Australia Day: Local councils push for date change debate

Local councils are pushing for the federal government to change the date of Australia Day.

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A national meeting of representatives from 560 local councils has backed a plan to come up with ideas on ways to lobby the commonwealth to switch Australia Day from January 26, a date that marks the arrival of the first fleet from England.

The Australian Local Government Association said its board would consider what action to take at a meeting in July.

“The ALGA board noted the level of debate and the closeness of the result of the debate and will take these matters into consideration when determining a course of action,” the association said in a statement.

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In a close 64-62 vote on Tuesday, council representatives at the annual National General Assembly of the ALGA in Canberra voted to back a motion by Hobart City Council for councils to consider efforts they could take to lobby the government for a date change.

The vote came ahead of a planned address by Australia Day Council chairman Ben Roberts-Smith to delegates on the final day of the assembly on Wednesday.

Hobart City Council has been at the forefront of growing calls for Australia Day to be changed from January 26, a date many indigenous people regard as “Invasion Day”.

0:00 Fremantle hosts alternative Australia Day Share Fremantle hosts alternative Australia Day

Hobart’s councillors in April voted in favour of lobbying the federal government to find a new date and said they would consult with the local Aboriginal community to find an alternative date.

Across the country in Perth, the City of Fremantle moved some of its Australia Day events to January 28 this year, citing cultural sensitivities and calls from local Aboriginal elders that January 26 was not a day to celebrate.

However the growing calls for change could face stiff opposition by federal politicians.

Greens senator Rachel Siewart failed in her bid in February to get the Senate to support a date change, with Liberal, Labor and cross bench senators voting against a motion acknowledging January 26 as a day of mourning for many indigenous people as it represented the start of colonisation.

Thousands of indigenous Australians and their supporters marked Australia Day this year by marching in protests in major cities, calling for the date to be changed.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that while everyone is entitled to debate the date of Australia Day, the government does not support a change.

EU Barnier assures of Brexit compromises

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has assured Britons he expects to compromise at times over the coming months as London and Brussels try to settle terms for British withdrawal from the European Union.

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Asked to clarify a remark he made after Monday’s opening of talks about not making concessions to Britain, he played it down as a statement of the obvious not to concede arguments at the outset and all the more so because his meeting with Britain’s David Davis in Brussels did not launch talks on substance.

“My mandate is to defend the single market, defend the European Union, which the United Kingdom has decided to leave,” Barnier told reporters after briefing ministers from EU member states in Luxembourg. “I’m well aware that throughout the process there will be points of compromise.”

The Union wanted a “fair deal”, he said, renewing a vow not to punish Britain or take “revenge” for a withdrawal that has rocked the bloc and poses huge challenges for negotiators.

EU officials and diplomats greeted the agreement of Brexit Secretary Davis to a format and sequencing of talks that had been proposed by Barnier as sign that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s weakened and potentially divided government was bending to Brussels’ insistence on how negotiations will work.

“A very good day — for us,” one senior EU figure said with a note of triumph after discussions finally began, nearly a year after the Brexit vote and with only 21 months to reach a deal.

In public, EU negotiators have kept their satisfaction in check, however, and Barnier was at pains to sound conciliatory.

But in Britain many media portrayed Davis, a veteran Brexit campaigner, as having climbed down from his insistence that the EU must immediately open talks on a future free trade agreement rather than limit negotiations, as they are now, to basic issues of the divorce, such as the rights of expatriate citizens.

Germany’s Europe minister, Michael Roth, said in Luxembourg that the opening of the negotiations had shown British leaders still needed a “reality check” on what they could achieve.

Barnier made clear on Tuesday that while there must be a first phase that excludes trade discussions, he does hope that four weeks of monthly negotiating sessions can get him to the point where he can ask EU leaders in October to let him move on and discuss how the two sides can keep commerce open from 2019.

At the same time, while it was a priority, he said, to show progress in averting difficulties for troubled Northern Ireland as a result of being on a new EU-UK border, agreement on how the border would work would depend on wider future trade ties.

China tried but failed on N. Korea: Trump

President Donald Trump says Chinese efforts to persuade North Korea to rein in its nuclear program have failed, ratcheting up the rhetoric over the death of an American student who had been detained by Pyongyang.

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Trump had held high hopes for greater cooperation from China to exert influence over North Korea, leaning heavily on Chinese President Xi Jinping for his assistance.

The two leaders had a high-profile summit in Florida in April and Trump has frequently praised Xi and resisted criticising Chinese trade practices.

“While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!” Trump wrote in a tweet on Tuesday.

It was unclear whether his remark represented a significant shift in his thinking in the US struggle to stop North Korea’s nuclear program and its test launching of missiles or a change in US policy toward China.

But it was likely to increase pressure on Beijing ahead of a US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue on Wednesday.

The talks will pair US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis with China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, and General Fang Fenghui, chief of state of the People’s Liberation Army.

The State Department says the dialogue will focus on ways to increase pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs, but also cover such areas as counter-terrorism and territorial rivalries in the strategic South China Sea.

In a sign that US-Chinese relations remain stable, a White House aide said Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, were invited by the Beijing government to visit China later this year.

Trump has hardened his rhetoric against North Korea following the death of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who died on Monday in the United States after returning from captivity in North Korea in a coma.

In a White House meeting with visiting Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, Trump criticised the way Warmbier’s case was handled in the year since his arrest, appearing to assail both North Korea and his predecessor, US President Barack Obama.

“What happened to Otto is a disgrace. And I spoke with his family. His family is incredible … but he should have been brought home a long time ago,” Trump said.

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States had limited options to rein in North Korea without Chinese assistance.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said a meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is less likely following Warmbier’s death.

Spicer said Trump would be willing to meet Kim under the right conditions, but that, “clearly we’re moving further away, not closer to those conditions”.

S.Korea’s Moon asks north to free captives

South Korean President Moon Jae-in says North Korea should swiftly return South Koreans and Americans detained in the reclusive nation and that Pyongyang has “a heavy responsibility” in the death of a US university student.

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Moon, who is scheduled to visit Washington next week, also said in an interview with CBS on Tuesday he hoped to draw North Korea into negotiations on its nuclear program by the end of the year.

Dozens of North Korean missile launches and two nuclear bomb tests since the beginning of last year have heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang has vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the US mainland.

Moon’s remarks on CBS’s This Morning program came the day after the death of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old student who had been held prisoner in North Korea for 17 months. Warmbier died at a Cincinnati hospital just days after North Korea released him from captivity in a coma, his family said.

Warmbier was arrested while visiting as a tourist and accused of trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan, according to North Korean media. Doctors caring for him last week described him as having extensive brain damage that left him in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness”.

Moon said that while “we cannot know for sure that North Korea killed Mr Warmbier … I believe it is quite clear that they have a heavy responsibility in the process that led to Mr Warmbier’s death.

“I believe we must now have the perception that North Korea is an irrational regime,” said Moon, who was elected in May.

South Korea’s Blue House on Tuesday cited Moon separately as saying: “It is very deplorable that North Korea does not respect human rights.”

North Korea has detained two Korean-American academics and a missionary, a Canadian pastor and three South Korean nationals who were doing missionary work there.

US President Donald Trump blamed the “brutality of the North Korean regime” for Warmbier’s death.

North Korea said last month that it was its sovereign right to “ruthlessly punish” US citizens it had detained for crimes against the state.

Asked about the possibility of any pre-emptive strikes against Pyongyang, Moon told CBS that the issue could be raised at his summit with Trump but that such discussions were more likely to come later.

Moon, who was elected on a plan to engage in talks with North Korea, said he agreed with Trump on being willing to participate in a dialogue with North Korea under certain conditions.

New York outlaws child marriage under 17

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed legislation raising the age of consent to marry from 14 to 18 years old, with a caveat that 17-year-olds wishing to marry must get approval from their parents and a judge.

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“This is a major step forward in our efforts to protect children and prevent forced marriages, and I am proud to sign this legislation that puts an end to child marriage in New York once and for all,” he said.

This is a major step forward in our efforts to protect children and prevent forced marriages.

— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) June 20, 2017

Until Tuesday, children as young as 14 could get married with parental permission and written consent from a judge. More than 3,800 minors were married in New York between 2000 and 2010, Cuomo’s office said.

Those under 17 are now prohibited from marriage. Judges must ensure any 17-year-olds wishing to wed are not being coerced against their will and that the marriage will not endanger their mental, emotional, or physical well-being.

Heather Barr, senior researcher on women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, called on dozens of other US states to follow New York’s example.

“Around the world, a girl under age 18 married every two seconds. It is a national shame that so many of these marriages are happening in the US,” she said.

“We hope the 47 states that have yet to act will follow New York’s lead.”

Nearly a quarter of a million children as young as 12 were married in the United States between 2000 and 2010, mostly girls to adult men, according to Unchained, a non-profit organization working against arranged or forced marriage.

A survey published by the Tahirih Justice Center in 2011 said forced marriage existed in immigrant communities from 56 different countries and affects people of different faiths, including Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.

Cuomo’s office said young women who marry before 19 are 50 percent more likely to drop out of high school and four times less likely to graduate from college.

Those who marry young are also at increased risk of developing health disorders, 31 percent more likely to live in poverty when older and three times more likely to be beaten by their spouses than women who wed at 21 or older, it said.

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