Home prices could sink if China falters

If the Chinese economy hits the wall, Australia’s housing market could be dragged down with it, the Reserve Bank warns.

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The Asian giant is Australia’s biggest source of foreign investment in real estate – and its share is growing, the central bank says.

That means any economic shock in China that causes appetites to wane could lead to falling home prices in Australia’s two largest cities.

“A substantial reduction in Chinese demand would likely weigh most heavily on the apartment markets of inner-city Melbourne and parts of Sydney,” the RBA said in its bi-annual Financial Stability Review on Friday.

Chinese buyer activity is concentrated in off-the-plan high rises in these cities, where a recent surge in supply could intensify any price falls, the central bank noted.

And although the big banks have little direct exposure to Chinese investors, the RBA said a collapse in demand could indirectly affect lenders’ mortgage books.

The central bank said an appetite pullback could be driven by a hard landing for the world’s second-largest economy, which would lower Chinese households’ income and wealth.

“Any accompanying depreciation of the (yuan) against the Australian dollar could further reduce their capacity to invest in Australian housing,” the bank added.

A downturn in China would likely have flow-on effects for other countries in the region, which could also affect broader desires for Australian property.

A further clampdown on capital controls by Chinese authorities could restrict residents from investing abroad, which may also dent Australian house prices.

Chinese demand would also be sensitive to any Australian migration or education policy changes that make it less attractive for foreigners to live or study here, the RBA said.

There are risks too for the commercial property market, where Chinese developers have become increasingly active, the bank noted.

“In the past two years, they accounted for nine per cent of purchases (greater than $5 million) compared with one per cent on average during the prior decade,” the RBA said.

But AMP Capital Investors chief economist Shane Oliver doubts demand will dry up any time soon, because the Chinese economy appears to be stabilising, if not improving.

“Figures for March out today are up across the board; retail sales, industrial production, lending activity, fixed asset investment, and of course earlier in the week exports and imports and consumption,” he said.

China’s economy grew 6.7 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier, providing more evidence that a slowdown may be bottoming out.

Dr Oliver said there’s always the chance that Australia could fall out of favour if our currency goes through the roof, causing Chinese students to switch focus to north American universities.

“And say there’s a backlash against Chinese investors in Australia, suppose a new government was elected that decided to put a ban on Chinese nationals buying property in Australia,” he said.

“There are risks around all those things, but the chances are fairly low.”

Tennessee governor vetoes bill to make the Bible official state book

The governor of Tennessee has vetoed legislation that would have made the Bible the state’s official book, saying it would violate the US Constitution, but lawmakers vowed to hold a vote to overrule his decision.

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In a letter notifying top state legislators of his intent to veto the legislation, Governor Bill Haslam, himself a Christian, said the proposal violated religious freedoms enshrined in both the US Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.

“My personal feeling is that this bill trivialises the Bible, which I believe is sacred text,” Haslam, a Republican, wrote.

The veto comes a week after the state senate voted to make the Bible the state’s official book. That vote followed the state house’s approval last year.

Haslam, who won re-election in 2014, faced mounting pressure from civil libertarian and non-theistic groups to stop the measure from becoming law.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, praised the decision, saying elected officials should not “use their official positions to favour one religious belief over another”.

Had Haslam signed the bill, Tennessee would have become the first US state to designate the Bible as its official state book.

The lawmakers who sponsored the measure vowed to hold a vote that would overrule Haslam’s veto. A simple majority in each legislative chamber would overrule his decision.

“According to polling, 62 per cent of all Tennesseans favour making the Holy Bible the state book in order to recognise its significance from a historical, economic and cultural standpoint,” the house sponsor, Representative Jerry Sexton, said.

Desperate Lions out to silence noisy Suns

Forget the noisy neighbours, Brisbane are just desperate to get their AFL season off the ground against Gold Coast on Saturday.

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The Lions host their Queensland rivals after an 0-3 start to the season and coach Justin Leppitsch says getting that first win of the year is all that he is focused on.

Leppitsch says the unbeaten Suns have been providing “a bit of chirp” in the build-up to the 11th meeting between the clubs.

After winning three of the past four Queensland derbies, and with a 3-0 record, the Suns head north with plenty of confidence – but Leppitsch says it’s all about the result for his team, not the opposition.

“You can have honourable losses and go `geez, if we were just accurate today who knows what happens?’ but it doesn’t change that people like fans, players, coaches like to see that W next to you,” Leppitsch said.

“However you scrap and fight it out. We’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss.

“We just have to find that win and hopefully it kickstarts this week.”

The Lions have promised plenty of aggression in a bid to intimidate the Suns, highlighting Mitch Robinson’s display against Geelong last weekend as a benchmark for the squad to follow.

Suns coach Rodney Eade, who has been forced into a defensive reshuffle due to injuries to Trent McKenzie and Rory Thompson, says the tough talk from up north is nothing more than noise.

“I don’t think our team is going to be intimidated, to be honest,” Eade said.

“We’ve built our game on hard work and at the contest so I don’t think that’s going to ruffle our feathers.

“The main thing is the scoreboard and then, an extension of that, being able to win the ball and control the ball. Anything outside that is really superfluous. It’s all hot air.”

The Lions will welcome back key midfielder Daniel Rich after he missed the loss to the Cats with hamstring tightness with youngster Billy Evans making way.

The Suns have made three changes from the team that beat Carlton with Callum Ah Chee and Touk Miller coming back from injury and Keegan Brooksby set to make his first appearance of the season.

Along with McKenzie and Thompson, the Suns have omitted Brandon Matera.

‘It’s a whole generation we’re losing’: How a regional town tackled youth unemployment

In the town of Cessnock, in the NSW Hunter Valley, a generation of young people is caught in a cycle of unemployment.

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Youths are faced with the staggering challenge of landing a job without the relevant skills.

Until recently, Phoebe Morris was one of those people.

She told SBS World News it was a difficult experience because employers want young people with skills and those skills can take time, money and experience to acquire. 

“I grew up here, went to school. My mum – single mum – just lost a job last year, and we’ve been living off what savings she has,” she said.

“It’s really hard trying to find a job when they need experience and the qualifications – qualifications are costly and you can’t get a job to cover those costs. And I’m trying my hardest. I want a job. I want to support myself.”

It is a situation feeding a brand of hopelessness among a large swell of young, working-age people in the region.

Until recently, Phoebe Morris was one of hundreds in Cessnock struggling to find work.SBS

Cessnock’s mayor, Bob Pysent, says youth unemployment is detrimental to the social fabric of the community. 

“(It’s) devastating to young people to feel valueless to our society,” he said. “It causes social problems, but it also decreases the vibrancy in our community.

“Young people working, studying, they spend money, it’s stimulating to our local economy.”

The Economic Development Manager at Cessnock City Council, Jane Holdsworth, knows just how bad the situation is.

“The (number) of parents I’ve spoken to who just don’t know what’s happening with their children these days, they don’t get it. The kids don’t talk to them anymore. They’ve got no control,” she said. 

“It’s a whole generation we’re losing here, a whole generation who are committing suicide. They’re depressed. They don’t know what to do.”

In 2015, youth unemployment in the Hunter Valley reached 21 per cent, the highest rate in New South Wales and fourth highest in Australia.

Faced with the burgeoning pressure of a generation of young people unable to find full-time work, Cessnock City Council devised a plan to break young people into the workforce.

The Youth First Project, run by the council at the Hunter Valley Visitor Centre, provides hands-on training.SBS

The Youth First Project, run by the council at the Hunter Valley Visitor Centre, provides hands-on training to youths to help them gain the skills required to land a job.

Council employees have trained them in such areas as hospitality, wine-tasting and tourism – all relevant to the type of employment unique to the region.

In just over six months 14 people have been through the 12-week course. 

It’s turning things around for Phoebe Morris, one of four youths enrolled in the current program. 

She says, weeks into the course, she landed a job.

“Incredible. I’m so happy, over the moon,” she said.

“But without this program, I wouldn’t have got it, because it’s people like Jane and Melissa and the centre here who got me in, have got me trained, got me that experience and that knowledge and the skill set that I need to get out there and get that experience.”

Freya Campbell is a 22-year-old also taking part, and, although she is yet to find employment, she insists she is on track to get there.

“I’m still applying, and I’ve got so much more support,” she said. “People are actually wanting to help me and make sure that I do get a job, not just sign me off on a course and then that’s it sort of thing. I’ve got support through the whole process.

“I’m getting actual hands-on experience and getting solid references that are relevant. But I am surprising myself with what I’ve able to do that I didn’t think I would be able to do.”

Jane Holdsworth says the young trainees are thriving off the program.SBS

Ms Holdsworth says the young trainees are thriving off the program.

“You see them being empowered, you see them… their self-esteem, their self-confidence, comes out,” she said.

“They start learning to deal with people. And they all get a surprise. They think, ‘I never thought I’d like dealing with people,’ and they do.”

The Youth First Project has an 80 per cent success rate, and the hope is it can be developed into a model all local councils across Australia can use.

The national youth-unemployment rate sits at around 13 per cent, the figure persistently high since the global financial crisis.

At this stage, the Cessnock program can only cater to 20 students per year.

Ms Campbell would like to see it expanded so others in her position are given the same opportunities.

“This course that we’re doing is excellent, but there’s four of us at a time,” she said. “And it’s sort of like, ‘What about the rest of the people in the same situation as me?’ It’s really excellent for me and three others who are doing it with me, but what about everybody else?”

Ms Holdsworth is calling for state and federal government funding which would allow community-led programs like the Youth First Project to be rolled out across Australia.

“It’s proven that you can do it. And there are other councils out there, they’ve told me they’d love to do something like we’re doing here,” she said.

“But we need a bit of funding, and, if we can do that, if every council in Australia put (in) 20 young kids and got them a job at the end of the year, that’s over 14,000 to 15,000 created jobs every year.”

The Youth First project in Cessnock is producing positive results but there’s still much to be done to solve the town’s youth unemployment woes.

The Council estimates there are hundreds of young people still looking for work.

READ MOREThe Feed Forum: Boomers vs Gen Y

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Portugal crowned winner of Eurovision Song Contest 2017

A new Eurovision winner has been crowned – Portugal’s Salvador Sobral, 26.

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The winner came as a surprise after Italy’s entry had topped most major betting odds for over a month.  

Portugal’s odds were ranked within the top five during most of the competition, moving the second place following the Semi Finals.  

Could he be any sweeter? #swoon #POR #SBSEurovision pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/rjsmsyBzmB

— SBS Australia (@SBS) May 13, 2017Watch: Australia votes in Eurovision

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Sobral battled a heart condition during the contest, and attended the competition shortly after surgery. 

The song was written by Sobral’s sister, Luisa, who also filled in for her brother during the first and second rehearsals because of his heath condition.

Social media was ablaze with support for the artist following his performance this morning.

Watch: Portugal celebrates Eurovision win

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DAMN THIS WAS BEAUTIFUL #POR #Eurovision so much poetry!!! 😍❤️❤️

— • Sophie˚☆• (@MalecWings) May 13, 2017#Eurovision I’m in love with this song, reminds me of a warm summer night and makes me just go: 🌜💕#Por #@bbceurovision pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/ooYgfviHwU

— pierogi in the uk (@pierogiintheuk) May 13, 2017PORTUGAL DESERVED SO SO SO SO MUCH THIS VICTORY #Eurovision

— Kalya (@blablaimfab) May 13, 2017

Portugal competed with 25 other countries, including the Big 5 who automatically qualify for the finals without going through a Semi Finals voting round.

The Big Five included Italy, Germany, Spain, France, and the UK, all of whom contribute the most financially to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) each year. 

Voting results from Eurovision 2017. EBU

Australian entrant, Isaiah who had also qualified for the Grand Final following Semi Final 1 on Wednesday ranked ninth over all. 

This year’s Eurovision was hosted by Ukraine in its capital Kyiv, following the win of 2016 Ukrainian entrant, Jamala, last year.

Watch: Isaiah Firebrace performs in the Eurovision grand final

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Emmanuel Macron takes over as France’s youngest ever president

Emmanuel Macron was inaugurated as France’s youngest ever president on Sunday, saying the country had chosen “hope” and promising to relaunch the flagging European Union.

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Macron, a 39-year-old centrist, took the reins of power from Francois Hollande a week after he won a resounding victory over far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a tumultuous election.

After a warm welcome from Hollande at the Elysee Palace, the two men held a closed-doors meeting during which Macron was handed the codes to launch France’s nuclear arsenal.

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In a moment heavy with symbolism, 62-year-old Hollande – who launched Macron’s political career by appointing him first as advisor and then economy minister – was then driven away from the palace to applause from his staff and the new president.

The former investment banker who had never even contested an election before was then proclaimed president by Laurent Fabius, president of the Constitutional Council.

“In order to be the man of one’s country, one must be the man of your time,” Fabius told him.

“You are now the man of your time … and by the sovereign choice of the people, you are now, above all … the man of our country.”

Watch: Macron unveils En Marche candidates

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In his first speech, Macron said the French people had chosen “hope” and shown a willingness to change in the election.

He promised that the EU, hit by the imminent departure of Britain, would be “rejuvenated and relaunched” during his time in office.

“The world and Europe need France now more than ever and they need a strong France with a sense of its own destiny.”

To underline his European ambitions, Macron will visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday in his first foreign trip.

The new president’s wife Brigitte, a 64-year-old who was his high school drama teacher, listened to his sombre 12-minute speech wearing a light blue Louis Vuitton outfit.

Republican guards arrive for Emmanuel Macron’s formal inauguration ceremony as French President.AP

At the end of the formalities, a 21-gun salute rang out from the Invalides military hospital on the other side of the River Seine.

Macron was later to be driven to the Arc de Triomphe to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.

The new president faces a host of daunting challenges including tackling stubbornly high unemployment, fighting Islamist-inspired violence and uniting a deeply divided country.

Socialist Hollande’s five years in power were plagued by a sluggish economy and bloody terror attacks that killed more than 230 people and he leaves office after a single term.

Security was tight, with around 1,500 police officers deployed near the presidential palace and the nearby Champs Elysees avenue and surrounding roads blocked off.

After a formal lunch, Macron will visit Paris’s town hall, a traditional stop for any new French president in his “host” city.

PM named, then Berlin

Macron’s first week will be busy. On Monday, he is expected to reveal the closely-guarded name of his prime minister, before flying to Berlin.

It is virtually a rite of passage for French leaders to make their first European trip to meet the leader of the other half of the so-called “motor” of the EU.

Pro-EU Macron wants to push for closer cooperation to help the bloc overcome the imminent departure of Britain, another of its most powerful members.

He intends to press for the creation of a parliament and budget for the eurozone.

The red carpet is set up prior to the takeover ceremony between President Francois Hollande and President-elect Emmanuel Macron.AP

Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive 32-point victory over Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”.

In June, Macron faces what the French media are calling a “third round of the presidential election” when the country elects a new parliament in a two-round vote.

The new president needs an outright majority to be able to enact his ambitious reform agenda.

The year-old political movement “Republique en Marche” (Republic on the Move, REM) that he formed to launch his presidential bid intends to field candidates in virtually every constituency in the country.

It unveiled 428 of its 577 candidates this week, saying it wants to bring fresh faces into the National Assembly lower house of parliament.

Half of them have never held elected office, including a retired female bullfighter and a star mathematician, and half of them are women.

Macron won one of the most unpredictable French elections in modern history marked by scandal, repeated surprises and a last-minute hacking attack on his campaign.

The election saw voters reject France’s two traditional political forces of left and right. Their candidates were eliminated in the first round.

Unpopular Hollande was the first to bow to the rebellious mood in December as he became the first sitting president not to seek re-election in the French fifth republic, founded in 1958.

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Trump calls for stronger sanctions against North Korea after latest ‘provocation’

President Donald Trump has called for tougher sanctions against North Korea following Pyongyang’s latest ballistic missile test.

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“Let this latest provocation serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea,” the White House said in a brief statement.

The missile impacted “so close to Russian soil – in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan – the president cannot imagine that Russia is pleased.”

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North Korea “has been a flagrant menace for far too long,” the statement added.

“South Korea and Japan have been watching this situation closely with us.”

The statement emphasises that the United States “maintains our ironclad commitment to stand with our allies in the face of the serious threat posed by North Korea.”

The latest ballistic missile test was an apparent bid to test both South Korea’s new liberal president and the US.

The US and South Korea have recently signalled an interest in negotiations with North Korea to ease months of tensions.

The missile flew more than 700 kilometres (435 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan.

The US Pacific Command said it did not appear to be an intercontinental ballistic missile.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who was inaugurated on Wednesday, slammed the test as a “reckless provocation” after holding an emergency meeting with national security advisors.

Watch: North Korean missile landed in Sea of Japan

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He said the government strongly condemned this “grave challenge to the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the international community,” his spokesman Yoon Young-Chan said.

Moon, unlike his conservative predecessors, advocates reconciliation with Pyongyang but warned Sunday that dialogue would be possible “only if the North changes its behaviour”.

Moon had said in his inauguration speech that he was willing to visit Pyongyang “in the right circumstances” to defuse tensions on the peninsula, with Pyongyang and Washington exchanging hostile rhetoric.

“The North is apparently trying to test Moon and see how his North Korea policy as well as policy coordination between the South and the US will take shape,” said Yang Moo-Jin, professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.

‘Seeking leverage’

The launch was also aimed at “maximising the North’s political leverage” ahead of possible negotiations with the US, as Pyongyang and Washington both recently signalled they were open to talks, he added.

“The North wants to show before negotiations that their precious, powerful weapon is not something they would give up so easily,” Yang said.

Trump has threatened military action against the North but recently appears to have softened his stance, saying he would be “honoured” to meet the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un under the right conditions.

Watch: North Korea lashes out at US

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Choe Son-Hui, a senior official at the North’s foreign ministry handling its US policy, also said Saturday the North would be willing to hold talks with the US if the conditions are right.

Washington has been looking to China for help in reining in Kim and the missile test is likely to embarrass Beijing, which is hosting a summit Sunday to promote its ambitious global trade infrastructure project.

China, the isolated North’s sole major ally and economic lifeline, has been reluctant to exert pressure to upset the status quo in Pyongyang and risk an influx of refugees from its neighbour.

‘Fast progress’

The latest test was also the North’s first launch since a controversial US missile defence system deployed in the South became operational on May 2 and follows a failed April 29 ballistic missile test.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed the latest missile launch as “totally unacceptable” and a “grave threat” to Tokyo.

“We strongly protest against North Korea,” he said. 

The North has staged two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since the start of last year in its quest to develop a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.

Most experts have doubted that the North has developed an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with that range.

But many say the isolated nation has made a great progress in its nuclear and missile capabilities since Kim took power after the death of his father and longtime ruler, Kim Jong-Il, in 2011.

Yang said Sunday’s launch showed “fast progress” in Pyongyang’s missile capability. 

The missile was fired from a site near the northwestern city of Kusong. A previous test at the same site in February sent a missile 500 kilometres, far less than Sunday’s launch.

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Europol: More than 200,000 cyberattack victims identified in 150 countries

The unprecedented global ransomware cyberattack has hit more than 200,000 victims in more than 150 countries, Europol executive director Rob Wainwright has said.

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The head of the pan-European Union policing agency said that few had given in to the demands for payment to unblock files so far, but warned that the situation was escalating.

Wainwright said he was worried that the ransomware attack might spread further once people return to work on Monday and log on to their computers.

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“We are running around 200 global operations against cyber crime each year but we’ve never seen anything like this,” he told Britain’s ITV television.

“The latest count is over 200,000 victims in at least 150 countries. Many of those victims will be businesses, including large corporations.

“The global reach is unprecedented.”

He said the motivation remained unknown but ransomware attacks were normally “criminally minded”.

Watch: Ciaran Martin on global cyberattack 

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“Remarkably few payments so far have been made, so most people are not paying this,” Wainwright said.

“We’re in the face of an escalating threat, the numbers are going up.

“I’m worried about how the numbers will continue to grow when people go to work and turn on their machines on Monday morning.”

European banks well protected

Wainwright said the attack was indiscriminate, fast-spreading and unique because the ransomware was being used in combination with a worm – meaning that the infection of one computer could automatically spread it through an entire network.

He said few banks in Europe had been affected, having learned through the “painful experience of being the number one target of cyber crime” the value of having the latest cyber security in place.

“We have been concerned for some time that the healthcare sectors in many countries are particularly vulnerable. They’re processing a lot of sensitive data,” he said.

Watch: Cyberattacks wreak havoc worldwide

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Britain’s state-run National Health Service was affected by the attack.

Wainwright said Europol was working with the FBI in the United States to track down those responsible, saying that more than one person was likely behind it.

He said the cyber crime scene was increasingly going underground, meaning it was “very difficult” to identify the offender or their location.

“We’re in a very difficult fight against these ever more sophisticated cyber crime syndicates that are using encryption to hide their activity,” he said.

Wainwright said Europol provided free downloads of decryption programmes for most ransomware.

“Once we get to the bottom of this one, we’ll make sure that this is available to people as well,” he said.

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We need balance when talking about firearms

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen yet another scare campaign by the Greens on firearms ownership, trying to stir-up emotions and get more runs in the media.

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 This sort of fear-mongering is part and parcel of what we’ve seen on the firearms debate this country over the past 20 years. Unfortunately, the Greens never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Let’s start with some base facts, starting with noted ANU Criminologist Dr Jason Payne, on ABC Radio Canberra recently:

“To know … that registered firearm usage has increased I don’t think should alarm people around the potential use of those firearms in the illegal context, because we don’t know from any research that there’s any relationship between those two,” he said.”

“[Suggesting] … that somehow an increase in the use of firearms for recreational purposes would somehow translate into an increase in the rate in which firearms are used illegally is, I think, a bit of a stretch in this case.” 

In 1996, John Howard’s firearms restrictions came as a swift political and public relations response to a tragedy in Port Arthur. He admitted that he had to be seen to be doing something, so that’s why we saw increased restrictions on law-abiding firearms owners. Let’s not also forget that all of the people affected by these laws were farmers, hunters and sporting shooters – all with legitimate reasons for using firearms in their day to day lives. Our argument at the time was that this wouldn’t have any impact on the firearm homicide rate, and 20 years later the statistics bear out that prediction. A recent systematic review study published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behaviour by Dr Samara McPhedran of Griffith University has proved our point. Dr McPhedran’s research shows that “no study found statistical evidence of any significant impact of the legislative changes on firearm homicide rates” in Australia. None. The real problem we face in New South Wales, and indeed Australia-wide, rests with illegal firearms. NSW Justice and Police Minister, Troy Grant, said on November 5 last year that:

“Greater that 97% of firearm incidents reported in New South Wales relate to unregistered, unbranded, unlicensed firearms. The opportunists out there like David Shoe bridge from The Greens will exaggerate the narrative … to make a story that is simply not true.

” … Victims of gun crime … are victims of illegal guns and unregistered guns – not the ones you buy at firearms dealers.” 

I feel like I’m repeating these facts over and over again until I’m blue in the face, but the reality is that the truth isn’t as sensational as the Greens hyperbole when it comes to firearm ownership. The figures presented by David Shoebridge in his ‘Too Many Guns’ campaign are both misleading and irresponsible. They are misleading because the high concentrations of firearms he reports correlate with the locations of registered firearm dealers, and irresponsible because it’s providing a shopping-list of suburbs for criminals to target. It also doesn’t account for historical firearms collectors. These firearms held by collectors are only exempt from current restrictions if they’re considered “obsolete”, and this usually covers firearms with percussion mechanisms or pre-percussion mechanisms. If they aren’t considered to be “obsolete”, by virtue of their make and model, they’ll be largely treated the same as other firearms, regardless of whether actually firing it would irreparably damage an important historical artefact. Firearms owners are already subject to a number of security measures, such as safe storage in safes that must have separate keys and locks for firearms and ammunition, and rolling checks by local Police. I’m surprised, however, that the NSW Firearms Registry was so thoughtless to provide this data on individual firearms ownership by postcode. Mr Shoebridge also suggests -to improve the appeal of his story- that firearms owners should need to present a legitimate reason why they need to acquire a firearm when they have greater than five. He conveniently ignores the fact that current regulations require that a genuine reason must be presented for each firearm a person acquires. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers will continue to educate the public on the facts surrounding firearms ownership. Our cause grows ever-difficult, however, when somebody else in search of a quick headline decides to point the finger at law-abiding firearms owners. Illegal firearms proliferation and use must be our collective focus if we are to truly solve the issue of gun crime in Australia. Whether they are farmers, hunters, or target shooters, law-abiding firearms owners deserve not to be constantly branded as criminals-in-waiting. That just lets the real criminals win. Robert Brown is a member of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and a Member of the NSW Legislative Council.   

The business of Greece and Macedonia

After a quarter of a century of surfing the fierce debate between Macedonian and Greek Australians, it’s a big surprise on arriving in Macedonia to see how interwoven the economies of the two feuding countries are.

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Landlocked Macedonians love to holiday and shop in Greece. In fact, Macedonians are probably top of the charts for visitor numbers to Greece.

Likewise, Greek business has responded enthusiastically to the opportunities presented by a relatively undeveloped, low-cost neighbour, which prides itself on a prodigious work ethic.

The arguments rage but life must go on: business is business and leisure is pleasure.

But that does not mean that Greece’s trenchant opposition to the very existence of the Republic of Macedonia does not have real and troublesome consequences for the people of the region.

When the Yugoslav Federation imploded in 1991, the constituent Republic Macedonia declared its independence.

The Greek Government, having successfully waged a truly Byzantian campaign to impose on this fledgling nation the absurd name “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (they refer to the citizens of the Republic as FYROMians), wanted more.

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They have invested enormously in maintaining a veto on Macedonia’s entry to the EU and NATO over the last 20 years.

The small nation of 2 million people is struggling to modernise its multi-cultural population and create jobs for the 28 per cent of people unemployed.

They accepted more than 300,000 refugees during the Kosovo crisis – including many Romany.

It is a country where mosques populate the countryside and followers of Islam make up a third of the population.

And despite some government-lead Christian chauvinism, it is doing better than average in this part of the world in the harmony business.

I met with President Gjorge Ivanov and a number of senior politicians – they were smart, well-educated and working hard to modernise their economy.

But when the opportunities and options are limited, ethnic and religious tensions can take new life.

There is evidence that there were negotiations between the then-Greek Government and Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic to suppress the opportunities for Macedonians to fuel division in the country.

The country would then collapse and the plotters could divide the spoil.

Now it is true that Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza Government is not fixated on this issue- they are firmly rooted in the 21st century, and they have bigger fish to fry.

One Greek Minister, who actually used the word Macedonia, rather than FYROM, was trolled unmercifully by right-wing forces.

But it is also true that the Tsipras Government is understandably not prepared to expend precious political capital by overtly removing the restriction.

The Greek case against the concept of a Macedonian identity is ludicrous – although the Greeks clearly have a claim on Alexander the Great.

Both nations obsess about their links with Alexander the Great – or Alexander the Accursed, as he was known by the peoples he raped and pillaged.

No doubt Alexander was a character of exceptional charisma – as most successful megalomaniacs are.

Greece has given so much to civilisation, through science, philosophy and art – it is disappointing they want to tie their nationhood to someone who made very little contribution to advancing humanity.

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Likewise the Macedonians could point to many great patriots who have risen up over the centuries against oppressive overlords, including heroic men and women partisans during the Second World War who would be better role models for the community.

Australia should do its bit for some sanity here and recognise this country as the Republic of Macedonia – as the US, UK and EU have.

It is not a case of choosing between Greek and Macedonian Australians – they are both deeply woven into the fabric of Australia. But it is in no one’s interest to have this small nation fall apart. Have we learnt nothing from Bosnia and Kosovo?

Alannah MacTiernan is the Federal Member for Perth.

What we know about the 60 Minutes case in Beirut

Brisbane mum Sally Faulkner and a Nine Network TV crew made up of reporter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment, are facing kidnapping and assault charges in Lebanon following a bungled abduction of Ms Faulkner’s two children in Beirut.

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What happened? 

The Australians have spent a week behind bars in Beirut after being arrested for the alleged abduction on April 7.

The TV crew was filming Faulkner’s attempt to retrieve her children Noah, four, and Lahela, six, from her ex-husband Ali Elamine, who she claims kept them in Lebanon without her permission.

A professional agency, Child Abduction Recovery International, is believed to have been hired to snatch the children. Two of its members, named in media reports as Britons Adam Whittington and Craig Michael, have also been detained and charged.

RelatedThe abduction 

Security camera footage shows masked men jumping out of a car and snatching the kids from their grandmother and another woman on a Beirut street. The grandmother claims she was attacked and hit on the head with a pistol.

The TV crew and recovery agency members were arrested shortly afterwards, while Faulkner hid with her two children in a safe house.

Authorities later found the family, arrested Faulkner and returned the children to their father.

RelatedThe charges

Faulkner is facing kidnapping charges.

The 60 minutes crew is accused of:

Hiding informationForming an association with two or more people to commit a crime against a personKidnapping or holding a minor even with their approvalPhysical assault.

The offences carry penalties of up to 20 years in jail.

RelatedLegal case so far 

Judge Rami Abdullah told the Australians during a second round of interviews on Wednesday that there was no chance their charges would be dropped.

However, he indicated that if Mr Elamine was willing to drop legal action and come to an agreement with his estranged wife, that would help the case against all of the accused.

The accused will remain in detention until facing the Baabda Palace of Justice again on Monday.

Nine has refused to comment on speculation it organised and funded the recovery operation.

Strong quake hits Myanmar, but no deaths

A strong earthquake that struck Myanmar damaged at least nine Buddhist pagodas and was felt in parts of eastern India and Bangladesh, but an official says there are no reports of serious damage or injuries.

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The magnitude 6.9 quake struck the Southeast Asian country on Wednesday evening at a depth of 135 kilometres, 396km north of Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, according to the US Geological Survey.

Residents in Myanmar’s main city of Yangon panicked after the quake struck, causing residents to rush out of their homes.

An Associated Press journalist who was in a Yangon hospital at the time of the quake said the six-storey Shwegonedine Specialist Centre shook strongly and many people, including patients, staff and visitors, ran outside.

The quake was centred in the jungle and hills 220km northwest of Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-biggest city. While the area is prone to earthquakes, it is generally sparsely populated, and most houses are low-rise structures.

In the Sagaing region just southwest of Mandalay, Sa Willy Frient, the director of the Relief and Resettlement Department, said there were no reports of serious injuries.

“There are still no death reports,” he said, adding that nine pagodas had been damaged.

“None of the pagodas collapsed, but there are cracks in some parts,” he said.

Government offices were closed on Thursday because of a three-day national holiday to mark Myanmar’s traditional new year, and there was no official announcement about the quake’s impact.

Zaw Myint Htoo, a 38-year-old resident of Mogok, 200km north of Mandalay, confirmed there was no major damage in that city either.

The tremors were felt in the eastern Indian states of West Bengal and Assam, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were visiting during their tour of India.

Prince William and his wife Kate were staying in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park on Wednesday night and were safe, according to the British High Commission in New Delhi.

“We felt the tremor very strongly, but all is fine,” said British deputy high commissioner Scott Furssedonn-Wood, who was accompanying the royal couple.

William and Kate left for neighbouring Bhutan on Thursday and were to return to India on Friday to visit the Taj Mahal.

People also reported feeling the quake in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, 484km from the epicentre.

Geelong jobs in limbo as Target moves HQ

Up to 900 jobs at Target’s Geelong headquarters are in limbo after the retailer flagged plans to close its Geelong centre and relocate to Melbourne.

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Senior management on Thursday told workers at its Geelong headquarters that the centre will be relocated to an unspecified location in Melbourne’s west.

It’s unclear how the move will affect the centre’s 900 workers or how many jobs will be cut, as employees are still waiting for more details, an Australian Services Union spokeswoman told AAP.

The union’s Victorian branch has accused Target of turning its back on Geelong.

“It is utterly reprehensible that workers at Target are the ones paying the price for the highly questionable business practices of the former management team,” Victorian secretary Ingrid Stitt said in a statement.

“This is a dark day for Geelong and the wider Geelong community.”

In his last hours as the mayor of Geelong, Darren Lyons said he was “disappointed and disheartened” by Target’s plans.

“I understand this is a business decision, but that does not make it any easier for our region,” he said in a statement.

The new head of Target, Guy Russo, says management have had to make hard decisions to make sure Target is profitable and sustainable.

“The Geelong site for the national office is no longer a viable option if we’re to remain competitive and build a profitable business,” he said in a statement.

Employees will have the option of voluntary redundancies or redeployment at other Kmart or Target sites, as well as other Wesfarmers businesses, Mr Russo said.

The state opposition says the closure of Target’s Geelong offices shows the government is not doing enough to create jobs in Victoria.

“Victoria is being smashed by New South Wales when it comes to creating new jobs,” opposition spokesman Michael O’Brien said in a statement.