheme does not need a parliamentary vote to be implemented.  

“It is the Turnbull Government’s responsibility to meet the costs of Australia’s humanitarian program – not the community and business sectors,” Shadow Minister for Immigration Shayne Neumann said.

He added that if the Coalition really wanted to support the humanitarian refugee program the reforms would see a net increase in the overall intake.

“Which is why Labor took to the election a policy of increasing the annual humanitarian intake to 27,000 by 2025,” Mr Neumann said.