Belgian envoy decries Turnbull comments

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s linking of the European refugee crisis with the Brussels bombings is dangerous, the Belgian ambassador says.


Mr Turnbull warned in a speech on Wednesday that Europe faces a “perfect storm” from failed or neglected migrant integration, foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria, and porous borders.

He said recent intelligence showed the Islamic State group was using the refugee crisis to send its operatives into Europe.

But Belgium’s ambassador to Australia Jean-Luc Bodson said such comments were dangerous.

“It’s dangerous because it’s precisely what (Islamic State) wants – that we would make a confusion between terrorism and migrants and between terrorism and Islam,” Mr Bodson told the ABC on Thursday.

“My view is that the terrorists who committed the latest attacks in Paris and in Belgium are European-raised and born. Maybe from foreign origins, but they are Europeans.

“So it has nothing to do with the refugee crisis and I think that is the main danger to assimilate that.”

Mr Turnbull told the ABC’s Lateline program on Thursday the Australian government carefully checks refugees.

“ASIO and our other agencies, the AFP and so forth, are taking great care in ensuring that those people who come in are as far as we can ascertain not people that would pose any security risk to Australians and we make no apology for that,” he said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was a “bit early” to start diagnosing what had happened in Brussels.

Australia’s national terror threat level is unchanged at “probable” following Tuesday’s airport and metro attacks in Brussels that killed at least 31 people and injured more than 200.

Australians are being advised to reconsider any travel to Belgium.

Security has been stepped up at Australia’s international airports.

European security officials said one of the suicide bombers was Najim Laachraoui, a Moroccan-born Belgian whom police had been hunting as the suspected bombmaker in the November 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

The other two suicide bombers were Belgian-born brothers, Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui, both known to the police as common criminals, not anti-Western radicals.

An unidentified fourth man shown in airport video surveillance footage remains at large after his suitcase bomb failed to detonate properly.

Kerry seeks further drop in Syria violence

US Secretary of State John Kerry says a fragile partial truce in Syria has reduced levels of violence there, but that he wants to see a further reduction as well as greater flows of humanitarian aid.


Kerry was speaking at the start of a meeting in Moscow on Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and will later meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Peace talks in Geneva between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition are bogged down, and Washington believes that Moscow, closely allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, can nudge Damascus to make concessions.

“It’s fair to say three weeks ago there were very, very few people who believed a cessation of hostilities was possible in Syria,” Kerry told Lavrov at the start of their talks in Moscow.

“The result of that work has produced some progress. There has been a fragile (yet) nevertheless beneficial reduction in violence.”

Kerry said there was a hope that his meetings in Moscow could “further find and chart the road ahead so that we can bring this conflict in Syria to a close as fast as possible.”

Russia and the United States have emerged as the two outside powers with a decisive say in what happens next in Syria’s five year-old civil conflict.

The United States and its allies has been backing armed groups that rose up against Assad’s rule, while Moscow has asserted its role with a five-month military campaign that turned the tide of the fighting in Assad’s favour.

Kerry said he was looking forward to constructive conversations with Lavrov and Putin, and said it was encouraging that Russia and the United States were able to co-operate “despite differences … in the face of this urgency to do what is necessary to meet the challenge.”

Commenting on the cessation of hostilities, Lavrov said: “Our cooperation on Syria, our persistence allowed us to succeed because we worked by forming a balance of interests, not only those of Moscow and Washington but also of all the sides involved both in Syria and outside it.”

Wright into Rip Curl Pro second round

Unflustered by a couple of early falls, world championship pacesetter Tyler Wright has powered into the second round of the women’s Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach.


The Australian’s off to a flying start in 2016 after winning the season opener on the Gold Coast last week, as she chases her first world crown.

She carried her form into day one at Bells on Thursday, racking up a combined two-wave score of 15.43 points to overcome Hawaiian Coco Ho (14.20) and American Sage Erickson (7.76).

“I knew that the lines I was taking were the correct lines. It’s just that sometimes the wave throws up a little section you can’t see because you’re already halfway through the turns,” Wright said after twice falling off her board early in the non-elimination heat.

“I just backed it off a touch so I could finish and complete a wave.

“But I was comfortable the whole time.”

Wright was the only Australian heat winner on Thursday, with six-times world champ Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons pitched into sudden-death second-round encounters.

Bianca Buitendag from South Africa edged Gilmore in the opening heat, while Fitzgibbons was pushed into second spot in her heat by Hawaiian Malia Manuel.

The other round-one winners were reigning world champion Carissa Moore from Hawaii, American Courtney Conlogue and France’s Johanne Defay.

Mick Fanning will not start the defence of his Rip Curl Pro men’s title until Good Friday.

Organisers decided not to begin the men’s event on Thursday because much bigger waves are expected during the Easter long weekend.

Three-time world champ Fanning will take a sabbatical from the pro tour after the Bells Beach event is over.

He decided he needed a break following a tough 2015, which included a shark attack in South Africa, a marriage break-up and the death of his brother.

PM faces party pressure over energy target

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is facing pressure within governments ranks over a report by Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel which includes a key proposal for a clean energy target.


Government MPs on Tuesday evening left a second party room meeting after more than three hours of discussion, which had followed on from an earlier presentation from Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg.

It’s understood about 30-odd MPs spoke up, with one-third including Tony Abbott expressed misgivings.

Another third were broadly supportive, while the remainder were non-committal but asked questions.

The former prime minister reiterated his concerns about power price affordability and the future prospects of coal usage.

Other MPs spoke about the gas market and the use of renewable energy.

The tone of the meeting was described as “inquiring”, “business-like” and with “no unpleasantness”.

Mr Frydenberg played down suggestions of a backlash.

“It was only right that we went to the party room today and had a full and frank discussion about what is happening in our electricity market, why we are facing higher prices, why there has been increased instability, all in the context, too, of our international agreements and targets,” he told ABC TV.

“There was an overwhelming feeling among those in the party room tonight that business-as-usual is not an option.”

The Finkel report released last Friday advocated a clean energy target which would require a proportion of electricity to come from generation below a set emissions level.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the clean energy target should be taken seriously by the coalition, and Mr Turnbull had again “failed on climate change”.

“Just when Australians thought that the climate change wars were over, it looks like a new civil war in the Liberal Party has taken it up to a new level,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Earlier, Mr Shorten asked the prime minister in parliament whether the government would work with the opposition to address a doubling in wholesale power prices, a rise in pollution and a fall in renewable energy jobs.

Mr Turnbull said Labor’s plan had “unrealistic targets, a 50 per cent reduction in emissions … and no idea of how to get there”.

Labor frontbencher Mark Butler asked the prime minister whether he supported Dr Finkel’s comment that “it would be surprising if governments were to endorse a scheme that incentivised” coal.

Mr Turnbull said the Finkel plan would not stop new coal-fired power stations being built.

“What he seeks to do there is to provide incentives for lower emission technologies including but not exclusively renewables,” Mr Turnbull said.

The government will need Labor or the crossbench’s support in the Senate to pass any laws to implement the Finkel plan.

May meets Northern Irish ‘kingmakers’

British Prime Minister Theresa May has sought to strike a deal with a Northern Irish Protestant party to save her premiership as she came under intense pressure to soften her approach to Brexit days before formal EU divorce talks.


May’s botched election gamble, which saw her lose her parliamentary majority, left her so weakened that supporters of closer ties with the European Union publicly demanded she take a more consensual and business friendly approach to Brexit.

In an attempt to avoid a second election that could deepen the worst political turmoil in Britain since last June’s shock vote to leave the European Union, May apologised to her Conservative Party’s MPs, who said they would leave her in power – for now.

“She said: ‘I’m the person who got us into this mess and I’m the one who is going to get us out of it’,” said one Conservative politician who attended Monday’s meeting. “She said she will serve us as long as we want her.”

To stay in government, May must strike a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a small eurosceptic Northern Irish party with 10 parliamentary seats.

DUP leader Arlene Foster arrived for talks with May. She waved but did not say anything as she went into Downing Street. She looked at her watch and ignored a question from a reporter who asked: “What is your price?”

“The deal will be done,” said Jon Tonge, professor of politics at Liverpool University. “Basically it will be Theresa May signing cheques for the foreseeable future or a monthly direct debit, as it were, into Northern Ireland’s coffers.”

But a deal with the DUP would risk destabilising the political balance in Northern Ireland by increasing the influence of pro-British unionists who have struggled for years with Irish Catholic nationalists who want Northern Ireland to join a united Ireland.

While the DUP are deeply eurosceptic, they have baulked at some of the practical implications of a so-call hard Brexit – including a potential loss of a “frictionless border” with the Republic of Ireland – and talks will touch on efforts to minimise the potential damage to Northern Ireland.

During the campaign, May cast herself as the only leader competent enough to navigate the tortuous Brexit negotiations that will shape the future of the United Kingdom and its $US2.5 trillion ($A3.3 trillion) economy.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, which saw its number of parliamentary seats and share of the vote increase, said there could be another election this year or early in 2018 after Thursday’s vote produced no clear winner.

May, who ahead of the June referendum supported remaining in the EU, has promised to start the formal Brexit talks next week.

Tomic back on winners list in Stuttgart

Bernard Tomic has ended a three-tournament run of first round exits with an opening round victory in Stuttgart, the German city where he was born.


The win over French journeyman Stephane Robert, was not simple for the struggling Australian however.

Tomic eventually prevailed over the world No.139 6-1 5-7 6-2 but not before blowing a seemingly unassailable lead in spectacular fashion.

Tomic was leading Robert 6-1 5-1 when unforced errors and possibly nerves kicked in, allowing the Frenchman to reel off six straight games and send the match to a deciding set.

Thankfully for Tomic – who had just five wins and 12 losses this year coming into the match, including one to then world No.140 Darian King – he steadied himself and hit a series of forehand winners to close out the match in the third.

The win on his favourite grasscourt surface has put the Australian, now ranked 48 in the world, after slipping from 26 at the start of the year, into the second round where he will face Tomas Berdych.

Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist and current world No.14 had a first round bye.

Also recording an enjoyable win was German veteran Tommy Haas, who advanced to the second round with a 6-3 4-6 7-5 win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert to book a farewell tour match with top seed Roger Federer.

The duo have played some exciting matches on grass over the years with 35-year-old Federer holding a 4-1 edge over 39-year-old Haas on the surface.

“We’ve had a lot of great battles in the past,” Haas said.

“The next match excites me, but I’ll have to play better than today … I’m a very happy person, I’m pleased with this result.”

The two had practised together earlier in the week in a promotional appearance for the tournament.

Also recording wins were grasscourt specialist Feliciano Lopez, who sent French seventh seed Giilles Simon out 6-3 6-3 and Benoit Paire who upset eighth seed Viktor Troicki 6-4 6-4.

Victorian terror teens face prison terms

Terror suspects as young as 14 could be locked up for up to two weeks without charge as Victoria deals with the fallout from the Brighton siege.


Terrorist Yacqub Khayre, 29, killed one man and injured three police officers in Brighton on June 5, telling a TV station he was doing it for Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he had spoken to police about the “gaps” in dealing with teen terror suspects who pose an unacceptable risk.

“Now it is time to look at additional powers. We will make changes that will not be universally popular because it is our judgement that is what is needed,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“We will have proper oversight. It will be a responsible package of measures and we will have more to say on that soon.

The proposal follows similar laws to those introduced in NSW in 2016, which the Islamic Council of Victoria slammed in a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into religious freedom in May.

The council has already warned against locking up radicalised youths, saying it has a dampening effect on Australian Muslims’ freedom of religion.”

The ICV, which did not respond to AAP’s requests for comment on Tuesday, says Muslim communities “shoulder a heavier burden of proof and endure more intrusion than others”.

“While only a few children might come under the spotlight, the damage the legislation will do is enormous to the multicultural and multi-faith communities,” its May submission reads.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said he supported the proposed changes to the law to manage security and safety, and called for a policy of mandatory sentencing and bail reform.

Saad hitting his AFL highs during Ramadan

He’s not eating, he’s not drinking but Gold Coast’s Adam Saad is in career best AFL form.


Saad, a practising Muslim, is observing the holy month of Ramadan which stretches from May 26 to June 24 and requires him to fast during daylight hours.

Saad has been fasting during Ramadan since his teens but in 2017, as the Suns chase the AFL top eight, he is especially keen to shrug off the effect the month usually has on him.

Starting his day at 4:30am Saad wakes before sunrise and eats toast, cereal, fruit and smoothies and will then rest for a few hours before training with the Suns.

“We finish around 11:30 then I’ll go home, play the Playstation, then I’ll sleep for a couple of hours. Then once I break fast I come back and do weights,” Saad said.

Saad has been heavily encouraged to partake in Ramadan by the Suns, with their back-room staff developing specific dietary and physical plans to best supplement his changed habits.

And for Saad Ramadan this year has coincided with his rise as a more versatile footballer.

Saad has always been known for his electric pace and run and carry but he says a renewed focus on his defensive efforts and conditioning has led to his improvement in 2017.

He has worked closely with Suns co-captain Steven May on his defensive positioning and repeat efforts this season.

And it paid dividends on the weekend against Hawthorn when he won a one-on-two contest in the first quarter as the Suns fought hard for their fifth win of the season.

The 22-year-old has also played all 11 of the Suns matches this year after suffering soft tissue problems in his first two years at the club.

His pre-season also featured training with four-time Olympic 5000m runner Craig Mottram, who he credited for his improved endurance.

“I feel like it’s helped my game massive amounts, I’ve improved my endurance… we were going for 35, 40 minute runs which is something I’ve never done before,” Saad said.

Wallace hungry for Origin after judiciary

A sideline seat at State of Origin I and a judiciary reprieve for the second clash will make Jarrod Wallace as hungry as ever for Queensland success next Wednesday night.


Wallace wiped away tears of joy as he heard the two most vital words of his six-season NRL career on Tuesday night: A “not guilty” verdict for an alleged shoulder charge on the Warriors’ Blake Ayshford.

The charge had the potential to rub Wallace out of his anticipated Origin debut against NSW in Game II, but the 25-year-old is instead free to play alongside fellow Maroons debutants Valentine Holmes, Tim Glasby and Coen Hess.

“I just can’t wait to experience it,” Wallace said.

“It’s every boy’s dream to play Origin and I couldn’t remember how long it’s been since I wanted to play Origin.”

The Gold Coast prop was 18th man for the Maroons in the 28-4 humbling at the hands of NSW at Suncorp Stadium last month.

However he could now step up as a potential starting lock for the Maroons, depending on how coach Kevin Walters organises his final starting side.

“I got the taste of sitting there and watching it,” he said.

“I’ve said since that day I want the jersey so bad. So to finally get the opportunity next week – I’m pumped and can’t wait.”

It’s understood the Maroons had Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman on standby if Wallace was found guilty at the panel.

However along with defence lawyer Steven Johnson, he successfully argued he had done all he could to avoid the hit on Ayshford in the 40th minute of the Titans’ 34-12 loss on Saturday.

“It was a glancing blow caused by the change of direction of Blake,” Johnson said.

“Jarrod did all he could to minimise the impact … he could not get out of the way – he could not become invisible.”

In turn, Wallace became the fourth player to beat a shoulder charge wrap at the judiciary in five attempts this year, following a 25-minute deliberation by the three-man panel of Bob Lindner, Mal Cochrane and Sean Garlick.

Matt Scott, Sam Burgess and Ryan James were also successful, with most players having argued that they had naturally braced when impact happened.

North Queensland’s Jason Taumalolo is the only player to have failed.

It comes after the NRL changed their guidelines to simplify the rule over the off-season. Six players have also pleaded guilty to the offence, meaning 63 per cent of players charged have been suspended.

US mulls harsher, wider N. Korea sanctions

The United States is weighing sanctions on countries doing business with North Korea and looking for ways to revive strained relations with Russia, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says.


At a committee hearing on Tuesday, he also defended President Donald Trump’s plans for steep reductions in US spending on diplomacy and foreign aid.

In all, the Trump proposal cuts about 32 per cent from US diplomacy and aid budgets, or nearly $US19 billion ($A25 billion).

Senators from both major parties charged that such cuts would ultimately hurt America.

Washington has sought to increase economic and political pressure on Pyongyang because of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Tillerson said Washington is discussing North Korea with all of its allies, and seeing some response from China, its biggest trading partner.

He said North Korea would top the agenda at next week’s high-level talks between US and Chinese officials.

Tillerson said the US would have to work with other countries to deny North Korea access to basics such as oil and will have to consider whether to impose sanctions on those doing business with North Korea.

Because the US has no trade with the North, its strongest way to impose economic pressure is through “secondary sanctions” that threaten companies from third countries with losing access to the US market if they deal with Pyongyang.

Asked whether the US wanted to see an Iran-style global embargo to deny exports of petroleum and other products to North Korea, Tillerson said that this would only work if Russia and China, the North’s main suppliers, cooperated.

Tillerson repeated his view that US relations with Russia were at an all time-low and still deteriorating. Ties have been strained by differences over Syria, Ukraine and allegations, denied by Moscow, of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

He said the administration was trying to find a way to re-establish a working relationship, notably on Syria.

Tillerson flags Trump to be tough on Cuba

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Cuba “must begin to address human rights challenges” if it wants Washington to move toward more normal relations started under former President Barack Obama.


Tillerson, speaking on Tuesday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee days before President Donald Trump is expected to announce a change in US policy on Cuba, said the opening to the Communist-run island has led to an increase in US visitors and US business ties to the country.

However, Tillerson added: “We think we have achieved very little in terms of changing the behaviour of the regime in Cuba, restricting their people, and it has little incentive today to change that.”

Reuters reported last week that Trump was expected to visit Miami as early as Friday to announce a new Cuba policy that could tighten rules on trade and travel, rolling back parts of his Democratic predecessor’s opening to the island.

Many of Trump’s fellow Republicans, and some Democrats, objected to Obama’s policy shift, saying America’s former Cold War foe has not done enough to allow any easing of the 50-year-long US embargo on trade and travel.

But the measures have proven popular with the public, US businesses and many lawmakers from both parties.

Under questioning from Democratic Senator Tom Udall, Tillerson agreed that moves toward more normal relations with the United States have helped some Cubans lift themselves out of poverty and provided opportunities for US companies.

However, Tillerson said there is a “dark side” to relations with Cuba, noting that the government in Havana continues to jail political opponents and harass dissidents.

He said the Trump administration’s view is that the new US policy is providing financial support to the Cuban government, which would violate US law.

Obama implemented his normalisation measures through executive actions, and Trump has the power to undo much of them.

As Brexit looms, May nears unionist deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May is close to a deal with a Northern Irish Protestant party to save her premiership, as she confirms Brexit talks will begin next week.


After losing her parliamentary majority in a botched gamble on a snap election, May’s Brexit strategy has become the subject of public debate inside her own party, with calls for her to take a more business-friendly approach.

On Tuesday she held talks with Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, whose eurosceptic Northern Irish party has 10 parliamentary seats and could shore up May’s minority Conservative government.

Earlier, Foster said the talks were going well: “We hope soon to be able to bring this work to a successful conclusion.”

The BBC reported that a deal with the DUP was expected to be signed on Wednesday.

The talks were “productive”, May told a news conference in Paris following a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

May made clear the Brexit negotiations would begin next despite uncertainty.

During the campaign, May cast herself as the leader to navigate the negotiations that will shape the future of the UK and its $US2.5 trillion ($A3.3 trillion) economy.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, which saw its number seats and share of the vote increase, said there could be another election this year or early in 2018 after last Thursday’s vote produced no clear winner.

A deal with the DUP also risks destabilising Northern Ireland by increasing the influence of pro-British unionists. They have struggled for years with Irish Catholic nationalists, who want the British province to join a united Ireland.

Former British prime minister John Major said the support of the DUP could pitch the province back into turmoil by persuading ‘hard men’ on both sides of the divide to return to violence.

Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein said the prospect of a British agreement with the DUP was causing anxiety and fear.

While the DUP are deeply eurosceptic, they have baulked at the potential loss of a “frictionless border” with the Republic of Ireland.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the government should put economic growth at the heart of its Brexit strategy, comments placing her in the camp of those advocating a closer trade relationship with the EU, or “soft” Brexit.

May appointed Steve Baker, a prominent Brexit campaigner, to the Department for Exiting the EU.

As European leaders tried to fathom exactly how Britain would begin the negotiations, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble predicted that Britain would regret its departure from the bloc at some point in the future.

Asked about Schaeuble’s comments, Macron said the EU’s door was still open for Britain as long as the negotiations were not finished, but that it would be difficult to reverse course.

N. Korea behind eight years of hacks: US

The US government is issuing a rare alert on the activities of a hacking group it dubs “Hidden Cobra,” saying the group is part of the North Korean government and more attacks are likely.


The joint alert from the US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Tuesday that “cyber actors of the North Korean government” had targeted the media, aerospace and financial sectors, as well as critical infrastructure, in the United States and globally.

North Korea has routinely denied involvement in cyber attacks against other countries. The North Korean mission to the United Nations was not immediately available for comment.

The alert said Hidden Cobra has compromised a range of victims since 2009 and that some intrusions had resulted in thefts of data while others were disruptive. The group’s capabilities include denial of service attacks, which send reams of junk traffic to a server to knock it offline, keyloggers, remote access tools and several variants of malware, the alert said.

Hidden Cobra commonly targets systems that run older versions of Microsoft Corp operating systems that are no longer patched, the alert said.

North Korean hacking activity has grown increasingly hostile in recent years, according to Western officials and cyber security experts.

The cyber firm Symantec Corp said last month it was “highly likely” that a hacking group affiliated with North Korea called Lazarus Group was behind the WannaCry cyber attack that infected more than 300,000 computers worldwide, disrupting operations at hospitals, banks and schools.

Tuesday’s alert said Hidden Cobra’s cyber attacks have been previously referred to by private sector experts as Lazarus Group and Guardians of the Peace, which have been linked to attacks such as the 2014 intrusion into Sony Corp’s Sony Pictures Entertainment.