Howard critical of gay marriage activism

Former PM John Howard thinks the attack on Qantas CEO Alan Joyce with a lemon meringue pie as a protest against same sex marriage was appalling but he is sympathetic to the views of the man responsible.

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Tony Overheu, a 67-year-old Perth man, says he hid behind a stage for two hours before strolling up to Mr Joyce and shoving the pie in his face during a speech in front of more than 500 people at a business breakfast hosted by The West Australian newspaper on Tuesday.

He was arrested and charged and says he was protesting against CEOs such as Mr Joyce, who are gay, using their brand to run a campaign to pressure the parliament to drop plans for a plebiscite and introduce gas marriage, which he described as corporate bullying and social engineering.

Mr Howard said while “the person who assaulted him should be dealt with according to the law” he questioned whether corporations had the right to speak on behalf of all employees or shareholders on the issue, a view shared by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

He cited the example of gay activists targeting IBM executive Mark Allaby, who was forced to resign from PwC over the fact that both companies publicly support marriage equality and he is a director of the Australian Christian Lobby, which campaigns against it.

“What is also appalling is the fact that people who have a differen0t view to Alan Joyce are harassed – you have activists ringing hotels saying they are going to be boycotted, staff are abused, vilified because they are accommodating a meeting that is going to have an alternative point of view,” Mr Howard said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should honour his commitment to hold a plebiscite, said Mr Howard who would vote against legalising same sex marriage and questioned whether Australians would support it.

Mr Howard was part of a discussion involving John Key, who was the New Zealand PM when it legalised same-sex marriage in 2013.

Xi, new South Korean leader talk nuclear

Chinese President Xi Jinping and new South Korean President Moon Jae-in have discussed nuclear tensions, with the latter addressing the raft of problems posed by the North’s defiance.

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Xi told Moon China had always upheld the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and that the nuclear issue should be resolved through talks, which were in everyone’s interests, according to a state television report.

China was willing to keep working hard with all parties, including South Korea, for the peace and prosperity of the Korean peninsula, he said.

Despite its anger at North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests, China remains the isolated state’s most important economic and diplomatic backer even with Beijing signing up for tough UN sanctions against Pyongyang.

Beijing also has its own issues with Seoul. China has vigorously opposed the deployment of a US anti-missile system in South Korea, saying it threatens Chinese security and will do nothing to resolve tensions with North Korea.

Thursday’s Chinese state television report made no direct mention of the anti-missile system, instead citing Xi as saying both sides should handle their disputes appropriately.

China also hopes the new South Korean government attaches importance to China’s concerns and takes steps to promote the stable and healthy development of ties, Xi said.

Moon said in his first speech as president on Wednesday he would immediately begin efforts to defuse security fears on the Korean peninsula and would negotiate with Washington and Beijing to ease tensions over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in the South.

He also said he was prepared to go to Pyongyang “if the conditions are right”.

North Korea is believed to be preparing for a sixth nuclear test and is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the United States, presenting President Donald Trump with perhaps his most pressing security issue.

Apple plans $1.4b US data centre expansion

Apple has announced plans for a $US1 billion ($A1.

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4 billion) expansion of its massive data centre east of Reno in the US state of Nevada.

The spend will double its investment in the site and roughly triple its workforce at the technology campus where company officials expect to hire 100 additional workers.

The announcement came as the Reno City Council approved Apple’s plans to build a $US4 million shipping and receiving warehouse on a vacant lot in downtown Reno that will make it eligible for millions of dollars in tax breaks.

“We’re excited to be increasing our contributions to the local economy with an additional $1 billion investment to expand our data centre and supporting facilities,” Apple spokesman John Rosenstock said on Wednesday.

“As part of our growth, we plan to hire 100 employees and expect construction will support an additional 300 jobs.”

Last week, Apple announced a new $US1 billion fund aimed at creating more US manufacturing jobs, but provided few details.

As part of a strategy emphasising its role in the US economy, it also released a state-by-state breakdown of where its 80,000 US employees work – more than half in California’s Silicon Valley.

Apple currently has more than 700 workers in Nevada, which Rosentock says is home to the company’s largest solar investment, “powering our data centre with clean energy.”

The five-year-old $US1 billion data centre is located in the Reno Technology Centre near the Tracy generating station along US Interstate 80.

It’s between Reno and the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center where Tesla’s giant battery factory is based about 25 km east of Reno-Sparks.

Apple was awarded $US89 million in state property and sales tax abatements when it committed to the data centre in 2012.

Labor fractured over Bight oil exploration

A federal Labor senator has broken ranks to side with the Turnbull government over drilling for oil in South Australia’s Great Australian Bight.

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A long-running Greens/Labor-dominated Senate inquiry into the plans of companies like BP and Chevron to drill in the area tabled its report in parliament on Thursday.

The 172-page report featured additional comments from Greens, government, Labor and Xenophon Team senators but South Australian Labor senator Alex Gallagher split from colleagues, instead endorsing the comments of coalition senators.

The coalition senators with Senator Gallagher pledged support for oil and gas exploration in the Great Australian Bight subject to oversight from the national offshore petroleum safety authority.

Labor meanwhile recommended amendments to existing laws to ensure consultation with stakeholders and communities and to require oil proponents to publicly release oil spill modelling and emergency response plans.

The Greens oppose any oil or gas exploration in the Great Australian Bight marine national park and are calling for legislation to ban it.

Committee chair Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said thousands of tourism and fisheries jobs would be at risk if oil drilling was allowed.

She used parliamentary privilege to accuse Senator Gallagher of crossing the floor to protect the interests of Chevron.

“Isn’t it interesting that Chevron, the big multinational company that wants to drill for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight donated money to the South Australian Labor party within days of the hearing into that particular issue by the Senate committee,” she told parliament.

Turnbull moving closer to Europe with levy-heavy Budget, commentators say

The proposed increase in the Medicare levy and the new bank levy to meet growing welfare costs have launched Australia ideologically towards the higher-spending, higher-taxing economies of Europe, according to some of the country’s most prominent economic commentators.

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But Australia still has a way to go before it reaches the spending levels of countries in Europe’s north, following a Budget that mostly managed to keep a lid on expenditure.

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics at the University of New South Wales Business School, said the $6 billion bank tax is “something of an ideological shift in the more European direction”.

Bank levies became popular in Europe following the Global Financial Crisis. Between 2009 and 2013, 13 European countries introduced compulsory bank levies.

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Nicholas Reece, Principal Fellow at the University of Melbourne, said when all the political arguing and the headlines had subsided, “probably the most enduring element of this Budget” was the increase in the Medicare Levy to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

“To the extent that (the Medicare levy rise) reflects some of the more generous social safety nets in Europe, it would suggest that perhaps this budget is perhaps a step more in the European direction,” he said.

He noted how UK taxpayers have part of their taxes “earmarked” for the National Health Service, an example of how support can be garnered for “difficult but necessary tax increases” to support social security measures.

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Mr Reece said the longer-term trend for advanced economies – many of which are in Europe – was rising health expenditure prompted by an ageing population and growing medical costs.

John Daley, CEO of the Grattan Institute, said the 2017 Budget succeeded in slowing this longer term trend. Government payments are expected to hover around 25 per cent of GDP for the next four years.

“Over the last 10 years, the size of government has increased,” he said.

“On the government’s numbers, over the next few years it’s not going to increase any more.”

He said the introduction of the bank levy and an increase in the Medicare levy were a reflection of the Government’s attempt to raise revenue to close the gap on existing expenditure which was relatively small by European standards.

“We’ve got a size of government which is about 42 per cent of GDP – interestingly it makes us smaller than pretty much all of Europe,” Mr Daley said.

While the Budget limited expenditure overall, the share of spending represented by the welfare budget continues to grow.

Australia will spend $164 billion on social security in 2017-18. The following year it rises to $178 billion, growing both in raw amounts and share of spending.

Based on OECD figures, about one in every three dollars spent by state and federal Australian governments goes to welfare. In comparison, northern European countries such as Germany and Sweden spend closer to one in two. In the US, welfare spending is less than one in four.

SBS World News

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