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苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/SznKFL4Sm7

— Onlinemagazin (@OnlineMagazin) June 20, 2017

Situazione dinanzi Gare centrale a #Bruxelles #BrusselsAttacks pic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/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.

Labor says Christensen crossing the floor on penalty rates is ‘blow’

Labor and the Greens insist they will keep fighting to overturn a decision to scale back some weekend penalty rates despite losing a vote in parliament.

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The opposition gained the support of Nationals MP George Christensen on Tuesday night when he crossed the floor on an amendment that would have prevented cuts to Sunday penalty rates for some workers.

But the move was defeated 73-72.

0:00 Labor Senator Doug Cameron on penalty rates. Share Labor Senator Doug Cameron on penalty rates.

Opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor says Labor will relentlessly pursue the Fair Work Commission decision which will be phased in from July 1.

“If the government thinks that this matter is over when we rise at the end of this week, they are mistaken,” Mr O’Connor told reporters on Wednesday.

Related reading

Labor will campaign across the country during the parliamentary winter break.

“It’s one thing to be thinking about a cut that will happen; once cuts start to happen and the effects are real, this changes fundamentally,” he said.

“We won’t be talking about workers who may be losing money, we’ll be talking about workers that (sic) have lost money that can’t pay the rent, can’t pay for bills.”

Mr O’Connor called on Victorian independent MP Cathy McGowan to reconsider her position and back Labor’s push.

Greens MP Adam Bandt was pleased a “snowball” seems to be growing behind the minor party’s position to lock in penalty rates.

“We are now only a vote or two away in this parliament from stopping the penalty rate cuts from coming into effect,” he said.

Fast food, hospitality, retail and pharmacy workers will see their Sunday penalty rates drop five percentage points on July 1.

The full cuts of 25-50 percentage points will be imposed on some workers by 2019 and for others by 2020.

New video shows acquitted US police officer shooting Philando Castile

The jarring footage captures the fateful exchange between Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black motorist, and police officer Jeronimo Yanez in an incident that sparked nationwide protests last year.

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The dash-cam video — part of a trove of documents, images and audio from the investigation — shows Yanez approaching Castile’s car and explaining that he was pulled over for broken brake lights.

Thirty seconds later, Castile says, “Sir, I have to tell you I do have a firearm on me.”

Castile had a legal permit to carry a gun. 

The officer responds, “Don’t reach for it then,” and Castile can be heard attempting to explain what he is reaching for.

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The conversation lasts just eight seconds, with Yanez interrupting twice saying, “Don’t pull it out.” 

Yanez then shoots seven times into the driver’s side of the vehicle, with the first shots at such close range that his weapon is partially inside the car cabin.  

The incident — one in a series of high-profile shootings of African-Americans by police — stunned the nation after Castile’s final moments were livestreamed on Facebook by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, as blood spread on Castile’s shirt.

Prosecutors would later say that Yanez had thought Castile resembled a suspect in a nearby armed robbery a few days earlier.  

Reynolds said Castile was reaching for his wallet and identification when he was shot.  

But the police officer later told investigators that he feared for his life.  

In the video, as emergency medical personnel are working on Castile who is laying on the street, Yanez can be heard off camera recounting the events of the shooting.  

“[Castile] was just staring straight ahead and I was getting fucking nervous,” Yanez says, his voice sounding distressed.   

“I told him not to reach for it,” he says. 

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The 29-year-old police officer was acquitted last Friday of second-degree manslaughter and of two felony counts of intentional discharge of a dangerous weapon.  

The acquittal led to renewed protests in Minnesota, with 18 people arrested Saturday after blocking a major highway near the courthouse in the capital city of St Paul.  

Federal prosecutors said they are assessing the case to see if it warrants further review.  

Trump says China ‘tried’ but failed on North Korea

Mr Trump’s comments come amid a 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!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2017

“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.

Mr Trump also described the treatment of US student Otto Warmbier by North Korea as a disgrace.

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”.

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One-third of preschoolers own smartphones

It appears owning a smartphone or tablet is the new normal for Australian children, raising serious health concerns among pediatricians.

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The latest Australian Child Health Poll shows one-third of preschoolers and two- thirds of primary school-aged children own such devices and 50 per cent of them are using them unsupervised.

Paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes, director of the national poll, says knowing so many very young children are spending too much time on devices is a “worrying” trend.

Dr Rhodes says there is very little evidence to support the idea a smartphone or tablet boosts a toddler’s development.

But there is plenty of evidence linking excessive use to health problems.

“Particularly with sleep difficulties, problems related to unhealthy weight gain and then difficulties with social and emotional wellbeing,” Dr Rhodes said.

One of the poll’s most significant findings, was that almost half of children regularly used screen-based devices at bedtime, with one in four reporting sleep problems as a result.

Two-thirds of families reported family conflict relating to screen time use and 85 per cent of parents admitted using screens to occupy kids in order to get things done.

The poll also identified a link between parents’ screen use and their children’s use of screens.

“Basically, a parent who has high levels of screen use is more likely to have a child with high levels of use. Three quarters of parents of children under six also said they do not put time limits on screen use,” said Dr Rhodes.

Of any age group, teens spend the most amount of time on a screen-based device at home.

They average almost 44 hours of use per week – that’s more time spent for the average full time job.

Teenagers using screens routinely at bedtime were also more likely to report bullying via social media.

As a pediatrician at The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Dr Rhodes increasingly sees the consequences of such excessive screen and media use in children.

She says physical playtime and face-to-face contact is critical for a young child’s brain and body development.

“Every hour a child spends engaged by themselves on a device like that is an hour they’re not doing something like being physically active or having face-to-face play and social interaction.”

Israel starts work on new settlement amid US peace push

The Amichai settlement will be the first new government-sanctioned Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories in some 25 years.

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It is being built for the roughly 40 families evicted from the wildcat outpost of Amona earlier this year after Israel’s high court ruled their homes had been built illegally on private Palestinian land.

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“Today, the work on the ground has begun, as I promised, to establish a new settlement for the Amona settlers,” Netanyahu tweeted over a picture of a small bulldozer and a digger working.

“After dozens of years, I have the privilege to be the prime minister building a new settlement in Judaea and Samaria,” Netanyahu tweeted, using the Hebrew biblical term for the West Bank.

On the site in the mid afternoon, a single Caterpillar bulldozer was clearing rocks and rubble to create a path near a vineyard, while four others stood idle.

The bulldozer’s driver, a kippah-wearing Israeli who said he was from a settlement in the southern West Bank, said they were laying the foundations for two new roads that would lead to the new settlement.

The land is surrounded by a number of other small settlements and is a few kilometres from the Palestinian village of Duma, where a Palestinian family were burned alive by radical settlers in 2015.

While Israel has not launched new settlements in recent decades, extensive construction has focussed on expanding existing settlements.

היום החלו העבודות בשטח, כפי שהבטחתי, להקמת היישוב החדש למתיישבי עמונה. אחרי עשרות שנים, יש לי הזכות להיות רה״מ שבונה יישוב חדש ביו״ש pic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/sNDKlDzaCu

— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) June 20, 2017’Thwarting Trump’

Netanyahu’s announcement comes a day after Trump’s special representative Jason Greenblatt arrived for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials on relaunching peace talks that collapsed in 2014.

Greenblatt is to be joined by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner on Wednesday.

Together they will “spearhead the peace effort” the US administration believes is possible, a White House official said.

Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, are illegal under international law and are considered one of the main obstacles to peace.

The international community considers all Jewish settlements in the West Bank illegal but Israel draws a distinction between those it sanctions and those it does not, so-called outposts.

Trump has asked Netanyahu to hold back on settlement building as he seeks to build momentum for a new peace push.

But the Israeli leader faces political pressure from the settler movement, which wields strong influence in his right-wing governing coalition.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, called the new building work a “serious escalation,” in a statement published by official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

The project, he said, was “an attempt to thwart the efforts of the American administration, to thwart the efforts of US President Donald Trump.”

Ahead of the arrival of the two envoys, the White House urged both Israel and the Palestinians to “create an environment conducive to peacemaking”. 

“Those who want to make it harder rather than easier to make peace, whether by their statements or their actions, must be prevented from subverting the chances for peace,” the official said.

Tuesday’s ground-clearing work was in preparation for the installation of dozens of mobile homes for the families evicted from Amona, a spokesman for the main settler organisation, the Yesha Council, said.

The settlers would live in the temporary accommodation while work continues on building more permanent homes, the spokesman added.

0:00 Israel flouting Security Council settlement demand: UN envoy Share Israel flouting Security Council settlement demand: UN envoy