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.

Other news

Labor calls for ATO fraud detection review

A Senate committee wants the taxation watchdog to undertake a review of the Australian Taxation Office following an alleged fraud case involving one of its most senior officials.

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Labor senator Chris Ketter, chair of the Senate economics references committee, has written to the Inspector-General of Taxation requesting a review of the procedures and practices the ATO uses to detect fraudulent behaviour, with a focus on staff conduct.

Former deputy commissioner Michael Cranston was caught up in an alleged $130 million tax-evasion racket involving his son, Adam Cranston, who was charged with conspiring to defraud the Commonwealth.

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh says the ATO faces serious challenges in detecting and addressing fraudulent activity.

“Labor wants to ensure that public confidence in the ATO is restored,” Dr Leigh told AAP.

“Maintaining the taxpayers’ trust is an essential part of a functioning system.”

Tax commissioner Chris Jordan told a Senate hearing last month 30 tax office workers have been investigated and 12 have been sacked over the unauthorised access of taxation records this financial year.

Labor also wants to give the ATO more tools to tackle issues such as fraud or “phoenixing”, where dodgy operators deliberately burn companies in an attempt to avoid their obligations to employees, taxpayers and honest businesses.

This includes the introduction of a director identification number, which will make it harder for dodgy directors so they can’t pretend to be a different person when they get shut down and then want to go back into business.

“Labor also believes in better incentives for whistleblowers, who draw the ATO’s attention to companies and individuals using overseas tax havens,” Dr Leigh said.

Soldiers shoot attacker in Brussels ‘terrorist’ blast at train station

Witnesses said the suspect shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) before causing the blast, with local media saying the individual had activated an explosive belt.

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Authorities reported no casualties, apart from the attacker who was was killed in the confrontation. 

Crying passengers were evacuated from the station as the city that hosts the EU’s headquarters was struck by a new attack just over a year after suicide bombers hit the city’s airport and metro system.

“This is considered as a terrorist attack,” federal prosecutor’s office spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt told a news conference outside Brussels Gare Centrale station.

0:00 Brussels prosecutor: suspect ‘neutralised’. Share Brussels prosecutor: suspect ‘neutralised’.

The blast in Belgium comes a day after a man mowed down Muslims near a mosque in London, and a radical Islamist on a terror watchlist rammed a car laden with weapons into a police vehicle in Paris.

Brussels has been on high alert since suicide bombers struck the city’s airport and metro in March 2016, killing 32 people and injuring hundreds more.

The Islamic State group claimed the attacks, which were carried out by the same Brussels-based cell behind the November 2016 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

Van Der Sypt said that at about 1830 GMT there has was a “small explosion at Central Station here in Brussels.”

“The suspect has been neutralised by the military that were present at the scene immediately after the explosion,” the spokesman said. “He is dead.”  

There were no other casualties, Van Der Sypt said.

The incident happened well after rush hour, but hundreds of passengers were still evacuated from one of Belgium’s busiest stations. The nearby Grand Place, a major tourist destination, was also evacuated.

“There were people crying, there were people shouting,” said Elisa Roux, a spokeswoman for the Belgian rail company SNCB.

Belgian police evacuate people near the Grand Place near Central Station in Brussels after a reported explosion on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. AP

Ball of fire 

Social media images showed an intense yet contained ball of fire in a nearly empty underground arrival hall.

“I went down to the mezzanine level, someone was shouting. Then he cried ‘Allahu Akbar’, and he blew up a wheeled suitcase,” Nicolas Van Herringer, a railway sorting agent, told reporters.

“I was behind a wall when it exploded. I went down and alerted my colleagues to evacuate everyone. He (the suspect) was still around but after that we didn’t see him.”

Van Herrewegen added: “It wasn’t exactly a big explosion but the impact was pretty big. People were running away.”

He described the suspect as well-built and tanned with short hair, wearing a white shirt and jeans.

“I saw that he had something on him because I could see wires emerging, so it may have been a suicide vest,” Van Herrewegen said.

Prosecutors told Libre Belgique that the individual was carrying a backpack and an explosive belt, before being shot down.

The report said the suspect activated the belt once the soldier’s attention turned to him.

#Belgium: Guy with backpack & explosive belt was stopped by soldiers in #Brussels. Seriously injured! But he still shouted: “Allahu Akbar”! pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/SznKFL4Sm7

— Onlinemagazin (@OnlineMagazin) June 20, 2017

Situazione dinanzi Gare centrale a #Bruxelles #BrusselsAttacks pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/L1Yyezz5Q3

— Vincenzo Lombardo (@vincilomb) June 20, 2017’Under control’ 

About an hour after the events, the situation was “under control”, the federal crisis centre said in a tweet.

It said it was keeping the country’s terror alert at level 3, the second highest.

“The centre of Brussels is calm,” mayor Philippe Close said in a tweet.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel hailed the “courage” of security forces and said he would chair a security council meeting on Wednesday morning.

Gare Centrale is largely underground, located in the heart of Brussels, a few blocks from the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis statue.

It appeared that the suspect was neutralised by soldiers who have been deployed at railway stations and landmark buildings since the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks when a link to Brussels was first established. 

Belgium suffered a similar shock last August when a machete-wielding man shouting “Allahu akbar” attacked two policewomen in the industrial town of Charleroi, before being shot dead.

The country’s law enforcement agencies and intelligence services came under intense scrutiny after the attacks for apparently missing a series of leads after the Paris attacks that could have led to the Brussels bombers.

Harry: Invictus helped heal grief over mum

Prince Harry says serving in the British Army in Afghanistan was the catalyst for him getting the help he needed to cope with his mother’s death.

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Harry, who served on two front line tours, was filmed in conversation with Paralympic medal winner and former Invictus Games captain Dave Henson for Forces TV.

The Prince, who spent 10 years in the military, admitted that he has “plenty of issues” and had felt helpless at times.

But he said Afghanistan was the moment he realised he had to deal with his problems and the Invictus Games he set up for wounded service personnel had been “a sort of cure”.

“Going through Invictus and speaking to all the guys about their issues has really healed me and helped me.

“I’ve got plenty of issues but none of them really relate to Afghanistan, but Afghanistan was the thing that triggered everything else.

“Not to get too personal, if you lose your mum at the age of 12 then you’ve got to deal with it and the idea that …. 15, 17 years later I still hadn’t dealt with it, Afghan was the moment. I was like ‘right – deal with it’.”

Harry was recently praised for revealing he sought counselling as he confessed it was not until his late 20s that he processed his grief for Diana, Princess of Wales who was killed in a car crash in 1997.

“For me, Invictus has been a sort of cure for myself…There was many times in my early life and also many times in Afghan and coming back from Afghan when you actually feel helpless.”

He added: “Once I plucked my head out of the sand, post-Afghan.

“It had a huge, life changing moment for me as well – ‘Right, you are Prince Harry, you can do this, as long as you’re not a complete tit, then you’re gonna be able to get that support, because you’ve got the credibility of 10 years’ service and therefore, you can really make a difference’.”

Harry described how his own struggles had manifested themselves and said that recognising this meant he could help others.

“You can tell the signs in people…. in my case, suit and tie and every single time I was in any room with loads of people which is quite often, just pouring with sweat, heart beating bop, bop, bop, bop – literally like a washing machine – just like ‘oh my god get me out of here now. Oh hang on I can’t get out of here – I’ve got to just hide it’,” he said.

“You go through all that stuff and then you meet other lads who’ve had a similar journey … and you can help them and you can have a bit of banter…. Once they realise ‘Hang on I’m not the only person here – There are so many other people who have suffered and recovered – I’m going to go and sort this out and get help’.”

He stressed the importance of service personnel speaking to each other about their struggles before mental health problems snowball.

“You just need to be there for your mate and be a pair of ears and listen, and the most comforting thing to know is that person that you’re talking to has shared similar experiences. You’ve worn the same uniform.”

Describing his love of life in the forces, he added: “The military was the university of life. Afghanistan was the experience of your life.

“I’ve never met anyone now who can’t speak positively of their time in the military. Of course we had bad days but the good days far outweigh that.”

Harry said the servicemen and women taking part in the Invictus Games and were role models for his future children.

“These guys … are people who have literally sacrificed their lives and sacrificed body parts to serve their country and to be with their mates,” he said.

“Those are the role models that I want my kids to follow.”

Harrowing reports emerge of violent killings in DRC

Warning: some of the material in this report is disturbing.

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The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva heard Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein cite harrowing reports from experts he had sent there to interview refugees from the volatile central Kasai provinces.

 

The High Commissioner for Refugees described the Kasai region as a “landscape of horror” with various actors, including some state agents, fuelling ethnic hatred.

“Refugees from multiple villages in the Kamonia territory indicated that the Bana Mura have in the past two months, shot dead, hacked or burnt to death and mutilated hundreds of villagers as well as destroying entire villages. My team saw children as young as two whose limbs had been chopped off. Many babies had machete wounds and severe burns. One two-month-old baby seen by my team had been hit by two bullets four hours after birth. The mother was also wounded. At least two pregnant women were sliced open and their foetuses mutilated.”

Before the report by the Catholic church, the death toll was thought to be around 400.

But Mr al-Hussein says 42 mass graves have been documented, and there may be many more.

“It is the duty of the Congolese authorities, army and police, to protect the people, to act in accordance with human rights principles and to bring the perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses to justice. Accountability for these shocking incidents must be assured. I regret that to date the Congolese government has not fulfilled these obligations of protection and accountability.”

The region in central Congo exploded into violence last September after followers of Kamwina Nsapu – who was killed a month earlier – rebelled against what they saw as increasing repression by the Congolese government.

The tribal chief had previously openly challenged the authority of President Joseph Kabila’s government.

An estimated 1.3 million people were forced to flee their homes, with reports of child soldiers also being recruited – some as young as seven.

Earlier this year, two experts sent to investigate the conflict by the UN Secretary-General went missing.

Their bodies were found in a shallow grave by peacekeepers two week later.

The government blamed tribal militias for their murders.

DRC’s Human Rights Minister, Marie-Ange Mushobekwa, told the UN Council the government will soon publish its own report on the crisis.

“Some countries should not use the blood of our compatriots for political purposes, or seek to instrumentalise the Human Rights Council, an institution so respectable, to settle accounts to states whose leaders do not like them. May this mass graves case not become a slogan used by some countries today.”

But the UN High Commissioner says he wants an inquiry.

“I urge this Council to deploy an independent international investigation on the human rights situation in the Kasais, in cooperation with the authorities, my office and other parts of the UN system. I will also remain in touch with the International Criminal Court.”

 

 

Yowie cuts sales forecasts for third time

Confectionary maker Yowie Group has again slashed its full-year revenue growth forecast despite exceeding expectations in its return to Australian supermarkets.

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The company on Wednesday revised its annual sales growth guidance for the full year to June 30, to 55 per cent, down from April’s 70 per cent and 85-90 advised in February.

Chief executive Bert Alfonso said that despite the business performing on-track, the company had to reschedule the timing of two of its anticipated fourth quarter programs to start in the first quarter of 2018.

“The change to guidance resulted from the timing of the Canada launch and customer front-end programming change of Discovery World placement,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

“These programs are now being planned for Q1 (first quarter of) 2018.”

The Canada launch was anticipated to contribute roughly $US1 million ($A1.3 million) in net sales in the fourth quarter of 2017, while the Discovery World launch, Yowie’s largest customer, was predicted to contribute approximately $US500,000.

Yowie, which grew net sales from $US2million in 2015 to $US12.9 million in 2016, expects to reach $US20 million in the 2017 financial year.

“As a young company, unfortunately any change by a customer to the timing of a planned program in any given quarter will have a significant percentage change on our business,” Mr Alfonso said.

“However … we are outpacing all other brands in the confectionary plus space by a wide margin.”

Australian retails sales of Yowie products, which returned to local supermarkets in February after being pulled from the shelves in the early 2000s, are running ahead of expectations with fourth quarter net sales reaching around $US750,000 on the tail of $US1.2 million in the third quarter.

The company said it expects sales growth in the 2018 financial year to be similar to 2017, anticipating it to be in the 55-70 per cent range.

“We remain confident regarding the prospects for the Yowie brand in both the US and selective international markets, and in our ability to grow rapidly in a highly competitive category,” Mr Alfonso said.