Government v Women battle takes a twist

As reported here last week, there are some distractions from the real issues the country should be facing – the economy, war, that kind of stuff.

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Instead, we have uproar over how President Obama has found a way to mandate free contraception for women.

It turns out women’s health issues will continue to be unwillingly embraced by (usually male) politicians. Government increases its interest in getting involved in what happens in people’s bedrooms and then what happens outside those bedrooms when the things that go on in there don’t play out exactly as planned – literally.

Last week, the state of Virginia passed a law that called for “informed consent” for a woman seeking an abortion. Very good. But wait. The new law demands “every pregnant female shall undergo ultrasound imaging and be given an opportunity to view the ultrasound image of her fetus prior to the abortion.”

David Englin, a Virginia state legislator, explained why he opposed the bill in a statement: “This bill will require many women in Virginia to undergo vaginal penetration with an ultrasound probe against their consent in order to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion, even for nonsurgical, noninvasive, pharmaceutical abortions. The next time Virginia Republicans speak the words ‘government intrusion’ I hope voters will remember this vote and hold them accountable for their hypocrisy.”

In other words, doctors are being ordered by the state government to perform a medically unnecessary procedure regardless of the circumstances as part of a process that must be traumatic enough for anyone undertaking it.

Political debate in America is not always measured and so it is on this issue. Some commentators have claimed that the ruling could be interpreted as state-mandated rape. They may have a point.

On the other side, Dana Loesch, an opinionated right-wing pin up, appeared to suggest the Virginia procedure was little different from consensual sex that gets most women into the situation that they require an abortion.

“There were individuals saying, ‘Oh what about the Virginia rape? The rapes that, the forced rapes of women who are pregnant?’ What!? Wait a minute, they had no problem having similar to a trans-vaginal procedure when they engaged in the act that resulted in their pregnancy.”

Loesch, it should be noted, is hot for controversy. In the wake of a controversial video that circulated on the Internet showing US Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, she said she’d have joined in given the opportunity. Loesch, it should also be noted, holds certain credibility in her role as a political commentator for CNN.

Can it get crazier? Yes. The Virginia Governor who will sign the bill into law is named Bob McDonnell. He’s a guy with eyes on the Republican Presidential ticket and could be just the guy Mitt Romney needs to broaden his right-wing appeal.

Carr satisfied with relations with India

Foreign Minister Bob Carr says Australia has a strong relationship with India that will withstand future changes of government and shifts in regional power balances.

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But some view Australia’s strengthening relationship with China as threatening to its relationship with India.

 

Thea Cowie has the details.

 

India and China have long been competitors for power and influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

 

So when the Australian Prime Minister recently sealed an historic agreement for annual bilateral talks between China and Australia, some wondered what India’s view might be of the deal.

 

SBS Radio’s Punjabi program sought the view of the Foreign Minister on the matter.

 

But Bob Carr has told the Punjabi program’s Manpreet Singh there’s no need for India to feel it’s missing out.

 

“We’ve got a deep partnership with India. I was there in January I discussed with foreign minister Khurshid and Prime MInister Singh a wide range of matters. It’s always easy to canvass with indians strategic issues with a full and frank manner. I spoke with their foreign minister about issues that ranged from Fiji and its transition to democracy – so important to many indians in Australia – right through to Iran and its moves towards a nuclear weapons capacity. We’ve got a very comfortable dialogue with India.”

 

While the world’s attention has been drawn of late to the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula, Senator Carr says it’s important to keep monitoring another tense regional relationship – that of India and Pakistan.

 

“I think there’s got to be restraint and reconciliation. Two words that start with R in relations between India and Pakistan. Singh: But do you see it as a potential nuclear hotspot? Of course it is and it has been since both nations acquired a nuclear weapons capacity and we want the challenge presented by their nuclear strength to be an incentive for them to resolve their differences and build areas of cooperation. I’d like to think that when Pakistan has made a transition from one democratic government to another they’ll be in a position to join with Prime Minister Singh and really pull that relationship forward. Singh: Will this impact on Australia’s decision to sell uranium to India? No it won’t. We made that decision in principle, we’re now negotiating the terms of the safeguards. We did it for a host of reasons, mainly India’s very good record as a nation committed to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

 

Senator Carr was also questioned on the issue of capital punishment, with the execution in India of a Punjabi man imminent.

 

Professor Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar has been sentenced to death for triggering a car bomb blast in New Delhi twenty years ago, which killed nine people and injured 25 others.

 

Last week India’s Supreme Court rejected his plea for clemency.

 

Senator Carr says Australia’s position on the death penalty is quite clear.

 

“We’re opposed to capital punishment in all circumstances at all times. I understand, but will confirm, that our High Commission in Delhi has made that point clear. I’d be very surprised if we haven’t.”

 

The Foreign Minister’s office has since said the Australian High Commission does not intend to comment on the matter because legal avenues of appeal against the sentence have not yet been exhausted and the Punjab Government continues to engage efforts to have the sentence commuted.

 

As for the future of relations between Australia and India, Senator Carr was asked whether the personal relationships built in recent years may not be relevant for much longer, with elections looming in both countries.

 

But the Foreign Minister says there are a number of enduring features that keep the two countries engaged.

 

“I think our participation in the Commonwealth, we have a keen interest in Indian Ocean issues: environmental and strategic. The Indian Ocean is strategically the most important ocean in the world these days. When I was India I proposed we build our cooperation in the Indian Ocean on a range of fronts.”

 

Goodman retains capital for future

Property firm Goodman Group is keeping its money in its pockets in case acquisition opportunities arise.

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Goodman, which on Thursday booked a rise in annual operating profit of 17 per cent, said gearing had been reduced to 18.5 per cent and it had cash and lines of credit totalling $1.8 billion at June 30, 2013.

Goodman chief executive Greg Goodman said Goodman was expanding its operations around the world.

“It’s our job to sift through the best opportunities around the world,” he said during a market briefing.

“That capital will be required for future periods.

“There’s no thought of doing anything with the capital apart from investing it wisely.”

Mr Goodman said economic growth in Brazil would generate new opportunities, and there would still be opportunities in the United States even though its economy was presently sluggish.

Goodman on Thursday booked a net profit of $161.0 million for the year ended June 30, down 60.6 per cent on the prior year’s result.

But the operating profit – which excludes property valuation adjustments, non-property impairment losses, derivative and foreign currency movements and other non-recurring losses – rose 17.4 per cent to $544.1 million.

Business activity in key markets was accelerating as customers and investors demanded prime industrial assets and responded to the rapid growth in e-commerce.

Goodman said the growing contribution from its development and management activities, the strength of its Asian and European businesses and its entry into new markets placed it in a good position to achieve solid earnings growth in fiscal 2014.

The group forecasts a lift of nine per cent in operating profit to $594 million for the current financial year.

Mr Goodman said the forecast was sensible and prudent given that global economic recovery was still uncertain.

Goodman also forecast a distribution of 20.7 cents per security for fiscal 2014, up seven per cent on the 2013 payout of 19.4 cents.

Goodman securities were three cents higher at $4.81 at 1251 AEST on Thursday.

Snowden awaits father’s visit in Russia

The US fugitive Edward Snowden has acquired registration at an address in Russia and his father, lawyer and friends are in the process of obtaining Russian visas, his lawyer says.

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“Yesterday I sent an invitation to Snowden’s father, to his US lawyer and to the friends that Edward asked for,” Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Kommersant FM radio station on Tuesday.

“The invitation has gone off, we are waiting for the visas to be processed.”

The former National Security Agency analyst is living at an unknown location after Russia granted him temporary asylum for a year. He is wanted by the US for leaking details of vast internet and telephone surveillance programs.

He last week slipped out of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where he had spent more than a month awaiting asylum, accompanied by a staff member of WikiLeaks whistleblowing website, Sarah Harrison.

Snowden now has registered at an address – a legal requirement for foreign visitors to Russia – Kucherena said, while declining to reveal any details of his new address.

“He has registered” he told the Interfax news agency. “Today he is living on the territory of Russia.”

Kucherena said that Snowden would probably consult his father on what to do with his new life in Russia.

“When his father, lawyer, friends come, I think all the important questions on his daily life and accommodation will be discussed,” he told Kommersant FM.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov on Tuesday in an interview with Interfax slammed the United States for questioning whether US President Barack Obama would now meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in early September.

Ryabkov accused the United States of “blowing up the situation with Snowden,” insisting that Russia had avoided involvement in his case “beyond the absolutely humanitarian aspect.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua on Tuesday reaffirmed his asylum offer to Snowden in an interview with Russian-based RT television network.

Vettel storms to victory, extends F1 lead

Sebastian Vettel delivered a crushing blow to his title rivals when he increased his lead in the drivers’ championship with a consummate triumph for Red Bull in the Belgian Grand Prix.

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The 26-year-old German took the lead from pole-man Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap and then pulled clear to claim his fifth win of the year and the 31st of his career, pulling him level with Briton Nigel Mansell.

The defending triple world champion came home a comfortable 16.869 seconds ahead of second-placed Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari with Hamilton third for Mercedes.

It was his fourth third-place of the year and the 54th podium finish of his career, drawing Hamilton alongside three-time champion Austrian Niki Lauda.

Vettel was delighted.

“It was a fantastic race for us from start to finish,” he said.

“It was very good tactics and it helped to get past Lewis on the first lap.

“We were a bit afraid of the rain coming but it was a great race.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate German Nico Rosberg finished fourth ahead of Australian Mark Webber in the second Red Bull and sixth-placed Briton Jenson Button for McLaren.

Vettel’s win, his second in Belgium, lifted him to a total of 197 points while Alonso climbed back to second on 151 with Hamilton third on 139. In the constructors championship Red Bull lead with 312 points ahead of Mercedes on 235.

With eight races remaining, Vettel’s win was an emphatic riposte to Hamilton’s speed and recent form, and his maiden victory for Mercedes in Hungary.

Finn Kimi Raikikonen failed to finish due to a brake problem with his Lotus and saw him drop from second in the title race to fourth.

Hamilton made a clean departure from the grid to lead through La Source hairpin and down through Eau Rouge.

But Vettel, showing the speed of his Red Bull car uphill through Radillon, was able to glide past the Mercedes on the long run down to Malmedy.

Behind the two leaders, Alonso made a typically excellent start from ninth and climbed to fifth as Webber, from third, slipped back to sixth.

UEFA left with Champions League conundrum

If Metalist follow a similar path, European soccer’s governing body UEFA could be left with a logistical nightmare to sort out.

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The decision by UEFA’s appeals committee to expel the Ukrainian club came 10 days after Metalist lost an appeal at CAS over a domestic match-fixing case dating back to 2008.

Together, the two cases have created a bewildering number of possible scenarios that UEFA would have to deal with.

Fenerbahce have already beaten Austrian side Salzburg and face Arsenal over two legs in the final playoff round later this month, with the winners going into the group stage.

CAS has said it will make a final ruling on Fenerbahce’s case “by August 28”, the day after the second leg.

That opens the possibility that Fenerbahce could qualify for the group stage, having eliminated both Arsenal and Salzburg, only to be expelled.

UEFA could simply award Fenerbahce’s place to Arsenal, however that is almost certain to infuriate the Austrian side and their owners Red Bull, who have been trying in vain to reach Europe’s elite competition since taking over the club in 2005.

On the other hand, there are no dates available in the international calendar to squeeze in a two-leg playoff between Salzburg and Arsenal, which would be the other option.

Metalist were due to face Schalke 04 in the playoff round but UEFA’s emergency committee decided later on Wednesday that their place would be taken by PAOK, the Greek side they knocked out in the previous round.

However, UEFA did not address the possibility that Metalist could appeal to CAS and be re-admitted pending the final decision, as Fenerbahce were, possibly before the Schalke tie.

Metalist could also be re-admitted by CAS but then ultimately lose their appeal with the possibility that the final ruling might come after some group-stage matches have already been played.

Two years ago, UEFA was forced to draw up a number of contingency plans for reorganising the Europa League after Swiss club Sion launched a legal challenge over their expulsion from the competition over ineligible players.

These included increasing one of the groups from four to five teams to accommodate Sion and playing the additional fixtures during the winter break.

In the event, Sion lost their case and UEFA were spared a huge headache.

(Reporting By Brian Homewood; Editing by Sonia Oxley)

Ton by golden oldie Rogers puts Australia on top

The gritty left-handed opener nudged and nurdled his way to 101 not out after a four-wicket burst from Stuart Broad had threatened to put England, bowled out without adding to their overnight total of 238 for nine, on top.

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Rogers, who turns 36 on August 31, was given good support by Shane Watson (68) as the pair shared a stand of 129 for the fifth wicket on a tricky day for batting.

It was Rogers, though, who took the plaudits by becoming the second oldest Australian to hit his first test ton. Arthur Richardson was 37 when he reached three figures against England at Leeds in 1926.

Rogers, making only his fifth test appearance, needed a generous helping of good fortune at the Emirates Durham and also suffered several nervous moments in the 90s.

Broad, who often blows hot and cold, was in mean and hungry mood and took advantage of overcast skies and a pitch offering extravagant seam movement to remove David Warner (three), Usman Khawaja (nought) and captain Michael Clarke (six).

The day began with England’s last man James Anderson being hit on the helmet by a bouncer from Jackson Bird.

Later the same over Bird ended the innings by bowling Anderson for 16, leaving Tim Bresnan undefeated on 12.

It did not take long for England to make inroads at the top of the Australian order, Warner being bowled by an inswinger from Broad that clipped the top of off stump with the total on 12.

There had been no addition to the score when Khawaja could not decide whether to play or leave a delivery from Broad and the ball struck the toe of his bat before going through to Matt Prior.

It was the 200th catch of Prior’s career on his 71st test appearance and left him third on the all-time list of England wicketkeepers, behind Alec Stewart (227) and Alan Knott (250).

The home team, 2-0 up in the five-match series, then wasted a video review when Broad hit Rogers in front on the pad but the replay showed the ball had pitched a couple of inches outside leg stump.

England went close again moments later when umpire Tony Hill gave Rogers out caught behind off Broad.

The video replay showed the ball clipping the pad, not the bat, and the hosts quickly changed their appeal to an lbw shout.

England’s players started celebrating when the big screen in the corner of the ground showed the ball striking the stumps but that appeal was also turned down because it was only clipping the top of the bails.

Captain Alastair Cook and his players remonstrated with Hill and his colleague Aleem Dar but to no avail.

Rogers responded in defiant manner by hitting two fours in one over from Bresnan.

Broad took his third wicket when Clarke slashed a wide ball to first slip where Cook took a good reaction catch high above his head.

When Bresnan had Steve Smith caught behind by Prior for 17 after lunch, it seemed as though England were ready to run through the Australian lineup. But Watson, demoted to number six for this test, provided a reassuring presence alongside Rogers.

Rogers reached his half-century with an edge off Broad that was put down by Graeme Swann as he dived full-length at second slip.

Watson played a classy shot for four through mid-wicket off Broad before following up with two more boundaries off Anderson, one a clip through square leg and another coming from a venomous pull through wide mid-on.

The Australian all-rounder finally fell in unlucky fashion just before the close of play, edging Broad to Prior who took a tumbling catch down the leg side.

Brad Haddin (12) was the other undefeated batsman when stumps were drawn early because of bad light.

(Editing by Brian Homewood and Pritha Sarkar)

‘Broken’ Tom Meagher returning to Ireland

The husband of murdered Melbourne woman Jill Meagher may move home to Ireland “a broken man” but one still trying to prevent a repeat of what happened to his wife.

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Tom Meagher has been considering returning to Ireland after his 29-year-old wife’s rape and murder in Brunswick in September, while also campaigning for reforms to Victoria’s parole system.

Moreland City Council mayor Oscar Yildiz, who is visiting Ms Meagher’s Irish hometown of Drogheda, said Mr Meagher would travel home later this month.

“He’s coming back later on this month, I guess just to clear his head and touch base with his family,” Mr Yildiz told Irish broadcaster RTE.

“He’s a broken man, but I just can’t believe how mentally tough he really is.

“He’s challenging our parole board back home in Victoria and he doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

Tom’s mother, Joan Meagher, said it had been difficult with her son being so far away and not being able to give him a hug.

She said Jill had not been forgotten.

“All of these people who didn’t even know Jill are shocked and outraged by what had happened to her,” she told reporters after an event with family members, Mr Yildiz and Drogheda mayor Richie Culhane.

“It’s unbelievable. We still find it difficult to grasp that this has happened to Jill and that she’s never coming back.”

Mr Yildiz said Ms Meagher’s death had left a lasting legacy.

“We’re still horrified by what’s happened,” he told the Drogheda event.

“I think our parole board has failed.”

Mr Meagher is due to meet with Victorian Premier Denis Napthine this week to discuss his concerns about the parole system, with victims and justice groups pressuring the government to make the parole board more transparent and accountable.

Mr Meagher is disappointed he was not interviewed as part of a now-completed review of the system, even though the investigation was sparked by his wife’s murder by convicted rapist Adrian Ernest Bayley, who was on parole.

Mr Meagher has demanded to know why the Adult Parole Board allowed Bayley to be paroled and why he was not sent back to jail even after he assaulted someone months before Ms Meagher’s murder.

Mr Yildiz says there are plans for a memorial to Ms Meagher in Brunswick, where the couple lived.

Moreland and Drogheda, north of Dublin, are also talking about establishing a twin-city relationship.

Move to reform NSW racial vilification laws

Migrant community groups have backed calls to reform racial vilification laws in New South Wales.

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Last year, Premier Barry O’Farrell launched a parliamentary inquiry into the current laws which date back to 1989.

 

Mr O’Farrell believes the laws have been ineffective because there have not been any successful prosecutions, despite over 27 public complaints being made about alleged breaches.

 

Michael Kenny has the details.

 

The inquiry is being conducted by the Upper House Standing Committee on Law and Justice, comprising three coalition members, two from Labor and one from the Greens.

 

It will focus on one particular aspect of the NSW Anti Discrimination Act, which has generated the most concern from migrant community groups and lawyers’ associations.

 

Section 20-D of the Act deals with the criminal offence of “serious racial vilification” and requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” for a prosecution.

 

Those prosecuted could face penalties of up to $5500 and six months’ jail.

 

However, they need to be found guilty of inciting hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule of a person or group by threatening physical harm to them or their property.

 

They could also be prosecuted if found guilty of inciting others to do so on the basis of their race.

 

The President of the NSW Anti Discrimination Board Stepan Kerkyasharian believes the current laws are too restrictive and should be broadened beyond the current focus on physical harm to also cover verbal insults.

 

“At the moment, the way that the racial vilification laws are structured- unless there is physical harm or physical violence, it is almost impossible to get a prosecution going and it is quite clear that verbal attack or oral attack and vilification can also be very harmful to individuals and it’s important that the law captures that.”

 

Similar views have been expressed by a range of community groups which put in written submissions to the inquiry.

 

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies says it has come across numerous cases where members of the Jewish community have launched serious complaints about vilification that were rejected because they did not meet the strict criteria for prosecution under the current laws.

 

In its submission to the inquiry, the Board of Deputies singled out a case where a public billboard on a prominent Sydney road included a statement which read “Jews make great lampshades”.

 

During the Holocaust, a commandant at a Nazi concentration camp at Bergen Belsen arranged for the skin of a Jewish inmate killed in the camp to be used to make a lampshade for the commandant’s wife.

 

Despite raising a complaint over the billboard, the Director of Public Prosecutions argued that the billboard writer could not be prosecuted because the sign did not incite others to physically harm Jewish people.

 

A spokesman for the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies David Knoll says he believes the case highlights the need to expand the public definition of vilification to specifically cover public billboards and cyberspace.

 

“It’s not a difficult thing to provide that public conduct includes electronic communication, including over the internet. That I think is one of the easier aspects of the law reform process. It would deal with it from the criminal perspective. There still needs to be adequate education of communities much more broadly as to how the internet works, who it affects and where it can actually result in influencing people to engage in bad behaviour. But getting the law right is an important step forward.”

 

A Muslim community group has also called for the laws to be changed.

 

In its submission to the inquiry, the Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations says members of the Muslim community have suffered more vilification since the September 11 attacks in 2001.

 

It believes one area where the Muslim community has encountered a lot of prejudice is through the development application process for new mosques and prayer centres in NSW.

 

FAIR believes some local councils have given in too easily to community concerns over noise or falling property prices and have blocked mosque applications on these grounds.

 

In its submission, it has called on the NSW Government to put specific provisions into the Discrimination Act, protecting places of worship from such treatment.

 

However a conservative research institute believes any changes to the current laws are unnecessary.

 

The Institute of Public Affairs claims there is currently too much duplication between state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

 

The Director of the Institute’s Legal Rights Project Simon Breheny also believes there could be serious consequences if the NSW Government pushed ahead with changes to the current laws.

 

“Any weakening of this law may have really significant implications for freedom of speech. There is no way that anyone in Australia should ever be convicted for expressing an opinion, even if it’s one that offends or insults someone.”

 

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ spokesman David Knoll believes there has been unnecessary scaremongering on the issue.

 

“Nobody and not least the Jewish community, want to cut off robust debate. Robust public debate is part of a healthy democracy. But just like you can’t shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre, you can’t intimidate and harass people to the point where they can’t engage in their own right of free speech”.

 

The parliamentary commitee will now consider more 40 written submissions and evidence gathered from two days of public hearings in Sydney.

 

The committee is due to hand down its final report and recommendations to the O’Farrell government by May the 31st.

Low cash rate does not mean an emergency

SYDNEY – The cash rate is now below where it was during the global financial crisis, but that doesn’t mean it’s at an “emergency” level.

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Back in 2008 and 2009, when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cut the cash rate from 7.25 per cent to 3.0 per cent in just eight months, the economy faced an emergency.

The world’s financial markets were in chaos and the world was heading into a recession. Some economies are yet to emerge from the slump which has left a residue of high unemployment across the developed world.

Australia’s cash rate, currently at 2.5 per cent, is lower now than it was then.

But there is more to policy than interest rates.

When the RBA assesses what it calls “monetary conditions” it looks at whether the exchange rate is high and restricting growth or low and boosting growth.

And it’s not just an afterthought.

The exchange rate matters.

A lot.

During that final hectic quarter of 2008, the Aussie dollar could buy 67 US cents on average.

Investors rightly judged that the Australian economy was in the firing line and they bailed out of it in droves.

But now, even despite a fall of more than 10 per cent since the start of the year, the Aussie can still buy around 90 US cents.

The foreign exchange market sure isn’t behaving as if there’s an emergency – it’s voted Australia as one of the best and safest places to park your money.

The downside of that vote of confidence is that the resulting high exchange rate has gone a long way to blunting the stimulatory effect of low interest rats.

And then there’s fiscal policy – the effect of the budget on the economy.

In 2012/13, the financial year just ended, spending by governments in Australia fell in real terms.

The national accounts go back over half a century and that was the first such a contraction on record.

The latest budget statement from the government predicts a rise this year, but it will not fully offset the fall that came before it.

So, there will still be a contractionary effect spread over two years – another first for fiscal policy.

Among all this, the economy is not doing too badly.

Five years ago, it was looking down the barrel of the recession that so many economies failed to avoid.

This year, though, the big problem is that the economy is “growing a bit below trend”, as the RBA put it on Tuesday, and needs a bit of a push along.

The cash rate is lower than it otherwise might be in this situation because the second arm of monetary policy – the exchange rate – isn’t working and because fiscal policy is working in the opposite direction.

But there’s no emergency.

North and South Korea agree to talks

The surprise offer from Pyongyang proposes discussions on a range of commercial and humanitarian issues, from reopening a joint industrial complex, to resuming cross-border family reunions.

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But some commentators have expressed doubt at whether long-term change will be achieved at the talks.

 

Biwa Kwan reports.

 

Hostility between North and South Korea reached fever pitch earlier this year in March and April after the UN voted to impose tougher sanctions on Pyongyang in response to the North’s third underground nuclear test.

 

But now there are hopes both countries are moving toward a thaw in relations after North Korea announced its openness to hold talks with South Korea for the first time in years.

 

In a statement reported by state media on Thursday, Pyongyang has proposed the talks focus on the Kaesong joint industrial zone which was shut down at the height of tensions in early April.

 

The government says it is also open to discussions on humanitarian issues such as reunions between family members separated after the 1950-53 Korean War.

 

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye welcomed North Korea’s gesture.

 

Spokesman for the South Korean Unification Ministry Kim Hyung-Suk says the government is determined to develop policy initiatives to build trust between the two countries.

 

“Our government considers North Korea’s offer positively. And we hope the talks between the South and North Korean authorities can be an opportunity to build mutual trust between the two Koreas, as our government has emphasized several times under the Trust Building Process policy.”

 

China has welcomed the move.

 

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei says China has high hopes for what the talks can achieve.

“China expresses happiness and welcomes North and South Korea’s decision to resume contact and dialogue. We have always supported North and South Korea resolving their problems and improving relations through dialogue and consultation. We hope that the relevant parties cherish this momentum for talks which has not come about easily.”

 

UN chief Ban Ki-moon says he hopes the talks will go a long way to reducing tensions and promoting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

 

Analyst of Korean affairs at Sydney University Dr Leonid Petrov says the invitation by North Korea to hold talks marks a changed strategy by North Korea in dealing with growing tensions over its nuclear program as well pressures from an ailing domestic economy.

 

“In order for the elites (in North Korea) to survive, Kim Jong Un needs humanitarian aid and during the Sunshine policy aid in the form rice, fertilisers, technology would go to North Korea unconditionally. And resuming good relations with South Korea would be instrumental for the survival of the regime. So even inter-Korean cooperation to some degree is important for North Korea. Kim Jong Un also wants to improve relations with the United States which is also absolutely necessary for the survival of North Korea.

 

But he says there are a number of stumbling blocks that makes long-term change in the relationship between the two Koreas unlikely.

 

“I think there is a window of opportunity which we should look forward to but again I must warn you that again don’t expect too much because the differences between North and South Korea are irreconcilable and the policy of both states for too long, for the last 65 years absolutely adamant about the elimination of the other state. But it looks like there is some interest to avoid an extremely volatile and dangerous situation something that what happened on the Korean peninsula just a couple of months ago when you remember North and South Korean were on the verge of new war.”

 

The date and venue of the talks are yet to be worked out, but North Korea says it wants the talks inside North Korea and at a lower level than the ministerial meeting proposed by the South Korean government.

 

North Korea says it will restore an official hotline with rival South Korea to allow discussions to continue.

 

Could more have been done to prevent boat tragedy?

On the 21st of the June last year, more than 100 asylum seekers are believed to have drowned trying to make their way to Christmas Island from Indonesia.

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It was in the early hours of the morning, on their fourth day at sea, that their boat, carrying 212 asylum seekers, capsized.

Seventeen bodies were taken to Christmas Island, leaving the West Australian Coroner to determine the cause of their deaths.

 

The rest were lost at sea.

 

Ryan Emery reports ahead of the Coroner’s findings to be handed down this Wednesday.

 

The inquest that examined Australia’s and Indonesia’s actions leading up the asylum seekers’ deaths lasted five days.

 

On the final day, counsel assisting the Coroner, Marco Tedeschi, said it was inevitable that 212 asylum seekers bound for Christmas Island would meet tragedy.

 

He said their wooden vessel was overcrowded, waves were washing overboard, and it was pure luck they got as far as they did before disaster struck.

 

It was about 4:30 am when, as one survivor told the court, the sound of the boat’s engine suddenly changed and in less than 15 seconds the asylum seekers were in the water.

 

Many of them had been asleep.

 

Of the more than 100 believed drowned, most were trapped in the upturned hull.

 

Another survivor, known as KVA 10 to protect his identity, told the court:

 

“I saw people crying for God, their mum, their imam. It is hard for me to mention that time.”

 

The Pakistani man told the court that from the moment the asylum-seekers left Indonesia four days earlier they had feared for their lives.

 

After complaining about the boat being overcrowded, they were assured another boat would meet them off the Indonesian coast.

 

They waited, but it never did arrive, leaving one crew member furious.

 

As they went further out to sea, the increasingly large rolling swell tossed their vessel around.

 

Waves crashed over the side with a bilge pump taking the water back out, except when it broke down on a few terrifying occasions.

 

KVA 10 told the court that he called Indonesian police on the boat’s satellite phone, and was told to ring Australian authorities – despite the boat being in Indonesian waters.

 

“I just prayed to God to see any boat to help us.”

 

KVA 10 said those on board understood the danger they were in.

 

“Why should we die? People were crying and that we must go back. People were throwing up and were saying for God’s sake let us go back. They knew definitely that we would die.”

 

As they went further out to sea, they began to call Australia’s Rescue Co-ordination Centre asking for help, but the centre staff struggled to make out what they were saying.

 

“(Garbled sound of someone talking and high wind). RCC: “OK sir, if I’m going to speak to you, I need you to step out of the wind. I cannot hear you. I cannot hear what you’re saying. You need to get out of the wind.” (More garbled sounds).

 

Many of the calls would continue like this.

 

The RCC staff tried to get a position of the boat or how long they had been at sea.

 

“(Asylum seeker): “No good conditions, help, please my help”. (RCC): “OK, no good conditions, do you have a GPS position?” (Asylum seeker): “Yeah, GPS (garbled talking). OK, (garbled talking).”

 

Eventually after many calls, and attempts to use translators, the RCC learnt where the boat was.

 

“(RCC): “OK, sir, your boat, if it’s broken, you need to turn back to Indonesia. You are still inside Indonesian waters. If your boat is broken, Christmas Island is a long way away, you need to go back to Indonesia.” (Asylum seeker/crew member): “OK, OK, OK.” (silence, garbled sounds). RCC: “OK, if – are you there?” (silence; garbled sounds). (RCC): “Hello. (laughter) that sorted that out (laughter).”

 

During the inquest, the manager of the RCC, Allan Lloyd described the calls from the boat as “normal refugee patter”.

 

He said that out of 209 boats that had called for help, only eight actually needed it.

 

But he bristled at a suggestion from counsel assisting the Coroner that distress calls weren’t treated seriously by the Australia Maritime Safety Authority, which operates the Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

 

He said the suggestion was offensive, with AMSA having a more than 99 per cent success rate with finding asylum seeker boats in Australian waters.

 

Mr Lloyd told the court that the boat was never classified as in distress and it was constantly monitored.

 

When pushed on how, he said some of the techniques were classified.

 

He also wouldn’t reveal how the Rescue Coordination Centre determined from phone calls if a boat really was in trouble.

 

He refused on the ground that it would give people smugglers ideas.

 

The inquest is examining Australia’s and Indonesia’s actions leading up to the drowning tragedy.

 

When the first call was made, Australia tried to hand the search to Indonesia’s search and rescue organization BASNARAS because the boat was in its waters.

 

After 11 hours, BASNARAS took responsibility for the search.

 

But it emerged from the inquest that Australia never asked BASNARAS what assets it had to search for the asylum seekers.

 

Allan Lloyd from the Rescue Coordination Centre said AMSA had what he called a “strategic understanding” of what BASNARAS had available, but had not asked for the specifics with this search.

 

Coroner Alastair Hope remarked that he was surprised.

 

The Coroner was also surprised to hear that the West Australian police officer investigating the tragedy, was not given an internal government review into AMSA actions.

 

Detective Inspector David Bryson only received the report on the last day of the inquest and is now assessing it to see if it will change his conclusion of AMSA’s handling of the situation.

 

He had concluded that AMSA had followed its international search and rescue obligations correctly.

 

It also emerged that a Federal Police officer, the liaison between WA police and the federal agencies concerned, may have told Customs and Border Protection not to provide classified information.

 

Coroner Alastair Hope will hand down his findings this Wednesday.

Henry Tax review: Bad for miners, good for journos

With my old financial journalist colleagues really dreading the trip to Canberra to cover the outcomes of the Henry Tax Review, potentially 138 changes to Australia’s tax system, who could blame me? But with just five of the recommendations taken up, plus some additional measures on superannuation, it wasn’t so bad, for us journalists to go through anyway.

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It was being billed as possibly the biggest reform to taxation in decades. Was it? The resounding response, is no.

Still, the centrepiece of the review is a 40 per cent Resource Super Profits Tax, a somewhat steal from the rich, and give to the poor strategy.

Michael Happell, the national energy and resources leader at PriceWaterhouseCoopers warns as is, the new tax may see an exodus in the long-term of investment dollars from Australia to other resource rich regions.

But given Australia’s economy is largely being driven by the resources boom, a boom which still has plenty of legs, it’s unsurprising such a tax has been devised. This boom has led to a rise in commodity prices, boosting exports and as a result, profits and wages locally. That in turn is adding to inflation and rising interest rates.

Economists at St George say, if the new tax means the resources sector grows a little bit slower than it other wise would, and interest rates are a little lower than they would be without the tax, then it maybe a useful tool in helping smooth the balancing of resource allocation with our economy.

Mining companies have until the 2012/13 year to prepare for the measures when they come into effect, and even then, there’s a 5 year phase-in.

To help offset that to a small degree, is a lowering of company tax rates by 2 percentage points to 28 per cent by 2014/15. The small business tax rate will fall to 28 per cent, earlier, by 2012.

As for the super reforms, Mike Forsdick, a partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, says the impact on individuals will be positive with the exception of higher income earners who can expect to see a reduction in the tax concessions on their contributions. While for business, there will be increased costs, but higher benefits for most Australians.

The guts of the plan, sees a phased rise in the compulsory employers super guarantee from 9% to 12% by 2010.

But 12% still isn’t enough according to Noelle Kelleher, a tax parter at Deloitte. Quoting one of its surveys, Kelleher says a sliding scale of compulsory contribution rates, based on the employee’s age would be preferred, where the top rate would be 15% for those over 50 years old, 12% for those between 35 and 49 and 9% for employees below 35 years of age.

What we will see though are more government payments for low-income workers into their superannuation, a handout of $500 for those earning less than $37,000.

The main advantage higher paid Australians will have, is the ability to contribute $50,000 in concessional super contributions if their super balance is below $500,000 and they’re over the age of 50, from July 2012.

Interestingly, these changes to superannuation, weren’t part of the Henry Tax Review.

The focus has also been on what has been left out of the review; no change to taxes on petrol, luxury cars or alcohol; the Medicare levy hasn’t been removed; nor recognising the family home in means tests. These are just a few of a long list prepared by many economists.

There’ll be negligible budgetary impacts according to CommSec, but we’ll get confirmation of that next week, when the Federal Budget hands down on May 11.