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Telstra faces $80m hit to earnings

The competition watchdog’s push to make Telstra cut prices for other telcos accessing its copper wire network could affect future investment decisions and eat into profits.

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Telstra estimates that the ruling by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission last Friday will cut $80 million from the telco’s revenue and earnings.

Chief executive Andy Penn, who on Tuesday addressed his first Telstra annual general meeting since becoming chief executive in May, said the telco was considering an appeal against the ACCC’s order for a 10 per cent price cut.

Mr Penn said any regulated entity should be concerned by the ACCC’s decision, which went against the watchdog’s own principles.

Those principles should allow a regulated company investing in infrastructure, such as Telstra, to recover the costs of providing that infrastructure to every body that uses it.

Otherwise, investment in important infrastructure was unlikely to be made.

“If we’re not able to recover the costs, which is what the principles say, then obviously that has to influence decisions in the future,” Mr Penn told reporters after the meeting.

“The short-term implication is that it impacts Telstra’s profitability by up to $80 million in FY16 (2015/16 financial year).

“But it also introduces price instability during an important period to the NBN (National Broadband Network), so I don’t think it could be good for anybody.”

Telstra had argued that the migration of services to the NBN meant it had to charge its remaining fixed line customers more to maintain the same level of service.

Telstra had 211,000 NBN customers at June 30.

Mr Penn said a separate ACCC ruling on wholesale prices for mobile terminating access services would reduce revenue by $350 million but not have a material effect on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation.

Telstra made a $4.23 billion profit in 2014/15, and lifted total dividends for the year to 30.5 cents per share, up 3.4 per cent on the prior year.

The telco also completed a $1 billion share buy-back.

The annual gathering of Telstra shareholders was a surprisingly short and tame affair, given that the telco has such a large base of “mum and dad” investors.

Questions on the company’s business and financial reports opened with more than a minute of silence from shareholders, and the five subsequent questions from the floor required barely 20 minutes in total to cover.

Parliament to crack down on tax dodgers

The federal government will be seeking the opposition’s support for new laws that crack down on tax-dodging multinationals but Labor looks to be on its own pursuing Malcolm Turnbull over his offshore investments.

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There are hopes that the four-day sitting of the lower house starting on Monday will also bring a breakthrough in talks between the government and Labor on passing the China free trade agreement.

Senators will quiz ministers and senior officials in a week of estimates hearings.

Labor spent much of last week’s parliamentary question time attacking the prime minister for making personal investments in the Cayman Islands.

But Deputy Greens Leader Scott Ludlam didn’t think it was a good idea trying to make Mr Turnbull the “poster boy” for multinational tax avoidance.

Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm thought it was “embarrassing” and didn’t think there should be a debate about the prime minister’s wealth.

Labor’s Ed Husic defended the attack saying it is all about options for people, some of which have been taken away by the coalition government, like superannuation contributions for lower income families.

Tax changes introduced by former treasurer Joe Hockey on September 16 will be a priority for the sitting week as they are due to start on January 1.

The bill imposes stronger penalties on large companies that engage in tax avoidance and profit shifting, and introduces country-by-country reporting to give tax authorities greater visibility of multinationals tax structures.

The laws will apply to 1000 large multinationals operating in Australia with annual global revenue of $1 billion or more – companies that pose the highest risk to Australia’s tax base.

Senate estimates hearings will kick off with the environment committee examining the environment department, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and climate-related agencies.

The financial and public administrations committee will examine two parliamentary departments, the Parliamentary Budget Office, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, auditor-general and ombudsman.

The Australian Border Force, which began on July 1, will face its first estimates hearing along with the immigration department and officials from Operation Sovereign Borders.

The rural and regional affairs and transport committee will start its hearings on Monday looking at the infrastructure department and its agencies.

Growing threat from teen radicals

Proposed terror laws to restrict the movements of children as young as 14 were prompted by increasing intelligence from security agencies about the growing threat of teen radicalisation.

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The latest national counter-terrorism laws, which among other things would reduce the age from 16 to 14 at which control orders can be applied to terror suspects, have drawn the ire of civil liberty groups as well as cross-bench senators.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also raised concerns and stopped short of guaranteeing support for the proposed laws, which were announced on Monday night, saying the government must be careful not to “ostracise young people or push them further into the arms of those who would do harm to Australian society and Australians”.

But the head of the federal parliament’s key security and intelligence committee says there is a growing body of evidence that tougher laws are needed.

“There is, as far as I understand it, evidence that’s coming through from the agencies and from the police saying, ‘Look we have to do something now about people aged 15 and 14,'” said Liberal MP Dan Tehan, who chairs the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security.

“It’s very sad that this is what’s happening and that people are deliberately going out and grooming these children.”

Mr Tehan’s comments on Tuesday follow similar warnings from ASIO chief Duncan Lewis, who has previously described it as “heart-breaking” that children as young as 14 are being targeted by terror groups such as Islamic State, also known as ISIL.

Attorney-General George Brandis said he is comfortable with 14-year-olds being detained without charge, pointing to the execution-style murder on October 2 in Sydney’s west in which 15-year-old Farhad Jabar shot dead a NSW Police civilian employee.

“Sadly, the Parramatta shooting shows that people younger than 16 are capable of being inspired to commit terrorist crimes and the law must reflect this reality,” Senator Brandis told AAP.

The announcement of the new laws on Monday night came after NSW Premier Mike Baird wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling for the control-order age to be lowered following the Parramatta shooting.

Senator Brandis insisted the laws would include “protections and safeguards for minors”, including limiting the capacity of police to question or deal with suspects “in a way that is regarded, given the age of the person, to be unreasonable”.

Mr Shorten said Labor is willing to work with the government on the new laws, but will not be offering “an automatic agreement”.

“So whilst on one hand it sounds draconian to have control orders on 14-year-olds, I also get that the police are trying to work through the issues,” Mr Shorten said.

Bret Walker SC, a former independent national security legislation monitor, said there is “justification” in lowering the age of those who can be covered by a control order but he warned that authorities could also justify lowering it further when “something is perpetrated by someone even younger”.

“We need to brace ourselves for what happens when a 12-year-old is discovered doing something that ought to be the subject of questioning,” Mr Walker said.

A final draft of the counter-terrorism bill will be sent to state and territory governments this week, with the federal government wanting the legislation dealt with by the parliament before the end of this year.

Labor unfazed by Turnbull poll lead

A Labor strategist says there’s no prospect of a leader change before the election, despite Malcolm Turnbull’s dominance in the polls.

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An analysis of the most recent major polls puts the Liberal-National coalition on 52.8 per cent of the two-party vote.

The latest Newspoll published on Tuesday gave Mr Turnbull a 63 per cent preferred prime minister rating, with Bill Shorten slumping to 17 per cent.

It is Mr Shorten’s worst result since taking on the Labor leadership after the 2013 election.

Labor strategist Bruce Hawker told AAP Mr Turnbull was still enjoying a poll honeymoon.

“It’s not in prospect at all,” he said of a leadership change.

“Given the honeymoon that Malcolm Turnbull has enjoyed, 52-48 isn’t the worst possible result.”

Mr Hawker puts the result down to Mr Turnbull steering his party to the political centre and appearing to embrace some of Labor’s policies and themes.

He says a March 2016 double-dissolution election – about six months before a poll is due – is a distinct possibility.

However, Mr Turnbull will need to keep his own party onside.

“Some of the inherent tensions in his prime ministership are going to have to be resolved,” Mr Hawker says.

“There are tensions in his own party over his social reforming agenda and tensions with the public over his fiscal conservatism.”

Mr Turnbull on Tuesday declined to comment on the polls, joking that his lift was due to an announcement about a new chief scientist.

Liberal frontbencher Scott Ryan told Sky News he senses the community wants to hear solutions, not bickering.

“They’re sick of partisan bickering,” he said.

Opposition frontbencher Brendan O’Connor said Labor was focused on delivering policies and keeping the government accountable.

“We’ll continue to focus on policies … and we’ll have further announcements to make as we present our case to the Australian people as to why we’re a better alternative than the government,” he said.

On Tuesday, Labor announced it would fund a redress scheme for victims of institutional abuse.

Migrant surge continues amid EU slowdown

With freezing weather setting in, tens of thousands of migrants surging across Europe could face even more hurdles after European Union leaders pledged to stem their flow by introducing tighter border controls.

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EU leaders committed at a weekend summit to helping the Balkans handle the flow of people making their way through the region en route to more prosperous countries.

But with record numbers arriving from the Middle East, Asia and Africa, the moves will likely make their journeys more difficult.

On Monday, thousands of people, including many women, children and elderly, waited in long lines at the Croatian and Slovenia borders as the flow of humanity continued unabated.

“It is not difficult for me, but for people with families and children, it is so hard,” said a 19-year-old Afghan, Habibi Loh.

Humanitarian officials warned of plummeting winter temperatures.

“In the short term, the situation is manageable,” said Antonija Zaniuk of the Slovenian Red Cross.

“We have a lot of winter clothing, blankets. We are distributing cups of tea, food. But, in the long term, who knows.”

In a statement seeking to paper over deep divisions about how to handle the crisis, the EU and Balkan leaders meeting in Brussels committed to bolster the borders of Greece as it struggles to cope with the wave of refugees who cross over through Turkey.

They also pledged to boost the capacities of reception centres in Greece and along the Balkans route to shelter 100,000 more people as winter looms and additional EU border watchdog agency officials are deployed to monitor the flow.

“This is a step in the right direction and now it is crucial to respect the commitments,” said Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, whose tiny Alpine nation has been overwhelmed since Hungary put up a fence on the border with Serbia and Croatia, diverting the flow to Slovenia.

Slovenia has hinted that it will build a fence on the border with Croatia if the migrant surge becomes too difficult to handle.

“OK, place a fence, but if you are not ready to shoot at the people, it will not stop anyone,” Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said amid a spat between the two neighbours over how to handle the crisis.

Croatian police said that as of early Monday, more than 13,000 migrants had arrived from Serbia over the previous 24 hours, while Slovenian police reported nearly 10,000 arrivals from Croatia in the same period.

Further west, in Austria, some 3,500 people had to sleep outside in the cold autumn weather, while Germany said it had seen 15,000 arrivals over the weekend.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic warned that addressing the crisis will take time.

“We will all be able to achieve some results in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

“But, it is clear that this crisis cannot be solved in a few weeks or months, but will improve step by step.”

Sunday’s meeting was called in response to a string of chaotic actions taken by countries along the route.

With no real ability to control Greece’s porous island border or stop people leaving Turkey for sanctuary or jobs in Europe, the EU wants to restore some order and apply the brakes on those passing through.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday she remained confident Germany can integrate the large number of refugees who are arriving, and noted that many won’t stay forever.

Q&A: Should we all become vegetarians?

Here’s what experts have to say about what this new warning means for your diet:

Q: What meats are they talking about exactly?

A: The International Agency for Research on Cancer’s definitions of processed meat and red meat are very wide.

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Processed meats encompass any meats that have been “transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.” This would include sausages, corned beef, hot dogs, beef jerky, canned meat, meat-based preparations and sauces, turkey and chicken cold cuts, as well as bacon.

Red meat refers to “all types of mammalian muscle meat,” such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse – even goat.

Q: What kind of cancers did the scientists look at?

A: For processed meat, the carcinogen label was given based on studies about colorectal cancer. They also found an association between processed meat and stomach cancer. For red meat, the data pointed to associations with colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers.

Q: Why do they think these are dangerous to our health?

A: Scientists think that something bad happens to meat during the process of salting, curing or other treatment that causes the build up of carcinogenic chemicals such as N-nitroso-compounds (NOC) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in the food. In red meat, cooking can also produce suspected carcinogens – in this case heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) and PAH. The IARC’s report, published in Lancet Oncology, notes that “high-temperature cooking by pan-frying, grilling or barbecuing generally produces the highest amounts of these chemicals.”

Q: What’s the distinction between the classification that the IARC gave to processed meat vs. red meat?

A: The group put processed meat products into its highest risk category meaning that they believe there’s pretty strong evidence to back up this link. It’s the same designation that has been given to really serious cancer-causing agents, such as air pollution and different types of radiation.

Red meat was put into the second highest category of being a “probable” carcinogen meaning that there’s limited evidence of the link in humans but a lot of evidence in experimental animals.

Q: Oh-oh. I eat a lot of meat. What do I do now?

A: The IARC’s director, Christopher Wild, said that the group’s findings support recommendations to “limit” intake of meat. But Wild also hedged a bit saying that red meat has “nutritional value.”

The American Cancer Society’s Susan Gapsur recommends that people who do eat meat begin to cut back on the amount of red meat they consume and “really limit” their intake of processed meat. Gapsur, a vice president for epidemiology, said people should be moving toward a more plant-based diet and choose fruits, vegetables, and beans as alternatives to meat.

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, said her recommendation on processed meat and red meat the same: Eat less. But Nestle stops short of recommending everyone should become a vegetarian.

“Some people are interpreting it as don’t eat meat at all. I don’t know if that’s reasonable,” she said. “The evidence against processed meat is very strong, but it’s very hard to consider giving up. A BLT is really a wonderful thing.”

She said that a number of the studies that link meat to risk of cancers involve individuals who eat meat multiple times a week, if not at every meal, rather than occasional consumers of meat. These people may have other unhealthy habits like exercising less that elevate their risk of cancer. Nestle emphasized that “you don’t need a special diet for cancer.”

“The same healthy diet that is good for heart disease is also good for cancer: a largely-but not necessarily exclusively-plant-based diet,” she said.

Q: That’s helpful, but what I really need to know is the bottom line. What’s a safe level of meat consumption? Is it okay for me to eat a hamburger with bacon twice a week? Once a week? Once a month?

A: While scientists have come up with those sorts of general recommendation for alcohol consumption (one drink a day), none exists for meat. A person’s individual biology is complex and a safe level for one person may not be safe for another. It depends on what the rest of your diet looks like, how often you exercise, your genes and a whole slew of other factors.

US dietary guidelines recommend that Americans eat diets rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, legumes and dairy and stay away from red meat but they don’t offer any specific numbers. The World Cancer Research Fund International comes the closest – suggesting that people who eat red meat consume less than 500 grams (18 oz) a week and very little if any processed meat.

But American Cancer Society’s Gapsur emphasized in an interview that “we don’t know if there is any perfectly safe level.”

“The risk increases with the amount consumed,” she said. “The best we can recommend is decreasing your consumption.”

The IARC’s report that came out this week says that if you eat 50 grams of processed meat (the equivalent of a few slices of bacon) every day – or a total of 350 grams a week – your risk of colon cancer goes up by 18 percent. That’s a lot. But keep in mind that this is a relative increase in risk and for some cancers your risk of developing the disease is not very high to begin with depending on your age, gender and other factors.

Voting irregularities in Myanmar election reach Australia

It is less than three weeks until parliamentary elections in Myanmar, seen as a key test of the country’s moves towards democratic reforms.

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But, already, questions of polling legitimacy have arisen, with would-be voters overseas — including in Australia — saying they have been turned away from the ballot box.

“That’s a nice photo of Aung San Suu Kyi, our leader, doing the electioneering in her campaign.”

Scanning news reports at her Sydney home, Hnin Sandar Htay recalls applying months ago to cast an early ballot for Myanmar’s parliamentary polls.

Then the young doctor received bad news a short time ago.

“Two to three days before the actual voting process, and then the early voter list came out. I was not on that list. And I was shocked, because I already prepared to go to give a vote in Canberra.”

A quarter of a century ago, in the 1990 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won an 80 per cent majority.

But the military nullified the result, returning Myanmar to military rule.

This time, the National League for Democracy is predicted to possibly do well enough to lead a coalition of smaller parties.

Many of Ms Suu Kyi’s supporters are within the millions-strong diaspora, including in Australia.

Hnin Sandar Htay says the importance of the moment makes her disappointment worse.

“Yeah, so disappointed, because this is the moment, the biggest moment and most important in so many decades for our country to have this opportunity to change our country. Our leader, Daw Suu, is in her retiring age, you know, 70 years old, so, if we can’t grab this opportunity, we never know what can happen, you know?”

Political observers agree it is a critical juncture for the once pariah state.

In Melbourne, Deakin University professor Damien Kingsbury is set to lead one of several Australian monitoring teams to Myanmar.

“It may result in a partial democracy. That is, that perhaps 75 per cent of the seats in parliament will be elected. And that’s a very good step. It’s certainly better than what Myanmar’s had in the past, where you didn’t have elections. So it’s a step in a democratic direction. It won’t amount to a full democracy just yet, and it may never amount to a full democracy.”

But at embassies and voting centres in Singapore, Thailand and elsewhere, many citizens say they have been denied.

Myanmar’s government says, of more than 2 million registered workers abroad, just 34,000 registered to vote in time.

In Australia, Hnin Sandar Htay and other Myanmarese nationals say their names just were not on electoral lists.

Others say they were registered with Myanmar’s Union Election Commission but not with the embassy in Canberra.

And still others say they could only vote in one of the three parliamentary categories involved.

Damien Kingsbury says he is not sure the problems are intentional.

“There are some logistical problems. I don’t think it’s the government trying to derail the process. Rather, I think it’s just the sheer complexity and the fact they haven’t done this for a very long time.”

But a National League for Democracy supporter from the Sydney-based Burma Office, Dr Myint Cho, thinks differently.

“I don’t think it’s a mistake. They deliberately take that kind of action to make many eligible voters to become ineligible for voting. Friends of mine told me they got information from the embassy, let’s say, (on the) 16th of October. So, (the) 17th is voting date. How can they fly in from other parts of Australia to go to Canberra to vote?”

The Union Election Commission has rejected accusations of bias at overseas advance-voting sites.

But Myint Cho says, in Myanmar itself, voter lists are strewn with errors.

He says the Election Commission, led by a retired general, cannot be impartial.

“The Election Commission disqualified nearly a hundred candidates of the opposition parties, particularly the Democracy and Human Rights Party formed by Muslim politicians. And another thing is, the commission cancelled the votes of 33 townships, based on the reason of ‘security’.”

President Thein Sein’s ruling United Solidarity and Development Party has also stripped Myanmar’s million-strong Rohingya Muslim minority of voting rights.

Australian business leaders in Myanmar say they want stability and transparency from the polls.

Then, afterwards, they hope for movement on stalled mining laws to make oil and gas exploration leases longer.

Ben Parker is from the Australian Myanmar Chamber of Commerce.

“I think it’s really important for any new, incoming government to progress those laws, to encourage foreign investment and to encourage the extractive industries in a transparent manner.”

One analyst suggests the National League for Democracy would be better for foreign business.

He says Aung San Suu Kyi’s party may well prove stricter on environmental protections but it is strongly committed to the rule of law.

 

 

Breast cancer hitting younger women harder, report finds

Younger women have a harder battle to beat breast cancer – so says a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

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It finds cancer causes one death a week in women aged between 20 and 39 years.

The new report is the first to look closely at the situation facing young women with the disease. Emma Hannigan reports.

Sunaina Kalra’s breast cancer may be gone, but she is now left with infertility, early menopause and the psychological effects.

She was 35 years old with two small children when she discovered that she had cancer.

“I went through this thing, ‘Are you still a woman when you have your ovaries, your breasts, your uterus removed?’ I don’t think the gravity of what was happening impacted me until much later when all the hormone stuff started and you are menopausal at 35, instantly.”

Young women are expected to account for five per cent of new breast cancer cases in Australia in 2015.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report has found 795 women aged between 20 and 39 years are likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

65 of them will die from the disease – that’s an average of two diagnoses a day, and one death a week.

Institute spokesman Justin Harvey says the survival rate for women under 40 is lower than it is among older women.

“More women who were aged 20 to 30 were diagnosed with very large cancers of fifty millimetres or more, and also the cancers diagnosed for young women tend to be more aggressive.”

Cassandra Boyle was 34 when she was diagnosed.

A double mastectomy and a hysterectomy followed.

“I see a pregnant woman and I think, ‘That would have been really good and that is really sad’. What I have learnt now is that it is okay to say ‘you know, that is really sad’ and it is okay to talk about this rather than focusing on ‘But you are alive, you made it, it is behind you.’ But you know what, this stuff isn’t, this stuff is still with me today.”

Professor Helen Zorbas, Cancer Australia CEO, says many women under 40 think that they are too young to have cancer.

“We know that mammography is not an effective screening test in women under 40 so it is especially important that women know the normal look and feel of their breasts. That is how most breast cancers in young women are found.”

However the report has also found women have a better chance of beating the disease now than they did 20 years ago.

 

Moves mooted to bridge super gender gap

The federal government is mooting changes to superannuation to help boost the super investments of those who have to take time out of the workforce.

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There have also been calls to make superannuation tax benefits more uniform, and to bring down capital gains tax concessions.

There are many reasons a person has to take time out from work: illness, to care for someowne who’s sick or elderly, or having a baby or raising children.

People taking time off on parental leave are not usually contributing to superannuation – it’s one reason why women can find themselves retiring with $85,000 less in super than men.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has presented a proposal to allow women who take time off work to have a child, and carers, to top-up their superannuation deposits when re-entering the workforce without being subject to tax penalties.

He told 2GB Radio the government recognises that women in particular are prone to having their work patterns disrupted, making it harder to build up their superannuation.

“One of the things that has happened over the last 25 years is, I think, that we have become more aware of how things change over a person’s working life. People’s working patterns are far more flexible today and we need to have a superannuation system that, I think, reflects those changes in people’s lives. There are many different pathways to get to where we want them to get to — which is independence in retirement — and the system at the moment can be quite rigid.”

Labor spokesman on financial services and superannuation Jim Chalmers says the fact 38 per cent of the tax concessions go to the top 10 per cent in the superannuation system is also unfair.

Mr Chalmers says the government has cut the low income superannuation contribution and is freezing the superannuation guarantee at 9.5%.

He questions the government’s claims it wants to address the gender-gap in superannuation savings.

“They are cutting the low-income superannuation contribution for 3.5 million Australians, of which 2.2 million are Australian women. They are also freezing the superannuation guarantee which costs the average retirement balance something like $20,000.”

He says they should give Australian women a fair go in the superannuation system by reversing the cuts they are making to their retirement balances.

Mr Chalmers says a senate inquiry is underway to investigate ways to reduce the large retirement income gap between men and women.

He says if women are to improve their savings for retirement, the gender pay gap also needs to be addressed.

Meanwhile, economics advisory agency Deloitte Access Economics has recommended the Government change the way it taxes super contributions to spread the benefits to low income earners.

The study shows that high-income earners, the majority of whom are men, are getting much greater benefits from the current superannuation tax concessions than low income earners.

Deloitte’s Chris Richardson says a flat rate tax discount of 15 percent would not only spread the benefits, but also raise about 6-billion-dollars in government revenue.

“This gives everybody in Australia the same tax break from putting an extra dollar into super, 15 cents to the dollar. Much fairer, (it) would save the government a chunk of money and that, in turn, might unlock the gates to tax reform more widely.”

The Deloitte report also recommends the government reduce tax breaks on capital gains.

It recommends the current tax discount on profits from the sale of property and shares be reduced from a half, to one third.

 

 

 

Marking 30 years since Uluru-Kata Tjuta restored to Anangu

They’re commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the return of native land title to the Anangu people.

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A musical offering as crowds gather to commemorate the handback of 1985.

It’s been 30 years since the historic agreement was made.

The Anangu people are the original inhabitants and traditional custodians of Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

The deal saw the Hawke Labor government hand the land’s native title deeds back to the traditional owners.

Then Governor General, Sir Ninian Stephen, handed over the deeds on the condition the land be leased back to the Commonwealth for 99 years.

Pamela Taylor is an Anangu Traditional Owner.

She’s the daughter of Tony Tjamiwa who was instrumental in working towards the handback in 1985.

She can still remember the scene on the day.

“A huge amount of animals were here. All the animals all the dogs, all the white fellas. You couldn’t move there were so many people here.”

She recalls how she felt at the time.

“We were just so happy. We were so happy that after all that struggle, all the talking, the fight to get it back – that it was finally going to be given back. The word went out and everybody started to realise that it was actually going to happen, so they started coming in. Everybody drew together to celebrate – it was a really happy time.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion says the traditional owners of Uluru have been let down by Australia in the deal.

Mr Scullion says the rock has always belonged to them.

He says the deal isn’t complete because the opportunities have never been provided to the community members in the way they should have been.

“I have to say it’s a bit of a bitter-sweet celebration. It’s a great celebration. It’s a day that celebrates monumental things. It was a great example of an act of justice and an act of generosity within minutes of each other.”

Mr Scullion says efforts to create work in tourism for the local people need to be redoubled.

“This has got to be a proper partnership and this has got to be the resetting of this partnership. We are equals in this at best, it’s their land. They should lead and we should support that lead. And that sort of relationship is a respectful and proper cultural relationship and I think that’s failed in the past.”

Aboriginal man and musician Dan Sultan was two years old when he witnessed the hand-back.

He’s returned to the rock to perform at the celebrations.

For Anangu Traditional Owner Nyinku Jingo the hand-back symbolises opportunities that could still arise in the future.

“I think that there should be some really good training facilities developed here for the young ones so that there’s more training and employment.”

It’s a look back into the past, to find a new way forward.

 

 

Blair admits to mistakes in invading Iraq under Hussein

In an interview on United States television, Mr Blair has apologised for mistakes made in planning the war, but he says he does not regret bringing down Saddam Hussein.

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Former British prime minister Tony Blair has apologised for supporting the United States-led invasion of Iraq with intelligence that turned out to be wrong.

Ahead of the invasion, the US, British and Australian leaders based their case partly on intelligence they said pointed to Iraq having weapons of mass destruction.

The Western powers later found none after driving Iraqi president Saddam Hussein out of power.

Tony Blair has now apologised for relying on the false intelligence and for what he calls “planning mistakes”.

“I can also apologise, by the way, for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime. But I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam. I think, even from today in 2015, it is better that he’s not there than that he is there.

Mr Blair says there are elements of truth, though, in the view that the invasion played a part in the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or IS, also known as ISIS.

“Of course, you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015. But it’s important, also, to realise, one, that the Arab Spring which began in 2011 would also have had its impact on Iraq today, and, two, ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq.”

Mr Blair pointed to conflicts in other countries to argue the policy debate on Western intervention remains inconclusive.

“We have tried intervention and putting down troops in Iraq. We’ve tried intervention without putting in troops in Libya. And we’ve tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria. It’s not clear to me that, even if our policy did not work, subsequent policies have worked better.”

On the streets of Baghdad, many Iraqis have criticised the allied intervention in their country.

Some say they are glad Saddam Hussein was removed from power, but even they criticise Britain and its allies for the deterioration in Iraq’s security situation after his fall.

Civil activist Ali Al-Mandalawi is one.

“Saddam Hussein’s regime was bloody to the Iraqi people, and toppling it was a favour. But after that, what did they (the British) offer? A lot of chaos and more destruction. We didn’t see a real intention to build the state. We didn’t see a beneficial cooperation from the British side to the Iraqi people.”

Ahmed Taher says Mr Blair’s apology should have come years ago.

“Toppling the former regime, that’s right. But after that, they — the British — didn’t make decisions that serve the people. They made it easy for other countries, whether Western or Arab countries, to interfere in Iraq and its politics. So this apology came really late.”

Mr Blair’s decision to send troops to back the US-led invasion is still a live political issue in Britain, where a six-year public inquiry into the conflict is yet to publish its findings.

The leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, says he believes the conflict was illegal.

He maintains Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes if it is shown he broke international law.

 

 

EU summit again strives for answers on humanitarian crisis

Up to 10 European Union and three non-EU states have taken part in the talks, aimed at establishing a gradual and controlled movement of people through the migration route.

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Leaders have also announced plans for EU patrols at Greece’s borders and for sending 400 extra guards to Slovenia.

Wrapping up the emergency summit in Brussels, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has called on countries not to close their borders to migrants and refugees.

Mr Juncker says cooperation between European Union members is vital in response to the crisis.

“Closing burders is not a long-term solution. The solution is to act as Europe, to act responsibly, and we need to combine our tools — our political, legislative, financial and operational tools. Europe isn’t going to be built when we act against each other. We have to work together.”

EU members Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia were among those attending the Brussels summit.

Non-members Macedonia and Serbia are known to have attended.

Turkey was not invited, but German chancellor Angela Merkel told journalists ahead of the summit the crisis could not be solved without Turkey.

“This is no normal European Council meeting. You can see this in the fact that 10 member states are here today and three countries who are not EU members. This means that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.”

Slovenia’s Prime Minister, Miro Cerar, says the European Union risks falling apart if it cannot work together on the crisis.

“Europe is at stake now, and, if we don’t do all we can together to find a common solution and to deliver it, then this is the beginning of the end of the EU and Europe as such.”

People are continuing to travel through the western Balkans and west into Slovenia after Hungary closed its borders.

Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic says his country is ready to take its share of refugees, even though it is not in the European Union.

“And we are ready to take our part, and we are ready to take that kind of a burden on our shoulders, but we need to see what would be a comprehensive solution. What would be an end to the crisis? Are we going to protect EU borders? Are we going to deal with this stuff separately or not? There are a lot of questions and a lot of issues in front of us today.”

Nearly 250,000 migrants have passed through the Balkans since mid-September, and neither cold weather nor the colder waters off Greece is deterring more.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn says more than 20 million refugees are presently in Europe.

He says high numbers are expected to continue to come as increased military action in Syria pushes more people from their homes.

“We’re at the beginning of the bad season. Wintertime, we have to provide shelters. The European Union is ready to provide additional financial resources, also equipment, but this has to be, I have to say, based on needs assessment, on serious needs assessment.”

 

 

Free Syrian Army rejects Russian proposal to help

Russia has offered to help the rebels with air support against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or IS, if the United States provides information about rebel positions.

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But opposition groups have been quick to reject the idea, saying Russia cannot be trusted.

For almost a month now, Russia has been carrying out air strikes in Syria, claiming it is bombing mainly IS targets.

But the Free Syrian Army says it has been a target of Russia’s air strikes, so it has been quick to reject an offer of help from Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

“The Americans’ refusal to coordinate their anti-terrorist campaign with us is a big mistake. We’re seriously prepared for such a coordination, and we’re ready to give air support to the patriotic opposition, including the so-called Free Syrian Army. But we need to get in contact with the people who have the authority to represent certain armed groups.”

The Free Syrian Army’s Issam al-Reis says Russia’s offer has no credibility because the Russians, contrary to their claims, have not been targeting IS, also known as ISIS.

He has likened Russia’s intervention in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad to its failed invasion of Afghanistan back in the 1970s.

“From the beginning, they are not serious and they are targeting non-ISIS areas, so how could we trust their involvement now? We don’t need their help. The way how Assad brought the Russians was like the same way and the same manner that the Afghani government invited the Soviets in the 1970s. And they didn’t leave (on) their own, and we consider that they will do the same for Syria.”

As Syria’s main ally, Russia says it wants Syria to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections.

President Assad says he is willing to take part and is ready to run himself for president.

His position is unchanged after almost five years of conflict.

He insists a political solution to end the war is possible but says it will depend on eliminating what he calls “terrorist” groups.

The deputy of Russia’s State Duma Federal Assembly, Sergei Gavrilov, met with President al-Assad and has reiterated that position.

“The first aim is the struggle with, and victory over, terrorism. And after that, the elections, parliamentary and presidential elections. But first of all, we must reach peace on Syrian land. And all countries at first — Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela — must help the Syrian people to get peace and economic reconstruction.”

Issam al-Reis from the Free Syrian Army says Russia’s involvement is only helping prolong the conflict.

“Mr Vladimir Putin, he’s assisting a regime that indiscriminately kills its own people. How could we trust the Russians to help? If the Russians are serious to come and find a solution to Syria, they should push Assad out of power, because he is the generator who produced all the extremists in Syria.”

Louay Al-Safi, a member of the Syrian opposition, has told Al Jazeera television President Assad cannot be allowed to remain in power as part of any peace process.

“To begin with, he is now an alleged war criminal, because of the destruction he has brought to the country. I don’t think a foreign power would have made as much destruction as he has done in Syria. So there is no possibility for Syrians to reconcile with the one who killed their kids and destroyed their cities.”

United States Secretary of State John Kerry has met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in Riyadh to discuss the Syrian conflict.

The US State Department says Mr Kerry and King Salman reaffirmed their commitment to a unified, pluralistic and stable Syria without President Assad as its leader.

They also promised to continue, and intensify, support to what they call the “moderate” Syrian opposition while the political track is being pursued.

 

 

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