Thaiday to savour grand final re-match

His captain may have played it down but

Broncos skipper Corey Parker did his best to shut down talk of exorcising their demons against 2015 grand final conquerors North Queensland at what is tipped to be a packed Suncorp Stadium.


“It’s a great week to be writing about footy,” Parker said.

“But for us it is another competition game.”

Fans may feel differently – a sell-out crowd of 52,500 has been tipped for the clash.

And Brisbane forward Thaiday looked forward to the spectacle.

“People are still talking about it,” Thaiday told Broncos TV when asked about the 2015 grand final.

“I am looking forward to a packed stadium.

“We will show Sydney teams what a stadium should look like when you are playing a big game.

“I am always excited to play the Cowboys.”

Thaiday believed the blockbuster was just what Brisbane needed after their shock one-point loss in Penrith last round.

“The good thing is we have a short week, (we can) get over it (Penrith) and prepare for a cracker of a match against the Cowboys,” he said.

“It’s a blessing in disguise.”

Broncos backrower Matt Gillett said there would be no repeat of their second-half fadeout against Penrith.

“There was not enough energy and determination in defence, we played into their hands and that showed on the scoreboard,” Gillett said.

Brisbane will be without centre Jack Reed who is expected to miss just one match after undergoing surgery to repair a damaged retina.

He experienced blurred vision after a tackle against Penrith.

Jordan Kahu slots into Reed’s centre vacancy with Lachlan Maranta on the wing in his first match back from off-season wrist surgery.

Maranta – Brisbane’s 2015 top try-scorer with 15 in 20 games – had not been expected to return to the field until next month.

Telstra struggling, hit with third outage

Telstra customers are livid after being struck with a third network outage in two months.


Users around the country couldn’t make phone calls via their mobile or landline for more than an hour during the middle of the day on Tuesday, and took to social media to complain.

The telco quickly responded to concerns and confirmed that the majority of issues were in Victoria and Tasmania, with patchiness also reported in Sydney, Perth and Brisbane.

“We are experiencing intermittent voice call failures and connection delays on our fixed and mobile networks predominantly in Victoria and Tasmania, but impacting other states sporadically,” the company said.

It reported it had resolved the problem by 1.15pm.

It’s another blow to the country’s largest telco, which has endured a string of service failures since the start of the year.

Mass nationwide blackouts on March 17 and February 9 left eight million customers in the lurch for up to four hours, while another incident saw 500,000 pre-paid customers lose service briefly.

The outages have been blamed on human error and overseas connections, and the telco has launched an engineering review of its network with global experts.

Chief executive Andy Penn also publicly apologised to customers last week, and offered a free data day as recompense.

However, customers are furious about the network’s continuing issues and flooded Twitter during the blackout with complaints using the #TelstraOutage hashtag.

“This #TelstraOutage thing is beyond the joke. Fix your network or charge reasonable prices. Premium is not justified anymore,” one customer posted.

“We better be offered more than a bloody free data day. I pay good money for my mobile service,” said Sam Roach on Telstra’s Facebook page.

A Telstra spokesman said the outage was caused by a card failure in a media gateway in Victoria.

“While small, we appreciate the impact this outage had on the customers affected, and we apologise to them,” the spokesman said.

About 500,000 people, or three per cent of Telstra’s mobile customers, were affected by the outage.

The company promised to redouble its efforts to keep the network resilient.

Students at scandal-hit firm left in limbo

More than 15,000 students, some of whom were allegedly mis-sold vocational training courses, have been left in limbo after the owner of the scandal-hit Phoenix Institute went into administration.


Australian Careers Network said on Tuesday it appointed Ferrier Hodgson as voluntary administrators after failing to recover funding withheld by the Department of Education in the wake of accusations it targeted vulnerable students and mis-sold courses.

ACN suggested there was still a possibility that the funding could be recovered despite the Federal Court this month dismissing Phoenix Institute’s appeal against the department.

“The board anticipates that every effort will be made by the voluntary administrators to protect stakeholder interests by ensuring that all avenues are pursued to recover outstanding monies owed to ACN by federal and state agencies,” ACN managing director Ivan Brown said in a statement.

“The board and senior management will work with the administrators to this end.”

Ferrier Hodgson said all legal action was stayed and that its immediate priority was to sell ACN’s businesses as going concerns.

ACN and Mr Brown did not respond to requests for comment.

ACN’s remaining businesses employ about 70 staff and cover about 750 students.

ACN said 500 of its staff had lost their jobs since November and that 15,000 students were left without a training provider.

Mick Bellairs of the Melbourne-based Consumer Action Law Centre said the biggest losers were those mis-sold courses.

“It’s hard to believe that ACN could even consider chasing course fees from students, especially given the accusations that Phoenix Institute engaged in the outrageous mis-selling of courses,” Mr Bellairs said.

“They’re the ones we’re most concerned about: the students who have been left in the lurch.”

Scott Ryan, the minister for vocational education and skills, said the Australian Council for Private Education and Training is seeking to find alternative education providers for all current students.

Phoenix Institute had its registration cancelled and landed itself in court with the consumer watchdog last November for allegedly misleading students to sign up.

VET FEE-HELP loans, which are similar to the university HECS system, are paid to education providers and then repaid to the federal government by students once they start earning a certain amount.

ACN, whose shares have been suspended from trade on the Australian Stock Exchange since October, has been chasing the federal government for $40 million in outstanding loans.

The Consumer Action Law Centre estimates the Commonwealth may be owed $1.5 billion in VET FEE-HELP loans mis-sold by ACN and other organisations.

The advocacy group has made a pre-budget submission to Treasury urging a federally administrated remediation scheme to help those affected.

“It’s hard to call them students,” Mr Bellairs said.

“They’re just people who got exploited and signed up to expensive courses.”


* Wizard Corporate Training

* International Training College

* Centre of Vocational Education

* Phoenix Institute (registration cancelled)

* 70 staff (including 40 at head office)

* 750 remaining students

Jawboning currency is A-OK: RBA boss

The Australian dollar could be getting ahead of itself, the Reserve Bank boss warns.


And RBA governor Glenn Stevens says talking the Australian dollar down is “absolutely” consistent with a commitment to a freely floating exchange rate.

“There’s some risk actually that the currency might be getting a bit ahead of itself,” Mr Stevens said on Tuesday following his ASIC Annual Forum speech.

The comments come after the US Treasury criticised the RBA for jawboning the Australian currency.

The US executive director on the International Monetary Funds’s executive board made the complaint during a review of the Australian economy last September.

The US expressed concern at the RBA’s currency commentary, suggesting it went against the spirit of free-floating exchange rates.

Leading up to the time of the statement, RBA officials had repeatedly referred to the Aussie dollar’s stubbornly high exchange rate despite falling commodity prices, and its need to fall to help stimulate economic growth.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Stevens said making observations about whether the Aussie is undervalued or overvalued is not out of line.

“We haven’t done a dollar intervention in this whole episode, and occasionally we have an opinion about the market price, which is not that unknown in central banking circles,” he said.

Mr Stevens was also asked how a zero-interest rate policy, similar to the one adopted by the US for several years, fits into having a market-determined exchange rate.

“That’s a question you could pose to those countries that have zero rates,” he said.

The central banker said the greenback has recently slumped against many currencies, while commodity prices have also risen, which has helped push the Aussie sharply higher.

But he said given the broader downward spiral in resource prices and the US Federal Reserve’s projected rate hike schedule, the exchange rate shouldn’t get much stronger.

“It’s pretty hard to find central banks that would prefer higher rather than lower (currencies) anywhere in the world at the moment,” he said.

“The reason for that simply is that nobody feels there’s enough aggregate demand globally.”

Syrian government refuses to discuss Assad’s future

The fate of President Bashar al-Assad will play no part in talks to end the Syrian war, the head of the government’s delegation says, leading the U.


N. peace envoy to warn that lack of progress on the issue could threaten a fragile cessation of hostilities.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey ‘block’ Syria peace

Hezbollah has accused Saudi Arabia and Turkey of obstructing efforts to reach a political solution in Syria, saying Riyadh did not want to see any progress at Geneva peace talks aimed at ending five years of conflict.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia have for years been on opposing sides of Syria’s civil war, but relations have worsened in recent months – mirroring the growing hostility between Riyadh and Tehran, the region’s two rival powers.

“What is disrupting any progress towards a political solution is firstly Saudi Arabia, and secondly Turkey,” Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told Al Mayadeen television in an interview.

Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah has sent fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad.

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Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which insist Assad must leave power, have been supporting Sunni Muslim insurgents fighting to overthrow him.

“Saudi Arabia doesn’t want any progress in the negotiations in Geneva,” Nasrallah said, adding Riyadh might be holding out until the US presidential election in November to see whether a new administration might pursue a different policy on Syria.

“So I don’t expect progress in the political process or a political solution,” he said.

His criticism of Riyadh comes nearly three weeks after the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), which groups Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, declared Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

Saudi Arabia said last week it would punish anyone who belongs to Hezbollah, sympathises with it, supports it financially or harbours any of its members.

New SA hospital may be delayed again

The completion of the $2 billion new Royal Adelaide Hospital could be delayed again after the builder requested more time.


The hospital was due to reach technical completion in April but the SA Health Partnership (SAHP) consortium has advised the government that won’t be achieved until May 25.

This has cast doubt on whether the long-awaited hospital will open to patients in November as scheduled.

The planned opening had already been delayed to avoid moving patients from the old Royal Adelaide Hospital during next winter’s flu season.

“We will move into the new Royal Adelaide Hospital when it is ready and safe to do so and for no other reason,” Health Minister Jack Snelling told parliament on Tuesday.

“My very strong advice is that the government is not exposed in any way in terms of the reasons for the delay. The liability would sit entirely with SAHP.”

Mr Snelling said the government was seeking independent advice on the delay, including whether the revised technical completion date could realistically be achieved.

Questions have been raised about safety on the massive project’s construction site after the death of two workers in separate incidents.

News of another possible delay has been pounced upon by Opposition Leader Steven Marshall, who was ejected from question time on Tuesday after taunting Mr Snelling.

Speaking after question time, Mr Snelling admitted the government would struggle to have the hospital open by the end of November.

“Seven weeks will be cutting it pretty fine,” he told reporters.

“There’s a whole number of things we need to do after commercial acceptance before it’s safe for us to start moving patients in.”

Global access to clean water seen as critical to future

Water is the world’s most valuable resource.


But climate change, poor sanitation and unsustainable water use are threatening global supplies.

And international aid agencies say people need to act now to ensure future access to clean water.

More than 600 million people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water.

Another 2 billion do not have access to basic sanitation or hygiene.

While some countries use an abundance of clean water, other nations go without.

And UNICEF Australia’s head of international programs, Felicity Wever, says uneven water distribution has devastating results.

“This leads to a situation where, every day, more than 800 children under (age) 5 die from diarrhoeal disease linked to unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene.”

Papua New Guinea has the lowest level of access to clean water in the world.

More than half its population is deprived of safe drinking water.

Water-Aid Australia chief executive Paul Nichols says that limited access to clean water in Papua New Guinea has broad social and political consequences.

“A lot of girls drop out of school as soon as they reach puberty, because their parents and their families are not happy for them to attend school when they’re menstruating.”

He says Water-Aid is urging the Australian government to focus aid efforts on improving clean-water services in the Pacific.

“The Australian government has a really important role in our region to make sure that the health systems and the water systems work effectively for those countries, because it’s directly in our interests.”

But Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations chairman Darren Perry says Australia needs to protect water sources in its own backyard.

Mr Perry says Indigenous water practices have been used to sustain river systems for thousands of years.

“Aboriginal people have lived beside and with, and utilised, waterways in this country for many thousands of generations, and we’ve never over-utilised those resources to the point of where they’re on the verge of collapse.”

He is calling on the government to engage with Indigenous people to implement a sustainable water-basin plan before the rivers run dry.

“We’re going into another really dry period now, and it’s vitally important that we implement the basin plan to ensure that there’s adequate water resources for all and then, number one, the environment.”

International aid agencies are calling for people to act now to ensure equal access to water for years to come.

UNICEF’s Felicity Wever says climate change needs to be addressed as the biggest universal threat to clean water.

“Climate change has the potential to impact water sources everywhere. I mean, we are seeing increased drought and those kinds of climate disasters here in Australia, as well as in our own backyard, so I do think it’s something that we here experience and can be doing a lot to address.”


Upbeat voters ready for political warfare

Voters head into a gruelling period for Australian politics in a positive mood.


The coming weeks will be dominated by the May 3 budget and a possible double dissolution election on July 2 – effectively a 15-week election campaign.

The latest ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer sentiment gauge has confidence comfortably above its long-run average, despite a modest decline in the past week.

“Aussie consumers are in good shape … there are few reasons to be negative,” Commonwealth Securities chief economist Craig James said on Tuesday.

He said consumers remain upbeat about their family finances, the Australian dollar has risen, interest rates are at generational lows and petrol prices are just above six-year lows.

However, the latest survey would not have captured the prime minister’s decision on Monday to recall both houses of parliament from April 18 and to bring forward the budget.

Malcolm Turnbull has promised a comprehensive tax package in the May 3 budget.

But the government refuses to say whether business will enjoy a tax cut after it signalled personal income tax cuts were off the table.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the government does not have unlimited options but has always been focused on economic growth.

“The impact of changing company tax is well known to have a positive impact on growth,” Mr Morrison told Sky News.

The budget has been brought forward one week from May 10.

The early budget gives Mr Turnbull sufficient time to call a double dissolution election if the Senate rejects government legislation restoring the building industry watchdog and toughening penalties for union corruption.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said Mr Turnbull has chosen to kick off Australia’s longest ever election campaign.

“Well, if he wants to do that he might want to turn up with some policies, he might want to turn up with a bit of vision,” Mr Bowen told reporters in Hobart.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said people will have more time than normal to properly assess the ins and outs of the government’s proposed tax policy.

We have the powers to tackle dodgers: ATO

Australia tax commissioner Chris Jordan insists he has sufficient powers to hunt down tax dodgers, with a new report showing one in three privately-owned businesses paid no tax in 2013/14.


The Australian Taxation Office on Tuesday released details of more than 300 privately-owned businesses with an income of $200 million or more, in its aim for greater transparency.

Like its December report relating to large corporations, 30 per cent of private businesses paid no tax.

But Mr Jordan said the ATO is on the case for anyone rorting the system.

“We absolutely have an extraordinarily strong focus, we’ve got powers, we’ve got the law to back it up, we have got the sophisticated tools now,” he told Sky News.

Michael Croker, head of taxation at Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, said there are a number of reasons why a company pays no tax – the carry forward of losses, high business deductions or the tax-free treatment of dividends from offshore subsidiaries.

But Labor said such revelations come at a time when the Turnbull government appears to be mulling a company tax rate cut.

“It says everything about Malcolm Turnbull’s priorities that he would put company tax cuts at the centre of his budget, even as so many big firms appear to be dodging their fair share,” shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh said in a statement.

Greens MP Adam Bandt agreed.

“The treasurer should be asking if our corporate tax laws are tough enough, not trying to cut the company tax rate,” he said.

But CPA Australia head of policy Paul Drum said it is “opportunistic at best and lazy at worst” to link the two concepts.

“The possibility of reducing the corporate tax rate has nothing to do with the way a private group is structured and whether it is paying the appropriate amount of tax,” Mr Drum told AAP.

Mr Croker was critical of the report, saying it shed little light on the tax affairs of the entities involved and could not be described as transparency.

“If misinterpreted, the data can in fact incorrectly suggest the ATO is not doing its job and imply that taxpayers who have not breached any tax laws are somehow immoral,” he said.

The 321 firms involved in the report had income tax payable of around $2 billion in 2013/14 with a further $1.6 billion reported by their associated entities.

Since 2013, more than half of these companies have been subject to some form of ATO engagement to better understand their tax position.

As a result, 25 per cent of them had additional assessments totalling more than $530 million in liabilities, the report said.

Police shocked at age of terror accused

The arrest of a Sydney schoolgirl over allegations she helped raise money for Islamic State has again raised concerns about the youth of some people being picked up for links to terrorist groups.


The girl, 16, was arrested on Tuesday along with man, 20, named by media outlets as Milad Atai and both are expected to be charged with organising funds for a terror organisation.

“We will be alleging that they were involved in obtaining money to send offshore to assist the Islamic State in its activities,” NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Cath Burn said.

Tuesday’s arrests were made as part of Operation Peqin, but Atai has previously been targeted in the long-running counter-terrorism initiative Operation Appleby.

The pair know each other but aren’t believed to be related or in a relationship, Ms Burn told reporters hours after counter-terrorism police swooped on them at Guildford, in Sydney’s west.

The allegations are serious and the charges carry a maximum 25-year jail term, but it’s the age of several people identified during investigations which is causing NSW and federal police great worry.

“It’s very concerning when we see juveniles that are involved in any way with terrorist-related offences,” NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said.

“Any parent that thinks about their own 16-year-old girl and starts to put together in their mind how anyone can be involved in this type of affair is, to me, mind boggling.”

The AFP’s deputy commissioner of national security, Michael Phelan, was similarly disturbed a 16-year-old schoolgirl who was not on their radar is facing allegations of raising money to support overseas terrorism.

“Friends, relatives, peer groups – people that are aware of the activities or even slightly suspicious – it’s important that those suspicions come to law enforcement,” Mr Phelan said.

NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant was also shocked “that people of such tender years can be allegedly involved in this sort of behaviour”.

Operation Appleby has been running since September 2014 and so far 14 people have been charged as a result, Mr Phelan said.