Israeli PM in Australia for official visit

Benjamin Netanyahu has just wrapped up a visit to Singapore.

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Before that, he was in the United States to meet with President Donald Trump.

Now, for the first time ever, a sitting prime minister of Israel is visiting Australia.

The Australian Jewish Council’s Dr Colin Rubenstein says it is difficult for Israeli leaders to get the opportunity to visit their allies.

“It’s very hard for Israeli prime ministers to leave the country for more than three days. Don’t you understand the country’s under perpetual threat? And the politics at home are rough and ready, as we all know. So it’s very difficult to get away for a week, essentially. And there are so many other issues on the agenda. It’s taken a while, perhaps it’s overdue, but, for all those reasons, that’s what makes it all the more exciting and important.”

But not everyone is excited by the prospect of Mr Netanyahu’s visit.

Peter Slezak belongs to a group called Independent Australian Jewish Voices, as well as the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

He says the invitation to Mr Netanyahu should never have been extended, citing concerns over the actions of Israeli forces in disputed territories.

“Well, I think we shouldn’t welcome him, we shouldn’t have invited him. Benjamin Netanyahu is responsible for very serious crimes against international law in the West Bank, in Gaza.”

Mr Slezak says there are many in the Jewish community who disagree with the policies of Israel and Mr Netanyahu.

“I’m Jewish. My parents are both Holocaust survivors. My mother and her mother survived Auschwitz. So, there’s a lesson we’re supposed to have learnt. We say, ‘Never again,’ but, sadly, I think most Jews don’t understand that properly. That means never again to anybody.”

In Canberra, the head of the general delegation of Palestine to Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi, says the meeting is an opportunity.

He wants Malcolm Turnbull to make the case for a two-state solution, with both Israel and Palestine recognised as sovereign countries.

“I hope, also, that Mr Turnbull told – will tell – Mr Netanyahu to end the occupation, military occupation, soon, immediately, because this would save the two-state solution. Otherwise, we will go through a sort of circle of violence, unfortunately.”

Mr Netanyahu will also meet with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who says he will express Labor’s support for a two-state solution, which has bipartisan support in Canberra.

Former Labor leader Kevin Rudd says he thinks Australia should go further and formally recognise a Palestinian state.

He joins similar calls from senior Labor figures Bob Carr, Bob Hawke and Gareth Evans.

But current Labor MP Michael Danby, a strong supporter of Israel, criticises his one-time political allies.

“I wish Bob Carr and Bob Hawke and Gareth Evans would be such big heroes when a giant like China comes to Australia. Where were they for the Tibetans or the Uyghurs?”

The Turnbull Government has been critical of settlements in recent months but has positioned itself as a close friend of Israel.

Last December, the United Nations Security Council voted 14-0 to condemn Israeli settlements, with the United States abstaining.

Australia does not have a seat in the council at the moment, but Mr Turnbull has said Australia would have voted against what he called a “one-sided” motion if it had the chance.

Mr Netanyahu will be in Australia for four days.

 

Western Sydney ban 14 fans after offensive banner display

Football Federation Australia (FFA) have issued a ‘show cause’ notice to the club in response to the banner, which they described as “offensive to any reasonable member of the public”, and the club may face severe penalties from the governing body.

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The banner, depicting a blue-faced man said to resemble Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold performing a sex act, was held aloft by Wanderers’ fans during their 1-0 A-League victory at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.

Wanderers Chief Executive John Tsatsimas said in a statement on Tuesday the supporters group had shown disdain for the club.

“Following a thorough review of the incident on Saturday including review of CCTV footage at the venue and examination of those involved … we have acted to remove them from our club,” Tsatsimas said.

“This incident involved key leaders of the RBB who have shown no remorse for their actions of bringing our club and the game of football into disrepute and have continued to flaunt their disdain for the club and our diverse and inclusive membership family further on social media.

“As a club we have had enough and have put the entire group on notice.”

The 2014 Asian Champions League winners said the bans were imposed by the club and not by the FFA or the venue.

Western Sydney added that if there was any further trouble from the group, either in person or on social media, then the entire section where they watch games — called the active supporter area — would be shut down.

Western Sydney have already been given a suspended points deduction until the end of the season after fans lit flares in a previous match.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Dickson praises medicinal cannabis change

Queensland One Nation MP Steve Dickson says the federal government’s move to make it easier to access medicinal cannabis vindicates his decision to jump ship to the minor party.

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Mr Dickson defected from the Liberal Nation Party in January, claiming his concerns about access to medicinal cannabis weren’t being listened to.

Federal health minister Greg Hunt announced on Wednesday changes allowing importers to stockpile medicinal cannabis instead of importing it on a case-by-case basis, which greatly reduces the time it takes for sick people to begin treatment.

Mr Dickson, who now a crossbencher, says his defection was the catalyst for One Nation leader Pauline Hanson lobbying the prime minister and getting results.

“I feel vindicated for what I’ve done, I feel relief for so many families in Australia and right throughout Queensland,” he told ABC Radio.

“Senator Pauline Hanson has lobbied the prime minister continually and constantly, no other MPs in this country have done what I believe Senator Hanson and myself have done.”

The Member for Buderim said he couldn’t have achieved the same result if he’d remained in the LNP.

“They would have continued to sit back and laugh, as they laughed at me in the cabinet room.”

Queensland LNP leader Tim Nicholls on Wednesday again rejected suggestions the party hadn’t listened to Mr Dickson while he was still in the party.

“Steve Dickson was all about Steve Dickson, we’re all about putting Queensland jobs first,” Mr Nicholls told reporters on the Sunshine Coast.

“I think the people of Buderim have been ratted on by Steve Dickson. He got elected under the LNP banner, he supported LNP policies but when the going got tough, Steve got going.”

Mr Nicholls also denied the LNP was struggling to find a candidate to challenge Mr Disckson for Buderim at the next state election, saying they have “a great field of candidates” and the party is committed to regaining the seat.

Melbourne crash pilot’s wife struggling

The wife of the pilot who died in a fiery crash at a Melbourne airport is “really struggling”, her sister says.

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Max Quartermain died when the plane he was flying crashed into the Essendon airport DFO shortly after take-off on Tuesday morning.

His sister-in-law Irene Gould said the past day had been an “incredibly sad time” for her sister Cilla Quartermain and their children.

“Please pray for Cilla and the children that they will find some comfort and peace in this horrific situation,” Ms Gould posted on Facebook on Wednesday.

“Cilla is really struggling. Good bye Max, you were a very special man and a brilliant pilot.”

Australian Corporate Jets chief executive Bas Nikolovski said the 63-year-old Mr Quartermain was “one of the most experienced pilots'” and he was shocked when he heard about the crash.

“Every aspect of my body had goosebumps” Mr Nikolovski told AAP.

Steve Atto, who had flown with Mr Quartermain, said on Facebook that he was a “diligent pilot” and “we all trusted and enjoyed his company”.

The Quartermains owned Corporate and Leisure Aviation, operating the business from their Rye home on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

The now-offline website for the business said Quartermain was the holder and operator of an Air Operations Certificate for more than 38 years and had an “impeccable safety record”.

He’d previously operated private charter company Seidler Aviation.

A Seidler aircraft was involved in a “unsafe” near miss at Mount Hotham in September 2015, where an Essendon-based plane came within 100 metres of another plane.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is still investigating the incident, and bureau chief commissioner Greg Hood would not comment on Mr Quartermain’s involvement.

Mr Quartermain also drove on a casual basis for Buddy’s Bus Service and was “held in high regard by fellow workers and customers alike”, the company said.

Peninsula Dog Walkers Association president Trevor Robinson said Mr Quartermain was “an incredible man”.

“We most certainly will never be able to replace you Max, you will be so dearly missed,” he posted online.

Mr Quartermain was an active member of local conservation groups, and owned a boat shed on the Mornington Peninsula.

Australian forces within 50km of Mosul

Australian special forces are within 50 kilometres of the frontline of the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul as the ground offensive shifts to liberating the city’s west.

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Australian soldiers are at forward operating bases advising and assisting Iraqi soldiers and providing medical treatment to the wounded.

Schools and markets have reopened and life is starting to return to normal for civilians in East Mosul.

But an estimated 750,000 civilians are under siege across the Tigris River which is home to the old city with narrower streets and denser terrain.

Australian Defence Force chief of joint operations Vice Admiral David Johnston warned there is likely to be IS (Daesh) sleeper cells among the civilian population in the city’s east who will conduct terrorist attacks to delay the offensive in the west.

“The liberation of Mosul will not be the end of the mission to defeat Daesh but its successful conclusion will increase pressure on Daesh, both in Iraq, Syria and globally,” Vice Admiral Johnston told reporters in Canberra.

Australian combat aircraft have struck 131 targets across the Mosul area since the advance began in October.

The targets hit include improvised explosive factories, Islamic State fighters, heavy weapon locations, tunnel entrances and weapon caches.

Australian and New Zealand soldiers have so far trained seven Iraqi brigades fighting to take back Mosul.

A total of 19,000 Iraqi soldiers have gone through training at the Taji base along with 1900 police.

The next phase of the mission after Mosul’s fall will target IS fighters at Tal Afar, the Euphrates River valley near the Syrian border.

Australia has 780 defence personnel deployed to the Middle East as part of US-led coalition fighting IS extremists.

The Pentagon is devising a new war strategy for US President Donald Trump, expected to be released in the next fortnight.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists US requests for a greater Australian contribution would be decided on merit.

Vice Admiral Johnston said if the government approved any “there would be options”.

Climate reality could strike Trump: Inglis

A politician from the most conservative district in the most conservative state in America believes it’s possible Donald Trump will lead the country to act on climate change.

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Former Republican congressman Bob Inglis says he knows it sounds improbable to say the US president would impose a carbon price, but he thinks reality will force Mr Trump’s hand.

“Donald Trump said climate change is a Chinese hoax and conspiracy – but he couldn’t possibly believe that,” Mr Inglis told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

Just as Richard Nixon opened up China and Bill Clinton reformed welfare, so too Mr Trump could act on climate change.

Plus, Mr Inglis has worked out how to couch the move in Trumpian language.

“America is going to move first. China is going to respond,” he imagined the president saying.

“They are going to pay our tax until they figure out that they don’t like the idea of paying tax to us.

“Go ahead and sue us, China. We’ll meet you in court, we’ll beat you in court.”

Mr Inglis says a bold move like unilaterally imposing a price on carbon and collecting the tax at the borders would work because China wanted access to the American market.

The rest of the world would follow suit because everyone was doing business with either the US or China.

And if Mr Trump does act, that would have serious implications for Australia, especially its coal exports.

Mr Inglis, who lost his seat to the far-right Tea Party wing of the Republicans after trying to get up legislation for a carbon price, is spending a fortnight in Australia trying to convince conservatives of the need for action.

He laments the tribalism of the debate, saying there’s such fear among conservatives about being seen as weak in the face of the environmental left they refuse to hear anything.

He frames the question to conservatives as not whether they believe in climate change, but if they think free enterprise can solve it.

“We’ve got to build the confidence of the right so that they can send the tribal leaders down to the river to meet with the other tribe’s leaders,” Mr Inglis said.

“If they don’t have confidence they’ll be received back in the tents of our tribe, they won’t go – or if they come back and they get stabbed in the back, it doesn’t last.”

He was optimistic demographics would force conservatives to drop the “grumpy old party” pose.

Young people told him the cynicism rising from both sides branding the “other” lead them to doubt the ability of politics to deliver solutions.

“If you are in parliament or you’re in congress and you are not willing to risk your seat, you really shouldn’t be there,” he said.

“After all, it’s one thing to lose an election, it’s quite another to lose one’s soul.”

Sirtex Medical to cut costs as sales slow

Cancer treatment developer Sirtex Medical’s half year profit has fallen 20 per cent as its sales growth slowed and a rising Australian dollar dented revenue.

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The company manufacturers and distributes a radiation therapy for liver cancer called SIR-Spheres Y-90 resin microspheres, for which sales rose 5.6 per cent in the six months to December 31, down from a growth rate of almost 16 per cent a year earlier.

Sirtex had warned of the weaker sales growth in December, due to increased competition for patients, a rival drug approval and restrictions in reimbursements.

The majority of Sirtex’s revenue is generated in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and the Aussie dollar’s improvement against the US dollar and euro meant revenue in the half year rose just 0.2 per cent.

The cost of a new production facility in Germany and increased marketing also weighed on net profit, which fell to $20.8 million.

Sirtex said it will wind down research and development activities not associated with its liver cancer treatment to deliver $7 million in annual cost savings from the 2017/18 financial year.

The company still expects its sales to grow by between five and 11 per cent over the full 2016/17 year, and has forecast pre-tax earnings of between $65 million and $74 million, on a constant currency basis.

Earnings were $74.3 million in 2015/16.

Sirtex also announced it will buy back up to $30 million of its shares in the next six months.

Its shares were up 27 cents at $15.66 at 1515 AEDT.

SIRTEX HIT BY SLOWING SALES AND HIGHER AUSSIE DOLLAR

* Half year net profit down 19.8 pct to $20.8m

* Revenue up 0.2 per cent to $112.8m

* No interim dividend, unchanged

Buffett rule not on Labor agenda: Bowen

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen insists the so-called “Buffett rule” is not something Labor will be adopting in its tax policy, even if the Left of his party believes it is a principle that should be debated.

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The Buffett rule, named after American businessman Warren Buffett, aims to make high income earners pay a minimum rate of tax.

The Labor Left believes such a policy with a 35 per cent minimum rate, would help counter the rise of populist parties and shore up the country’s coffers.

“This is a common sense principle. It deserves public debate,” Labor Left national secretary and NSW upper house MP John Graham says.

But Mr Bowen says the Buffett rule was developed for the US tax system and is not appropriate for Australia.

“It will not be a policy that we adopt,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“The better way in Australia is to identify the Australian tax concessions which aren’t fair, which benefit high income earners disproportionately.”

These include negative gearing, capital gains and superannuation tax concessions, changes Labor is already pursuing.

The Labor Left has reportedly asked the party’s upcoming national policy forum to consider pursuing the Buffett rule as a priority before a likely debate at the ALP national conference next year.

“Labor and the labour movement have to take serious policy positions that even two years ago would have been outside the political orthodoxy and previously unthinkable,” union leader and Labor national executive member Tim Ayres said.

“Without some new policies in response to what is going on people in the suburbs and regions will give up on progressive politics in favour of the far right.”

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said if Labor wants to hijack Greens policy for a Buffett tax “that would be great”.

“Let’s see who can come up with the most progressive taxation platform for the next election. Let’s have a revenue-raising arms race,” he taunted.

Fortescue sees iron ore prices moderating

Iron ore miner Fortescue has joined larger rival BHP Billiton in forecasting a near-term moderation in iron ore prices, downplaying the rally that has helped it boost profits and lift shareholder payouts.

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The company, which on Wednesday reported that its half-year net profit nearly quadrupled, said while medium term demand factors in China remained strong, the recent surge in iron ore prices was unusual.

“The price has increased quite significantly and its also on the back of increasing stockpiles, which is quite unusual,” Fortescue chief executive Nev Power told reporters.

“I think we will see it moderate to more historic levels, because it just seems to be driven by short term market right now.

“We will also see supply side reforms in China start to impact on that.”

His comments echoed BHP Billiton’s chief executive Andrew Mackenzie, who a day earlier forecast a near-term downside risk for prices of iron ore and metallurgical coal.

Iron ore, which sunk to a decade-low at the start of 2016, doubled in value during the year after stimulus measures in China boosted demand.

Its price has continued to climb over the last two months, defying analyst expectations of a correction, and currently trades at $US95 a tonne.

The soaring prices helped Fortescue report net profit of $US1.22 billion ($A1.59 billion) for the six months to December 31, up from $US319 million a year ago.

Analysts had expected the world’s fourth-biggest iron ore exporter to report profit of around $US1.1 billion.

Fortescue had used the downturn in the industry to align its cost structure with larger rivals BHP, Rio Tinto and Brazil’s Vale and used the additional cashflow from the recent price rally to speed up its debt repayments.

The miner said average cash costs for the six months nearly halved from a year ago to $US13.06 a tonne, while net debt was down to $US4 billion, well below its target gearing ratio of 40 per cent.

The company will continue to prioritise debt repayment, but will review its target payout range at the time of the full year results, based on market conditions, Mr Power said.

Fortescue delivered a sharply higher interim dividend to 20 cents a share, fully franked, compared to three cents a year earlier. The payout was within its 30 to 40 per cent payout range.

Mr Power said the company is mulling development of tenements for other minerals, but said no major spending had been allocated for this purpose yet.

He also confirmed that a potential tie-up between Fortescue and Vale for blending their iron ore for the China market is off the table for now, with talks between the two companies not progressing.

At 1528 AEDT, Fortescue shares were down 2.7 per cent at $6.97 a share, but are now worth three and a half times their value 12 months ago.

FORTESCUE PROFIT SOARS

* Net profit $US1.22b vs $US319m

* Revenue $US4.49b, up 34 pct

* Interim dividend of 20 cents a share, up from three cents

Raiders’ Papalii accepts leadership axing

Canberra forward Josh Papalii has narrowed his focus on producing on the field after an off-field incident resulted in his dumping from the NRL club’s leaders group last month.

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Papalii is still awaiting further punishment from both the club and police after being involved in a drink-driving offence in late January.

However, he has already paid a price for the latest in what is a long line of indiscretions, receiving a stern talk from both coach Ricky Stuart and captain Jarrod Croker.

He also had off-field incidents in 2013 and 2014.

“We had long chats about off-field incidents. You don’t want to be a young fella coming through Canberra, one of your leaders doing what I did, and trying to look up to that,” Papalii told AAP.

“It’s not an example we set here. It’s not Canberra standards. I’ve hopefully learnt from my mistakes and move on from here.”

Papalii, who would’ve been considered in the frame to skipper the side in the absence of injured skipper Croker over the first few rounds, admitted he had a lot to learn about leadership.

He said he was still pained by the decision.

“If it didn’t hurt, it’d mean I didn’t care. Sticky’s (Stuart) come in with goals and requirements and responsibilities as leaders,” he said.

“Obviously I didn’t follow that, and you have to pay for what you’ve done. That’s only one of the things I have to go through to get my life back on track. You’ve just got to do it.”

The 24-year-old said he hadn’t given thought to trying to work his way back into the group, and has instead honed his focus on producing on the field.

Papalii was one of the Raiders’ strongest performers last year – their best season in more than 20 years.

“At this stage I’m just trying to get ready for the season. I’m not thinking about being a leader or doing this and that, because once you’re on the field, no one remembers that stuff,” he said.

“Everyone remembers who you run out with, who runs the ball, who tackles, who makes those saves. That’s all I can do from here – give my 100 per cent for the boys.”

The Queensland Origin representative also revealed he’s heading into next week’s season-opener underdone as he continues to recover from off-season surgery.

He played just 20-minutes during the trials and it is a stint he was unhappy with.

“I was pretty filthy when I come off, just because I done nothing in that 20. I was pretty disappointed. To be honest, it wasn’t enough for myself but Sticky’s got other plans,” he said.

“It’s the first time I’ve done my ankle and it’s about managing it because it’s still not 100 per cent. It’s more about the confidence side for me, but I should be alright.”