Australia ignoring border dispute: Timor MPs

Australia took advantage of East Timor’s weakness and is now dodging its international obligations over the disputed marine border, a Timorese MP says.

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During a special session of parliament in Dili on Thursday, the heads of all four major political parties entreated Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove to ask the Australian government to come to the negotiating table over the disputed marine border between the countries.

Since 2002 there has been uncertainty over the exact parameters of the border because Australia is ignoring the issue, said Natalino dos Santos Nascimento, of the CNRT party.

“The Australian government did everything to prevent an agreement for the sea and made sure we had no other choice than to accept their proposal,” he said via an interpreter.

“That was a very difficult choice for us because we were a very weak country; we had no assistance from experts on oil issues, no legal expertise to analyse the process of this agreement … The Australian government knew and took advantage of our weaknesses.”

Aniceto Guterres from Fretilin said Australia’s unwillingness to renegotiate showed its position on the border is weak.

“We just ask our neighbour Australia to respect our rights according to international law,” he said.

“We hope with our beautiful friendship we won’t just be speaking words into the wind, we hope that people will hear us.”

The Governor-General said Australia wanted to focus on close ties in the future.

“It’s not always easy, it’s not always simple… Like all friends, we have our differences,” he said.

Since signing the 2006 treaty, East Timor “has accrued significant sovereign wealth in your petroleum fund” which would provide for future generations, he said.

“Australia is known as a fair and pragmatic country, we will continue to seek fair and pragmatic solutions to resolve our differences … Our people stand together.”

THE MARINE BORDER DISPUTE:

* Timor-Leste and Australia signed treaties in 2002 and 2006 as provisional arrangements regarding the marine border, across which sit the Greater Sunrise underwater oil and gas fields

* Australia originally received more than 80% of revenues which has been revised to a more equitable split

* East Timor wants to negotiate a formal marine border with a median line split, but Australia has so far not agreed to enter into formal talks

* East Timor is the only country with which Australia is yet to negotiate a marine border

* The lucrative refining of the oil and gas is done in Australia

* In 2013 East Timor took Australia to the international court, alleging that Australian spies bugged its cabinet room to eavesdrop on deliberations about Greater Sunrise

* It says that since independence it has lost about $US5 billion in royalties and tax revenue due to the border division, equivalent to about three years of the national budget.

NSW govt whip resigns over fuel bill

Liberal MLC Peter Phelps has resigned as NSW upper house whip in opposition to the government’s controversial ethanol mandate legislation.

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Mr Phelps resigned in order to cross the floor to vote against the laws, describing the bill as a fundamental attack on small business.

The Biofuels Amendment Bill 2016 will force small petrol retailers to sell an ethanol blend, potentially driving up the price of petrol by up to 8c a litre.

“This bill … which criminalises people for the purchasing decisions of their customers, is such an egregious breach of the core values of the Liberal Party that I cannot support it,” Mr Phelps said during a fiery speech to parliament.

He said there were many times he had to “whore out his principles” for his job as government whip but he would be resigning effective immediately on Tuesday so he could cross the floor to oppose the legislation.

The bill is expected to require smaller retailers that sell three or more types of automotive fuel to sell E10 for the first time to reach a six per cent mandate.

NSW has never reached the mandate and currently only two per cent of fuel sales in the state are ethanol.

Innovation and Better Regulation Minister Victor Dominello has said the legislation is not meant to hurt small business owners, and retailers owning fewer than 20 sites will be exempt.

Two other Liberal MPs, Matthew Mason Cox and Scott Farlow, also voiced their opposition to the bill in parliament on Tuesday but said they would support it.

Labor has indicated it will pass the legislation but the Greens have opposed it, with Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham describing it as “entirely rotten”.

Jakarta chaos as taxi drivers protest ride apps Uber, Grab

Thousands of cabbies have shut down a major road in Indonesia’s capital and launched attacks on other drivers as part of a protest against ride-hailing apps like Uber and Grab.

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Traffic jams sprouted up in parts of Jakarta on Tuesday as taxi drivers took to the streets to protest against Uber, Grab and the motorbike service Go-Jek.

The busy arterial road Jalan Sudirman was closed down for a time, as taxi drivers blocked the bus lane.

A stone-throwing fight then broke out between cabbies and motorbike taxi drivers, known locally as “ojek” riders.

This was in retaliation for a reported attack on an ojek rider by a taxi driver, a witness told AAP.

Even the brightly coloured blue, three-wheeled vehicles known as a “bajaj” were not safe with taxi drivers believed to have overturned one and smashed its front mirror.

Another Indonesia wtf moment: Jakarta taxi drivers protesting against Uber, Grab target non-striking colleagues. pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/RHZffipDkE

— Bryce Green (@brycewg) March 22, 2016

Taxi driver Aris told AAP he wanted online taxi services to be banned as they had cut his income dramatically.

“I used to get 200,000 to 300,000 rupiah ($A30) a day but now 50,000 is like a blessing,” the 30-year-old said.

Aris, who has been working for Express Taxi for almost 10 years, said the protest was an “act of solidarity” among taxi drivers.

Taxi drivers have complained of the increasing competition from the likes of ride-hailing giant Uber whose drivers, they say, do not face the same costs and rules.

Australians warned over protests

Australia has issued a travel warning for Indonesia following the protests.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has advised travellers to exercise a “high degree of caution” across Indonesia, including Bali, as a protest in Jakarta shut down a major arterial road on Tuesday.

“There are reports that some passengers have been forced to disembark from passing taxis and other forms of public transport,” DFAT warned on Tuesday.

“Travellers are reminded that demonstrations and rallies can turn violent with little notice.”

Taxi drivers have amassed outside Parliament House in the capital as they took to the streets in protest of the popular apps Uber and the motorbike service Gojek.

RelatedTaxi drivers turn against each other in strange twist to Jakarta’s transportation drama 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/DaONyZu4Zp pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/Fx8wpJeyJE

— Tech in Asia (@techinasia) March 22, 2016

Jakarta police Chief Detective Krishna Murti said he was supervising the protest and warned those involved not to let it get out of hand.

“Protest, go ahead. But don’t cause traffic jam! And then don’t do anarchy. If you’re bad, I’ll arrest you,” he told local website Detik.

Fighter jet a ‘jackass of all trades’

The company building Australia’s next-generation fighter planes says it would be naive to pretend there aren’t problems with the fleet.

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But air force chiefs are confident the controversial F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighters are the best the Department of Defence can get.

Australia is spending $17.1 billion to acquire 72 of the Lockheed Martin planes by 2023.

But they’ve been dismissed as an expensive flop with the jets facing difficulties including pilot visibility issues, stealth coatings peeling off, an inability to fly during lightning storms due to the risk of exploding, and software problems.

A report by the Pentagon’s top weapons tester has also raised doubts about its capabilities, including software and engineering deficiencies.

Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program general manager, says nothing in that report was a surprise to his team.

However, that didn’t mean they weren’t doing anything about it.

“When you look at any program this complex … to assert there would be no problems would be naive,” he told a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.

“This is an amazing plane – I have high confidence that we’ll solve these problems as we have in the past.”

The defence department appears content too, saying the jets are their best and only option.

Air force chief Leo Davies said the planes had significant advantages over the F18s.

“I have no concerns that would have me come to a conclusion that the transition … will not occur on time,” he said.

Chris Deeble, the force’s former program manager, acknowledged some risks existed in the training system, including maintenance.

Independent military and policy think tank Air Power Australia was dismissive of the plan, saying “blue sky marketing” was overshadowing major problems with the aircraft.

“It has all the hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme,” head Peter Goon said.

“When the product fails recruit as many clients as you can, promote the product as loudly as you can, keep the cash flowing for as long as the market remains blind to its failure.”

The aircraft was also a risk to the ANZUS alliance – Australia’s security pact with the US.

Mr Goon described the aircraft’s computer system as a “digital dog leash”.

Retired wing commander Chris Mills insists Australia will never achieve regional air superiority with the F-35, describing it as a “jackass of all trades and masterful of none”.

The Sir Richard Williams Foundation took an opposing view, saying the aircraft was unique, revolutionary and represented a generational change.

Former RAAF chief Errol J McCormack said the F-35 was the only viable candidate that would meet the full range of Australia’s air superiority needs in 2025 and beyond.

But he admitted Lockheed Martin gave thousands of dollars in sponsorship to fund his organisation’s seminars.

Black Caviar’s trainer Moody exits racing

High-profile trainer Peter Moody walks away from racing without a Melbourne Cup but with a Black Caviar.

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The unbeaten champion sprinter brought Moody international acclaim.

Yet, at 46, Moody has pulled the pin on his training career.

“I’m over it,” he declared after an 18-month saga over cobalt that has been both financially and personally draining.

Moody beat the most serious cobalt charge: administering a prohibited substance to affect a racehorse’s performance.

He initially vowed to return after being outed for six months on lesser charges over Lidari’s cobalt reading after his second in the 2014 Group One Turnbull Stakes, which the trainer’s camp blamed on an oral hoof treatment.

Moody has now decided to wind up his 300-horse training operation, believing he is doing it on his own terms.

“For the fact that I can walk away confidently and know that I’ve been judged not to be a cheat has made that decision somewhat easier,” he told reporters at his Caulfield stable on Tuesday.

Moody maintains the cobalt saga affecting a number of trainers has been blown out of proportion.

“Unfortunately due to the deeds of probably the great mare Black Caviar, I’ve probably become unfortunately the public face of it and I didn’t want that to continue,” he said.

Moody said no one else was to blame and he was no longer bitter, but still believed he did nothing wrong.

“I’m still disappointed that I was penalised in any way, shape or form because I don’t believe I did any wrong,” he said.

“If anything the practices within my workplace mightn’t have been up to scratch and they may have become lax and it cost me. But is that any reason to take a person’s livelihood away from them?”

Moody has trained five of the last six Australian Racehorses of the Year and about 2500 winners, including 53 at the top Group One level, but he said the quality of horses dropped significantly during the cobalt saga and he was unable to attract new business.

Moody does want some sort of future in the racing industry.

“It’s been my lifeline and my livelihood probably since I’ve been about 10 years old,” he said.

“Maybe in three or four months’ time if anyone’s looking for an unemployed 46-year-old racehorse trainer that doesn’t know how to do anything else, maybe give me a yell. I’ll be looking for a job.”

Moody never won one of Australian racing’s “big four”: a Caulfield Cup, Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate or a Golden Slipper.

That Moody can say he has no regrets is down to Black Caviar, “the thing dreams are made of”.

Moody had a quick answer when one of his daughters made a crack about Bart Cummings’ 12 Melbourne Cup wins before the legendary trainer’s death: “He’s never trained the best horse in the world that’s undefeated either, darling, so ask him that.”

NRL refs should also look out: Green

The referee contact by players controversy has taken another twist with North Queensland coach Paul Green claiming officials should also look where they are going.

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Green said it was impossible to enforce a black-and-white rule banning players from touching referees and hoped “sanity prevailed” in the latest drama to hit the NRL.

Green agreed that players should not aggressively touch officials or approach them in an intimidating manner.

But he said accidental contact was going to happen and that referees in and around the ruck had to be mindful of their surroundings.

“The pocket ref is in and around the rucks quite often – he in particular has to be careful that he gets himself out of the way too,” he said.

“You’ve got more bodies in and around there (ruck).

“It’s more traffic and these big guys move quickly – occasionally accidental contact will happen.”

Kieran Foran is the latest player to earn the ire of the NRL match review committee for making contact with a referee.

Like Brisbane centre James Roberts last week, Foran can escape a ban if he takes the early guilty plea and will be available for the Easter Monday match with Wests Tigers.

The charge against Foran comes after Bulldogs firebrand David Klemmer was exonerated at the judiciary last week, after referee Ben Cummins gave evidence in his favour.

In the opening three rounds to date, six players including North Queensland’s Ethan Lowe have made contact with onfield officials but have escaped censure.

Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett said last week that the NRL had given itself a black eye over their crackdown on the issue.

“If we keep a common sense approach about it hopefully sanity will prevail,” Green said of the referee contact by players issue.

“The whole idea is to show respect to the refs.

“You can’t challenge or talk to the refs in an intimidating manner.

“That’s what players have to remember.”

Meanwhile, Green named an unchanged team for Friday night’s NRL grand final re-match with the Broncos in Brisbane.

He confirmed last round’s 18th man Sam Hoare had sustained a season-ending knee injury.

Health insurers named and shamed

Private health insurer Bupa has defended “junk” policies as a new name and shame campaign slams major funds for selling useless products to consumers.

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Medibank, HCF and NIB are among those singled out by consumer advocacy group Choice on Tuesday as offering policies that are a waste of money – with little benefit above what is provided through Medicare.

Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey says consumers are forking out thousands of dollars for policies that are so useless, they end up using the public system anyway.

Bupa managing director Dwayne Crombie says these cheaper policies with lots of exclusions are designed with “good intent” to attract young people, as the system depends on them to support the costs of older people.

He says he’s got no problem with introducing minimum requirements for policies covering over 45s but insists in a competitive market funds should be allowed to be “ingenious”.

“You should allow people to offer a choice,” Dr Crombie told the National Press Club in Canberra.

He said health insurers could do more when it came to providing information, but “unless we change the way doctors and consumers act here, we’re not going to get a lot of change”.

Mr Godfrey says in many cases, junk policies cover less than one per cent of the services available in hospital, and exclude treatment for the most common serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease.

“It’s particularly concerning that some health funds boast about the popularity of these junk policies, knowing full well they offer inadequate coverage.”

Choice wants the federal government to reconsider whether junk policy-holders should be eligible for the taxpayer-funded private health insurance rebate, or exempted from the Medicare levy surcharge and the lifetime health cover surcharge.

Health Minister Sussan Ley has also expressed concern about junk policies.

Half a million top cover policies were downgraded or dumped last year, prompting her to announce a review of the industry ahead of a reform package.

She says insurers are holding an additional $5.1 billion capital in their pockets.

And yet premium hikes from April 1 will leave the average family forking out hundreds more for private health insurance this year.

Dr Crombie hit back at critics of the price rises, insisting much of it was unavoidable.

But he acknowledged there was waste that could be avoided – like the two-thirds of back surgeries being performed with no benefit to the patient.

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons president David Watters said the health funds could lift their game by making policies more understandable.

He also took a swipe at surgeons who hit patients with hidden fees, insisting patients should know upfront what their costs will be.

“I can assure you that the size of a gap charged by any health professional bears absolutely no reality whatsoever to the quality of service you will get.”

CHOICE’S HIT LIST OF THE WORST OFFENDERS:

* Australian Unity Basic Hospital

* Defence Health Essentials Hospital

* HIF Gold Vital

* Medibank Young Hospital

* NIB Basic Hospital

* HCF Accident Hospital Only Cover

* Medibank Accident Cover

TPG delivers bullish FY guidance

Internet provide TPG Telecom has forecast a strong end to the financial year as its interim net profit nearly doubles, thanks to its $1.

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56 billion takeover of rival iiNet.

TPG – the nation’s second biggest fixed-line internet provider after Telstra – has forecast annual underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of between $770 million to $775 million.

The result could be up as much as 37.5 per cent from the $484.5 million booked in fiscal 2015.

TPG on Tuesday booked a net profit of $202.5 million for the six months ending January 31, up 90 per cent from $106.7 million for the same period a year earlier.

Its interim EBITDA jumped 85.1 per cent to $437.3 million, thanks to a $111 million contribution from iiNet.

After securing approval from the nation’s competition regulator on August 20, TPG completed the acquisition on September 7.

The iiNet deal made TPG Australia’s second biggest fixed-line internet provider, bumping Singapore Telecommunication’s local unit, Optus, to third spot.

OptionsXpress analyst Ben Le Brun described the results as really good.

“I would be interested in seeing where they stand in maybe making a play into the mobile phones business, maybe taking a look at Vodafone New Zealand or even Vodafone Australia. But that’s maybe something that’s coming down the track for TPG,” he said.

TPG executives weren’t available to comment.

The company’s shares were up 74 cents at $11.09 in a flat Australian market.

The group’s consumer division booked interim EBITDA of $125.6 million, up 7.3 per cent from $117 million a year ago, thanks to 32,000 new broadband subscribers.

At the end of January, the unit had 853,000 broadband subscribers and 297,000 mobile customers.

TPG’s corporate division reported a 12 per cent jump in EBITDA of $131.9 million from $117.7 million a year ago, thanks to strong sales and continued margin expansion.

TPG INTERIM PROFIT SOARS

*Revenue rose 84 pct to $1.15b vs $627.3m

*Net profit jumped 90 pct to $202.5m vs $106.7m

*Interim dividend rose 27pct to 7.0c vs 5.5c

‘Resettle regional refugees, not Syrians’

Indonesia has urged Australia to help resettle refugees in Southeast Asia, rather than just focusing on the Syrian crisis, saying it could be “cheaper” to do so.

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Speaking at the opening day of the Bali Process on Tuesday, Hasan Kleib from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he understood Australia was currently “occupied by the European influx”.

“But still we invite not only Australia but New Zealand and other developed countries … to increase their (refugee intake) quotas,” he told reporters.

“So rather than taking from Europe, maybe if there is any registered refugees who have already been cleared by the UNHCR they might be available to be considered.

“It might be closer and cheaper to send them there,” he added.

The comments mark a softening in language from Indonesia which has been calling for Australia to do more in the weeks leading up to this week’s meeting.

The conference, which will be attended by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Wednesday, brings together more than 40 countries and agencies to discuss the issue of people smuggling, trafficking and other related transnational crime.

There are currently more than 13,000 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the UNHCR in the archipelago and detention centres in Indonesia at over-capacity.

But compared with the situation in Europe where almost five million Syrian refugees are on the move, UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection Volker Turk said Southeast Asia was “relatively calm”.

“So we hope for a very strong message of solidarity coming out of the Bali Process towards other parts of the world.”

He said Southeast Asia should no longer view resettlement as the only solution, but also look at options such as local stay arrangements on a temporary basis, which would allow people access to the local labour market.

ACCC allows taxi booking app

Hailing a cab during busy periods is set to become easier after the competition watchdog decided to allow a new smartphone taxi booking app called “ihail”.

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has given the all-clear for the app, which the taxi industry hopes will help it better compete with ride-sharing service Uber.

The ACCC was initially opposed to the taxi industry setting up ihail but has changed its mind following significant modifications to the app.

The changes include giving passengers the choice of paying their fare in the taxi rather than just via the app.

Passengers can now also choose their preferred taxi network during the booking process, or select the nearest available taxi from any network.

“The app will provide an additional platform for passengers to book taxis from a large pool of taxi networks and drivers,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said on Tuesday.

“The ACCC accepts this is likely to reduce waiting times, particularly in peak periods, which is a benefit to the public.”

The initial members of ihail include Yellow Cabs, Silver Top Taxi Service, Black and White Cabs, Suburban Taxis and Cabcharge.

Other taxi networks can also sign up.

The ACCC said the ownership structure on which the ihail app is based would allow the participants to quickly establish a larger network of taxi drivers than any other app.

Nonetheless, ihail would still face competition from other taxi-booking apps and ride-sharing apps.

Drivers could also use other booking apps, and ihail must tell drivers that they can do so.

“These factors should mitigate the extent of the reduction in competition and associated public detriment due to the competitive advantage ihail will have as a result of its ownership structure,” Mr Sims said.

When the ACCC issued a draft decision on ihail in October 2015, it said it may block the release of ihail given its impact on competition and Cabcharge’s role in handling payments.

Taxi representatives subsequently accused the ACCC of protecting Uber.

The ACCC was initially concerned that competition between Cabcharge and other payments processors may have been lessened because originally, passengers would have to pay through ihail, with Cabcharge as the exclusive payments processor.

But now that passengers can pay in the taxi means other payments processors can compete to provide services to ihail customers.

Cabcharge, which has a stake of about 10 per cent in ihail, welcomed the ACCC’s decision.

“It’s encouraging that the ACCC has understood and accepted the dynamic nature of the taxi industry,” Cabcharge chief executive Andrew Skelton said.

“We believe the authorisation will enhance competition in the local market which in recent times seems to have all but been reserved for players outside the traditional taxi industry.”