Ukraine bars Russia’s Eurovision entry

Ukraine has barred Russia’s entry for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest from entering the country because she violated Ukrainian laws, the spokeswoman for Ukraine’s state security service says.

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Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 sent relations with Ukraine to an all-time low, and now even sporting or cultural events are potential sources of tension between the two.

Watch: Russian contestant banned from Ukraine Eurovision

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Ukraine, which won the right to stage the 62nd Eurovision event after its contender won the 2016 competition, has previously said it would deny entry to certain Russian singers it deemed anti-Ukrainian.

“The Security Service of Ukraine has banned the citizen of the Russian Federation Yulia Samoylova from entering the country for a period of three years,” Olena Gitlianska wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.

SBS will broadcast the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest in May, with Australia again in competition alongside 42 other countries.

Watch: Australian contestant Isaiah Firebrace – Don’t Come Easy  

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Politics – it’s all in the delivery

Politicians often have a strange way of defining “achievement”.

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Wayne Swan famously said when he handed down the 2012 federal budget: “The four years of surpluses I announce tonight … “

The comment, which attracted wide applause at the time and “Back in Black” headlines for the Labor government, is mocked by the coalition to this day.

Despite that, Labor went on to produce a controversial election pamphlet that claimed “We’ve delivered a surplus, on time, as promised”.

It’s a mark of modern politics that “announcements” are equated with “achievements”, and vice versa.

Achievements aren’t black and white – they come in degrees of success.

Then there’s the broader question of the relevance of the achievement or announcement to average voters.

Tony Abbott claimed he had “achieved” free-trade deals with South Korea, Japan and China in his first full year of governing.

However, it took a little longer to put pen to the formal implementation on all three, with Malcolm Turnbull claiming he had “delivered” the China agreement after ousting Abbott.

Abbott also soon after the 2013 election announced he had “abolished” the carbon tax but this, too, was more difficult than expected – getting the axe, in legislative terms, in July 2014.

However, Clive Palmer stopped the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and other agencies Abbott promised to get rid of to make a clean sweep of Julia Gillard’s climate achievements.

The Liberal party website lists a number of Malcolm Turnbull’s achievements, among which is “signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership to deliver substantial new trade and investment opportunities for Australian businesses” and “Senate voting reform”.

The election of Donald Trump signalled the death of the TPP, which would have also been on the chopping block under a Clinton administration.

Senate voting system changes, coupled with the lower vote quotas of a double-dissolution election, led to a historically large upper-house cross bench, which itself has delivered a mixed bag of “achievements” for the coalition government.

This week, the prime minister claimed a win for free speech with the announcement of changes to the Racial Discrimination Act and the way in which the Australian Human Rights Commission handles complaints.

“We have delivered considerable achievements … we are focused on results and outcomes,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.

However, Turnbull’s success might be short-lived, with Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team likely to vote down the law changes this sitting fortnight.

Labor agrees on the need for new AHRC procedures to ensure people get early warning of complaints against them and to head off frivolous claims, but says watering down section 18C is a step too far and will encourage racism.

The government achieved the passing of savings to family welfare payments on Thursday to help fund a childcare package.

However, the deal with One Nation and NXT left about $4 billion in much-vaunted savings on the shelf.

The childcare package is also likely to pass but not in the form the government initially wanted.

The downside is growing cynicism among voters about the promises politicians make.

There are some telling figures in this week’s Essential poll.

Seventy-one per cent of voters said the Liberal party would “promise to do anything to win votes”, while 63 per cent said the same thing of Labor.

Only one in four voters thought the Liberals kept their promises, while 34 per cent said the same of Labor.

It doesn’t help things when the prime minister delivers a scattergun week of policy – attacking union corruption on Monday, defending free speech on Tuesday, reforming childcare on Wednesday.

Broken or watered-down promises, coupled with a narrative with all the cohesion of a Jackson Pollock painting, won’t save marginal seats.

Losing the next election due to a baffled, underwhelmed and frustrated electorate would be quite an achievement.

A tipple good for the ticker say experts

Moderate drinking can cut the risk of suffering a heart attack, angina or heart failure, though taking up exercise is better for you, experts say.

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A new study of 1.93 million people in the UK suggests drinking in moderation, classed as having no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, offers a protective effect for the heart compared with not drinking.

Previous studies have suggested that alcohol has a positive effect on the levels of “good” cholesterol in the blood as well as proteins associated with blood clotting.

The new study, published in the British Medical Journal, found moderate drinkers were less likely to turn up at their doctor suffering from angina, heart attack, heart failure, ischaemic stroke and aortic aneurysm than non-drinkers.

But the research found heavy drinking, more than 14 units, increased the risk of heart failure, a cardiac arrest, ischaemic stroke and circulation problems caused by fatty arteries.

The authors, from the University of Cambridge and University College London, welcomed the findings but said it would be unwise to encourage individuals to take up drinking as a means of lowering their risk.

“This is because there are arguably safer and more effective ways of reducing cardiovascular risk, such as increasing physical activity and smoking cessation, which do not incur increased risks of alcohol-related harm such as alcohol dependence, liver disease and cancer.”

The authors said it was an observational study, so no definite conclusions could be drawn, but the research was in line with previous studies.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said, it was not possible to draw firm conclusions from the study about cause and effect between moderate alcohol consumption and heart health.

Lockett won’t tweak Buddy much: Longmire

For Sydney fans it’s a match made in heaven but don’t expect to see too many more photos of Lance Franklin taking goalkicking tips from Tony Lockett.

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At least according to Swans coach John Longmire, who says his prolific star forward’s game doesn’t need much tweaking – even from the AFL’s all-time leading goalkicker.

Franklin was snapped on Wednesday in his first training session with a trimmed-down Lockett, who has returned to his former club as a part-time specialist forwards coach.

The pair conferred as 30-year-old Franklin geared up for Saturday’s round-one match with Port Adelaide at the SCG.

But Longmire expected Lockett to direct more of his expertise towards the club’s emerging forwards than already established such as Franklin, Kurt Tippett and Sam Reid.

“Really I don’t think he’s going to be working a whole heap with Lance,” Longmire said.

“His focus is probably going to be a little bit Lance, a little bit with Reidy, a little with Kurt and a lot with the younger players.

“I get really excited when I see him working with James Rose and those guys.

“I don’t think he’ll be tweaking Lance too much, Lance has got a lot of experience in how to kick the ball.”

Lockett has backed Franklin as a chance to eclipse his record of 1360 goals – for the Swans and St Kilda – a mark the 51-year-old has held since retiring from his brief comeback in 2002; though it appears near out of reach given Franklin’s current tally stands at 787 majors.

Regardless, Longmire said the rekindled relationship had proven mutually beneficial.

“It’s been great having Tony back, he’s really enjoyed it,” he said.

“He’s loved working with all the players, some of the young kids he’s been working with have really found it fantastic to be able to draw upon.

“He’s just good to have around the place and obviously he’s got a lot of skills and knowledge in regards to goalkicking in particular.”

After years out of the public eye, Lockett was optimistic he could help the Swans go one better than their 2016 grand-final loss to the Western Bulldogs.

“At this stage, a lot of clubs are struggling a bit with their conversion rates and everything like that,” Lockett told the Nine Network’s AFL Footy Show.

“I’m hoping I can make a little bit of a difference up at the Swannies there now.

“I’ve only been up there a couple of times, I’ve been working with six or eight of them already.

“I go up every week and have a bit of fun with it all. It’s pretty low key but I enjoy it.”

Australian among injured in London terror attack

A woman from South Australia is among the injured in the London terror attack, parliament has been told.

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Five people were killed, including the assailant, and 40 others were injured in what UK Prime Minister Theresa May has condemned as a “sick and depraved terrorist attack.”

Inviting British High Commissioner Menna Rawlings into the parliamentary chamber on Thursday to listen to condolence speeches, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull revealed an Australian permanent resident had been injured and was receiving treatment in hospital.

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Mr Turnbull also praised the “act of heroism” of the British MP Tobias Ellwood who tried to resuscitate an injured police officer who subsequently died outside the British parliament.

The MP’s brother Jon died in the Bali bombing in 2002.

“It was an attack on parliaments, freedom and democracy everywhere in the world,” Mr Turnbull said.

“Westminster is rightly known as the mother of parliaments.”

Australia stood in “heartfelt solidarity” with Britain.

Watch: The dramatic moment of the London attack on Westminster Bridge

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Mr Turnbull said Australians should be reassured agencies are working “relentlessly and tirelessly to keep our people safe”.

“We will never let the terrorists win. Not on the battlefield, not here at home, we will never change the way we live.”

Labor leader Bill Shorten told parliament the opposition shared the government’s commitment to security.

“We say to those who seek to spread fear, who shed blood to spread fear, you will not succeed,” Mr Shorten said.

“You will not divide a people or a world determined and too strong to defeat your ideology of evil.”

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said Australia’s Parliament House remained safe.

Watch: “We think we know who the attacker is”, UK police say

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Mr Keenan said $114 million had been spent on the Australian Federal Police presence in the parliamentary precinct in Canberra, including on long-arm rifles and bomb dogs.

A further $126 million had been spent on physical security in the precinct.

AFP officers had been equipped with stab-proof vests as part of a $180 million program to secure them and their office buildings.

Watch: Malcolm Turnbull condemns London attack

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Too many cooks? Peter Dutton’s options for cutting 457 visas

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They “regulate” temperatures of ovens and “store food” in fridges, according to the duties listed in Australia’s standard classification of occupations. 

Their duties include “preparing”, “seasoning” and “cooking” food. They may even “plan menus” and estimate food requirements.

They are the 4226 cooks brought to Australia under the 457 temporary foreign worker scheme since the start of 2015.

They also represent one of the most common occupations – as well as one of the more lower skilled – among the 651 eligible to be filled by 457 visas.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said early in March that he was still “working on” the 457 program, following a commitment last year that he would be reducing the list of eligible occupations.

The comments follow a major review into the migrant intake from the Productivity Commission released in September, a separate review into the 457 income threshold published in February and others undertaken outside government.

Additionally, the Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration is due to meet in late March to prepare guidance for Mr Dutton. 

Broadly the 457 scheme is designed to offer businesses the flexibility of bringing in foreign workers if they can’t find the workers they need locally, but it is not without critics. 

The Productivity Commission questioned whether the scheme was “sufficiently targeted”, accounts of worker exploitation have been common, and a report from the Committee for Economic Development of Australia called for stricter requirements for businesses to demonstrate a need to look overseas for hiring.

These are four approaches for reform open to Mr Dutton.

Occupation

The Minister has already flagged reforms based on occupation, claiming the government will be “tightening” the Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List (CSOL).

Almost all 457 visas are granted for one of the 651 jobs on the CSOL. In order to hire someone on a 457 a business is required to demonstrate it has tried to find a local worker and pay fees starting at around $1,000.

For every occupation that Mr Dutton cuts from the list, Australian businesses can no longer employ temporary foreign workers in that category of job – even if they can’t find someone locally.

In such a scenario, a business might be more inclined to hire a less experienced worker and train them up.

Australian National University migration researcher Henry Sherrell said that with fewer than 100,000 457 visas in the national labour market of more than 11 million, the argument that jobs removed from the 457 list could be filled by Australians was “tenuous”.

Skill level

Most 457s are granted for jobs requiring advanced skills and extensive experience, classified as ‘skill level 1’, ‘skill level 2’ or ‘skill level 3’ by the national standard.

The lowest of these is level 3, under which 14,000 foreign workers have been imported since the start of 2015. It’s commensurate with a Certificate III qualification from TAFE with two years on-the-job training. Cooks are classified under this skill level.

But the 457 program also covers some jobs below skill level 3 – approximately 1200 grants since the end of 2014. 

The accommodation and food sector is the largest user of 457 workers on skill levels 2 and 3.

The most popular occupation without a skill level that remains available under the 457 program is ‘skilled meat worker’. This class of worker is not recognised by a skill level in the standard list of occupations, but can be brought into Australia through the meat industry labour agreement.

This arrangement, negotiated between industry, workers’ representatives and the government, provides a way for meat processing companies in regional areas to bring in skilled meat workers from overseas on 457s.

Location

Mr Dutton indicated he would adopt a regional approach to 457 reforms earlier this month.

He said “it’s unimaginable that in areas where we might have 14, 15 per cent for example unemployment rate for young people, that we’re allowing companies to bring foreign workers in,” before claiming to have stopped the practice.

Directly comparing 457 grants with youth unemployment in small areas is difficult because the Department of Immigration uses outdated boundaries, but the below map layers one on top of the other.

In parts of Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Cairns and Townsville with high youth unemployment, hundreds of temporary migrant worker visas have been granted by the government since Peter Dutton became Immigration Minister in late 2014.

According to Dr Joanna Howe from the University of Adelaide the more significant problem for youth employment with the current immigration system is the “back door low-skilled visa work scheme” through the working holiday maker program and the international students program.

“Australia’s employers in restaurants, cleaning and horticulture rely heavily on these visa types and there’s no labour market testing, so there’s no requirement for employers to offer that job to local workers first,” she said.

The regional impact of the immigration program is also affected by the 187 visa program, which offers an accelerated pathway to permanent residency for foreign workers prepared to live in areas outside major metropolitan centres. 

Income

Another possible approach to encourage more opportunities for local workers is to make 457s more expensive.

Workers on 457s are required by legislation to be in a role that provides pay and benefits worth at least $53,900 per year, though this threshold has not grown with inflation since 2013.  

Mr Sherrell argues a more sensible approach to reform than cutting occupations may be to review the salary level of 457s and the type of employer making the application.

“In big businesses, you see a lower risk profile in relation to exploitation, and you also see a lower risk profile with higher salaries,” he said.

“Regardless of what the occupation is, if it’s a nomination at the minimum salary threshold or in that ballpark, that’s a risk flag.”

Any increase in the income threshold will place an additional financial burden on employing businesses.

A table showing the proportion of successful applications for 457 visas for low-paying occupations.Report from John Azarias

A review completed last year and released in February found that the income threshold should rise with inflation each year, but should not otherwise be increased.

 

 

Audit of allowance claims by Vic MPs

WHAT PROMPTED THE AUDIT

* Former speaker Telmo Languiller and his former deputy Don Nardella were caught claiming the allowance in February

* Both said they lived on the Bellarine Peninsula, despite representing electorates in outer Melbourne suburbs

WHAT IS THE SECOND RESIDENCE ALLOWANCE

* It’s designed to help country MPs based more than 80km from Melbourne maintain a second home in the city for when parliament sits

WHAT WAS AUDITED

* The claims by Mr Nardella and Mr Languiller

* The current processes to claim the allowances and what improvements can be made

NARDELLA’S AUDIT

Total claim: $174,836

* Claimed the allowance between March 2010 and April 2014 for a home he shared with a partner in Ballarat.

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Claim totalled $76,582

* Continued to claim the allowance from April 2014 to February 2017 after break up, saying he lives in Ocean Grove. Claim totalled $98,254

* Told auditors he lived in a caravan park because a St Kilda apartment he owned at the time “was not spacious enough”

* Rented a place at the caravan park for $200 a fortnight off family, did not pay bills, did not provide auditors with tax returns

* Deemed by auditors “arguable opportunistic…to ensure continued enjoyment of the second residence allowance”

LANGUILLER’S AUDIT

Total claim: $37,834

* Claimed the allowance from November 2015 to February 2017 for a home in Queenscliff

* Audit found he intended to live at Queenscliff and changed driver licence and electoral roll details

* Family circumstance meant he spent most of his time in Melbourne

* Repaid the allowance in full in March

WEAKNESS FOUND IN THE CURRENT PROCESS

* There’s a lack of definition of what constitutes a principal place of residence

* No documentation is kept by clerks to confirm claim validity

* No documentation required to prove notification of a home base

RECOMMENDATIONS

* Second residence allowance be based on electorate location, not MP’s home location

* Get rid of all allowances and replace them with a reimbursement scheme

Engine shut down on Rex flight to Sydney

Rex’s run of bad luck has continued with a flight bound for Sydney forced to return to Dubbo after the crew shut down an engine due to a high-temperature reading.

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The Regional Express Saab 340 – carrying 23 passengers – made a safe emergency landing after 10am on Thursday.

Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesman Peter Gibson told AAP the right-hand engine issue was “totally unrelated” to the plane’s propeller assembly.

The right-hand propeller of a similar aircraft fell off Regional Express’s Albury to Sydney flight last week after the engine was shut down following “abnormal indications”.

Mr Gibson said during Thursday’s flight the crew “had an indication of high engine temperature on the right-hand engine so it was shut down and they returned to Dubbo”.

Regional Express says it’s not yet known whether the problem was caused by a “foreign object ingestion” or engine failure.

“(But) whatever the ultimate cause is found to be, the Saab 340 aircraft is designed to climb, cruise and land safely on one engine,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Rex confirmed “this matter is unrelated to the incident regarding the propeller of flight ZL768” on Friday.

The airline’s engineers will inspect the plane and provide a report to CASA.

On Instagram, passenger @devris_hasan posted a video of the right-hand propeller spinning very slowly along with the hashtag #notgood.

Another Rex flight bound for Griffith was forced to return to Sydney Airport on Tuesday afternoon with cabin pressure problems.

Regional Express has a fleet of 55 Saab 340 aircraft and operates about 1500 weekly flights to 58 destinations across Australia.

Aust tracking potential terrorists: Bishop

Australia is doing everything it can to thwart terror attacks similar to the London rampage but the sobering reality was no country could guarantee it could stop every attack, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.

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Ms Bishop said it appeared no Australians were among the victims of the incident that left five people dead, 20 injured and forced the lockdown of British parliament.

“Most certainly in Australia we have invested heavily in ensuring our law enforcement agencies, our intelligence agencies, our authorities are in a position to thwart attacks, but I can’t give any guarantees,” Ms Bishop told reporters in Washington DC on Wednesday.

“No country can.

“We must continue to be vigilant and ensure our resources, our investment is able to do the best we can to keep Australia safe.”

Pedestrians and sightseers on the popular London tourist site and thoroughfare, Westminster Bridge, were mowed down by a vehicle.

It is believed the assailant in the car then approached parliament where he fatally stabbed an armed police officer.

News of the attack reached Ms Bishop in Washington DC as she met with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and senior officials from 65 other nations that form a coalition aimed at defeating the Islamic State terror group.

Ms Bishop said it was too early to confirm the London attack was IS related, although it has the “hallmarks” .

All 68 nations re-committed at the summit to defeat IS, assist the Iraqi government to find political reconciliation and a political solution in Syria “because the military solution would not be the end of the matter”.

As IS loses ground in Iraq and Syria there are fears foreign fighters will attempt to return to their home nations, including Australia, to launch terror attacks.

Ms Bishop said Australia was tracking individuals deemed a threat and working with partner countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

Terrorists have used vehicles in France, Germany and Britain to kill pedestrians and Ms Bishop said Australian authorities are as well “prepared as we can be to thwart any such attack”.

“We are certainly aware of this possibility, we have seen it elsewhere in the world and we learn lessons from every attack and Australia has certainly taken onboard the examples we have seen in other countries,” she said.

Mr Tillerson said the US would set up “interim zones of stability” to help refugees who fled IS and al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria to return home.

Ms Bishop said the coalition members discussed options at the summit for the zones, but did not go into a specific plan.

“There are numerous different options about how that could be achieved, and all of those options are on the table,” Ms Bishop said.

Mr Tillerson also called on other countries to contribute more to the anti-IS effort.

“The United States will do its part, but the circumstances on the ground requires more from all of you,” Mr Tillerson said.

Aust-China ties like flying in lightning

China’s second most powerful leader has likened his nation’s relationship with Australia to flying through a lightning storm.

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Li Keqiang and his wife Cheng Hong were on Thursday honoured at a formal lunch in the Great Hall at Parliament House following a ceremonial welcome that included a 19 gun salute over the heads of protesters and supporters.

The pair arrived in Canberra late on Wednesday night as part of a seven-day tour of Australia and New Zealand.

“We flew across the clouds. There was lightning but we kept flying and that is the same as China-Australia relations,” Mr Li told guests through a translator.

“It will keep moving forward and forward and forward.”

Mr Li talked up an increase in Australian beef export opportunities to China and joked about how he had been looking forward to eating the local steak, to then be told there was only chicken on the menu.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described Mr Li as a trailblazer in China noting he was the first-ever lawyer appointed premier, while he was the 14th Australian prime minister with a legal background.

He praised Mr Li’s superb English, noting his two-year-old granddaughter Isla speaks English and Mandarin but is not quite up to translating at a diplomatic level just yet.

“I was holding her in my arms and she pointed to a painting of a fish on the wall and said ‘Yu’ and knowing I wasn’t bilingual added: ‘fish’ ,” he said.

Mr Turnbull also reflected on the 20 years he has been visiting China, including his past business dealings setting up a gold, silver and zinc mine in Hebei province.

He flagged the leaders would announce the next phase of the China-Australia free trade deal that will open up new opportunities in services and in investment. There was also vast scope to cooperate in science and innovation.

Mr Li said he was excited about going to see the AFL Sydney Swans play Port Adelaide on the weekend.

Always the diplomat, he said he would cheer for whoever wins.

The AFL will stage a match between Port and the Gold Coast in Shanghai in May.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten welcomed Chinese people falling in love with Australia’s great indigenous football code.

“I dream of a day when the Collingwood Football Club will have a billion members,” he said.

An estimated 300 Chinese students gathered on the lawns of parliament house to show support for the premier’s visit, while 200 people protested against China’s human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch hopes Mr Turnbull will raise China’s harsh crackdown on democracy activists and civil society groups, its weak judicial system and internet censorship during Friday’s bilateral meeting.

Mr Li is meeting Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, Mr Shorten, and Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Stephen Parry on Tuesday afternoon.