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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

Ideology clouding climate debate: Flannery

The federal government’s former chief climate adviser says political ideology is obscuring the reality of climate change and renewable energy.

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Professor Tim Flannery has told a Brisbane conference Australia risks falling behind other countries in the green energy market if it does not accept “facts on the ground” regarding climate change.

Prof Flannery was sacked as head of the federal Climate Commission when Prime Minister Tony Abbott shut it down in September.

Speaking at an event run by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia on Wednesday, he declined to comment directly on the federal government’s climate strategy.

But he said: “There are ideological positions which tend to obscure the reality of what is happening.

“That is something we cannot afford, particularly in this area, just because the changes are so great and so fast.

“We need to focus objectively on the best outcomes rather than what would be ideologically acceptable.”

Siemens Energy’s chief technology officer, Professor Dr Michael Weinhold, also spoke at the event about renewable energy systems in countries including Germany, which he said generated about 10 times as much electricity from solar power than Australia.

Prof Flannery said there was a “fundamental revolution” going on around the world.

“Many of the problems and issues Germany is facing, we will be facing in years to come,” he said.

“And many of the opportunities Germany is grasping now, we will have the potential to grasp in future.”

The 2007 Australian of the Year, Prof Flannery is now the chief climate councillor at the donation-funded Australian Climate Council.

It was launched after the government axed the taxpayer-funded commission set up in 2010 by the former Labor government to increase public awareness of climate-change science.

The commission was shut down on the second day of the coalition government.

Shooting forces delay of Philippines mass burials: mayor

“We had finished digging the mass burial site.

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We had the truck loaded with bodies…but…there was some shooting….they could not proceed,” Alfred Romualdez said.

   

Forensics officers “were with them. But on their way there, they were asked to go back by the security escorts,” he said.

Follow the major developments of the Typhoon Haiyan aftermath with our Story Stream

   

“They were ordered to turn around by the (police).”

   

The delay is a further setback to authorities’ efforts to remove the scores of bodies that still litter streets in the areas worst hit by the enormous storm last Friday.

   

Doctors are warning that in the tropical heat of the Philippines, the bodies will soon become a source of disease.

   

Correspondents in the area report the smell of corpses hanging in the air while an official said the recovery of bodies had stopped because they “ran out of bags”.

FILIPINOS RUSH TO HELP TYPHOON SURVIVORS

Meanwhile, Filipinos abroad, who have spent harrowing days trying to contact loved ones after a typhoon devastated their homeland, are mobilising to send relief, despite misgivings about corrupt local officials pocketing aid on the ground.

With thousands feared dead and aid only trickling in after Super Typhoon Haiyan laid waste to entire coastal towns on Friday, many among the 10-million-strong nation are still frantically trying to find out if their relatives are alive and their homes still standing.

And from Asian capitals to the US and Europe, Filipino communities are taking to churches and social media sites to raise funds for communities left with nothing – and growing increasingly desperate.

SBS Radio’s Filipino program will host a two-hour radiothon on Friday (November 15) to raise funds for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in The Philippines. The radiothon, airing in conjunction with the Australian Red Cross, will be broadcast on Friday from 10am to noon (AEST) on SBS Radio 2.

More information on how you can help can be found here.

In-form North eyes Test return

Former Test batsman Marcus North continued his fine recent form with his second Sheffield Shield hundred of the summer for Western Australia against South Australia at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday.

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North scored a patient 110 off 213 balls to put the Warriors on track before Ashton Agar (39 not out) and Sam Whiteman (30no) combined for an unbeaten 69-run stand as the visitors finished the day on 6-269.

Redbacks captain Johan Botha (4-71) was the pick of the home side’s bowlers and grabbed the vital scalp of North, while fellow spin bowler Adam Zampa (2-63) also chipped in.

After securing a draw for the Warriors against Victoria with a classy 118no in the Shield opener at the MCG two weeks ago, North ground out another century to repel the Redbacks and is now eyeing a Test recall.

The 34-year-old is the competition’s leading run-scorer thus far and his return to form comes on the back of a tough 2012-13 domestic season which saw him relinquish the captaincy and consider quitting cricket after being dropped to club level.

But North, who scored five tons in 21 Tests, is now hoping to follow in the footsteps of former WA teammate Chris Rogers and earn a Test return in his mid-30s.

Rogers was recalled for the last Ashes series at the age of 35 following a domestic purple patch when most considered his Test career over following his sole appearance in the baggy green five years ago.

“The tough times I’ve had in the last year or so is probably making me more determined. I’m hungrier in the position I am now,” North said.

“This is arguably one of my better domestic starts to the season and I want to build on it; make it last the whole season.

“I enjoyed every opportunity I got to play for Australia, it was some of the best years of my career and I never took it granted.

“I’ve just got to score a truck load more runs, keep enjoying my cricket and you never know.”

North admits he has felt revitalised in his new role at the top of the order and credited coach and former Test opener Justin Langer for the switch that has allowed him to find rhythm again.

Pell welcomes critical report

The Catholic Church’s “institutional failure” to respond appropriately to child abuse extends to its leader in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, a parliamentary inquiry reports.

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But Cardinal Pell says he welcomes the Victorian inquiry’s report and supports many of its recommendations.

The parliamentary inquiry into child abuse took Cardinal Pell to task in its report over his attempt to separate the church as a whole from the actions of senior religious figures it said had “minimalised and trivialised” the issue.

In a swipe at Cardinal Pell’s evidence, its report said that following repeated questioning he agreed some bishops and religious superiors had covered up the issue.

“That is quite different from the whole church … the whole church is not guilty of that,” he told the inquiry.

Cardinal Pell denied claims the church had trivialised child sex abuse.

“By the standards of common decency and by today’s standards, church authorities were not only slow to deal with the abuse, but sometimes did not deal with it in any appropriate way at all. This is indefensible,” Cardinal Pell said.

The committee also challenged Cardinal Pell over a speech he gave in Ireland in 2011 in which he said a Supreme Court judge had advised him the sex abuse scandal “would bleed us to death” if not cleaned up.

Its report said Cardinal Pell – the archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001 – seemed to indicate the church’s central aim was to safeguard its own interests.

The committee also rejected evidence of other church leaders that awareness of sexual abuse was “slow to percolate through society and the church”.

“Rather than being instrumental in exposing the issue and the extent of the problem, the Catholic Church in Victoria minimalised and trivialised the problem, contributed to abuse not being disclosed and ensured the community remained uninformed,” the report said.

Cardinal Pell said he supported recommendations for the creation of a government-established independent, alternative avenue for justice for victims of child abuse.

He said a recommendation for the Catholic Church to become incorporated, and therefore capable of being sued, was being examined.

Syrian army seizes town south of capital

The Syrian army has seized a town south of Damascus in its campaign to cut off eastern neighbourhoods of the capital that are home to rebels, state television says.

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“The army has taken town of Hujeira,” the television channel said on Wednesday.

The military has for months edged closer to rebel positions in the southern districts of Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“The town is totally under the control of the army after three days of fighting. This has tightened the noose on armed terrorist groups,” said a senior regime security official.

“It gives a new dimension to securing the southern entrance of Damascus and cutting supply lines to the terrorist groups present south of Damascus,” he told AFP.

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime branded opponents as “terrorists” when Arab Spring-inspired protests broke out in March 2011, before the movement took up arms.

The relentless fighting is estimated to have killed more than 120,000 people, uprooted millions from their homes and trapped tens of thousands of civilians.

Meanwhile jihadist rebels in Aleppo in northern Syria have called for mass mobilisation to counter regime advances on the country’s former commercial hub after a string of setbacks for the Islamists.

Watchdog the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) put out an urgent bulletin on Tuesday.

It called on “all brigades and Muslims to arms to face off against the enemy which is attacking Islamic territory”.

“Those with a valid excuse not to fight must supply weapons and money,” added the communique, which acknowledged “many losses in fighting for Base 80, Khanasser and Sfeira”.

It said President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, which it dubbed “the Alawite army”, had taken “part of the road linking Khanasser, Tal-Aran and Sfeira because of the weakness of rebel groups”.

The bulletin put this down to “many rebel units withdrawing from the combat zone”.

Six Islamist rebel groups, among them Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Tawhid, had on Monday issued a general call to arms in Aleppo “to face up to regime attacks”.

A military source said on Monday the army had secured most of the area around Aleppo International Airport and could reopen the facility which fighting has kept closed for nearly a year.

This came after regime forces retook Base 80, a strategic facility charged with securing the airport just outside the country’s second city.

Aleppo airport was closed at the start of the year amid security concerns as rebels launched a campaign to seize several airfields in the area.

Advances by the army follow the fall of Sfeira southeast of Aleppo. It was recaptured by regime troops at the beginning of November, after months in rebel hands.

Both state media and the Observatory said on Monday the army had also secured Tal-Aran town, one of the last areas under rebel control on the Sfeira-Aleppo road.

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