Cruz wins Wyoming Republican presidential nominating contest

Cruz is trying to prevent Trump from obtaining the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination at the July convention in Cleveland.

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By continuing to rack up small wins, Cruz is gaining ground on the New York real estate mogul, who has thus far failed to shift his focus on the local-level campaigning necessary to win delegates.

Trump has been critical of the process, again on Saturday calling it “rigged” while speaking at a rally in Syracuse, New York. He has repeatedly complained about Colorado, which awarded all 34 of its delegates to Cruz despite not holding a popular vote.

Trump said his supporters are becoming increasingly angry with states such as Wyoming and Colorado.

“They’re going nuts out there; they’re angry,” Trump said in Syracuse. “The bosses took away their vote, and I wasn’t going to send big teams of people three, four months ago, have them out there.”

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While Trump has won 21 state nominating contests to Cruz’s 10, the billionaire leads the Texas senator by only 196 delegates (755-559). That means he must win nearly 60 percent of those remaining before the party’s political convention in July.

Wyoming does not hold a primary vote. Instead, 475 party activists convened in Casper on Saturday to hold a state convention and award 14 delegates.

Previously, 12 other delegates had been designated at county-level conventions. Cruz won 10 of those, with one going to Trump and another being elected as “unbound.”

Cruz spoke at the convention, capping off a months-long effort to organise support in the state. Trump had originally planned to send former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who remains popular among conservatives, as a surrogate, but she canceled at the last minute.

Cruz spoke about local issues in Wyoming, the largest coal-producing state.

He discussed the Democratic “attack” on the fossil fuel, saying President Barack Obama has tried to put the coal industry out of business through government regulations targeting air pollution.

“America is the Saudi Arabia of coal, and we are going to develop our industry,” Cruz said.

At the same time, Trump was speaking at a rally in Syracuse, New York, ahead of the state’s Republican primary on Tuesday.

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Is America’s ‘Tiny Home Movement’ taking hold here?

Some Australians are gaining inspiration from America’s Tiny House Movement.

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Local architects, builders and developers are also embracing small home and design concepts.

The high cost of Australian homes is prompting a re-think  of housing options, and encouraging Australians to “think small” about the spaces they live in.

A growing interest in more eco-friendly and sustainable living, along with well-designed and efficient spaces, is also fuelling this emerging trend.

Whether you call it down-sizing, minimalism, or a need for debt-relief, more Australians are questioning, not only how much space they can afford, but how much space they really need?

The Tiny House Movement in the US is inspiring Australians to consider alternative ways of living.

The movement’s philosophy of living simply, and debt-free, with minimal impact on the environment, has attracted at least 18,000 followers in Australia.

Sixty eight per cent percent of American tiny home owners have no mortgage, compared to 29.3 per cent of all US homeowners.

In America, there are companies that specialize in building Tiny Homes, whereas it’s more of a do-it-yourself job in Australia.

In Sydney, best friends, Beck Benson and Reece Brennan, have done something few other 20-somethings have.

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They designed and  built their own Tiny House – measuring just 2 metres wide, 3.6 metres long and 3.9 metres high, with a sleeping loft, in the roof.

It’s also equipped with a shower, a gas cooktop kitchen, and in-built storage.

And it’s on wheels. so it’s mobile, although that also limited its size.

“I spent a couple of weeks travelling around in it, various weekend trips here and there. It’s great, very functional and you could really live here permanently,” says Reece. 

Beck and Reece believe it’s the smallest tiny house built in Australia, and also the first.

“We did build it ourselves.  We planned it all ourselves from scratch,” says Reece.

“It always seems like such a pipe dream when you’re undertaking such a huge project that no-one’s done before.”

Beck and Reece used recycled materials to build their miniature house. It took them two years to complete it, working  on weekends and public holidays.  It cost just $18,000. 

“Where we live the houses prices are just going up and up. And so, this just seems like such a better option, especially for young people. But not just for young people,” says Beck

“With the median house prices in Sydney being a million dollars at the moment, and considering your deposit at 20 per cent is $200,000,  for ten per cent of your deposit, we built our totally liveable home. Less than ten percent.”  added Reece.

While it’s been used as a mobile away-from-home and temporary accommodation, the tiny house, which was built for Beck, is not yet somewhere she’s calling home.

“I haven’t had a chance yet, but I’m really hoping to, in the next year. I just wanted to build it. The actual process of having it at the end, was a kind of an extra bonus. Yeah, it was the journey of building it that I was particularly focused on. But it’s amazing that we’ve got this totally liveable structure afterwards,” says beck.

Council regulations and restrictions on where you can put a tiny home can be a hindrance.

So far, only a few Australians appear to be living in one.

But that could be about to change.

There’s a growing demand for courses and workshops on how to build your own tiny home.

The Bower Recycling Centre in Marrickville, in Sydney’s inner west, supports the Tiny House Movement, says manager Guido Verbist.

“We built one, with 15 people, over a weekend… We had people from the US coming over, who are experienced in doing it, and they helped with the development and design,” he says.

“We have since been contacted by many people who show an interest in it, and even ask us to run more of the same workshops.” 

Catherine Karena is a Training and Recruitment Manager, who’s also a Tiny House enthusiast who has organised building courses attended by a broad range of people.

‘You’ve got young people who don’t think they’ve got a hope to get a house at all, or they don’t want to get into huge debt. Then you’ve got grey nomads, who don’t want a granny flat, they want to travel around,” she says.

“When we did our first building course in Sydney last year, it was such a wide range of people. You had middle aged, you had 20s, 30s, 50s, 60s. We had all different people, and they all had different reasons. Some of the common things were, people want more life. They don’t want to be in debt. They don’t want huge mortgages. A lot feel, like, happiness doesn’t come from a lot of stuff.” 

A possible new solution to housing need

Some organisations are also looking at the Tiny House Movement as a way to provide accommodation for homeless youth and women’s shelters.

While such compact living  may be too extreme for many, bigger is not always better either.

Architects are increasingly challenging their clients to think about what they really need.

It’s a conversation award-winning Melbourne architect, Andrew Maynard, is having with his clients.

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“There definitely is a trend where people realize that quality is  more important than size.  Now there seems to be a new way of thinking that realizes there’s actually a lot of limitations, and problems,  when you create large spaces, whether it simply be how much energy it takes to heat or cool this space, or just clean the damm place,” he says.

People have realized you can keep spaces small, well designed so they’re not cramped, and beautifully  connected to the outside space.”

Maynard says sustainability and lifestyle choices are driving the trend.

“All of those cultural shifts will actually help us to solve the affordability and density issues that we’re really confronted with.”

As the Great Australian Dream  of home ownership remains out of reach for many Australians, the Queensland based Future Housing Taskforce believes it’s coming up with solutions to the housing affordability crisis.

Working with builders, developers and local councils, the taskforce has produced what it calls the “Smarter, Small Home.”

Variations on its designs, including dual occupancy models, are being built around Australia, for as little as $100,000.

We do not need 250 square metres of space for 2 people or 3 people, when we used to provide housing of 85 square metres for 5 people in the 60s and 70s. We are now the most unaffordable nation in the English speaking world, for ten years in a row.”

The Future Housing Taskforce is also launching an off-grid version of its smaller, smart home.

” We’ve had feedback now from over a thousand people, and it will be completely off-grid, with water,  power, sewerage, and provide its own food sources. It  will be open for display in 2017.”

“I believe the future of housing in Australia will be off-grid suburbs, off-grid communities, that are capable of reducing the running costs to zero.”

Kevin Doodney, the founder of the Future Housing Taskforce believes  there’s a need for more diverse housing options, not  just to address affordability issues, but also future housing needs.

“I think the problem we’re all facing is, we all buy a memory of architecture. And no matter how hard we try to solve this issue, we keep going back  to what we’ve always had. What we’ve always had, we can’t afford. Land has gone up in Australia over 600 percent in the last seven years. We cannot afford to continually build one house on one lot,” he says.

“The only thing we’ve done in Australian housing in something like 40 years, is add an ensuite.”

More diverse housing stock that allows more people to work from home, and caters for Australia’s diverse communities, is also part of the solution.

“”We have to look at housing that appeals to the changing families that are occurring across Australia…. from the first  home buyer, to the retiree market, to the families that fracture, we need housing to accommodate all of these markets….”

And that, Kevin Doodney says, would allow more Australians to achieve the Great Australian Dream of home ownership.

Brisbane hospital sued over breast surgery

Two women are suing a Brisbane hospital for allegedly botching their preventive surgeries for breast cancer.

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Single mother-of-four Natasha Murrie, 43, and Michelle Cullen,52, have filed medical negligence compensation claims in the District Court in Brisbane against the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

They both underwent mastectomies and reconstructions and were allegedly left with deformities requiring invasive corrective surgeries.

Ms Murrie, who was at risk because she has the BRCA2 gene, said her mother died of breast cancer at 48 and she didn’t want to suffer the same fate.

“But the surgery left me in agony and caused severe scarring, which has led to breast deformities and ongoing pain,” she said.

“It’s taken a huge toll on me physically and emotionally and has had an enormous impact on my family, who has had to support me throughout this difficult journey.”

Ms Cullen, 52, who also has the BRCA2 gene, said she suffered ongoing complications and discomfort following several unsuccessful corrective procedures.

She was told that it could take two years for a qualified plastic surgeon to perform her reconstruction procedure following a double mastectomy, but another surgeon could operate within six months, so she went with the latter option.

“It never entered my mind that having surgery that was supposed to stop breast cancer from returning would jeopardise my quality of life,” she said.

Olamide Kowalik, a senior associate with Slater and Gordon, the firm representing the women, said complaints had also been lodged with the state’s health ombudsman.

“The devastation these women have experienced is evidence of the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to such surgeries, involving various medical departments, to ensure the best result is achieved,” she said.

Comment from the hospital has been sought.

A Metro North Health and Hospital Service spokeswoman later said it was inappropriate to comment because the matter was before the courts.

Regional youth-employment program gaining wider kudos

The program’s success has led to calls to roll it out in local councils across Australia.

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In the town of Cessnock in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, a generation of young people are caught in a cycle of unemployment.

Youths like Phoebe Morris are faced with the staggering challenge of landing a job without the relevant skills.

And the skills are impossible to acquire without a job.

Ms Morris says it is a catch 22.*

“I grew up here, went to school. My mum — single mum — just lost a job last year, and we’ve been living off what savings she has. And it’s really hard trying to find a job when they need experience and the qualifications, qualifications, are costly. And you can’t get a job to cover those costs. And I’m trying my hardest. I want a job. I want to support myself.”

It is a situation feeding a brand of hopelessness among a large swell of young, working-age people in the region.

Cessnock’s mayor, Bob Pysent, says youth unemployment is harming the community.

“(It’s) devastating to young people to feel valueless to our society. It causes social problems, but it also decreases the vibrancy in our community. Young people working, studying, they spend money, it’s stimulating to our local economy.”

The Economic Development Manager at Cessnock City Council, Jane Holdsworth, knows just how bad the situation is.

“The (number) of parents I’ve spoken to who just don’t know what’s happening with their children these days, they don’t get it. The kids don’t talk to them anymore. They’ve got no control. It’s a whole generation we’re losing here, a whole generation who are committing suicide. They’re depressed. They don’t know what to do.”

In 2015, youth unemployment in the Hunter Valley reached 21 per cent, the highest rate in New South Wales and fourth highest in Australia.

Faced with the burgeoning pressure of a generation of young people unable to find full-time work, Cessnock City Council devised a plan to break young people into the workforce.

The Youth First Project, run by the council at the Hunter Valley Visitor Centre, provides hands-on training to youths to help them gain the skills required to land a job.

Council employees have trained them in such areas as hospitality, wine-tasting and tourism, all relevant to the type of employment unique to the region.

The program is turning things around for Phoebe Morris, one of four youths enrolled in the current program.

She says, weeks into the course, she landed a job.

“Incredible. I’m so happy, over the moon. But without this program, I wouldn’t have got it, because it’s people like Jane and Melissa and the centre here who got me in, have got me trained, got me that experience and that knowledge and the skill set that I need to get out there and get that experience.”

Freya Campbell is a 22-year-old also taking part, and, although she is yet to find employment, she insists she is on track to get there.

“I’m still applying, and I’ve got so much more support. People are actually wanting to help me and make sure that I do get a job, not just sign me off on a course and then that’s it sort of thing. I’ve got support through the whole process. I’m getting actual hands-on experience and getting solid references that are relevant. But I am surprising myself with what I’ve able to do that I didn’t think I would be able to do.”

Ms Holdsworth says the young trainees are thriving off the program.

“You see them being empowered, you see them … their self-esteem, their self-confidence, comes out. They start learning to deal with people. And they all get a surprise. They think, ‘I never thought I’d like dealing with people,’ and they do.”

The Youth First Project has an 80 per cent success rate, and the hope is it can be developed into a model all local councils across Australia can use.

The national youth-unemployment rate sits at around 13 per cent, the figure persistently high since the global financial crisis.

At this stage, the Cessnock program can only cater to 20 students per year.

But Ms Campbell says she wants to see it expanded so others in her position are given the same opportunities.

“This course that we’re doing is excellent, but there’s four of us at a time. And it’s sort of like, ‘What about the rest of the people in the same situation as me?’ It’s really excellent for me and three others who are doing it with me, but what about everybody else? So it really needs to expand.”

Jane Holdsworth is calling for government funding which would allow community-led programs like the Youth First Project to be rolled out across Australia.

“It’s proven that you can do it. And there are other councils out there, they’ve told me they’d love to do something like we’re doing here. But we need a bit of funding, and, if we can do that, if every council in Australia put (in) 20 young kids and got them a job at the end of the year, that’s over 14,000 to 15,000 created jobs every year.”

 

 

NRL’s high-flying Sharks rue inconsistency

His side has the worst completion rate in the NRL, makes the most errors, is conceding the most penalties and is missing the second most tackles but Shane Flanagan is still wearing a smile on his face.

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Despite a plethora of stats to suggest Cronulla’s premiership defence is on the rocks, Flanagan is only looking at one set of numbers – their perch at equal second on the ladder.

The Sharks have been a Jekyll and Mr Hyde proposition over the opening nine rounds – while they have looked ordinary for long stretches of games, they’re still getting the job done.

As well as being 16th for penalties (8.2 per game), handling (71 per cent) and mistakes (11.9), they’re allowing the least points (13.1) and conceding the second least metres (1312m)

Only table-topping Melbourne have more wins and the Sharks are the only team this year to knock off the Storm.

And for that reason, Flanagan is unconcerned.

“The only thing we’ve been consistent about is that we’ve been inconsistent,” Flanagan said.

“We’ve just got to tidy that up. If you can win and not play that well, I’m not worried.

“We’ve had our moments. We played really well for two weeks against Melbourne and Penrith, we didn’t let a try in.

“The next week wasn’t that great.

“I’ve seen that this group can play against the best, I’d be concerned if I hadn’t seen that, but I have.

“They’re the only team to beat the Storm so far.”

Veteran back-rower Luke Lewis returns for the Sharks’ round 10 encounter with local rivals St George Illawarra on Friday, replacing Tony Williams, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.

The UOW Jubilee Oval clash is crunch for both sides with the loser in danger of tumbling out of the top four.

The Dragons are without strike weapons Gareth Widdop (knee) and Josh Dugan (fractured cheekbone).

They lost to the Roosters after losing Widdop in the first half before being trounced by the Storm. Also, the Dragons have won nine of their last 23 without Dugan.

Kurt Mann will once again fill in at No.6 for Widdop with Taane Milne coming on to the wing and Jason Nightingale moving to No.1

“Taane’s the next man up. He’s been in our 17 consistently and him and Kurt have been mixing up that role,” Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.

“He’s a player of talent. He’s a centre but he wanted the challenge of playing on the wing and he’s the best fit for it.

“Taane deserved the opportunity.”

STATS THAT MATTER

* Since 2009 the Dragons have won 12 of 17 clashes between these two sides, including all four meetings at Kogarah.

* The Sharks’ last win at Kogarah was in 2007, and they have won just two of nine there.

* This match pits the best attacking team (the Dragons) against the best defensive team (Sharks).

Source: Fox Sports Stats

Adani decision not delayed by Senate

Indian mining giant Adani, which is developing the massive Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, won’t be delaying an investment decision because of a hold-up of native title laws in the Senate.

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The company was advised by Labor leader Bill Shorten on Thursday afternoon that the opposition would support the laws when they came to a vote in mid-June.

“Though the failure of the Senate to pass the amendments today will mean some delays in some early works, the company remains on track to make the crucial financial decision this month,” an Adani spokesman told AAP on Thursday.

Mr Shorten’s commitment would be considered by the Adani board when it met later in the month for a final investment decision.

The legislation amends the Native Title Act to resolve legal uncertainty around more than 120 indigenous land use agreements relating to major projects, including the $21 billion Carmichael mine.

Attorney-General George Brandis moved to suspend the Senate’s schedule on Thursday morning to bring on the debate, with the potential for a Friday sitting to get a final vote.

But the government lost the vote 35-33, meaning the legislation won’t pass until the Senate returns in mid-June.

“The Labor party said they support the legislation and amendments yet they voted with the Greens against having the bill finally dealt with by the parliament this week,” Senator Brandis told AAP after the vote.

“This is a flagrant breach of their undertaking to enable the parliament to deal with the legislation as soon as possible.”

The Queensland Labor government has written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asking the bill be passed as a matter of urgency.

Indigenous leader and former ALP president Warren Mundine said it was wrong to drag out the vote.

Mr Mundine said at the end of the day the people suffering the most are indigenous people, then the wider Australian economy because of the hold-up of jobs and development.

The coalition party room approved amendments to the bill on Tuesday and senators were informed of the procedural move by the government on Thursday morning.

Indigenous Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy accused the government of disrespecting traditional owners by rushing through changes without consultation.

“Here you are wanting to make a piece of legislation to amend a profound act, an important act,” she said.

“Let me tell you – it’s not going to happen.”

Greens senator Rachel Siewert accused the government of ignoring issues with the proposed changes.

“They want to rush this through so Adani can go ahead with their dirty coalmine,” she said.

Senators debated the bill on Thursday afternoon.

Budget boost, but dangers for Turnbull

If Malcolm Turnbull does not get a poll jump out of the 2017 budget there is no hope for his government.

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The stand-out political winner in Tuesday’s budget was a new permanent tax on the big five banks.

This was the finest hour for Australian populist politics and came as a complete surprise to bank executives, but will make a long-term dent in the budget deficit.

It has the added benefit of telling voters – many of whom would like to see bank chiefs hauled before a royal commission – the coalition is listening.

Faced with the prospect of the banks fighting back by telling shareholders and customers they’ll be slugged, Treasurer Scott Morrison has delivered a blunt message to CEOs.

“They already don’t like you very much. They don’t like us as politicians universally that much either. So we understand your pain,” he said in the traditional National Press Club post-budget speech on Wednesday.

“But prove them wrong on this occasion. Don’t confirm their worst impressions. Tell them another story. Tell them you’ll pony up and you’ll help fix the budget.”

Pledging to lift the Medicare rebate freeze and guarantee long-term funding of Medicare, promising more than $18 billion extra in school funding, and fully funding the national disability insurance scheme will also be popular.

Much of the rest of the budget – investing in roads and rail, a new Western Sydney airport, hydro power and some modest policy around housing affordability – will likely be seen as business-as-usual. The stuff that governments should be doing.

Much of the budget will be passed without too much fuss, as it was designed to do.

The budget effectively resets the political agenda for Turnbull and proves a coalition government can be a starkly different beast to that led by Tony Abbott.

It will also lift Scott Morrison’s stocks in the electorate.

His transformation from a policy hard-head to a pragmatist with a listening ear is almost complete, and having him deep in the heart of the electoral battleground of NSW can only help Turnbull’s fortunes.

In the longer term it may give Morrison – who turns 49 on Saturday – scope to be a palatable Liberal leader, either in government or opposition.

It’s a budget that Liberal and Nationals backbench MPs believe they can confidently sell to their constituents.

But there is a downside.

Health and education have long been seen as positives for Labor.

Labor has gained some traction over its school funding message – that the government has effectively cut $22 billion from schools, and the Catholic system in particular will be hard-hit.

Linking it with the government’s unpopular plan to hike university fees is an effective way of hammering the “Labor is best for education” line.

Shorten also maintains Labor is the party that built Medicare and the only party that can be trusted to protect it, despite Turnbull’s pledge to enshrine its funding in law and set up a special fund.

With the government having used the budget to dump its two per cent levy on the highest income earners, Labor can also argue politicians shouldn’t get a tax cut (almost $7000 a year for Turnbull himself) while average workers face flat wages, cuts to penalty rates and a rising cost of living.

Labor strategists believe the issue of “fairness” remains fair game, despite the budget reset, and is a battle the opposition can win.

Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers points to the language used by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann about having dumped $13 billion in so-called “zombie” savings, which included cuts to paid parental leave, waiting times for Newstart and scrapping some family payments.

“Regrettably we had to make these judgements, but that certainly wasn’t our first preference,” the minister said on Sky.

Chalmers says it shows the government remains committed to its “unfair cuts” and there’s plenty of scope for political positioning.

“We wouldn’t have given the $50 billion company tax cut, we wouldn’t have taken the deficit levy off the highest income earners, we wouldn’t have cut schools and universities and TAFEs … so there are still important differences between us on the Labor side and the government.”

Australian energy crisis a scandal: Howard

Former PM John Howard says Australia’s greatest immediate policy challenge was barely mentioned in the federal budget – the looming energy crisis.

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Speaking at a post-budget business breakfast with former New Zealand PM John Key, Mr Howard described the risk of supply and price rises as scandalous given Australia natural endowments of energy sources.

The nation had 38 per cent of the world’s easily recoverable uranium reserves, hundreds of years of coal reserves, was a major natural gas producer and could also produce plenty of solar and wind power, he said.

“That we should be facing a potential energy crisis in the eastern states is a serious condemnation of the political process,” he said.

“That gas exploration has been hampered, narrowed, redirected and prohibited by some state governments is a policy scandal of the first order.”

He also claimed state governments had overzealously embraced renewable energy targets, leading to a massive increase in costs.

“When my government was defeated in 2007, the renewable energy target was two per cent and it should never have been increased?” he said.

Some major energy users have shut some operations as a result, such as Rio Tinto, while others are threatening to do so, such as Glencore coal boss Peter Freyberg in comments this week.

Mr Howard said Australia was extremely fortunate economically and was approaching a world record of consecutive quarters of growth, but was getting to the “brake linings” and falling behind competitors.

A Senate that was more diverse than in his time made the crucial economic reform needed more difficult to pass, he said.

He said he was “uneasy” about what he called a bank tax hike, that was part of this week’s budget.

Mr Key said Australia’s long-term economic good times made it harder for governments to convince voters that reform was needed, especially in industrial relations.

Australia’s labour participation rate was lower than New Zealand’s, but if it was the same the unemployment rate would be 12-13 per cent, he said.

Palaszczuk apologises for Queensland’s convictions for homosexuality

The Queensland government has introduced legislation to throw out past criminal convictions for homosexuality, with the premier delivering an official apology.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk delivered the apology in state parliament on Thursday, saying sorry to the hundreds who were affected by the laws, which were repealed in 1991.

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“You have been maligned and shamed, and for that we express our deep regret for the hurt you have suffered,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“In criminalising homosexual activity between consenting adults, the legislative assembly of this state dishonoured its citizens and institutionalised prejudice and discrimination.”

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Alan Raabe was convicted for aggravated sexual assault after a consensual homosexual act in 1988, and was in the public gallery to hear the apology.

The 63-year-old said his dreams of being a teacher had been dashed by his conviction but he was happy to finally have his record wiped clean.

“It was like a cloud lifted, somebody cared,” Mr Raabe said.

“Even at my age it still hangs over you, so to have it lifted is just wonderful.”

He singled out the Palaszczuk government for praise, saying he had been “swept under the carpet” by successive governments for 30 years before someone listened.

Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath said she was proud to introduce the bill to the house to expunge the convictions.

“The discriminatory nature of the archaic laws that existed in this state prior to 1991 institutionalised ignorance, and legitimised prejudice against people for merely expressing their sexuality,” she said.

“What this bill is intended to do is … recognise that private, consensual sexual activity should never have been a concern of this legislative assembly, or the criminal law.”

Even though homosexuality is no longer illegal in Queensland, those who had been convicted still had to declare their criminal record to potential employers to work in the public services, education and childcare industries.

The state government announced its intention to expunge the convictions last year, with the Queensland Law Reform Commission tasked with finding the best way to amend legislation.

Under the changes a person convicted of an offence will be able to apply to get the conviction expunged from their criminal record with the Director-General of the Department of Justice to handle each case.

Wayside brands govt drug testing ‘nasty’

A Kings Cross homeless charity supported by the prime minister and his family has branded the federal government’s plan to drug test dole recipients “nasty”.

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Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy have backed The Wayside Chapel – which looks after the down and out of inner Sydney – both financially and personally over many years.

Reverend Graham Long says the drugs test plan announced in the federal budget shows the government’s understanding of social disadvantage “is about the same as what Kim Jong-un understands about diplomacy”.

“The random drug testing on the poor is well-intentioned but nasty,” Rev Long said in a newsletter emailed to supporters on Thursday.

“It’s discouraging that governments know that ‘getting tough on the poor’ is a message that seems to hearten those who point fingers and don’t understand.”

From 2018, 5000 Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients will be placed in two-year testing trials for illicit substances including ice, ecstasy and marijuana.

Anyone who tests positive will have their welfare quarantined and those who fail more than once will be referred for medical assessment and treatment.

Mr Turnbull said this week drug testing would help people get off drugs.

“If somebody has got an addiction to drugs and you love them, what do you want to do? You want them to get off their addiction,” he said.

The prime minister also pointed to a correlation between drug addiction and unemployment, noting random drug testing was common in many industries.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce went further, saying people on the taxpayer funded dole had an obligation to be fit for work.

“You are not going to be ready for work if you are drunk … (or) smashed on drugs,” Mr Joyce said.

Wayside Chapel is a favourite charity for many of Sydney’s well-heeled and influential elite, including NSW Governor David Hurley and his predecessor Dame Marie Bashir.

Its high profile sponsors include major commercial banks like Macquarie Group and legal firm Clayton Utz.

Turmoil continues over Trump firing of FBI director

Bearing effigies of United States president Donald Trump with the tag ‘Putin’s Puppets’, demonstrators have gathered outside the White House in Washington.

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Inside, the President was hosting talks with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, defending his latest firing of a senior official.

Asked directly why he fired Director Comey, Mr Trump answered: “Because he wasn’t doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job.”

His remarks backed up a series of tweets in which he sharply criticised James Comey.

That was despite the FBI director being a man the President not long ago praised effusively for his investigation into rival presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email controversy.

Now, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Donald Trump had been considering sacking Mr Comey from the day he was elected.

“I think it’s been an erosion of confidence. I think that Director Comey has shown over the last several months, and, frankly, the last year, a lot of missteps and mistakes, and, certainly, I think that, as you’ve seen from many of the comments from Democrat members including Senator (Chuck) Schumer, they didn’t think he should be there. They thought he should be gone. Frankly, I think it’s startling that Democrats aren’t celebrating this, since they’ve been calling for it for so long.”

But there are reports James Comey was seeking more funding to expand the FBI’s investigation into links between Russia and the Trump election campaign.

Democrat senator Dianne Feinstein is one of many saying they sense a cover-up.

“At a minimum, the decision to fire Comey raises questions about the appropriateness and timing of firing the person in charge of an investigation that could — I won’t say ‘would,’ but ‘could’ — implicate the administration. To have this happen, and happen now, is beyond surprising.”

Fellow Democrat Patrick Leahy has described the sacking as a scandal.

“The President’s actions are neither Republican nor Democratic. They’re authoritarian. This is an effort to undo the ties that bind our democratic form of government. All of us, both sides of the aisle, must now put country over party.”

But Republican senator Lindsey Graham says “both sides of the aisle” had issues with Mr Comey and replacing him as director provides the chance for a fresh start.

“The burden’s now on the President to pick somebody that, if possible, can unite country. I don’t know if that’s possible now, but he has an obligation to pick somebody who’s qualified, somebody who is respected.”

Meanwhile, the country at the centre of the election-interference allegations is watching on bemused.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has dismissed the significance of the developments as he arrived for further talks with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

(Reporter:) “Has the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks here?”

(Lavrov:) “Was he fired? You’re kidding. You’re kidding.”

(Reporter:) “What about … what about the Russian investigation?”

In a later media conference, Mr Lavrov told reporters it was humiliating for Americans to hear Russia was controlling the country’s political situation.

“How can a great nation, a great country, speculate in such way? I think that politicians are causing great damage to the US political system on the whole by suggesting that somebody is governing America from the outside.”

He says there is not a single fact or piece of compelling evidence to prove Russia meddled in the presidential poll.

 

Blowback from banks over Budget levy

It’s one of the biggest revenue-raising measures in the Budget: a new levy on the country’s five largest banks that will bring in more than $6 billion over four years.

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The federal Treasurer said he expected industry resistance, and the pressure has been mounting.

Andrew Thorburn is the head of the National Australia Bank.

“A tax, Prime Minister, is borne by people: customers and shareholders of any company. Normal folk. Secondly, let’s work together. Let’s look forward. Let’s build a plan that can make a better Australia. I and we want to be part of that. Let’s not make this us versus them and adversarial.”

But Treasurer Scott Morrison is standing firm.

The five banks earned a combined profit of around $30 billion last year, so the government says they should be able to absorb the tax without passing the bill to their customers.

“I want banks to be unquestionably strong, but I also want them to be unquestionably fair and I want them to be unquestionably competitive for consumers as well. The four major banks have taken up a much bigger space in our market over the past 12 years, and particularly since the Global Financial Crisis.”

Crossbench senator Nick Xenophon says the Treasurer has a point.

He says the levy will help smaller banks compete, and any move by the biggest five to shift their costs on to consumers will only drive them away.

“If the banks, the big banks, want to slug their customers – which they shouldn’t – if they take steps like that then I think that will actually drive more people to those smaller banks, those regional banks like Bank of Queensland, the Bendigo Adelaide Bank and those community-owned banks such as People’s Choice, which will give people, I think, more of a choice and more competition in the marketplace, which is a good thing.”

The banks met Treasury officials to discuss the new levy, wanting to know how the government’s estimates were calculated.

But the head of the Bankers’ Association, Anna Bligh, says Treasury failed to answer their detailed questions.

“The government’s attacks on the major banks is now fraught with even more uncertainty after bank representatives left a meeting with treasury officials this morning with more questions than answers.”

Scott Morrison, though, says the levy is here to stay.

And with Labor indicating it will support the measure, it should easily pass into law.

“This levy is in. This tax is staying, on the banks. This is a fair and reasonable tax.”

ADF reviews risk and safety after second defence training death

Soldier Jason Challis was killed on Wednesday afternoon in the Mount Bundey Training Area, near Darwin.

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In a statement, the Defence Department said he was “taking part in a routine training activity”.

It’s believed he was shot during a live fire exercise, where soldiers fire real ammunituion at targets, buildings and empty areas.

Northern Territory Labor politician and former infantry soldier Luke Gosling says it was a tragic incident.

“This young Australian soldier received a gunshot wound to the head. The combat medics and his mates around him tried valiantly and conducted great first aid on him and got him to the Royal Darwin Hospital where the teams were just unable to bring him back.”

The Army has suspended training activities for its three combat brigades across Australia as it reviews risk assessment procedures and safety measures.

The Defence community says it’s an appropriate move but it shouldn’t lead to a permanent ban on live fire exercises.

Live firing exercises have been happening in Australia for decades and occur frequently for soldiers in combat roles.

Some special forces soldiers go through periods of doing them on a daily basis.

The Australia Defence Asssociation’s Neil James says it forms a vital part of training.

“The safety procedures and protocols the Army has are particularly good because they’ve been doing it a particularly long time. The bottom line here is you train as you fight and there’s no point having completely safe training because then you’ll have higher casualties in combat. You always have to strike a balance.”

Mr Gosling says the death warrants a close look at live fire training.

“The investigative teams will get to the bottom of that and make recommendations so we can mitigate those risks more. I do point out though that this training is inherently dangerous. It involves soldiers moving and firing weapons.”

Northern Territory police are investigating the death and will prepare a report for the Coroner.

The Mount Bundey Training Area has been used by Defence since 1992.

Before that, it was grazing land.

It’s now used by the Australian Defence Force, the United States Marine Corps and Singapore’s military for training.

In 2004, a soldier died there from heat stroke but Defence has been facing more recent tragedies.

In 2009, a commando was killed in a live fire exercise in South Australia which led to a $200,000 fine to the Defence Department.

On Thursday last week, a soldier was killed when he was hit by a tree branch while training in Queensland.