Finkel review: Coalition MPs play down heated energy debate

A coalition party room meeting had to be extended into Tuesday evening to debate a report by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel which, amongst other recommendations for the nation’s electricity system, proposes a clean energy target.

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Nationals MP Mark Coulton was angered to see reports based on leaks by “some pissant”.

“The reports … are simplistic and do not really relate the burden of responsibility that the coalition is carrying on their shoulders at the moment,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

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Mr Coulton said it was wrong to portray MPs as either being “for Finkel, or against Finkel”.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the various views would be used to prepare a submission to cabinet, and then return to the party room.

“That’s how a proper democratic process should work,” he said.

Mr Joyce insisted the party hears the need for affordable power.

“We don’t have that titanic religious position the Labor Party has where you can’t mention the word coal.”

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Junior minister Zed Seselja labelled the discussion a “very healthy debate” focusing on lower energy costs, energy security, and meeting emission reduction targets.

Liberal MP Jane Prentice raised the need to consider nuclear power.

Labor senator Anthony Chisholm said coalition MPs were was fighting among themselves while Australian families were missing out.

“The Abbott-Turnbull wars are back,” he told reporters.

The Clean Energy Target was a sensible proposal that should’ve been taken seriously. Once again, Turnbull has failed on climate change.

— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) June 13, 2017

Senator Chisholm pointed to the reported tense exchange between former prime minister Tony Abbott and Liberal frontbencher Craig Laundy after the meeting.

“It shows that this is not business as usual,” he said. “They are absolutely at war over the Finkel report and the tragedy is that the Australian people are the losers from it.”

Greens MP Adam Bandt said the government should cut loose Mr Abbott and fellow climate change deniers.

“I am sick of this parliament wasting so much time trying to devise a climate policy just aimed at keeping Tony Abbott happy,” he said. 

Why the Maroons are better for Origin II

WHY QUEENSLAND ARE BETTER FOR STATE OF ORIGIN GAME II

BILLY SLATER

Slater’s puzzling omission from Game I may not have cost them the match, but the Maroons needed his spark from the back.

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Slater, who turns 34 on Sunday, has scored five tries and set up 12 in 11 games for Melbourne since returning from his latest career-threatening shoulder injury, and is the Maroons’ equal third all-time tryscorer with 12 from 27 matches.

THE CENTRES

The likely shift of Will Chambers to right centre could shut down the ever-dangerous Jarryd Hayne. Chambers has missed just nine tackles in his five Origin games to be considered safe in the backs. In comparison the man he is replacing, Justin O’Neill, missed eight tackles in Origin I.

CLUB COMBINATIONS

The Maroons now have super combinations where it matters most. The return of Slater at fullback to join Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk reunites Melbourne’s spine and spells constant danger for the Blues. Smith also has a strong combination with debutant prop Tim Glasby, having put him over for a try last weekend against Cronulla. Meanwhile Johnathan Thurston works well on the edges with Cowboys teammates Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess who have been called in.

A BETTER PACK

The Maroons were dominated in the pack in Game I, but an injection of in-form players should at least temper that. Jarrod Wallace, Coen Hess, Gavin Cooper and Tim Glasby have been chosen to stem NSW’s Andrew Fifita-led dominance up front, giving the Maroons’ star-studded backline and halves the chance to work their magic.

JOHNATHAN THURSTON

It’s stating the obvious to say Thurston will have a strong influence on return from injury and the numbers illustrate that it’s no fluke their great Origin run has coincided with his career. Thurston has set up more tries (30) than any player in Origin history, along with the second most line-break assists (32) in his 36 games for 23 wins.

*Stats courtesy Fox Sports

Jailed US student flown out of North Korea ‘in coma’

The release of Otto Warmbier, 18 months into a 15-year sentence, came as US President Donald Trump invited South Korea’s new leader Moon Jae-In to Washington for talks on the nuclear stand-off.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said his department had “secured” the 22-year-old’s release in talks with North Korea and is pushing for three more Americans to be freed. It was not immediately clear if he had made any concessions.

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The news came as flamboyant retired NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman — a former contestant on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality show — flew to Pyongyang to resume his quixotic quest to broker detente between his US homeland and Kim Jong-Un’s authoritarian regime.

“Otto has left North Korea,” his parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement to CNN. “He is on medivac flight on his way home. Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016. We learned of this only one week ago.”

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Warmbier’s parents were told their son was given a sleeping pill soon after his trial in March last year but never woke up. A Washington Post report says the parents had been told he may have been infected by botulism while in the North Korea jail system.

Tillerson told US senators at the start of a budget hearing that the State Department had no comment on Mr Warmbier’s condition, “out of respect for him and his family.”

The United States had accused the North of using Warmbier as a political pawn, and condemned the sentence as far out of proportion to his alleged crime.

File: American student Otto Warmbier speaks as Warmbier is presented to reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea.AAP

The announcement came amid tension between Washington and Pyongyang following a series of missile tests by the North, focusing attention on an arms build-up that Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on Monday dubbed “a clear and present danger to all.” 

Almost immediately on taking office in January, Trump and his team — having been briefed by outgoing leader Barack Obama — declared the North’s attempts to build, test and arm a nuclear-capable ballistic missile to be Washington’s biggest threat.

Washington has stepped up pressure on China and other foreign powers to enforce existing UN sanctions, and has deployed increased military assets of its own in the region.

Now, parallel to this track, basketball showman Rodman has arrived in Pyongyang, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a cryptocurrency set up for marijuana marketers.

The star has visited the Stalinist state at least four times before, most recently in 2014 when he attracted a deluge of criticism after being filmed singing happy birthday to his “friend for life,” leader Kim.

Before arriving this time, Rodman told reporters that Trump would be happy with the trip, since he was “trying to accomplish something that we both need,” sparking speculation that he may be operating as an unofficial envoy.

US officials dismissed this, saying he was travelling as a private citizen, but the basketball icon is probably Kim and Trump’s only mutual friend.

Related reading ‘Worst mistake’ 

Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, was arrested for removing a political banner from a wall in a North Korean hotel during a visit.

He was detained at the airport as he was leaving the country with a tour group in January 2016.

At a press conference before his trial, a sobbing Warmbier said he had made “the worst mistake of my life” and pleaded to be released.

The other US citizens currently being held by North Korea include Kim Hak-Song and Tony Kim, both professors at the Pyongyang University of Science and technology. They were arrested this year for “hostile acts” and trying to “overturn” the regime. 

Korean-American Kim Dong-Chul was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years’ hard labor on charges of subversion and espionage.

The North has occasionally jailed US citizens and released them only after visits by high-profile political figures, including former president Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, the White House said Moon and Trump will meet on June 29 and 30 to discuss ways of building on what America frequently calls its “ironclad” alliance with South Korea.

Moon, a center-left politician who was sworn in last month after a landslide election win, wants to engage with the North to bring it to the negotiating table, rather than continuing the hardline stance taken by his ousted predecessor Park Geun-Hye.

Trump gives military authority to set Afghan troop levels as Mattis admits US ‘not winning’

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no immediate decision had been made about the troop levels, which are now set at about 8,400.

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The Pentagon declined to comment.

The decision is similar to one announced in April that applied to US troop levels in Iraq and Syria, and came as Mattis warned Congress the US-backed Afghan forces were not beating the Taliban despite more than 15 years of war.

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier on Tuesday. “And we will correct this as soon as possible.”

Mattis said the Taliban were “surging” at the moment, something he said he intended to address.

Mattis says ‘we’re not winning’ in Afghanistan

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It has been four months since Army General John Nicholson, who leads US and international forces in Afghanistan, said he needed “a few thousand” additional forces, some potentially drawn from US allies.

Current and former US officials say discussions revolve around adding 3,000 to 5,000 troops. Those forces are expected to be largely comprised of trainers to support Afghan forces, as well as air crews.

Deliberations include giving more authority to forces on the ground and taking more aggressive action against Taliban fighters.

Some US officials have questioned the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan because any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security. To date, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and more than 17,000 wounded since the war began in 2001.

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Any increase of several thousand troops would leave American forces in Afghanistan well below their 2011 peak of more than 100,000 troops.

The Afghan government was assessed by the US military to control or influence just 59.7 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts as of Feb. 20, a nearly 11 percentage-point decrease from the same time in 2016, according to data released by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

A truck bomb explosion in Kabul last month killed more than 150 people, making it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a NATO-led coalition after ruling the country for five years.

On Saturday, three US soldiers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them in eastern Afghanistan.

The broader regional US strategy for Afghanistan remains unclear. Mattis promised on Tuesday to brief lawmakers on a new war strategy by mid-July that is widely expected to call for thousands more US troops.

Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, pressed Mattis on the deteriorating situation during the Tuesday hearing, saying the United States had an urgent need for “a change in strategy, and an increase in resources if we are to turn the situation around.”

“We recognize the need for urgency,” Mattis said.

Sara Zelenak’s mum attends London attack inquests opening

The mother of Australian nanny Sara Zelenak has sat in a London court to hear how her daughter was killed in the London Bridge terror attack at the start of inquests into the deadly rampage.

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Julie Wallace, with her partner Mark Wallace by her side, was in attendance as Coroner Andrew Harris opened and adjourned inquests at the Southwark Coroner’s Court on Tuesday for five victims of the attack.

“All of our thoughts and condolences are with you at this terrible time, one of the most horrible things is for parents to be in court hearing the details of a death, particularly a violent one, of their children,” he told them.

Ms Zelenak, 21, and South Australian woman Kirsty Boden, 28, were among the eight people killed on June 3, when three attackers ploughed into pedestrians with a white van before stabbing revellers in Borough Market.

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Details of the frenzied knife attacks on unarmed victims in the London Bridge terror attack were set out at the inquests into their deaths.

Ms Zelenak, from Brisbane was found in Borough High Street, stabbed in the neck, and was subsequently identified by dental records and DNA.

Ms Boden, from Loxton, South Australia, ran towards the danger in a selfless bid to save people.

She was found in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, on Montague Close, with a stab wound to her chest, and was later identified by DNA and dental records.

Australian attack survivor speaks out

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The inquest also detailed how Sebastien Belanger, 26, of France, James McMullan, 32, from London and Ignacio Echeverria, 39, from Spain all died in the area on June 3.

McMullan, from Brent, northwest London, was killed by a haemorrhage after being stabbed in the chest in Borough Market.

He was found lying outside the post office on Borough High Street and was later identified by his father.

Chef Mr Belanger, originally from Angers, western France, was drinking at the nearby Boro Bistro when he was stabbed repeatedly in the chest, the inquest heard.

His body was located in Borough Market and he was identified by dental records and fingerprints while his loved ones spent several days unaware of his fate.

HSBC analyst Mr Echeverria, from As Pontes, Spain, was knifed in the back on London Bridge, having tried to defend a woman with his skateboard. His body was identified by his brother several days later, the hearing was told.

Armed police shot dead ringleader Khuram Butt, 27, and his two accomplices Rachid Redouane, 30, and Youssef Zaghba, 22, just eight minutes after the first emergency call was made.

The inquest proceedings were suspended by the coroner so the vast police operation was not hampered by his investigation.

A hearing will take place on Wednesday into the deaths of Canadian Christine Archibald, 30, and Frenchmen Xavier Thomas, 45, and Alexandre Pigeard, 26.

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