Premier dismisses China Sea militarisation

China’s second most powerful leader has moved to play down his country’s “so-called” military build-up in the South China Sea around important trade shipping routes.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Chinese premier Li Keqiang held bilateral talks in Canberra on Friday and the maritime dispute was among strategic issues discussed.

“With respect to the so-called militarisation, China never has any intention to engage in militarisation in the South China Sea,” Mr Li told reporters in Canberra through an interpreter.

“China’s facilities on Chinese islands and reefs are primarily for civilian purposes and even if there is a certain amount of defence equipment of facilities, (it) is for maintaining the freedom of navigation and overflight.”

China would “bear the brunt” if shipping routes were disrupted because it was the largest global trader.

With its rich fisheries and oil and gas potential, the South China Sea has been a source of contention for decades.

China has copped international criticism for its reclamation activities in the disputed territory amid reports it has installed weapons on all seven of its artificial islands.

China claims most of the South China Sea, while Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei claim parts of the waters.

Both Australia and the US are concerned about freedom of navigation across important trade shipping routes.

Mr Li noted in the past year up to 100,000 commercial ships sailed in the sea lanes of the South China Sea.

“There was no incident of attacks against those commercial ships,” he said.

China and the grouping of south-east Asian countries (ASEAN) were in negotiations for a code of conduct.

Mr Turnbull said Australia hoped all parties resolved their differences peacefully and in accordance with international law.

“We encourage all parties to refrain from taking any actions which would add to tensions, including actions of militarisation of disputed features,” he said.

New Dutch parliament meets as four-way coalition emerging

Offering condolences to their colleagues in the British parliament following Wednesday’s attack in London, the new MPs took their oath of office just after leaders from four potential coalition partners met together for the first time for exploratory talks.

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“Our hearts go out to our colleagues in Westminster and to the British people,” said Dutch parliamentary speaker Khadija Arib.

“The British parliament has resumed its work to show that parliamentary democracy can never be cowed.”

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It emerged for the first time that the ecologist GroenLinks party, led by the young, charismatic Jesse Klaver, is prepared to continue negotiations to possibly join a government with outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his Liberal VVD party.

It was also confirmed that the far-right, anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders — whose party boosted its showing to come second in the elections with 20 seats — is excluded from the current talks.

Most party leaders had vowed before the elections not to work with him, put off by his incendiary rhetoric.

The VVD won the most seats on March 15 to emerge the biggest party in the parliament with 33 MPs — putting it in pole position to try to form the next government which needs 76 seats to reach a majority.

Holland Right Wing Party Leader, Geert WildersAAP

‘Refusing to negotiate’

“We realised of course that there are big differences,” Rutte told reporters, after the talks.

But he added that “I am ready, as are the others, to continue the discussions.”

The left-wing Klaver, whose party won 14 seats adding 10 from the outgoing parliament, had previously voiced reluctance to work with the more pro-business Rutte.

Rutte is also looking to the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the progressive Democracy party (D66), which both won 19 seats, to join the coalition.

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Together the four parties would comprise 85 seats in the parliament.

“This coalition is far from being ideal for us and includes parties with which we have very big differences,” Klaver told reporters.

“We are going to see if we can reconcile our differences or not,” he added.

Wilders has already voiced his anger at not being seen as a viable partner for the next government, saying “it is undemocratic to ignore in advance the voices of 1.3 million people by refusing to negotiate”.

European leaders have hailed the “vote against extremists” in the Dutch parliamentary elections. (AAP)AP

Veteran politician Edith Schippers, who is leading the exploratory talks, is due to hand her report to parliament on Tuesday, after having asked for more time. The possible coalition will then be discussed by parliament on Wednesday.

But coalition-building in The Netherlands takes time and the next step will be to appoint someone to lead full negotiations among the four-parties to draw up a common agenda.

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Huge Hawks task awaits Bombers’ McGrath

Essendon coach John Worsfold could throw No.

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1 draft pick Andrew McGrath in the deep end against Hawthorn at the MCG on Saturday night.

The talented young defender will make his AFL debut against the Hawks and Worsfold said he won’t be afraid to send him to four-time premiership forward Cyril Rioli if the need arises.

“If you want to be an AFL player don’t put your hand up and say, ‘Can you find me someone that’s easy to play on?’ … I don’t think Andy McGrath will ever ask that question,” Worsfold told reporters on Friday.

“But if he gets that opportunity it’s just a taste for him, it’s just a start. He’s going to continue to get better and be the player we know he’s going to be.

“We weighed up how much work he’s done, his age and how much he can add to the team as a young player … in the end we felt he was the right person to come into the side and play that role for us.”

The clash marks the return of six of the 10 players still at the club who served doping bans last year.

Worsfold agreed the returns of fan favourites like Jobe Watson and Dyson Heppell, who have been put through the ringer as the supplements saga played out, would provide an emotional edge to the match.

“You’re always a little bit nervous that they don’t burn up too much nervous energy (before the game),” the coach said.

“But we’ve addressed that and kept things pretty much normal in the build up.

“The boys are ready to go, they’re pumped for the game and they’re going to have a real crack at it.”

Hawthorn will celebrate the return of newly-appointed skipper Jarryd Roughead after he missed last season as he battled cancer.

“We’re not trying to win the emotional meter … with Roughy being back obviously everyone in the game is rapt to see him healthy,” Worsfold said.

“The fact that he’s healthy and able to play footy again is a bonus for everyone.”

The Hawks will be without star veteran Luke Hodge as he serves a club-imposed suspension for missing training.

The shock move was tipped by many to enhance Essendon’s chances of an upset win, but Worsfold would have been just as happy if the four-time premiership player was on the field.

“If you’re always relying on playing teams that are undermanned then you’re not getting a real reflection of where you’re at,” he said.

“Hodge is out, we don’t control that, and we’ll take on who’s there.

“If he was there that would be wonderful as well.

“You don’t want to finish in the top four or the top eight having played the bottom team every week then saying, ‘How good are we going?’

“You’ll finish where you deserve to finish and that means you have to show what you can do against the best teams in the competition.”

London attack victim ‘a loving husband’

A US couple on the last day of a European holiday to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary were among those struck by a car on London’s Westminster Bridge.

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Kurt Cochran was killed and his wife, Melissa, injured after a man ploughed a vehicle through pedestrians on the bridge before fatally stabbing a police officer inside the gates of parliament.

The terrorist attack left four people dead, including the attacker, who has been identified as 52-year-old British man Khalid Masood.

Masood had a long criminal record and once was investigated for extremism but was not on a terrorism watch list, according to authorities.

The Cochran’s were visiting Melissa’s parents, who were serving a church mission in London, according to a statement issued on Thursday by the family through a Mormon church spokesman.

Pictures on Kurt Cochran’s Facebook page show the couple enjoying their sightseeing travels through Europe before the tragic events.

Family and friends said they are heartbroken over the loss of a loving husband and father who loved music.

For the past decade, the couple ran a recording studio in their basement where he helped musicians develop their talents.

Melissa Cochran’s brother, Clint Payne, said through a verified GoFundMe account website the couple was among the first hit by a vehicle on the Westminster Bridge.

“Kurt was a good man and a loving husband to our sister and daughter, Melissa,” the statement said.

Melissa Cochran is still in hospital.

She suffered a broken leg, broken rib and a cut and bruises, friend Mike Murphy said.

The London attack comes exactly one year after four Mormon missionaries – three from Utah – were seriously injured in a Brussels airport bombing on March 22, 2016.

Senate set for tax cut compromise

Treasurer Scott Morrison believes it will be a “massive achievement” if the government can get Senate support for small business tax cuts, but there will be no relief for big business.

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Draft laws to reduce the corporate tax rate for small businesses with a turnover of less than $10 million to 27.5 per cent, and gradually get to a 25 per cent rate for businesses of all sizes by 2026/27, are expected to pass the lower house early on Monday afternoon.

But the government is only expected to get the numbers in the Senate for the small business tax cut, before parliament rises for the pre-budget break.

“That is a massive achievement,” Mr Morrison told Sky News on Friday.

“That is the biggest change to small business taxation that we have seen in a long time.”

However the government is still aiming for a 25 per cent rate to keep Australia internationally competitive, which is estimated to cost $50 billion.

“We want the broader change,” he said.

Crossbench senator Derryn Hinch said he expected the government would split the bill “to get something through this time” and come back to the broader cuts later.

The coalition may also need to compromise on proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act and the handling of vilification complaints by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The draft laws are expected to come on for debate shortly after an inquiry report is tabled on Tuesday.

However, while the AHRC process changes are widely supported, the government may narrowly fall short of crossbench support for changing the wording of Section 18C of the Act from “offend, insult and humiliate” to “harass and intimidate”.

The AHRC and Law Council say the existing Act has worked well but acknowledge processes could be improved to ensure greater fairness for people lodging complaints and those complained against.

With the Hazelwood coal-fired power plant due to shut in regional Victorian next week, electricity prices and reliability issues are again expected to dominate question time.

Adding to the debate will be a Senate committee report on the closure of electricity generators due to be tabled on Wednesday.

Two private bills, from independents Andrew Wilkie and Bob Katter, will be introduced on Monday dealing with the banking sector.

Mr Wilkie wants a code of conduct while Mr Katter is seeking a commission of inquiry.

Penalty rate cuts are also expected to be a hot topic in the wake of closure of submissions to the Fair Work Commission’s decision.