Coalition MPs scolded over housing affordability commentary

The Turnbull government’s so-called razor gang is meeting to fine-tune the details of next month’s Budget.

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Housing affordability is expected to be a focus.

But the Coalition is divided over a rumoured plan to allow young first-home buyers to spend money from their superannuation on a deposit.

Assistant health minister, Nationals MP David Gillespie, is the latest to speak out.

“I tend to think it’s a good idea. A lot of the physical barriers to home ownership is getting that initial deposit together. And if one’s super fund could, for a period of time, contribute capital into that, and then return it to the super fund later on once you’re established, I can’t see any problem in it.”

And he’s not the only one.

Half-a-dozen Coalition MPs and senators have publicly voiced support for the plan, including cabinet minister Matt Canavan and former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Christopher Pyne has criticised his colleagues for speaking out of turn.

“It’s a great pity that colleagues run these debates publicly. Whether they attach their name to them, which I think is much more respectable, or do so anonymously. The budget process should be managed behind closed doors and on Budget night it should be revealed to the people.”

Mr Pyne launched a vigorous defence of the status quo, saying superannuation should be reserved for retirement, and nothing else.

“Our superannuation system is the envy of the world, and those people who seek to fiddle with it are putting that at risk. And there is no evidence to suggest that if superannuation was able to be used for housing, that would somehow bring house prices down.”

The idea of letting young people dip into their retirement savings has been blasted by industry super funds and several leading economists.

They argue the scheme would only add further heat to the property market and drive prices higher.

Existing home owners would benefit, as prospective buyers would turn up to auctions with more capital at their disposal.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has previously described it as a “thoroughly bad idea”.

And Immigration minister Peter Dutton says he’s right.

“I think the Prime Minister’s made the right call. Now, people have rightly explored options about what you can do around housing affordability. Ruled out negative gearing. And the PM now has dealt with this issue as well so there are other ways that you can provide help but you don’t want to fuel prices, you don’t want to create a situation that’s worse than what we’ve got at the moment.”

The Opposition is pushing its alternative plan to make housing more affordable, by reducing negative gearing tax concessions for property investors.

Labor MP Chris Bowen attacked the apparent division within the government.

“Today the dysfunction and chaos at the heart of the Turnbull Government’s economic policy falls to a new low. We have an expenditure review committee meeting of the cabinet meeting today in this building, where ministers are positioning publicly and undermining each other publicly in the lead-up to that meeting.”

The details of the government’s housing affordability package will be revealed in the Budget on May 9.

 

 

Flooding, power cut as ex-Cyclone Cook hits NZ

New Zealand was bracing on Thursday for a storm that meteorologists warned could be the worst for almost 50 years, with extreme weather alerts across the entire North Island.

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The tropical depression, the tail-end of ex-Cyclone Cook which hit New Caledonia this week, has already generated offshore winds of more than 170 kmh (105 mph).

The official Metservice said it was expected to make landfall overnight Thursday, generating five metre (16.5 foot) swells, torrential rain and gale force winds.

It warned the storm could be the most intense since ex-Cyclone Giselle in 1968, which swept a ferry onto rocks in Wellington Harbour, killing 53 people.  

Cyclone Cook on Monday dumped heavy rain on New Caledonia, where four people were hurt when a tree fell on their car and power supplies were disrupted. Damage, however, was limited.

New Zealand emergency services pre-emptively evacuated some small coastal communities in the country’s north, and the military was assisting relief efforts.

More than 1000 homes have lost power across the Bay of Plenty, according to Powerco, with Whakatane District Council reporting multiple trees have been downed.

Waves up to five metres could hit coastal areas later in the evening, and has prompted Civil Defence calls for people to leave low-lying and vulnerable coastal areas in the Bay of Plenty and the Coromandel Peninsula.

Winds could reach 150km/h, according to the MetService.

“This is a very significant event and is likely to produce widespread flooding, [land]slips and wind damage, including to powerlines, and may even lift roofs and bring down large trees,” Metservice said.

Many areas of the North Island are already sodden after the remnants of Australia’s Cyclone Debbie swept over last week and caused extensive flooding.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the storm is bearing down as New Zealand prepares for the Easter long weekend, meaning roads are likely to be choked with holiday-makers.

The New Zealand Transport Agency urged motorists to stay off the roads if possible, saying conditions would be hazardous.

Air New Zealand cancelled all flights from Rotorua, Napier, Hamilton and Tauranga in the North Island, and said it expected disruptions at Nelson and Blenheim in the South Island.

The storm system is set to hit the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty regions of the North Island on Thursday night, before tracking south to Wellington early Friday.

A state of emergency has been declared in the Bay of Plenty and Thames-Coromandel regions, which are still suffering from the aftermath of ex-cyclone Debbie.

CIMIC’s profit, work in hand on the rise

Construction and contract mining giant CIMIC Group’s quarterly profit has jumped 23 per cent and it says it has a solid pipeline of potential projects and opportunities to expand its mining and mineral processing activities.

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CIMIC made a net profit of $160.3 million in the three months to March, up from $130.3 million a year earlier.

It has reaffirmed its guidance of an annual profit of between $640 million and $700 million in 2017.

Chief executive Adolfo Valderas told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting on Thursday that there was nearly $80 billion worth of tenders relevant to CIMIC to be awarded over the rest of 2017, and around $250 billion for 2018 and beyond.

“Looking forward, clients in our markets are continuing to invest, driving demand for our expertise in services, public private partnerships, mining and mineral processing, construction and engineering,” he said.

“We expect to continue to expand our mining and mineral processing activities into other markets, for example, by exporting our contract mining skills further into North and South America, proving us with additional diversification.”

CIMIC also said it would keep its options open in relation to mining services provider Macmahon Holdings, in which CIMIC holds a 23.6 per cent stake after its recent takeover effort.

“We will keep our options open depending on the evolution of the company,” Mr Valderas said.

The recent acquisition of engineering, construction and maintenance firm UGL also provides CIMIC with a further platform for expansion, he said.

The company is shortlisted for several large projects, including the Melbourne Metro rail link, the Sydney Metro tunnels and station excavation works, some projects under the Western Sydney roads upgrade program, and phase two of the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System in Singapore.

CIMIC shares rose two cents to $36.42.

UK confirms sarin use in Syria attack

The fact-finding mission was sent by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague to gather bio-metric samples and interview survivors, sources told Reuters on Thursday.

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The toxic gas attack on April 4, which killed scores of people including children, prompted a U.S. cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base and widened a rift between the United States and Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his conflict with rebels and militants fighting to oust him.

Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied using any chemical weapons. Russian officials said the gas had been released by an air strike on a poison gas storage depot controlled by rebels. Washington said that account was not credible, and rebels have denied it.

Samples taken from the poison gas site in Syria’s Idlib governorate tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, the British delegation at the OPCW said on Thursday.

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“UK scientists have analysed samples taken from Khan Sheikhoun. These have tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, or a sarin-like substance,” the delegation said during a special session on Syria at the OPCW in The Hague.

The UK result confirmed earlier testing by Turkish authorities that concluded that sarin had been used for the first time on a large scale in Syria’s civil war since 2013.

The OPCW mission will determine whether chemical weapons were used, but is not mandated to assign blame. Its findings, expected in 3-4 weeks, will be passed to a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation tasked with identifying individuals or institutions responsible for using chemical weapons.

International investigators have concluded that sarin, chlorine and sulphur mustard gas have been used in Syria’s six-year-old conflict, with government forces using chlorine and Islamic State militants using sulphur mustard.

Last week’s poison gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held province of Idlib near the Turkish border was the most lethal since a sarin attack on Aug. 21, 2013 killed hundreds in a rebel-controlled suburb of the capital Damascus.

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Eagles bounce back to keep Swans winless

The Sydney Swans will have to create history to play in the AFL finals this year after a 26-point loss to West Coast at Domain Stadium – their fourth straight defeat.

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No team since the AFL instituted the top eight system in 1994 has recovered from a 0-4 start to play finals.

North Melbourne were the last team to do it, starting 0-4 in 1975 and winning the VFL premiership.

The Swans have lost their opening four games of a season for the first time since 1993.

Sydney fought valiantly but couldn’t contain the West Coast firepower with the home team winning 13.13 (91) to 10.5 (65).

The Swans never gave up and did put a scare into the Eagles with a Jake Lloyd goal at the 10-minute mark of the last term to get within six points.

But the Eagles steadied with four of the last five goals to win comfortably.

Even with limited involvement by Sam Mitchell, West Coast’s midfield got on top, Luke Shuey a leading light with 30 possessions, seven tackles and a goal.

Matt Priddis had another 29 disposals and Andrew Gaff 28 (two goals).

Elliot Yeo was strong off half-back again with 29 touches and 11 marks.

Jeremy McGovern played forward in the absence of Jack Darling for two goals, 19 disposals and eight marks. Jamie Cripps kicked three goals, Josh Kennedy two and Mark LeCras two.

Sydney captain Josh Kennedy racked up another 33 possessions with Lloyd finishing with 29 disposals, Luke Parker 27 and Dan Hannebery 23.

Will Hayward was a livewire in attack with two goals.

Lance Franklin kicked two also and worked hard despite an early clash with West Coast captain Shannon Hurn.

He struggled to move freely the rest of the game as did his former Hawthorn premiership teammate Mitchell.

The Eagles recruit hurt his leg when kicked accidentally by teammate Jack Redden in the second quarter. That limited his time in the middle for the rest of the night.

Mitchell still had 17 possessions and seven tackles.

It won’t get any easier for Sydney next Saturday night against the GWS Giants at the SCG.

The Eagles get another crack at the MCG against Hawthorn on Sunday.

Eagles coach Adam Simpson was happy with his team’s response to the loss to Richmond after only a five-day break.

“They (Sydney) came at us all night. The four-quarter effort was good but Sydney wouldn’t go away as we expected,” Simpson said.

“They play such a tough, hard brand regardless of who’s playing and to show that resilience in the last quarter was really good for us on the five-day break.”

Sydney coach John Longmire couldn’t fault his team’s effort, but they were made to pay for their mistakes.

“If you look at the stats after the game our effort and intensity was reasonably strong. It was just our execution that let us down at different times,” Longmire said.

“We suffered some bad goals against on turnovers. We conceded 10.9 on turnover which ends up really hurting you.”