Pesticides staff working from Maccas

Senior executives at a pesticides agency being forcibly moved to the electorate of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce are working from a fast food restaurant as they search for a temporary office.

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A dozen staff at the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority were due to move to regional NSW in March, but their hunt for Armidale real estate continues.

“We need a base rather than sitting in McDonald’s using their free wi-fi,” chief executive Kareena Arthy told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Tuesday.

“It (the office) is there really as a practical basis for the APVMA staff who go to Armidale, because honestly, we sit in McDonald’s to do our work.”

Asked if she would be hosting a grand opening when the temporary office finally opens, Ms Arthy told senators: “We might have a cup of tea and an Iced VoVo.”

It has also emerged the agency will need to construct an entirely new building for its Armidale base, with existing options either too small or in need of too much refurbishment.

“There is no current site in Armidale that’s suitable for an organisation our size so we are going to have to build,” Ms Arthy told senators.

It remains unclear how much the new facility will cost, with the relocation manager due to start next week.

Meanwhile, the pesticides agency is rapidly shedding staff and struggling to recruit replacements.

Some 48 people have left since July, including 20 regulatory scientists.

Ms Arthy said there was overwhelming anecdotal evidence the exodus is due to uncertainty over the agency’s future, regardless of incentives people have been offered to stay.

Many of those who had left have young families and wanted to stay in Canberra, while others have simply been offered “better” jobs.

“But overwhelmingly when we talk to people it’s just purely they’ve made the decision they don’t want to move to Armidale,” Ms Arthy said.

“They don’t want to work remotely, which is one of the offers I have made for regulatory scientists, and they want to provide certainty and security for their families now.”

The biggest risk of the agency’s forced relocation is losing regulatory scientists – the vast majority of whom have indicated they won’t move.

“If I don’t have regulatory scientists I basically can’t do the applications,” Ms Arthy said.

These scientists could work remotely, but this would require the agency’s IT systems to be completely rebuilt.

Other staff have been offered incentives, including a year’s worth of return flights to Canberra and a 15 per cent “top-up” to their salaries.

But still, recruitment is proving incredibly challenging, even as Ms Arthy looks abroad to find qualified staff.

Officials unsure about white spot outbreak

Authorities admit they may never know what triggered a white spot disease outbreak which shut down Queensland prawn farms and threatened to decimate the industry.

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Seven prawn farms along the Logan River were shut down after the disease was discovered in December as officials worked to contain the outbreak.

“We may never know the cause of that outbreak,” Lyn O’Connell from the agriculture department told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday.

Soon after the disease was discovered, retailers in the area were found selling and fishermen using contaminated raw prawns as bait.

These factors, along with an investigation into the “systemic circumvention” of biosecurity controls launched several months earlier, led to the January suspension of all uncooked prawns imports.

The Queensland and federal governments are still working to determine the source of the white spot disease, which does not pose any risk to human health.

“Eradication is still the objective and is considered feasible,” Ms O’Connell said.

Authorities have since stepped up prawn import inspections and worked alongside retailers and wholesalers to pull dodgy products from supermarket shelves and strip it from the supply chain.

The department meanwhile is pursuing action against importers suspected of deliberately evading biosecurity checks including revoking permits, rethinking approvals and sending a brief of evidence to commonwealth prosecutors.

The government has since allowed trade to resume for some “lower risk” items but will take some months to lift its halt on all prawn products.

“The suspension will remain in place until we can be certain the risks can be managed,” Ms O’Connell said.

Despite tests proving there were contaminated prawns for sale around the Logan River, and the fact fisherman were found using those prawns as bait in the river, the government has not yet been able to ascertain how the infection occurred at the farms.

“In our mind, (they) continue to have to be dealt with as two separate issues until such time it can be proved one way or the other whether the cause of the outbreak was the infected imported prawns,” Assistant Agriculture Minister Anne Ruston told senators.

Starc ready for flatter pitch in 2nd Test

Mitchell Starc proved in Pune he could extract bounce from almost any sort of pitch.

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Now, Australia’s spearhead is ready to bend his back on a wicket widely expected to be as flat as a pancake.

Starc was overshadowed by spinners Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon in Australia’s first Test win in India since 2004, delivering just 11 overs in a match that ended on day three because of an incredibly dry deck.

Starc and Josh Hazlewood sent down a combined total of 120 balls – the lowest tally in more than 80 years by Australian pacemen in a Test.

Starc predicts the second Test, starting on Saturday in Bangalore, will be more of a grind for both teams.

The left-armer suggested reverse swing would shape Australia’s push for a 2-0 lead in the four-Test series, but hoped the bouncer could also be a big weapon in the contest.

“I can’t see it being too bouncy or quick because it’s a weakness of the Indian batters,” Starc said, having been based in Bangalore during his Indian Premier League stint.

“Hopefully, there’s a little bit of bounce in the Bangalore wicket or the wickets to come in this series.

“It’s probably something not many batsmen like, especially the guys over in the subcontinent, where they’re not used to those faster or bouncier wickets.

“So we can get up around their nose every now and again. A lot of teams have showed that it’s not an area that the India batsmen like.”

Starc dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara with a rearing delivery in Australia’s 333-run win, making a mockery of the slow-and-low surface.

Former captains Sunil Gavaskar and Sourav Ganguly were among many Indian pundits outraged by the spinners’ paradise in Pune, all but demanding a flatter pitch at M Chinnaswamy Stadium.

But even the most-creative curator would struggle to eliminate the prospect of reverse swing, something Starc put to good use last year in Sri Lanka.

“I’m sure it will be a pretty dry wicket again so that’ll probably help reverse swing,” Starc said.

“There is probably going to be a couple of wickets on the square … they’re going to be so abrasive and really chop the ball up.

“We can get better at reverse swing … looking after that shiny side.

“We saw the Indian bowlers, especially Umesh (Yadav), getting some good reverse swing … we probably didn’t get it going as much as we would have liked, but there’s three Tests to go and we’re 1-0.”

The 27-year-old was one of few Australians to enhance their subcontinent reputations in last year’s 3-0 loss to Sri Lanka, grabbing 24 wickets at 15.16.

“The Sri Lankan series is probably a blueprint for the way I want to bowl over here in terms of using my air speed and really exploiting that reverse swing,” he said.

Omens promising for Warriors NRL opener

It’s been eight years since the Warriors opened their NRL season with a win, but the omens are good for this Sunday’s match against Newcastle at Mount Smart Stadium.

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The last time the Warriors hosted a first-round match at their home ground was in 2009, when they beat Parramatta 26-18.

The Warriors also have an impressive recent record against Newcastle, having won 10 of the past 11 contests at Mount Smart stretching back to 2006.

Coach Stephen Kearney has retained the same starting line-up he used in the club’s final trial match, a 26-6 win over Gold Coast two weeks ago in Palmerston North.

Albert Vete and Charlie Gubb will again start in the front row, with Ata Hingano confirmed at five-eighth, Ken Maumalo on the left wing and Ryan Hoffman and Bunty Afoa paired in the second row.

The match doubles as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s first NRL outing since April 16 last year and also his first-grade debut as captain.

“Those players earned the opportunity for the first match of the season,” Kearney said.

“There were a lot of good signs from them against the Titans. Having said that, there are lots of areas we need to improve on.”

The NRL has instituted a new team-naming protocol this season which requires all clubs to list 21 players each Tuesday with the squad to be trimmed to 19 24 hours before the game.

The final playing 17 – confirmed an hour before kick-off – must come from the 19-man group.

Kearney has included two players on the extended bench who are in line to make their NRL debuts – 18-year-old second rower Isaiah Papali’i and 19-year-old utility Erin Clark.

WARRIORS: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (capt), Tuimoala Lolohea, David Fusitu’a, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo, Mafoa’aeata Hingano, Shaun Johnson, Albert Vete, Issac Luke, Charlie Gubb, Bunty Afoa, Ryan Hoffman, Simon Mannering. Interchange: Erin Clark, Jacob Lillyman, Sam Lisone, Isaiah Papali’i, Bodene Thompson, Mason Lino, James Gavet, Blake Ayshford.

No tunnel for Freight Link final stage

The final stage of the controversial Perth Freight Link project linking WA’s first toll road to Fremantle port will involve expanding Stirling Bridge, not digging a tunnel under the Swan River, the premier says.

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Liberal leader Colin Barnett contradicted Jandakot MP and minister Joe Francis, who told 6PR radio on Tuesday “we’ll find a solution that will no doubt probably go underneath the river”.

Mr Barnett said the final stage, which will follow on from the Roe 9 tunnel emerging in East Fremantle at a yet-to-be-determined location, would involve adjustments to the road system in North Fremantle.

“We’re not going under the river, we’re not going over the river, anything like that,” he told reporters.

“We are not tunnelling under the Swan River – it’s extremely deep. That’s not feasible.”

Mr Barnett said the existing bridge, completed in 1974, would be “fine for a while” but may have an extra lane added “well into the future”.

It could also be duplicated, he said, and intersection works would be needed to avoid congestion.

Opposition treasury spokesman Ben Wyatt pounced on Mr Barnett contradicting Mr Francis as evidence of a party no longer fit to rule.

“This is a government that’s a mess – it’s lost the right to be in government,” Mr Wyatt told reporters.

Mr Francis hit out at opponents to the project, who have labelled Roe 9 a “road to nowhere” because the route of the final link to the port – which Mr Barnett doesn’t want to call Roe 10 – has not been decided upon.

“I’ve had a gutful of the lies and the misinformation and the rumours and the bulldust that has been spread by the opponents to this project time and time and time again,” Mr Francis said.

Labor disrupts parliament over Centrelink

Labor is attempting to suspend the business of federal parliament, accusing the Turnbull government of breaching privacy laws by leaking confidential information about Centrelink customers.

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Opposition human services spokeswoman Linda Burney moved a motion in the lower house on Tuesday, arguing the government had conducted a vindictive campaign to gag those who complain about the Centrelink scandal by leaking their details to the media.

“They have made it clear, if you speak out they will target you,” she said.

“They wanted revenge on those who have spoken publicly.

“We serve the people in this place and it’s not for us to target them.”

Ms Burney is demanding an apology to those who have been targeted.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge insists the government is allowed to release a person’s private information under social services laws in order to correct the record.

“In cases where people have gone to the media with statements that are incorrect or misleading … we are able to release information about the person for the purposes of correcting a mistake,” he told parliament.

“It allows the correction of false information which has been placed into the media.”

Mr Tudge insisted the government would continue with its controversial debt recovery system in order to protect taxpayers’ money.

Labor is demanding the government reveal who authorised the release of the confidential information.

It claims 4000 Centrelink customers each week receive letters incorrectly accusing them of owing money.

“Pensioners are being frightened out of their wits by this government,” senior Labor figure Jenny Macklin told parliament.

“People think they owe these enormous debts when in fact they owe nothing.”

The debate was adjourned until later on Tuesday but the government has the numbers to shut it down.

Q Society, Australian Liberty Alliance campaigner apologise to Halal director

The anti-Islam Q Society and Australian Liberty Alliance campaigner Kirralie Smith have apologised to the director of a Halal certification company, settling defamation proceedings out of court.

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Mohamed El-Mouelhy, Chairman of the Halal Certification Authority, claimed that a video now removed from YouTube implied that he was “part of a conspiracy to destroy Western civilisation from within” and “reasonably suspected of providing financial support to terrorist organisations”.

Those behind the video have apologised for the imputations. 

“The Q Society, its board members and Kirralie Smith apologise to Mr El-Mouehly for the hurt caused to him as a result of the publications,” they said in a joint statement to the NSW Supreme Court.

“In light of the above apology Mr El-Mouehly withdraws the comments he made about the Q Society, its board members and Kirralie Smith.”

Mr El-Mouelhy told SBS News no money was included in the settlement.

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“We are free in this country to express our opinions politely and clearly,” he said.

Ms Smith on Tuesday said that the settlement was the “best outcome” in a statement.

“I am relieved and extremely happy to report that we have settled the defamation matter out of court.

“This has saved all parties a great deal of expense and time and is by far the best outcome,” she said.

The apology comes after a two-year legal battle.

Defamation Settlement 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/JKwWSt4dtq

I can’t discuss many details but this is a good outcome. I can keep going re halal fees& Islam

— Kirralie Smith (@KirralieS) February 28, 2017

Mr El-Mouelhy says the fees charged by Halal certification companies are insignificant when compared to the amount of money the industry earns from exports to Islamic countries.

He objects to anti-Halal campaigners’ characterisation of the fees as a ‘tax’.

“A tax is something that the government can do, not something I can do,” he said.

Concerns over Sharia in Australia were also overblown, Mr El-Mouelhy said.

“You cannot say the word Sharia and law in the same sentence – it is a way of life, not a law,” he said.

“It means to treat your parents well, that is Sharia, to pray your debts is Sharia, to pray five times a day is Sharia.”

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Mr El-Mouehly stressed that Australian laws are determined by politicians, not Muslims.

“There is no Sharia law in this country, all laws in this country are passed by parliament, not by Muslims,” he said.

“Australia is a multicultural country, and will continue to be so.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re white yellow or pink, you will be able to live in this county in harmony.”

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Bush defends free press from Trump attacks

George W.

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Bush was the last Republican to occupy the White House before Donald Trump and faced harsh criticism during his time in office.

But asked in an interview with NBC if he ever considered the media the enemy of the people, the former president said it was important for a free press to hold people in power to account.

“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy, that we need an independent media to hold people like me to account. I mean, power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere. One of the things I spent a lot of time doing was trying to convince a person like Vladimir Putin, for example, to accept the notion of an independent press. And it’s kind of hard to tell others to have an independent, free press when we’re not willing to have one ourself.”

Mr Bush has backed calls for an investigation into alleged links between President Trump’s election campaign and Russia.

Some rival Democrats have questioned whether officials in Mr Trump’s campaign team had contact with Russian government officials before he became president.

Mr Trump was asked at a meeting with health insurance companies whether an independent investigator ought to be appointed to examine the matter.

He mouthed the word “No” as photographers were ushered out of the White House meeting, then could be heard speaking off-camera and saying, “I haven’t called Russia in 10 years.”

(Trump:) “Thank you very much.”

(Aide:) “Thank you, everybody.”

(Reporter:) “Mr President, do you support a special prosecutor on Russia?”

(Aide:) “Thank you. Thank you, press.”

(Reporter:) “Do you support a special prosecutor on Russia?”

(Aide:) “Thank you, press.”

(Another aide:) “Thanks very much.”

(Trump, overheard:) “I haven’t called Russia in 10 years.”

The chairman of the US House of Representatives committee investigating possible ties with Russia, Devin Nunes, has insisted there is no need for a special prosecutor yet.

“What are we going to appoint a special prosecutor to do, exactly? To chase, to chase stories that … of American citizens that end up in newspaper articles? I mean, that’s … right now … I mean, look, if there is, at some point, we have serious crimes that have been committed, it would be something that we would consider. But at this point, we don’t have that. The only serious crimes we have are leaks that have come out of … of our government to the press and others.”

Meanwhile, Mr Trump is seeking to boost defence spending by $US54 billion in his proposed budget plan for 2018.

The almost 10 per cent increase in military spending will be funded by cuts elsewhere in government, such as the foreign aid and environmental budgets.

But the President says his plan leaves large welfare programs such as Social Security and Medicare untouched, despite Republican calls for reform.

“This budget will be a public safety and national security budget, very much based on those two, with plenty of other things but very strong. And it will include a historic increase in defence spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America at a time we most need it.”

Mr Trump is expected to release his final budget proposal in mid-March.

 

 

Radicalised Aussies getting younger: ASIO

The age of Australians being radicalised by Islamic State is getting younger and younger, the head of the country’s security agency says.

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ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis has warned of the emergence of increasingly young Islamist extremists, whose activities will continue to impact Australia’s security environment.

In 2013, 45 per cent of Sunni Islamist extremists that were being investigated by his agency fell in the age group of 25-34.

In 2015, 40 per cent of those under investigation were aged between 15 and 24.

“It basically dropped by a decade in the space of a couple of years,” Mr Lewis told a Senate estimates committee on Tuesday night.

“We are still looking at a very young cohort that are impacted and influenced by this ISIL extremist, violent message.”

He said that made it a real challenge because there was a dramatic difference in trying to manage a radicalised 16-year-old and a 26 or 36-year-old.

The primary terrorism threat continues to emanate from people who adhere to a violent extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam.

All those involved in the four attacks on Australian soil and those disrupted were inspired by that philosophy, Mr Lewis said.

But there was also concern about some individuals who combine extreme right-wing anti-Islam ideology with a willingness to use violence.

He stressed, however, that those subject to investigation make up only a very small fraction of the community they are from.

The several hundred Australians being influenced by Islamic extremist propaganda, for example, represent less than 0.1 per cent of the roughly half-a-million Australian Muslims.

“The other 99.9 per cent of Australian Muslims are not involved in activities of security concern in any way and are of no interest to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation,” he said.

The threat of cyber terrorism and espionage is also a concern for Australia, he says, as other nations and non-state actors become “more capable and aggressive”.

‘We made a mistake’: Australia Post chairman over Fahour’s pay

The chairman of Australia Post has admitted to a Senate committee his board made a mistake by not disclosing publicly a breakdown of the salaries it pays senior management.

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John Stanhope made the admission while defending the $5.6 million pay packet of outgoing managing director Ahmed Fahour, who is calling it quits after a seven-year stint.

Mr Stanhope argued Mr Fahour didn’t just run a postal service but rather an e-commerce company.

“We need our salary packages to be commercially competitive to attract and retain talented people in a competitive, executive talent market,” he told a Senate hearing in Canberra on Tuesday.

But Mr Stanhope conceded the CEO’s remuneration was inconsistent with community expectations.

He also admitted it was a mistake not to specifically disclose the salaries of senior management in the company’s annual report and it would change that practice in the future.

Mr Stanhope revealed Malcolm Turnbull, when previously communications minister, raised the “quite high” pay packet with him.

Once Mr Fahour’s salary made headlines in early February, the now-prime minister picked up the phone and made an 8am call to Mr Stanhope.

Mr Fahour admitted he had been thinking about leaving for some time but the debate over his salary sharpened his mind about when to go.

“I have loved and cherished every moment of this opportunity,” he told senators.

“I’m extremely proud of what the team has achieved over the past seven years.”

That includes avoiding a government bailout.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield earlier revealed he had a general understanding that Mr Fahour was “well renumerated from things which had been in the public domain and in previous annual reports”.

“But I didn’t know the specific breakdown,” he told the committee.

Nor did departmental officials.

Mr Fahour only advised the minister of his multi-million salary and bonus shortly before details were provided to the committee.

The government has proposed the independent Remuneration Tribunal determine the pay and conditions of future Australia Post managing directors.

Asked whether that measure could be extended to the national broadband network, Senator Fifield said the situations were different.

“NBN is a growing business. It’s one of the most complex infrastructure projects in Australia’s history,” he said.

“There’s strong competition for senior telco executives.”

NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow’s pocketed $3.6 million last financial year.

NBN has also been disclosing its salaries publicly so it hasn’t been subject to the same scrutiny, Senator Fifield said.

Mr Morrow is scheduled to appear before estimates on Tuesday night.

The minister denied the government was at all influenced by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson in how it handled the issue of Mr Fahour’s pay.

“We march to the beat of our own drum,” he said.

Mr Fahour hit out at Senator Hanson over her repeated criticism of him and his faith, insisting he feels sorry for her.

Senator Hanson did not appear at the hearing to ask questions.