Don’t cave in to mine giants – caucus plea to Rudd

KEVIN RUDD was advised by one senator to use a live televised address to the nation to explain his mining tax as an anxious caucus urged the Prime Minister to settle the matter quickly while not giving in to the demands of the big miners.The government acknowledged there was no one-size-fits-all approach to its proposed 40 per cent resources super profits tax, saying it would negotiate arrangements with the miners, company by company or sector by sector.Mr Rudd told his caucus that unity and holding its nerve were essential if the government were to prevail and that talks with the miners had moved from ”consultation to negotiation”.As flagged by the Herald yesterday, the government is targeting the smaller operators, such as the coal-seam gas, and sand and gravel industries, for agreement to take some of the heat out of the anti-tax campaign.Yesterday, the cameras were invited to film Mr Rudd, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, and the Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, meeting the British Gas executive, Catherine Tanna, in the Prime Minister’s office.The government lauded a statement by Ms Tanna saying the talks had been ”productive”.But a source said there was not much hope of shutting down the campaign by the minerals giants such as BHP Billiton or Rio Tinto before the election because the conditions they were demanding were unacceptable.Caucus sources said Mr Rudd criticised the agendas of the big miners by pointing out they also helped fund a campaign against Labor in the lead-up to the 2007 election in support of the Howard government’s Work Choices.Sources said Mr Ferguson, in describing the ferocity of the miners’ campaign, said some companies regarded themselves as ”bigger, stronger and more important” than sovereign governments. About 12 MPs and senators spoke out in a meeting, the mood of which was described as defiant.The NSW senator, Steve Hutchins, urged Mr Rudd to shut down the debate by the end of next week when Parliament rises for what could be the last time before an election is called.Outside caucus, the WA frontbencher, Gary Gray, said it needed to be resolved by August. Most concerns regarded the lack of understanding among voters of the benefits of the tax which included funding a 2 per cent cut to the company tax rate, new infrastructure, and boosting superannuation.The Northern Territory senator, Trish Crossin, urged Mr Rudd to consider a five-minute televised address this Sunday night.Rio Tinto again complained there had been no proper consultation since the tax was announced on May 2, prompting an angry rebuke from the Treasurer’s office.”This is not true. There have been numerous discussions with the company and they should not be pretending otherwise,” a spokesman said.One MP, Damian Hale, suggested Mr Rudd make light of his predicament by swimming in a crocodile tank in Darwin.Letters – Page 14
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Elective surgery delays worsen, but only in NSW

NSW was the only state to go backwards in elective surgery performance last year, new figures show, with patients waiting longer for their procedures. There was also a small drop in the number of operations.The federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, pointed to a 3.1 per cent increase in the number of elective procedures performed nationally and boasted of a fall in the number of people Australia-wide obliged to wait more than a year for elective surgery admission. She attributed this to the government’s allocation of extra money to clear backlogs in state public hospitals.But in NSW, there was a very small fall in the number of elective patients admitted to hospital after being on a waiting list last year – to 199,384 – compared with significant rises in other states, including Victoria which increased the number of elective operations by 14 per cent.About 5000 people admitted to NSW public hospitals for elective surgery in the year to July 2009 had been on a waiting list for 365 days or longer, up from 3600 the year before, according to statistics published today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.National and state targets say no patient should have to wait longer than a year.The average NSW patient waited 39 days for admission, compared with the national average of 34 days, while 10 per cent of NSW patients waited 283 days or longer. Only Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT had longer waits.George Bodilsen, the head of the institute’s hospitals unit, said the national figures were positive. While the average waiting time had increased over the previous four years, ”the proportion of people waiting over a year for elective surgery has decreased to just under 3 per cent, after being almost 5 per cent,” he said, and an extra 30,000 operations were performed last year.”This combination of results – more public elective surgery being done, average waiting times levelling out, fewer long waits and increased admissions from waiting lists – suggest improving access to public elective surgery,” Mr Bodilsen said.NSW’s relatively poor performance could not be attributed to lapses in a particular surgical speciality or type of procedure, which might distort the figures, as its performance appeared below average in most areas, he said.A spokesman for the NSW Minister for Health, Carmel Tebbutt, said the blow-out in average waits was a result of a program that gave priority to those who had waited longest.NSW had, ”undertaken a blitz on long-wait patients in calendar year 2008, so as a proportion of the total patients treated, more longer wait patients received their operation in 2008-09,” compared with the previous year, the spokesman said. ”This concentration on treating long wait patients resulted in an increase in median wait time.”He said the average waiting time for category 1 patients – the most urgent elective cases – was 10 days, significantly under the 30-day recommended maximum.The government last week announced an additional $53.8 million for elective surgery in the health budget for this year, but did not reveal targets for the number of procedures this was expected to provide.
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Gillard stands firm as building unions rally against Labor

JULIA GILLARD has ruled out any suggestion she would stand against the Prime Minister before the election, calling it ”absurd speculation”.The Deputy Prime Minister also said she understood concern about a construction worker facing jail for not answering questions from the Australian Building and Construction Commission.Construction unions rallied around the country yesterday, protesting against the trial of building worker Ark Tribe, who faces six months in prison for failing to answer questions from the commission, and accused Labor of breaking an election promise.Ms Gillard said she was conscious of ”community concern” for Mr Tribe but the government had honoured its commitment to abolish the commission by bringing a bill to parliament. ”We are in a political position where it is impossible for us to pass the legislation,” she said.”Many in the union movement” understood the government’s position, she said, and those who wanted change would get it by pressuring the Liberal and National parties to change their vote in the Senate, or voting for Labor in the election.However, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s construction division national secretary, Dave Noonan, said his union opposed Labor’s bill because it did not go far enough and did not remove the ”coercive powers” of any new building regulator. ”It’s a position of principle and we will not change because of any election,” he said.Ms Gillard said the government did not intend to go to the election with new industrial relations policies and would rest on its Fair Work reforms.Ms Gillard said the ABCC bill would not be renegotiated. ”We need what we referred to as a tough cop on the beat … There are compliance problems on all sides. There are employers that engage in sham contracting; there are employers who don’t pay workers properly; there are times where employers and unions don’t abide by the workplace relations laws,” she said.Victorian branches of the CFMEU and Electrical Trades Union have threatened to direct members to vote for the Greens over the issue.The Australian Workers Union national secretary, Paul Howes, said: ”It would be a massive miscarriage of justice if Ark Tribe was jailed, but frankly you can’t blame Labor for this.”
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Woman plans to sue East Timor President

JAKARTA: An Australian woman cleared of plotting to assassinate East Timor’s top political leaders intends to sue the country’s President.Angelita Pires says Jose Ramos-Horta was a driving force behind allegations of her involvement in the February 2008 attempt on the President’s life and that of the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao.”I have instructed my lawyers to take civil action against the people who defamed me, including the President,” Ms Pires said yesterday in Jakarta. ”He must apologise and he must be responsible for the damage he has caused me.”At the time of the attacks Ms Pires, 44, was the lover of the rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, who was shot dead during a gunfight that left Dr Ramos-Horta critically wounded.After his recovery, Dr Ramos-Horta made a series of public statements making it clear he believed Ms Pires had been involved in the plots.But with an appeals court this week upholding an earlier not guilty verdict, Ms Pires believes she is now entitled to legal redress. She says she will return to East Timor ”very soon” to pursue the legal action.”They have done the wrong thing by me,” she said. ”If I didn’t return that would be letting them get away with it.”Beyond that, Ms Pires is also planning a tilt at East Timorese politics to fight social injustices such as corruption and poverty.Ms Pires is also working on an autobiography that will focus on her time with Mr Reinado. ”Alfredo left behind a lot of good memories for me and I think it’s important to set the record straight,” she said.The appeals court this week also reduced the sentences of some of the 24 men jailed over the attacks. But Ms Pires said she would not rest until all of Mr Reinado’s men have been freed.”They are innocent,” she said. ”The decision that the judges made went totally against the evidence.”Associated Press
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School blowouts win cash bonuses

A CONSTRUCTION contractor is to receive more than $1 million in bonus payments, despite running almost $7 million over cost on building projects at more than 130 primary schools in NSW.The Reed Group has charged 10 of the schools an identical amount – $1,303,505.22 – for a prefabricated library even though they were costed at $850,000.The group is one of seven managing contractors in the state that won tenders for the federal government’s Building the Education Revolution program at public schools.But while governments have justified what appear to be dramatically inflated prices because of each school’s requirements, the Reed Group’s bills are identical on more than 130 projects. This includes the 10 libraries, each of which will cost almost twice what the Catholic education system has paid for similar facilities.Despite running $453,505 over the federal allocation, an incentive fee of $7314.38 is included as part of the $1.3 million costing for each library, published on the state government’s Building the Education Revolution website. The incentive is for the on-budget and on-time delivery of each project.Parent groups are angry the incentive payments were not waived in the final cost estimates, saying their new libraries were ”a waste of taxpayer dollars”.The president of the Parents and Citizens’ Association for Stroud Public School, Kylie Gorton, said parents were shocked at the cost blowout.”From the P&C’s point of view, we did not get value for money,” Ms Gorton said. ”The government needs to be held accountable for this complete misuse of taxpayers’ funds.”The schools that received identical library costings from the Reed Group are Caniaba, Copmanhurst, Durrumbul, Green Hill, Leeville, Main Arm Upper, Scotts Head, Stroud, Tabulam and Tyalgum.As well as the incentive fee, the cost includes $50,000 for a network substation allowance; $49,396.41 for project management; a $570,985.84 modular building cost; $149,968.59 for design documentation, field data and site management; $74,244.00 for preliminaries; $210,263 for superstructure; $90,363.00 for site works and $47,420.00 for site services.A whistleblower, Craig Mayne, who is a civil engineering design draughtsman, said based on figures supplied to the BER Senate inquiry, the Catholic Education Commission could deliver an equivalent library for $691,410.”Very few have required substation upgrades [and] the cost for the electricity people to come out is only $900,” he said.”The contractors are getting massive project management costs plus site-management costs and are still being paid contingencies for something that is a fixed price.”More than 50 other schools were allocated $850,000 for prefabricated classrooms. Reed will be paid $892,860.29 for each, according to the BER website.Attention has already been drawn to about 90 schools being charged $259,909.31 for classrooms which were originally costed at $250,000.Lisa Hall, from Eungai Public School P&C, said the costings showed Reed would receive an incentive fee of $5926.98 for each set of classrooms.The NSW opposition spokesman on education, Adrian Piccoli, said a royal commission should be held because managing contractors had refused to give evidence to the Senate inquiry.”It is beyond comprehension that there could be this coincidence where two projects are identical in price to the very cent, let alone more than 100 projects. ”I’m in no way suggesting anything illegal occurring but clearly somebody is having a lend of taxpayers.”A spokesman for the Education Department said the costings on its BER website were estimates. ”Incentive payments are only made to managing contractors when they deliver a project on time and on budget.”He said similar projects had been delivered in a package to save money. ”The final costings are unlikely to be identical as once actual buildings are delivered to school each component will change to reflect the actual conditions at the site,” he said.A spokesman for the federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, said the government wanted value for money. ”That’s why we have established the implementation taskforce headed by prominent businessman Mr Brad Orgill. If anyone believes they have evidence that their school is not receiving value for money, they should contact Mr Orgill with their concerns.”The Reed Group failed to respond to the Herald’s questions.
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Whistleblower’s tales of whaling skulduggery

TOKYO: He once wielded a knife on the deck of a Japanese whaling ship, slicing apart the behemoths of the ocean in the name of ”scientific research”, while much of the rest of the world looked on in horror.Now, as Japan pushes to overturn the 24-year ban on commercial whaling, the former whaler is alleging widespread criminality among the men with whom he spent months in the freezing waters of the Antarctic.The crewmen, sent every year to slaughter the mammals for research that Japan says is vital to our understanding of whale populations, are instead seizing and selling prized cuts of meat to earn extra cash and, in at least one case, earn many more times their annual salary, says the whaler-turned-whistleblower who refers to himself as ”Kujira-san” (Mr Whale), a precaution necessitated by a fear for his safety.”Even before we arrived in the Antarctic Ocean,” he says of a recent expedition, ”the more experienced whalers would talk about taking whale meat home to sell. It was an open secret. Even officials from the Institute of Cetacean Research [a quasi-governmental body that organises Japan’s whaling program] on the ship knew what was happening, but they turned a blind eye to it.”Kujira-san, who worked aboard the mother ship Nisshin Maru, saw crew members helping themselves to prime cuts of whale meat and packing them into boxes they would mark with doodles or pseudonyms to identify them when the vessel reached port.”They never wrote their real names on the boxes.”Some whalers would take home between five and 10 boxes, he said, and one secured as many as 40 boxes of prime meat that fetches ¥20,000 ($250) a kilogram when sold legally. One crew member built a house with the profits from illicitly sold whale meat, he said. ”They were careful to select only the best cuts.”Kujira-san painted an unpleasant picture of life at sea, and said newcomers were badly treated by more experienced whalers, fuelled by a machismo culture that is disappearing from other parts of the fishing industry.He contradicted Japan’s claims that the industry, which reportedly requires heavy government subsidy, is highly efficient. The fleet would sometimes catch more whales than necessary, he said, strip them of their most expensive parts and throw what was left overboard.”A lot of meat was being thrown away because we kept catching whales even after we had reached our daily quota. I decided I had to tell someone what was happening.”He sought help from Greenpeace. In 2008 the organisation opened an investigation into embezzlement by the crew of the Nisshin Maru, during which two activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, intercepted a box containing 23 kilograms of whale meat worth about ¥350,000 at a warehouse in Japan that they later presented as evidence.After initially agreeing to act on their claims, prosecutors dropped the case, and instead, Mr Sato and Mr Suzuki were arrested and charged with theft and trespassing.Last week prosecutors called for an 18-month jail term for the pair, who were held without charge for 23 days and interrogated while strapped to chairs without their lawyers present. A ruling is expected in the next few months.Kujira-san’s allegations come as the International Whaling Commission prepares to meet in Morocco next week to discuss a proposal that could end the moratorium on commercial whaling in return for whaling nations agreeing to smaller quotas. Before the meeting, Japan has reverted to its tactic of using aid to sway small islands and landlocked nations to vote with it in the 88-member body.Under the moratorium, Japan is permitted to catch fewer than 1000 whales, mainly minke, in the name of scientific research. Meat from the cull is sold on the open market and the profits used to fund whaling expeditions.Kujira-san said he would continue to campaign behind the scenes until the Japanese public knew the truth. ”I dread to think what the other whalers would do to me if they knew who I was.”Guardian News & Media
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East beats West when it comes to road manners and safety

PEOPLE born in Asian countries are safer drivers than those born in Australia, according to traffic safety researchers.Young drivers born in Asia had half the risk of being involved in a traffic crash compared with their Australian-born counterparts, a study of 20,000 P-plate drivers in NSW found.They were also less likely to speed, tailgate and drive while distracted by things such as mobile phones and loud music, compared with drivers born here and in other countries.Soufiane Boufous, the study leader and a senior research fellow in injury and epidemiology at the George Institute for International Health at the University of Sydney, said his team wanted to identify and help particular ethnic groups that were more at risk of accidents.”But then we found it was the Australian-born people who had the higher risk [and] Asian drivers were the least likely to take risks,” he said.More than 31 per cent of drivers born in Australia, and 30 per cent of those born in regions outside Australia and Asia, admitted to risky behaviours. But only about 25 per cent of those born in Asia admitted to the same behaviours, he wrote in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention.Dr Boufous said Asian-born drivers might have been safer than others born overseas in part because the Asian people in the study tended to have lived in Australia for a shorter time.”We found that the longer people stay here the more likely they are to change and become similar to the Australian-born people,” he said.A clinical psychologist, Jeroen Decates, said young people who had grown up in Australia tended to be more likely to break rules and take risks than those from many Asian countries.Yet the stereotype that Asian drivers were not good drivers persisted.Much of the reason for the stereotype might be that people are more likely to notice when someone from an Asian background drove badly than when someone from a different background did because it confirmed their beliefs.”When everyone else says something we are more likely to think it must be true,” he said. ”We always look for confirmations of our own beliefs.”
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Northern hemisphere nations need to catch up quickly, says Johnson

The standard of Test rugby in the southern hemisphere exceeds that of the Six Nations tournament, according to English coach Martin Johnson.His verdict comes in the aftermath of last weekend’s Tests in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.On Saturday, the All Blacks beat Ireland 66-28 at New Plymouth. The Wallabies accounted for England 27-17 in Perth. Then, in Cape Town, the world champion Springboks beat the reigning Six Nation title-holders France 42-17.”There is a step up in intensity and quality from what we played in the Six Nations, frankly,” he said. ”You saw what the other two teams did in the southern hemisphere [at the weekend]. The way the game is being played here is a little bit different. And we have to get with it pretty quick.”Johnson’s anger after his side lost to the Wallabies in every facet of the game bar the scrum had subsided yesterday when he named his England A team for tonight’s game against the Australian Barbarians at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford.Two reserves from the English side beaten by Australia were named – James Haskell at No.8 and centre Mathew Tait on the bench. Earning first tour starts were winger David Strettle, centre Dominic Waldouck, props Jon Golding and Paul Doran-Jones and No.7 Steffon Armitage.Johnson was not searching for excuses for Saturday’s loss and continued praising the Wallabies ahead of Saturday night’s Test at ANZ Stadium. But as he set out to rectify his side’s failings in kick-chase, running lines, defence and positional play, he conceded last weekend’s Tests in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia were a wake-up call for northern hemisphere teams preparing for the World Cup in New Zealand .”The fatigue of a game like that, the pressure … is from doing it at that level,” he said. ”You have to go through it. For some it was their first big start in the southern hemisphere.”Johnson, under huge pressure to bag a win here, also dismissed suggestions that end-of-season fatigue may have played a role in England, Ireland and France being well beaten.”We have to stop making excuses there. The guys have been pretty fresh,” he said. ”[With] the tempo of the game, at times … we struggled to stop that ball coming out either offloaded or [through] quick re-cycling. That makes it tough. We have to get better there.”The weight of the tackling is probably that little more intense and you have to adapt to it.”However, as much as Johnson admires the Wallabies backs, the team’s defence and loose play, he does not believe they can turn around their front-row failings in a week.”It’s probably limited in what any team could do this week after a pretty tough Test,” he said.Meanwhile, England winger Mark Cueto was yesterday cleared of a dangerous tackle charge at a judicial hearing. Cueto was cited over a first-half incident involving Australian centre Berrick Barnes early in Saturday’s Test, but was cleared by New Zealand judicial officer Peter Hobbs.
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UK flags Afghanistan retreat and troop cuts

LONDON: The terrorist threat to Britain from Afghanistan has declined, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, as he promised to withdraw British troops from the country as soon as possible.Mr Cameron made the statement about the al-Qaeda threat as Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, warned that the armed forces face cuts that will be ”ruthless and without sentiment”.Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said the government remained committed to the Afghan mission, but insisted British troops would not stay ”a day longer than is necessary”.Ministers are keen to highlight what they say is the progress being made by the Afghan mission, to present any withdrawal of British troops as a sign of success, not failure.In 2008, former prime minister Gordon Brown told MPs that three-quarters of all terrorist plots being monitored in the UK had a connection to the Afghan-Pakistan border area.On Monday, Mr Cameron said: ”Today, I am advised that the threat from al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and Pakistan has reduced.” Downing Street gave no more detail about the reduced threat, but Mr Cameron’s spokesman said the reduction was ”significant”.The Prime Minister also confirmed that he was following a timetable set down by United States President, Barack Obama, which could see NATO troop numbers in Afghanistan reduced as soon as July 2011.Britain has 10,000 troops in Afghanistan.”I want to bring them home the moment it is safe to do so,” Mr Cameron said.A total of 295 British service personnel have died in Afghanistan since 2001.”We must be ready for further casualties over the summer months,” Mr Cameron said.In his first major speech as Defence Secretary, Dr Fox said the Ministry of Defence needed ”a step change not minor tinkering” after a decade of overspending on equipment.It is expected that the army and Royal Air Force will bear the brunt of personnel cuts.Addressing the Royal United Services Institute, Dr Fox said: ”We must act ruthlessly and without sentiment. It is inevitable that there will be the perception of winners and losers as we go through this process.”Telegraph, London
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Folau part of Johns’ black list in racism row

The racism storm surrounding the NSW Origin camp has taken a new twist with the revelation Timana Tahu walked out on the team because of remarks Andrew Johns made about Israel Folau as well as Greg Inglis.Tahu, who left the NSW camp at Kingscliff on Friday, released a video statement late yesterday addressing his reasons for pulling out of Origin II at Suncorp Stadium tomorrow night.It had been thought that assistant coach Johns’s description of Queensland centre Inglis as a ”black c—” at a team gathering last Wednesday night was the sole catalyst for his departure. However, Tahu said disparaging comments of a racist nature had not only been directed at Inglis, who is Aboriginal.”This has been a very traumatic and hurtful time for me and my family and I want to thank everybody for the support I have received,” Tahu said from Newcastle, where he has been staying with his family since leaving the camp.”Leaving Origin was a really big decision for me and I’d like to clarify that it was not just one racial comment directed at one individual that offended me. The remarks were directed at various races and the situation I encountered was totally unacceptable.”It is understood Johns also referred to AFL-bound Maroons winger Folau, who is Polynesian, in a negative racial tone although it was last night unclear exactly what words he used. Johns left the NSW camp on Saturday night after issuing a joint statement with Tahu.”I believe I am a role model for children and I did this to show my kids this type of behaviour is wrong,” Tahu said yesterday. ”This isn’t about me or Andrew Johns.”It’s about arresting racism and standing up for my beliefs. I want to move on now and I know something positive will come from this.” Johns’s role as a coaching consultant at Parramatta, Tahu’s club, is set to be reviewed next week because of his remarks while News Ltd, which pays him to write columns, has said it will discuss its association with the former Blues halfback.Another employer, Channel Nine, has said it has accepted his apology.Johns’s manager, John Fordham, issued a statement last night.”In view of Andrew Johns having previously apologised sincerely and unreservedly for his inappropriate and offending remarks we see no need to comment further,” Fordham said.Tahu, who was replaced in the Blues line-up by Canberra’s Joel Monaghan, will re-join his Parramatta teammates at Eels training tomorrow.Once back in Sydney, the dual international may have an opportunity to speak with NSWRL and ARL supremo Geoff Carr, who has been unsuccessful in his attempts to contact Tahu since the furore erupted at the weekend.”My view is if he’s got issues with the game he simply needs to speak to me,” Carr said.”I’ve made that invitation clear…I’ve been trying to get a hold of him.”Meanwhile, Queensland hooker Cameron Smith yesterday played down suggestions of widespread racism in the game.A teammate of Inglis at club, interstate and international level, Smith said he supported Tahu’s stance but said calls by former NRL star and boxing world champion Anthony Mundine for other indigenous players to withdraw were ”a bit extreme”.”It comes down to the individual and how they feel. Timana obviously felt very strongly which is why he left,” Smith said.”I think it would hurt the game if all the indigenous boys left and it would hurt the fans.”I don’t think Greg’s ever thought he had to leave because Timana did.”Timana felt very strongly about it and obviously we support him, not because he’s left the NSW camp or disrupted their Origin. I think Greg would like to go out on Wednesday night and have a strong game and show he can get past these issues and that he’s got a strong character.”
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