GST doesn’t pass economic test: Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull says the government’s modelling shows raising the GST would not “pass the first hurdle” of being economically feasible.

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As the prime minister briefed a joint party-room meeting in Canberra on Tuesday on the government’s tax reform work, state and territory leaders called off a meeting to discuss their position.

Mr Turnbull said it was the responsibility of a “grown-up government” to examine tax and economic policy with great care.

“We have looked very painfully and carefully at the proposal to raise the GST and it does not proffer the economic benefits that many have assumed,” Mr Turnbull said.

MPs were told further modelling was being done, including more work on the GST.

The final decision on the coalition’s tax policy would be unveiled in the May budget, Mr Turnbull said.

Nationals MP David Gillespie, who wants the GST rate increased and its base broadened, urged the government not to make a “knee-jerk reaction” and take the GST off the table.

Meanwhile, Northern Territory chief minister Adam Giles – who was to host a Council for the Australian Federation (CAF) gathering in early March to discuss tax reform – has written to his counterparts saying the meeting is off after Mr Turnbull effectively ruled out any change to the GST.

Mr Giles said in his letter to the premiers the national tax reform discussion had become “even more uncertain” since he initiated the March 1 meeting.

“Until such time the prime minister provides greater clarity with the commonwealth’s proposed tax reform package, any CAF discussion would only be speculative and add little to the national conversation,” he wrote.

“I therefore recommend that any further discussion around taxation reform is deferred.”

The most immediate concern was funding health and education during the next four years, Mr Giles said.

“A co-ordinated effort to close the fiscal gap through sensible and long-overdue reforms is paramount,” he said.

The next meeting of the group is now expected just before the Council of Australian Governments meeting in April.

Mr Turnbull said in December unless the April meeting could chart a way forward on tax reform the two levels of government would go their own ways.

Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos said he was prepared to put superannuation back on the table, and commended Labor for discussing the issue.

“In this constrained environment fiscally, we need to look at where we can tighten up concessions,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

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Labor hits great wall on Robert China trip

The federal government has declined to release information backing up minister Stuart Robert’s claims about a controversial China trip.

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The prime minister has asked the head of his department to determine whether Mr Robert breached ministerial standards by helping a friend and Liberal Party donor sign a deal in China.

Labor used question time on Tuesday to test whether Mr Robert’s claim that he had taken the trip in a personal capacity was reflected in his China visa application and outgoing passenger card.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said he would not be inspecting Mr Robert’s passenger card as it would be a breach of privacy.

“I haven’t brought the passenger cards down to question time with me … nor would it be appropriate for me,” he said.

The passenger card, which is a legal document, has eight options as the “main reason for overseas travel”: convention, business, visiting friends or relatives, holiday, employment, education, exhibition and other.

Mr Robert told parliament he had undertaken the trip “in a personal capacity”, but would not say what he wrote on his passenger card or visa application.

“I am confident I have not acted inappropriately,” he said, adding he would assist the review commissioned by Mr Turnbull.

The minister also would not say whether he met with a Chinese vice minister on his trip.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the issue was a test of Mr Turnbull’s judgment.

The prime minister said he had immediately referred the matter to his departmental secretary, which was the appropriate way of handling matters of ministerial standards.

“Due process, accountability, integrity – that is what we stand for and that is what we will deliver,” Mr Turnbull told parliament.

When he was assistant defence minister, Mr Robert flew to Beijing in August 2014 to be at a signing ceremony for Nimrod Resources, a company led by his close friend Paul Marks.

Mr Robert took personal leave, approved by then prime minister Tony Abbott’s office, and paid for the trip out of his own pocket.

He has declared a financial interest in companies associated with Mr Marks.

The ministerial code of conduct says a minister shall not “act as a consultant or adviser to a company business or other interests, whether paid or unpaid, or provide assistance to any such body, except as maybe appropriate in their official capacity as minister”.

The Australian Financial Review reported Mr Robert met China’s vice minister of land and resources, Wang Min, a day after he attended the signing ceremony.

A Chinese government website says the pair discussed Chinese mining investment in Australia.

“It can’t be both a trip for private purposes and a trip on which he met with a vice minister in the Chinese government,” shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb declined to say whether his department had assisted Nimrod Resources.

Asked whether ministerial meetings with foreign officials were usually flagged with her, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said there was no general practice.

Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos said he didn’t believe Mr Robert had breached any standards “if he has acted in accordance with the terms under which he undertook the trip when it was approved”.

“The judgment that was made at the time that the leave was approved was that he would conduct himself in a way as to avoid any appearance of that sort of conflict of interest,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

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Ex-police ministers’ sympathy for Noonan

Wade Noonan’s time out to heal from personal exposure to the daily horrors of crime will be a tough period, according to former Victorian police minister Kim Wells.

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Mr Wells says he understands the difficulties faced by Mr Noonan who is taking three months off to deal with the “unspeakable crimes and traumatic events” he was exposed to every day as police minister.

Dealing with the death of Luke Batty and learning of the appalling details of pedophilia took their toll during his time as Mr Noonan’s predecessor in 2013 and 2014, Mr Wells said on Tuesday.

In one case his staff told him to read just the first four pages of a brief because the material was too awful.

According to another former Victorian police minister, Andre Haermeyer, having to constantly deal with such material can have a cumulative impact.

“If you’re getting a barrage of it, it can push you psychologically and emotionally,” he told AAP.

“The minister is reading that stuff all the time and it’s like Chinese water torture.

Only too accustomed to the private rigours of political life himself, former Victorian premier and Beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett says he’s “very disappointed” in those who believe Mr Noonan somehow weak for seeking help.

“It shows that most of those making those comments are not very well educated about how individuals might relate to certain circumstances,” Mr Kennett told AAP on Tuesday.

“He’s not a first responder but he will have had access to material that he will have found disturbing, and it doesn’t matter that’s a hundred incidents or whether it’s five or six.”

Mr Haermeyer said constant briefings about the worst aspects of human nature, including Melbourne’s gangland war and local terror investigations in the post-September 2001 world, crossed his desk.

“One drop is nothing but it just doesn’t stop and it’s all you’re copping a lot of the time and you’ve got to explain to the public what is happening but you can’t say everything.”

Mr Wells said Luke Batty’s death and a case where two police officers were stabbed had been hard to deal with as minister.

“The thing that affected me more than anything was the issue around pedophilia and those rings, and they’re targeting young boys and in some cases young girls,” he told AAP.

“You do get a lot of detail around that. You wouldn’t get down into the really nitty-gritty stuff but there would be enough there to say, `Oh my God, this is an awful situation, what more can we do to shut this down?'”

Finance and Multicultural Affairs Minister Robin Scott will manage Mr Noonan’s Police and Corrections portfolios, while Footscray MP Marsha Thomson will look after Mr Noonan’s constituents in the neighbouring Williamstown seat.

Premier Daniel Andrews, Victoria Police chief Graham Ashton, Police Association secretary Ron Iddles and the opposition have all pledged their support for Mr Noonan.

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7 Indonesian men jailed for supporting IS

When a Jakarta court sentenced seven Indonesian men to prison for supporting Islamic State, the name Abu Bakar Bashir was not far from the judges’ lips.

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The ageing radical cleric – notorious in Australia as the spiritual leader of the group behind the deadly 2002 Bali bombings – was mentioned twice during the sentencing of the group at West Jakarta District Court on Tuesday.

The first time was during the matter of Tuah Febriwansyah, also known as Fachry, who created a website in 2013 to promote IS’s activities in the Middle East.

“The defendant’s action has created unease in society, has created fear, has influenced people to commit violence,” Chief Judge Achmad Fauzi said when sentencing him to a maximum of five years in prison.

Tuah, the court heard, had also visited Bashir at the notorious island prison Nusakambangan to discuss IS.

When this meeting took place and what was said was not revealed during the court session.

But Bashir’s name popped up again when Chief Judge Mochamad Arifin sentenced one of Tuah’s co-accused, Ahmad Junaidi alias Abu Salman, to a maximum of three years after he trained in an IS camp in Syria for 24 days in 2014.

Ahmad, Judge Arifin stated, was a follower of the terrorist Abu Jandal who was featured in a video threatening to attack the island prison where Bashir is kept in order to release him.

“Many Indonesians have joined ISIS because of such videos,” the judge said.

It is not the first time Bashir has been linked to known terrorists in recent times.

The judicial review currently being held into his 15-year sentence for his support of a militant camp in Aceh has heard one of the gunmen behind the recent attack on Jakarta, Afif, is said to have visited him at the same prison.

It was within the same jail’s walls that Bashir pledged his allegiance to IS in 2014.

The case of the seven men highlights not just concerns over terrorists’ ability to access Bashir in jail but also the number of Indonesians who have travelled to Syria.

Helmi Muhamad Alemudi was sentenced on Tuesday to a maximum of three years and six months for conspiring to facilitate a terrorism act and for funding terrorism.

The court heard he took 39 Indonesians into Syria in several stages between June and August 2014, and raised Rp 257 million ($A26,700) for IS.

Meanwhile at Cilacap court in Central Java on Tuesday, Bashir defended his involvement in a military training camp in Aceh, saying he chooses to follow Islamic rather than Indonesian law.

“Maybe giving help to military training according to Indonesian law is wrong but I follow Islamic law because that is related to the next life,” he told the court during the review into his case.

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Indian soldier pulled out alive after six days buried in snow

An Indian soldier declared dead has been found alive under 8 metres of snow, six days after he was buried by an avalanche that hit his military post in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

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Rescue teams dug out Naik Hanamanthappa in one of the world’s most unforgiving environments, at an altitude of 6,000 m on the Siachen Glacier, which India and Pakistan have fought over intermittently for three decades.

       

“We hope the miracle continues. Pray with us,” D.S. Hooda, an Indian army commander, said in a statement on Tuesday.

       

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the soldier at a military hospital in the Indian capital, saying he brought “prayers from the entire nation.”

       

The army said the soldier was in a critical condition.

Team of doctors is attending to Lance Naik Hanumanthappa. We are all hoping & praying for the best: PM @narendramodi

— PMO India (@PMOIndia) February 9, 2016

      

Rescue workers had been searching for almost a week for 10 soldiers who went missing after the avalanche in an area known as the battleground on the roof of the world.

      

A day after the search began the army said the chances of finding any survivors were “very remote”. In its statement on Tuesday, it said all the other soldiers were now believed dead.

No words are enough to describe the endurance & indomitable spirit of Lance Naik Hanumanthappa. He is an outstanding soldier: PM

— PMO India (@PMOIndia) February 9, 2016

At the Siachen Glacier in the Karakorum range, thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops contest an area above 6,096 m where they must deal with altitude sickness, high winds, frostbite and temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius.

       

The inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire.

 

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ASIO chief: Australian IS fighters highly expendable

Counter-terrorism agents are closely monitoring about 40 foreign fighters already returned from battlefields in Syria and Iraq.

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Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation director Duncan Lewis has confirmed at least 45 Australians have been killed in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, with the number possibly as high as 49.

“Untrained and naive young Australians are being drawn into the conflict and finding themselves in what I would describe as highly expendable, highly dangerous positions of low importance amid the ISIL effort,” Mr Lewis said on Tuesday.

Mr Lewis, appearing before a Senate committee in Canberra, said terrorism remained “the most obvious and most immediate challenge” for his organisation.

In his first appearance before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee since May last year, Mr Lewis also confirmed about 40 Australians had now returned from battlefields in Syria and Iraq.

The majority had been involved in the earlier phase of the Syrian civil war, prior to advent of ISIL, also known as Islamic State, but remain under the close watch of authorities.

“Having concert with other Australian agencies we are working to identify the issues each of these individuals who have returned might present,” Mr Lewis said.

“We’re actively working to ensure that they’re managed effectively and according to our law.”

While there were 110 Australians fighting or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq – a minor decrease since Mr Lewis last appeared before the committee last May – there had not been “an overall decrease in interest shown by individuals”.

“The conflict in Syria and Iraq continues to resonate here in Australia,” Mr Lewis said.

“There remains a small number of Australians that are influenced by the twisted rhetoric espoused by groups such as ISIL.”

About 190 people in Australia continued to actively support ISIL, via fundraising or seeking to join the conflict.

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Age of terrorism suspects trending down

Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin says counter-terrorism agencies remain concerned about the age and relative youth of people popping up on their radars.

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Mr Colvin has confirmed that 36 people have been charged in relation to 13 separate counter-terrorism operations since December 2013, adding that all cases are “ongoing and complex”.

Appearing before a Senate committee hearing in Canberra, Mr Colvin also confirmed two individuals were currently subject to control orders – placing severe restrictions on their movements and associations – and arrest warrants had been issued for 11 others who remain offshore.

The figures, Mr Colvin said, “mirror the escalation of the threat out of Syria and Iraq”.

“Small, unpredictable attacks are of great concern to ourselves and our partner agencies, as is the age and relative youth of people that are coming up on our radar as being of concern.”

The comments provide an updated snapshot on the counter-terrorism activities of the AFP, and the first since Mr Colvin appeared before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee last May.

Mr Colvin’s remarks also come after the nation’s spy chief earlier cautioned the same committee that the age of Australians supporting groups such as Islamic State, also known as ISIL, was trending down and that some of those individuals were “astonishingly young”.

ASIO director Duncan Lewis earlier told the committee that “a couple of years ago typically we would have been talking about people in their late 20s, early 30s”.

“By the start or middle of last year we were … down to the teens.

“If you asked me for a median without being precise I would say it’s in the early 20s, but the trend is down and we do have at the bottom end of that spectrum some people of astonishingly young age.”

Mr Lewis confirmed at least 45 Australians had been killed in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, with the number possibly as high as 49.

There were 110 Australians fighting or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq – a minor decrease since Mr Lewis last appeared before the committee last May – and about 190 people in Australia who continued to actively support ISIL.

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Kasich, Sanders lead in New Hampshire

Voters in a tiny northern US community have cast the first ballots in the first presidential primary, handing victory to John Kasich for the Republicans and Bernie Sanders for the Democrats.

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The polling station in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, opened at midnight, allowing nine registered voters to cast their ballots hours before most of the state on Tuesday.

It went 3-2 to Kasich over Donald Trump for the Republicans, and 4-0 for Sanders over former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, the Washington Times reported.

The result is sometimes treated as a predictor of how the rest of the state will vote.

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Dixville Notch has kept the tradition of midnight voting alive continuously since 1960, according to USA Today, and this year was joined by two other nearby communities, Millsfield and Hart’s Location, also with just a handful of voters each.

Polling stations elsewhere in the state open at 6am.

Voting will continue until 7pm or 8pm in different locations.

Voters in the northeastern US state are holding the second ballot in the long process of electing the US president, and the first to be held under the procedure of a state primary.

The first ballot was by caucus on February 1 in Iowa, where US Senator Ted Cruz finished on top among Republicans and Clinton beat Sanders, a US senator, by a whisker among Democrats.

The spotlight has been on New Hampshire since the Iowa vote, and the candidates spent the last day before the primary campaigning for support. Nearly all the Republicans made appearances on Monday.

Polls showed the left-wing Sanders, who represents the neighbouring state of Vermont, far ahead of Clinton for the Democrats, while billionaire Trump holds a large lead among Republicans across the state as a whole.

Trump also held a lead in the polls going into the Iowa caucuses, but finished second to arch-conservative Cruz.

Marco Rubio, the third-place finisher in Iowa, has emerged as a compromise candidate who is less polarising than Trump and Cruz.

The US senator from Florida is looking to build on the momentum he had coming out of Iowa, but Ohio Governor John Kasich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have strong organisations in the state and are expected to do better than they did in Iowa, where neither made much of a showing.

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Former Florida governor Jeb Bush also hopes to do well in New Hampshire. His candidacy has not taken off, but most observers said he has honed his message. He performed well in a debate on Saturday.

The New Hampshire primary is different from Iowa in that it is organised not by the political parties, but by the state. There are 307 voting stations and voting takes place by secret ballot.

All registered voters – not just registered Democrats and Republicans – are allowed to participate in the primary. Unaffiliated voters are classified as independents and may vote for candidates in either party.

Independents make up about 43 per cent of the New Hampshire electorate, while Democrats and Republicans make up about 30 per cent each.

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Support grows for reconciliation: report

The State of Reconciliation in Australia report, released on Tuesday, found the vast majority of people – 86 per cent – believed the relationship between indigenous and other Australians was important.

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But it also found a third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had been racially abused in the six months before the survey.

Only 30 per cent of the general community socialise with indigenous people, the report also found.

Reconciliation CEO Justin Mohamed says Australia will always be held back until it moves to zero tolerance ofracism.

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“We know that racism over the last 18 months and through a number of different events has seen the nation that we aren’t proud of,” he told ABC TV.

Mr Mohamed cited a number of other matters and “unresolved conversations” impeding reconciliation.

They included constitutional recognition, a sovereignty treaty and discussions about new agreements and arrangements with indigenous communities.

The government’s Closing the Gap policy also needed renewal.

“It hasn’t reached the heights that we want it to reach,” Mr Mohamed said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will deliver the annual progress report of Closing the Gap targets on Wednesday.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the nation needed to adopt a “partnership of equals”.

It required building trust and cooperation, embedding respect in all parts of society, eliminating racism and valuing the world’s oldest living culture “as part of modern Australian culture”.

“Equal opportunity is not a politically correct term. Equal opportunity is what constitutes reconciliation,” Mr Shorten said.

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Parents ‘can’t protect’ kids against porn

Porn can be blocked, banned or ignored but it will eventually find your child, a cybersafety expert has warned.

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Parents have their head in the sand if they think children won’t be exposed to pornography, cybersafety expert Susan McLean said at a Sydney symposium.

“They will find it, it will find them or someone will show it to them,” Ms McLean told AAP at the gathering of health professionals and child welfare experts on Tuesday.

Age-appropriate communication was the best way to deal with the issue, Ms McLean said.

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“Don’t scare them, but let them know there are things out there that aren’t right for kids,” she said.

“People think it’s ‘not my child’ or I can protect them at home. But you can’t.”

The results of early exposure and engagement can vary from bed-wetting to triggers for child-on-child sexual assaults, which are on the rise, Ms McLean says.

“They don’t have the capacity to say ‘that’s not how it works'”.

The former police officer detailed one example of a 15-year-old who tied up his girlfriend and forced her to perform oral sex – his justification was porn.

Children and teens are increasingly being coerced into sexual acts that mimic pornography by other young minds who can’t differentiate between reality and fantasy, according to the welfare experts at the symposium.

Dr Michael Flood, from the University of Wollongong, said youth needed to be taught sex was good, but porn was a bad educator.

Repetitive themes of aggression, coercion, anal sex and other acts have been shaping malleable minds in a culture saturated with pornography, he said.

“The issue isn’t those practices themselves, it’s that young men are expecting things from girls or pressuring them into those practices,” Dr Flood said.

“It’s producing very narrow, hostile and callous sexualities among young people.”

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