WA MP quits Liberals, criticises Barnett

West Australian Liberal MP Rob Johnson, a former police minister, has quit the Liberal Party and delivered an almighty hit to Premier Colin Barnett on the way out saying he doesn’t respect or trust him.


Mr Johnson has been an outspoken maverick quick to criticise Mr Barnett since the pair fell out and he was sacked as a minister in June 2012, which he says broke a gentleman’s agreement for him to step down at the 2013 election.

The insults flew on Friday as he said he “could not stand Colin Barnett” who should be replaced after recklessly racking up state debt of $37 billion, which was rapidly growing and would be a difficult financial legacy for future generations.

Liberal colleagues were concerned that Mr Barnett’s unpopularity was a key reason why the government was trailing Labor in separate Newspoll and Reachtel polls this year, he said, giving the opposition a shot at returning to power for the first time since 2008.

“I have serious concerns in relation to this government’s commitment to honesty, integrity, openness and accountability,” he told AAP.

“He (Mr Barnett) wasted the boom and didn’t put money aside when we had oodles of cash coming in from the mining boom in royalties, spending like a drunken sailor and now it’s come home to roost like a credit card with no limit.”

Mr Barnett did not respond to the insults, only saying Mr Johnson had been a good representative for his constituents and that he thanked him and wished him well.

The premier rejected a suggestion he would stand down before the election at an LNG conference in Perth this week, but has said he would not see out a full term if we wins.

Mr Johnson described Mr Barnett as a one-man band who insists on approving decisions within cabinet, with the Labor opposition also dubbing him an emperor.

Mr Johnson has angered other government ministers, at times conducting himself more like a Labor opposition MP than a Liberal.

He accused the government of covering up car crashes involving former treasurer Troy Buswell, clashing with former Health Minister Kim Hames and calling for Transport Minister Dean Nalder’s office to be investigated over a contract award.

He will sit as an “independent Liberal” in his Perth coastal seat of Hillarys until the next election and might stand as an independent.

Standing as a Liberal was not an option anyway, with Mr Barnett last year ruling that out.

The UK-born 73-year-old has been in parliament for 24 years and was a minister in Richard Court’s government.

Realtor McGrath shares in trading halt

Real estate company McGrath has gone into a two-session trading halt to review its earnings forecast as the housing market eases.


McGrath, which only listed on the Australian share market in December, has placed its shares on hold so it can assess how its earnings are progressing against the prospectus forecast.

It plans an update to market before the securities recommence trading on Tuesday.

CMC Markets chief market analyst Ric Spooner said McGrath’s float has coincided with an easing housing market hit by a sharp decline in new home sales and falling auction clearances.

“A company like this is always going to be cyclical,” Mr Spooner said.

“There is a downturn in real estate sales in some parts of the market and that may be feeding through to lower revenue expectations for McGrath.”

The property group’s announcement has coincided with Friday’s warning by the Reserve Bank that a glut of new apartments poses a risk to household finances.

The central bank said a wave of new apartments coming onto the market in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane may weigh on property prices and rents.

McGrath last traded at $1.30 a share at Thursday’s close and has consistently traded below its $2.10 a share offer price in the past five months since floating.

The company had forecast a statutory net profit of $15.3 million for FY16.

The prospectus, issued in November, also warned house price growth would slow down due to an expected plateau in house sales.

Recent housing data shows auction clearance rates and new home sales have fallen, particularly in Sydney, which is coming off a boom.

McGrath, founded by John McGrath in 1988, has a network of more than 70 company-owned and franchised real estate agencies that conduct residential property sales, property management, mortgage broking, auction services and real estate training.

Jones warn England players

Some members of England’s grand slam-winning team are under-performing for their clubs and could miss this year’s tour of Australia, coach Eddie Jones said on Friday.


England won the Six Nations grand slam last month for the first time since 2003 after Jones took over from Stuart Lancaster following the team’s disappointing World Cup last year.

“Personally I’ve been disappointed in three or four players who have gone back (to their clubs) and played quite poorly,” Jones told the BBC.

“Those players have put their tour place to Australia in jeopardy.”

Jones believes complacency could have caused the dip in form.

“Some might have little injuries, and some of them have agents or the media in their ear telling them how good they are,” the Australian added.

“They have just got too far ahead of themselves.”

Jones stressed the need for the team to keep improving if they are to consistently challenge the southern hemisphere powers.

“We should be happy, but we have also got to be quite aware that we have got to keep improving,” Jones said.

“Some of the players have been told directly, some of them have been told through other sources. But they will get the message.”

Jones also said former South Sydney and Brisbane forward Ben Te’o could make the tour squad after agreeing to join Worcester next season from Irish club Leinster.

“If he is eligible then he is definitely in contention because he’s a good player,” Jones said. “He can carry through the line, he can pass, he’s a good defender.”

England play three Tests against Australia starting in Brisbane on June 11.

CCA boss pay package worth $4.5m

Coca-Cola Amatil managing director Alison Watkins’ total pay package was worth $4.


5 million in 2015.

Ms Watkins, who took charge of the beverage giant in March 2014, received a salary of about $2.3 million in 2015.

Ms Watkins’ total remuneration was boosted by performance-related short-term incentives of about $1.6 million and long-term incentives of $695,000.

Fifty per cent of her pay was performance-related.

Excluding the value of the deferred component of the short-term incentive payments and the value of the long-term incentive payments that have not vested or may not vest, Ms Watkins’ total take-home pay came to $3.38 million.

Coca-Coal Amatil’s annual net profit rose under Ms Watkins to $393.4 million in the 2015 calendar year, up 44.6 per cent from $272.1 million in 2014.

Underlying net profit was up by 4.8 per cent.

The group arrested an earnings slide in its core Australian beverages division after two years of sharp falls, but the group is still facing challenging economic conditions in its Indonesian business.

The group also reduced its net debt by $725 million to $1.1 billon.

The total dividend paid to shareholders in 2015 was 43.5 cents, up from 42 cents in the prior year.

Ms Watkins has said she is confident that Coca-Cola Amatil will return to sustainable mid-single-digit growth in earnings per share over the next few years.

At Coca-Cola Amatil’s upcoming annual general meeting in May, shareholders will consider offering Ms Watkins rights to acquire a maximum of about 391,000 shares worth $3.5 million under the group’s 2016-18 long-term incentive plan.

Shareholders will also be asked to lift the maximum annual amount that directors in aggregate can be paid to $2.8 million, from $2.3 million.

The last increase in the pool of directors’ fees was approved by shareholders in May 2011. Since then, the number of non-executive directors has increased from eight to nine.

Shares in Coca-Cola Amatil closed 16 cents higher at $8.63.

Aleppo battle threatens Syria peace talks

Heavy fighting is raging on the outskirts of Syria’s northern city of Aleppo between regime forces and opposition rebels, activists say, marring UN-sponsored peace talks under way in Geneva.


Regime forces, backed by Russian warplanes, are trying to advance on rebel-held strategic areas in Aleppo by cutting a major supply route for the opposition, the activists added.

“Troops loyal to (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad and their Russian allies started on Thursday a wide-scale attack on the villages of Handarat and the al-Mallahah Farms north of Aleppo,” said Mahmoud al-Shami, an activist based in the city.

He told DPA on Friday that the regime forces briefly seized parts of the al-Mallah Farms from rebels, who later recaptured them.

Russian warplanes are heavily involved in the ongoing attack, according to al-Shami.

No casualties were reported.

Should al-Assad’s forces take control of the area, they would impose a siege on rebel-controlled areas in Aleppo, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel-Rahman, said.

Aleppo, Syria’s pre-war commercial hub, has been divided between regime forces based in the west and rebels to the east since fighting erupted for the control of the city in mid-2012.

The battles in Aleppo are seen as the biggest threat to a partial ceasefire, which has been in force in Syria since February.

The truce brokered by the United States and Russia excludes the Islamic State terrorist militia and Syria’s al-Qaeda branch, al-Nusra Front.

Meanwhile, renewed fighting between IS and Western-backed rebels in northern Syria near the Turkish border has displaced thousands of people, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

IS’s advances in northern Aleppo in the past few days have forced already displaced people living in camps east of the town of Azaz to leave their camps, the New York-based watchdog said.

“At least half the camps’ 60,000 residents have fled to other camps, to the Bab al-Salameh camp on the Turkish border and to the nearby town of Azaz,” it said.

Three of the camps – Ikdah, Harameen and al-Sham – are now completely empty of the 24,000 people previously sheltering there, HRW added.

The watchdog called on Turkey to reopen its border to the refugees.

The surge in violence comes as UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is due to meet later on Friday a government delegation to discuss ways to end the country’s five-year conflict that is estimated to have killed more than 270,000 people.

Syria’s indirect peace talks resumed on Wednesday. De Mistura shuttles between the government and opposition negotiators in Geneva.

Ecuador struck by large earthquake, scores dead

Ecuador’s strongest earthquake since 1979 has killed at least 77 people, causing severe damage and prompting the government to declare a state of emergency.


The 7.8-magnitude quake struck the northwestern part of the country at 7.58pm on Saturday (0958 AEST Sunday), the US Geological Survey said.

Its epicentre was 20km underground and about 170km northwest of the capital Quito.

Vice President Jorge Glas said the death toll had risen to 77 and at least 588 people were injured, according to CNN.

In an earlier televised address he had expressed fears of the toll rising as relief agencies were unable to reach the worst-hit areas.

There were some 50 aftershocks in the first four hours after the quake hit, the vice president said.

Glas, who is leading the country in the absence of President Rafael Correa, said the armed forces and national police were put on maximum alert.

Correa, who was at the Vatican for a conference, took to Twitter to express his “infinite love” for the families of the deceased, and called on his compatriots to show courage.

The president, who was rushing back from Italy and was expected to arrive in Ecuador by Sunday afternoon, said the damage was “serious” and called for citizens to remain “united”.

In the country’s largest city, Guayaquil, there were reports that a three-storey building had been levelled by the quake.

Some 16 people were reported dead in the city of Portoviejo, 10 in the coastal city of Manta and two in the province of Guayas, Glas said.


Some 71 houses had collapsed in the coastal city of Esmeraldas near the epicentre, according to El Telegrafo newspaper.

Electricity went down in parts of Quito, according to El Telegrafo.

The quake came as a result of movement at or near the plate boundary between the Nazca and Pacific plates, USGS said.

Ecuador – on the so-called Pacific “ring of fire” – has a history of such quakes. Since 1900, seven magnitude-7 or greater earthquakes have had an epicentre within 250km of the latest quake, the US agency said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre initially said tsunami waves reaching 0.3m to 1m above the tide level were possible for some areas along the Ecuadorian coast.

Tsunami waves of less than 0.3m above the tide level were possible along the coasts of Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Peru.

But by 0256 GMT the centre said that the “tsunami threat from this earthquake has now mostly passed”.

Mal and Gal to sit down next week

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga will sit down with Paul Gallen at next week’s True Blues dinner in Sydney to discuss his retention in the national set-up.


Gallen’s future in the green and gold has been under a cloud with the retiring NSW State of Origin skipper revealing earlier this week he hadn’t spoken with Meninga since the former Queensland coach was appointed Kangaroos mentor last December.

Meninga said it was normal for him not to speak to players before the representative season begins.

“That’s me. I’ve always had the attitude that club football goes first,” Meninga told AAP.

“When the rep season is about to come on, I’ll start ringing players up that I think are going to be part of the team. That hasn’t happened yet.”

Meninga admitted he also wanted to see how Gallen returned from his recent knee injury, having missed three weeks earlier in the NRL season.

The Cronulla captain, who hasn’t played for Australia since May 2014, has since punched out a total 132 minutes over the past fortnight.

“He’s just got back on the footy field, hasn’t he?” Meninga said.

“He’s in the picture, so we’ll keep a pretty close eye on his performance this weekend in particular and make some more judgment as we go forward.

“I’ll have a yarn to him next week anyway because I’m at the True Blues dinner. I can have a yarn to him at that as well as a few of the other NSW boys who are in the picture.”

Meninga met with newly-appointed selectors Bob Fulton and Darren Lockyer for their first selection meeting last week, with plenty of debate about the outside backs and back row.

Injuries to mainstays Billy Slater, Will Chambers and Aaron Woods have disrupted the line-up.

“From our perspective there won’t be too many changes to the team, considering who the top teams are. But there is some talk around outside backs and obviously back row,” Meninga said.

Greg Inglis is likely to decide whether he wants to fill in at fullback, while Meninga conceded he had to choose between a left side combination of Johnathan Thurston, Inglis and Darius Boyd, or Parramatta pair Michael Jennings and Semi Radradra.

Josh Dugan is likely to be named at right centre.

“But, as things happen, someone like Will Chambers hurt himself (last week). Things change pretty quickly, so we’ve just got to wait and see what happens over the next few weeks,” Meninga said.

The Kangaroos host world No.1 New Zealand in Newcastle on May 6 in what will be their first Test since losing to the Kiwis in the annual mid-year fixture last year.

Putin chastises – and praises – Obama in annual Q and A

Speaking for more than three hours, Mr Putin addressed topics including relations with the United States, Russia’s economy and the Syrian conflict.


Vladimir Putin’s annual televised question-and-answer session allows the Russian public to pose questions directly to their president.

In the wide-ranging discussion, Mr Putin covered several pertinent issues including the Syrian conflict, for which Russia’s role has been significantly criticised by Western nations.

Mr Putin said terrorism remains a global threat and Russia knows it first-hand.

“Many countries in the world suffer from this danger, from this virus: the Middle East, Asia, the United States and European countries, I won’t mention Russia here – we know well what it is, we suffered serious losses during our fight against terrorism and this threat persists.”

Mr Putin added that despite a drawdown of Russian forces, his government is doing everything to ensure the situation in Syria does not continue to deteriorate.

“We left the Syrian army in a position where, with the support of part of the contingent that was left there, it can carry out serious offensive operations. Already after our withdrawal it has taken Palmyra. It has taken some other important strategic settlements.”

Russia began its campaign of air strikes in Syria last September in support of the Syrian government of President Bashar al Assad.

Despite the ongoing offensive, Mr Putin has called on the warring parties to end the conflict and launch a political process.

“We really hope that non-use of arms by both sides, which are supported by various parties, including our support, will lead to a peaceful resolution, but it is necessary to come to an agreement, sit down for political talks and adopt a new constitution and hold early elections based on this constitution and through this come out of the crisis.”

Meanwhile, Mr Putin referred to United States President Barack Obama’s recent remark that the “worst mistake” of his presidency was his failure to come up with an action plan for the aftermath of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s ousting.

Mr Putin said Mr Obama didn’t learn the lessons from Iraq when dealing with the conflict in Libya, but he praised his courage in admitting it.

“It is not easy to say such things. Barack, when he was still a senator, criticised the actions of the administration of the day for their actions in Iraq. But unfortunately, when he himself was president, he made the mistakes which he himself mentioned – in Libya. And this is right and very good that my colleague has the courage to make such statements. Not everyone can do this.”

Mr Putin also addressed the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, and called on Ukraine’s governent and its western allies to support Russia.

“I will try to be very accurate, but nonetheless, some things are obvious. Issues of a political nature are the first and most important among the problems in the southeast of Ukraine. It is necessary to ensure that people living in these territories feel safe and know they have rights like in a civilised and modern society.”

Speaking on the issue of the recently released “Panama Papers” which implicated a friend of Mr Putin’s, he said US officials were behind the leaks and media reports were designed to sow doubts about individuals.

He pointed out the newspaper which initially received the leaked papers is owned by an American corporation.

“Süddeutsche Zeitung is a part of a media holding which belongs to the US financial corporation Goldman Sachs. The ears of the instigator are sticking out everywhere but they don’t even redden.”

Meanwhile, Mr Putin said it’s too early to say whether he’ll seek a new term as president in elections due in 2018.

“I think it is too early to talk about it. In such situations I usually say the same thing and want to repeat it once again now. Now we need to think not about where and how we will work in the future, but how to justify people’s trust today, to achieve the goals we set, the promises we’ve made. And depending on the situation and how the work goes – certain decisions will be made.”