Month: September 2019

$3000 a week for house PM doesn’t use

Taxpayers are forking out $3000 a week in rent for a luxury Canberra house that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has chosen not to use.

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The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) leased the property as a temporary replacement for The Lodge, which is undergoing a major refurbishment.

Senior DPMC official Elizabeth Kelly said the department signed a 12-month lease on August 31, a week before the September 7 federal election.

It signed even though neither Mr Abbott nor then Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd had been able to inspect the property due to their election campaign commitments.

Ms Kelly said the department had wanted to find accommodation “comparable” to The Lodge.

But after the election, Mr Abbott opted instead to stay in a modest flat at the Australian Federal Police training college in Barton.

Liberal senator Cory Bernardi asked about the property during a Senate estimates hearing on Monday.

“So $3000 a week for a property that how many people are living in now?” he asked.

“The property is vacant, senator,” Ms Kelly said.

Ms Kelly said the department was notified shortly after the election that Mr Abbott was not going to use it.

Since then, the department has been negotiating with the property’s owner to get out of the lease, but has not yet succeeded.

“We’re still in those negotiations,” Ms Kelly said.

It’s understood the property has already cost taxpayers more than $30,000.

The full 12-month lease would cost taxpayers about $156,000.

Senator Bernardi said the department could have found a cheaper property, or shouldn’t have signed the lease before the outcome of the election was known.

“I’m not sure the taxpayers will enjoy the fact that they’ve got $156,000 worth of lease payments to pay for an empty building,” he said.

Officials wouldn’t say where the leased property was.

Australia to target captain Cook

Fast bowling leader Peter Siddle pulled no punches when nominating England captain Alastair Cook as Australia’s chief target in Thursday’s first Test at the Gabba.

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One-Test rookie Michael Carberry will be standing down the other end, but it’s opener Cook who Australia will be going after.

Cook made a highest score of just 61 in an unconvincing home Ashes series in the winter, and if not for Ian Bell, Australia largely had the measure of England’s top order.

It seems Cook is well aware he’s a marked man in Brisbane, opting for an added training session at the Gabba on Monday.

Siddle said cutting off the beast at its head was the way to end England’s Ashes dynasty.

“I think we’ve always targeted Cook,” said Siddle.

“He’s the man that opens up the batting, he’s the captain and he’s the one we want to put the pressure on.”

Australia’s fast bowling arsenal will fancy themselves against left-hander Carberry, who played his solitary Test way back in 2010.

Carberry has been in outstanding form of late, but experts have predicted he is vulnerable through gully.

Siddle seems comfortable Australia’s bowling plans will take care of Carberry and that stopping run machine Cook is the real key.

“It doesn’t matter who opens up with him, they’re all targets at the end of the day,” he said.

Along with Cook, Matt Prior, Jonny Bairstow and Graeme Swann were other Englishmen to train in a non-compulsory session on Monday.

Wicketkeeper Prior is fighting to recover from a calf strain in time to play and Bairstow is preparing to take the gloves if required.

Meanwhile, fast bowler James Anderson says England beat Australia 3-0 without even playing well during the winter.

Anderson predicted another summer of Ashes dominance for England down under.

Australia have been bullish in their recollections of the last series, adamant that 3-0 wasn’t as bad as what it looked.

But Anderson says England cantered to victory without getting out of first gear, and Australia can expect the heat to be turned up on Thursday.

“One thing we’re excited by is the fact we didn’t play our best in England against Australia, but still ended up winning 3-0,” he said.

“We’re very optimistic we are going to play better cricket than we did in England. We know we’re going to have to.”

Boxing keeps Ferguson out of trouble

Blake Ferguson has credited the rigours of boxing training for keeping him out of the trouble he believes cost him a place in Australia’s Rugby League World Cup squad.

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Without an NRL contract for 2014 after being sacked by Canberra, the classy back will make his heavyweight boxing debut on the undercard of the Anthony Mundine-Shane Mosley fight in Sydney on November 27.

Ferguson was dumped by the Raiders in September after failing to front the board following breaches of the club’s code of conduct.

He has also had to deal with two court cases regarding charges of indecent assault and driving indiscretions.

Ferguson was thrown out of the NSW State of Origin squad following a drinking session with another former Raiders star, Josh Dugan.

His off-field indiscretions wrecked any chance he had of playing in the World Cup now being contested in Europe.

“If I wouldn’t have played up, I reckon I would have been over there as an emu (a fringe squad member) … supporting the boys,” Ferguson said.

He would like to play in the NRL in 2014 but his league career is in limbo.

“I think it’s all up to the (NRL) integrity unit, they are the guys that are running the show there,” Ferguson said.

“I’m waiting to hear back from them and we’ll go from there.

“The last time I spoke to (the integrity unit) was about a month ago. I think it’s just up to the court case next month.”

Ferguson said he had found boxing harder than rugby league because it was an individual calling rather than a team sport.

“Waking up early in the morning has been pretty tough,” Ferguson said.

“It’s been awesome, though. It got me out of trouble, so it’s a good thing.

“It’s been pretty good staying out of trouble, staying out of nightclubs and that, just chilling.”

He expects to enter the ring about his NRL playing weight of just more than 100 kilograms.

Ferguson wasn’t sure whether he would fight Luke Turner, the man he was meant to face before the Mundine-Mosley promotion scheduled for October 23 was cancelled.

He dismissed rumours he would have pulled out of the fight had it gone ahead on that date and confirmed his participation in next week’s promotion.

“Whoever the matchmaker picks, I’ll fight. I’ll try and knock them out,” Ferguson said.

Amnesty urges Qatar to end workers’ abuse

Amnesty International has urged Qatar to end abuse of migrants working on football World Cup infrastructure, as it issued a report citing cases in which they were referred to as “animals”.

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The 169-page report on Monday called on world football governing body FIFA to press the Gulf state to improve the conditions of foreign labourers, alleging “alarming” levels of exploitation against the workers mostly from south or southeast Asia.

Doha, which rejects claims of slavery-style conditions on its construction sites in the world’s wealthiest nation per capita, said it would investigate the report’s findings.

Amnesty said its researchers had heard one construction firm manager use the term “animals” to describe migrant workers.

And a worker told the watchdog that “Nepalis are treated like cattle”.

Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said the findings indicated “an alarming level of exploitation” in Qatar, and called the abuses “widespread” and “not isolated”.

“FIFA has a duty to send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup.”

After meeting Qatar’s emir and prime minister on November 9 in Doha, FIFA chief Sepp Blatter said the issue of working conditions was being addressed.

Shetty said Amnesty had met officials who were “very willing to recognise that there is a problem and… strongly oriented to find solutions”.

After embarking on a multi-billion-dollar plan to host the 2022 World Cup, Qatar has come under the spotlight as migrant workers pour into the tiny gas-rich nation.

The plight of migrant workers remains an issue across the oil-rich Gulf.

Amnesty’s report documented several abuses, including “non-payment of wages, harsh and dangerous working conditions, and shocking standards of accommodation”.

Its team “found migrant workers living in squalid, overcrowded accommodation with no air conditioning, exposed to overflowing sewage or uncovered septic tanks.”

The London-based watchdog said “dozens” of them have been trapped inside Qatar, which demands foreigners obtain an exit permit to leave.

In response, Qatar said it would ensure the report was included in an inquiry it has already launched into the alleged abuses.

Greenpeace protests at Warsaw coal summit

Greenpeace activists have hoisted banners protesting against coal use on top of Poland’s economy ministry in Warsaw, as a global coal conference got underway and UN climate talks entered their final week.

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About 40 activists unfurled a large blue and white banner on Monday asking: “Who rules the world? Fossil industry or the people?” Others held one printed in red-and-white saying: “Who rules Poland? Coal industry or the people?”

Police used a giant fire engine crane to remove the protesters, several of whom used climbing gear to dangle from the facade of the economy ministry.

Other anti-coal protesters outside the venue touted a massive set of pumped up plastic lungs.

One of Poland’s most notorious coal problems is smog, especially in the southern tourist city of Krakow, which plans to outlaw coal-burning household stoves this month.

The two-day coal conference is being organised by an industry group, the World Coal Association, at the economy ministry. It is just kilometres from the Warsaw stadium hosting a second week of UN talks on curbing Earth-warming fossil fuels.

Environmentalists dressed in colourful traditional Polish costumes also unfurled a huge banner outside the stadium saying: “Stop dirty energy, empower the people”.

Poland’s dependence on the cheap and plentiful black stuff means it ranks fifth for carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution in the European Union, behind Germany, Britain, Italy and France, whose economies are far larger.

Coal accounts for about 90 per cent of the electricity used by Poland’s 38 million people – and, say experts, there is enough of it to last another century and a half.