Debt laws pass, but face Senate changes

The federal government has succeeded in rushing through laws to increase Australia’s national debt ceiling by $200 billion, with the government ignoring Labor’s push for a smaller increase.

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However, Treasurer Joe Hockey faces a more difficult task in getting his laws through the Senate, where Labor and the Greens have the numbers to force amendments to halve the increase.

The laws that cleared the lower house on Wednesday allow the government to increase the debt ceiling, or allowable value of government bonds on issue, to $500 billion, up from the old $300 billion limit.

Treasury’s pre-election budget update said the $300 limit would be reached by December this year, and would rise to around $370 billion by July 2016.

The higher debt ceiling laws were the first bill passed by the new parliament, with Mr Hockey blaming the previous Labor government for running up massive debt and for forcing parliament to extend Australia’s national credit card limit.

“It is Labor’s debt, there is no excuse,” Mr Hockey said.

“The previous government recognised that ultimately whoever was elected after the election would have to deal with this issue.”

The treasurer noted the debt ceiling was never increased under the former Howard coalition government because “we paid off the debt”.

The Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Amendment Bill 2013 passed, a win for the federal government that wanted them passed by the lower house by the end of the day.

The Senate will start debate the debt limit on Thursday in what is shaping up as the first test of the new government’s ability to pass its legislative program.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said the opposition was happy to increase the limit to $400 billion, but the government had come “nowhere near close” to justifying the amount it wanted.

He accused Mr Hockey of hypocrisy, and said the coalition in the Senate had voted against similar moves when Labor increased the debt limit to $300 billion in May 2012.

“We will not tolerate for one second the member for North Sydney (Mr Hockey) lecturing us about why we must vote to increases in the debt cap when he did not vote for one, instructing his senators not to vote for one just a little over 12 months ago,” Mr Bowen said.

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh noted the lower house had allowed just 70 minutes of debate for a $200 billion measure – or $47 million per second.

“Every second of this debate that elapses, the debt limit will rise $2 for every single Australian,” he said.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott told ABC television Labor’s proposed amendments would not provide enough of a buffer to cover the existing debt forecasts, adding that former treasurer Wayne Swan had previously urged parliament to provide a buffer of up to $60 billion.

“This is Labor’s debt. We have always been critical of Labor’s addiction to debt and deficit,” he said, adding the government wanted to make sure it never had to ask for another increase,” he said.

Mr Abbott offered a confidential briefing for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten with Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson, but said update budget figures would not be released until the mid-year budget review, due in mid December.

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Tripodi fronts ICAC for second time

Former NSW Labor minister Joe Tripodi said he wasn’t trying to dig himself out of a hole during his repeat visit to a corruption inquiry.

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The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is investigating claims another former MP, Eddie Obeid, lobbied several ministers over lucrative Sydney harbourside leases owned by his family.

Mr Tripodi has already given evidence to the commission, but was asked to reappear on Wednesday to clarify that while he knew Mr Obeid had an “interest” in the leases, he didn’t realise it was financial.

Mr Tripodi’s former chief of staff had given evidence that Mr Tripodi had told her in 2006 he knew Mr Obeid had an interest in the businesses.

“I meant he was interested in the subject of the leases at Circular Quay,” Mr Tripodi told the ICAC during his second round of questioning.

Assistant commissioner Anthony Whealy wanted to know whether this new evidence “was a bit of a long shot”.

“No sir, it’s the truth,” Mr Tripodi said.

“Well, have you asked to come back here to clarify it because you think you might dig yourself out of a hole from what you said on the last occasion?” Mr Whealy pressed on.

“No, commissioner, this is very serious,” the witness said.

Mr Tripodi was grilled for 25 minutes before being excused.

Another witness, Mark Duffy, was seen jostling a photographer as he tried to exit the building before bursting into tears.

Also on the stand on Wednesday was former senior bureaucrat Steve Dunn, who told the inquiry he was simply helping Mr Obeid exercise “due diligence” when he asked after water licences attached to land the then-MP’s family was buying in the Bylong Valley.

Along with the Circular Quay probe – and another investigation into health contracts involving a company with Obeid links – the commission is exploring whether Mr Obeid used his political clout to secure valuable water allocations for his family’s $3.65 million Bylong Valley farm in November 2007.

Mr Dunn had previously worked as a bureaucrat under Mr Obeid.

The commission has been shown an email sent by Mr Dunn in September 2007 wherein he asked a water department bureaucrat for information about various licences covering the Obeids’ property.

“This wasn’t about any kind of commercial advantage for Mr Obeid,” Mr Dunn said.

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CSR lifts profit, expects further growth

People are again starting to buy new homes now the election is over, building supplier CSR says.

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Managing director Rob Sindel says uncertainty over the election outcome had discouraged people from buying a new home despite historically low interest rates.

But that was changing as consumer confidence also improved.

“The anecdotal evidence from builders is … they’ve seen a number of contracts signed increase significantly after the election,” Mr Sindel told reporters on Wednesday.

“You’re seeing people go out and make that big decision to purchase a home … build a new home or buy a piece of land.”

CSR is hopeful the demand for new residential construction will continue to improve, even it building approval numbers are still showing only a modest improvement.

“The early indicators – finance approvals and land sales – you’re seeing those strengthen,” Mr Sindel said.

CSR raised its forecast for Australian housing starts in the year to the end of March 2014 by five per cent, to 155,000.

“Our outlook for the next few years is a lot more positive than it’s been,” Mr Sindel said.

New multi-unit developments in Sydney are expected to fuel much of that growth.

But Brisbane’s new housing market recovery would lag six months behind Sydney and Melbourne, the company said.

CSR’s net profit more than doubled to $46.1 million in the six months to September 30, up from $16 million in the previous corresponding period, mainly because of restructuring and cost savings.

When one-off financial items related to the company’s restructuring are excluded, profit was $36.2 million, up from $18.9 million in the previous corresponding period.

Earnings improved in CSR’s building products, Viridian glass, aluminium and property divisions.

A weaker Australian dollar was expected to help CSR’s aluminium sector.

The company is expecting a full year profit, before one-off items, of up to $70 million.

CSR shares gained 20 cents, or 8.3 per cent, to $2.61.

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Nova Peris vows to call out racism

With white clay from a traditional indigenous blessing smeared on her forehead, Peris acknowledged that she lived in a society “where the odds are stacked against Aboriginal people”.

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Earlier: Nova Peris hears of discrimination ahead of maiden speech

   

Peris, who won gold in field hockey at the 1996 Atlanta Games before switching to athletics to win gold in the 200m and 4x100m relay at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, said her sporting achievements were virtually meaningless compared with the struggle of her older relatives to survive.

   

She said while she had lived the globe-trotting life of an elite athlete, she would “swap all of that in a heartbeat”.

   

“I would forgo any number of medals to see Aboriginal Australians be free, healthy and participating fully in all that our great country has to offer,” she told the Senate as her voice wavered with emotion.

“It is my dream to see kids from Santa Theresa, from Gunbalanya, and Kalkarindji and the Tiwi Islands all with the same opportunity as the kids from the eastern suburbs of Sydney.”

Related: Nova Peris says she won’t be a ‘one-term wonder’

Peris’ election to the Senate in the September 7 vote was a rare bright spot for the Australian Labor Party which lost government to conservative leader Tony Abbott in the polls.

   

Darwin-born-and-raised Peris said while she did not consider herself an expert on ending indigenous disadvantage, she had seen some unscrupulous people attempt to use the misfortune of indigenous people to further their own agendas.

   

“Should I see this happen I will call it for what it is,” she said.

   

“It’s racism and I know it’s confronting, but I will not stand by in silence.”

   

The 42-year-old mother of three, who identifies with indigenous peoples from the East Kimberley, West Kimberley (Broome) and West Arnhem land in the Northern Territory, called for Aboriginal Australians to be recognised in the constitution, a long-standing demand of the community.

   

“To Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, this has always been part of our story of struggle, injustice and heartache,” she said.

   

Aborigines, the most disadvantaged Australians, are believed to have numbered around one million at the time of British settlement.

   

There are now just 470,000 out of a total population of 23 million, and they suffer disproportionate levels of disease, imprisonment and social problems as well as significantly lower education, employment and life expectancy.

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Record-breaker Tendulkar set for last Test

India will lose its greatest cricketer when Sachin Tendulkar retires but the ‘Little Master’ leaves behind records that will not only be tough to beat, but may never be broken.

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Tendulkar, 40, has played more matches, and scored more runs and centuries, than anyone else in either Test or one-day cricket, and is the only batsman to compile 100 international hundreds.

What stands out in an extraordinary 24-year career, which will end with his 200th Test starting on Thursday, is how far ahead he is both in terms of statistics and longevity.

“Records don’t last forever, but some of Tendulkar’s achievements like 200 Tests and 100 international centuries will be hard to beat,” former India captain Kapil Dev told AFP.

Tendulkar’s 15,847 Test runs dwarf the 13,378 scored by second-placed and now retired former Australia captain Ricky Ponting, and are 2,707 more than Jacques Kallis, the highest placed active player.

Tendulkar has been even more dominant in one-day cricket, his tally of 18,426 runs being 4,722 more than Ponting. Of active batsmen, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara leads with 11,948.

Ponting’s 30 one-day centuries pale against Tendulkar’s 49 – although South Africa’s Kallis is only seven hundreds away from matching the Indian’s Test tally of 51 tons.

By further comparison, Don Bradman, usually acknowledged as cricket’s best batsman, retired aged 39 in 1948 with 6,996 Test runs, including 29 centuries, in 52 matches.

And despite Bradman’s staggering Test average of 99.94, West Indian great Brian Lara said Tendulkar was not only the best of all time, but that his records could be unmatchable.

“No argument at all – Sachin Tendulkar, for me, has had the greatest cricket career of anyone who has ever played the game,” Lara said.

“His stats speak for themselves.

“I don’t think there is any 16-year-old who is going to embark on the sort of career that Sachin Tendulkar has had and walk away from the game at 40 or 41 with such great achievements.”

Among current players, Tendulkar’s Test record could possibly be matched by just two batsmen – the indefatigable all-rounder Kallis, and England captain Alastair Cook.

Kallis, 38, has scored 13,140 runs in 164 Tests at a commendable average of 55.44. Cook, 28, already has 7,801 runs from 97 Tests, with 25 centuries and an average of 47.85.

However, Dev said the growth of one-day and Twenty20 cricket – and the rigorous physical demands of the modern game – could put Tendulkar’s statistics out of reach.

“One would need to play for 25 years to achieve those feats, but can modern-day players last that long?” he said.

“Most don’t even play enough Test matches these days.”

Tendulkar featured in just one Twenty20 international, preferring to leave the shortest version to younger players, but turned out for the Mumbai Indians in domestic T20 up until last month.

Former India opener Sunil Gavaskar pinpointed prolific youngster Virat Kohli as someone who may surpass Tendulkar’s tally of 49 one-day centuries, but said his Test record appeared impregnable.

Kohli, 25, has scored 4,919 runs in 113 one-day innings so far, with 17 hundreds. At the same stage, Tendulkar had hit 4,001 runs with only eight centuries.

“It will be well nigh impossible to play 200 Test matches or reach 51 Test hundreds, but the manner in which Virat is batting, 49 hundreds definitely look possible,” Gavaskar said.

“He may still be 32 tons away, but the number of one-dayers India play these days, he could do it.”

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