In a win for old-fashioned paper books, new research has found children with access to a range of e-reading devices are less likely to read.

The findings will serve as a wake-up call for parents, and schools, which have rushed to buy expensive devices to boost children’s literacy.

Giving children devices such as Kindles, iPads, computers and mobile phones inhibits reading, according to the study.

“Reading frequency was less when children had access to a greater range of these devices,” the research said.

Mobile phones were particularly problematic, and linked to reading infrequency.

Murdoch University lecturer Margaret Merga said her research, which was published in the Computers and Education journal, challenges the myth that children are digital natives who prefer screens.

It found that daily readers who had access to e-reading devices preferred paper books.

“There has been a knee jerk reaction that all children prefer to read on screens and that has led to school libraries removing all paper books,” she said. “That is not necessarily the case.”

Why do young people prefer paper books?

Previous research by Dr Merga suggests that it comes down to children liking the sensation of picking up a book and “feeling the weight of commitment”.

She suspects young people are also judging books by their covers, making the paper variety more attractive.

There’s also the benefit of fewer distractions.

“Reading on internet search enabled devices, such as tablets, also opens up easy opportunity for distraction, allowing engagement in the practice of media multi-tasking, which has been found to detrimentally impact on student comprehension and concentration,” the study said.

Nine-year-old Benji Mazzone said he prefers paper books because he likes turning pages and “being taken somewhere else”.

He reads one to two books a week and can be found browsing the shelves of the Little Bookroom in Carlton North most nights after school. He writes reviews for the children’s bookshop, and helps staff wrap up presents.

With the help of his mum, he set up his own book club last year, where he discussed the popular Tinklers Three series with his friends.

“I’m a bit of a bookworm,” he said. “I read for two hours a day – I do some in the morning and after school.”

Ten-year-old Madeleine Hayen, from Annandale, has mixed views on the merits of paper and electronic reading.

“I don’t mind what I read as long as it’s interesting,” Madeleine said. “I reckon I’ve got over 200 books on my bookcase.”

The Year 5 student goes to Glebe Library once a week with her grandparents to pick up a new batch of books.

“I used to read a lot of books and stuff, but ever since I found Kindles, I kind of enjoy that more because it’s a lot lighter and easier to take around with me. When I go to school in the morning I can just read and it’s a lot easier to use,” Madeleine said.

“When you read paperbacks and hardcover books, you can actually see the pictures which informs you a lot about what the story is trying to say.”

The study involved 997 Western Australian students in years 4 and 6 who were asked how often they read books in their spare time, whether they owned iPads, Kindles or mobile phones and whether they used them to read.

It coincides with the increased take up of e-books in Australian schools, with an estimated 34 per cent of schools purchasing e-books in 2015 compared to 28 per cent in 2013, according to The Australian and New Zealand School Library Survey.

Bring Your Own Device policies have also made it easier for students to access e-books.

Dr Merga said parents had been put in a difficult position and were targeted by aggressive marketing which suggested that technology improved children’s intelligence.

She said there was no scientific evidence to support this.

The research follows a 2015 OECD report which found that investing in computers and iPads in schools fails to boost numeracy and literacy skills. The OECD report went even further, saying that frequent use of computers in schools was often associated with lower results.

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EMBARGOED UNTIL 15TH MARCH 2017. Sally McManus will be the first female secretary of the ACTU. Photographed here in the banner room at Sussex street HQ. Thursday 2nd March 2017 SMH photo Louie Douvis . Photo: Louie Douvis

ACTU secretary Sally McManus has admitted she made an error when she accused building company Grocon of “killing workers”, but continued to defend her stand against unfair industrial laws.

During an interview on the ABC’s 7.30 Report last week, Ms McManus said Grocon was fined $300,000 for “killing” five workers.

“While it was not accurate to say ‘Grocon was fined $300,000 for killing five workers’, it is accurate to point out that the huge discrepancy in fines paid by the company and the CFMEU is a glaring example of the inherent unfairness in our industrial relations laws,” Ms McManus said.

In a statement issued on Monday night, Ms McManus said Grocon did not have the best record for workplace safety.

The March 2013 collapse of a wall on a Swanston Street construction site in Melbourne led to the death of three passers-by. The incident followed the death of a construction worker on a nearby Grocon site the previous month.

It was convicted and ordered to pay a fine of $250,000 – less than a quarter of the maximum available penalty.

“This compares with the almost $4 million in fines levied on the CFMEU over a similar timeframe for protesting Grocon’s record and taking action to stand up for worker safety on construction sites,” Ms McManus said.

Grocon issued a statement on Friday saying it did not deny tragic deaths had occurred on its sites, but insisting it had not caused them.

“Findings on the public record are that Grocon has not caused the death of any individual,” a company statement said.

“It is beholden on Ms McManus to publicly correct her statement and Grocon will be writing to her seeking this correction.”

The company said the Victorian Coroner’s Court confirmed in 2014 there were no workplace safety issues involved in the death of a crane driver, William Ramsay, on Grocon’s Emporium building site in February, 2013.

It said WorkSafe had also confirmed Grocon’s conduct did not cause a wall to collapse on a Swanston Street footpath, killing three people. However, the Swanston Street case did see a Grocon subsidiary fined $250,000 after it pleaded guilty to failing to ensure a safe workplace.

Ms McManus sparked controversy when she told the ABC on Wednesday that she believed in the rule of law “where the law’s fair, where the law’s right, but when it’s unjust, I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it”.

Unions have thrown their support behind Ms McManus by challenging the fairness of industrial laws that outlaw strike action to achieve better pay and conditions.

The Coalition has strongly criticised the ACTU secretary as a law unto herself in promoting unlawful conduct.

The Labor Party has also opposed breaking the law, saying it is better for parliamentarians to work towards changing unfair legislation.

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Up to half a dozen players could make their debuts for Carlton on Thursday night, as the Blues’ rebuild begins to take shape against old rivals Richmond at the MCG.

And young gun Patrick Cripps has won his battle with injury and will play in the AFL season opener.

After an off-season during which the dramatic reshape of the club’s list been scrutinised, the Blues hope the next generation of Carlton players can cause a major upset by knocking off the Tigers in front of a massive crowd.

Former GWS players Caleb Marchbank, Jarrod Pickett and Rhys Palmer will all play barring any training mishaps, while former Cat Billie Smedts has cemented his spot in Carlton’s best 22.

The 21-year-old Cripps looked a long shot to take the field for round one after being diagnosed in late November with a stress reaction in his lower back.

The injury required a 12-week rehabilitation, which severely hampered the bullocking midfielder’s preparation.

But Cripps was able to feature in the past two games of the pre-season series to convince medical staff of his fitness.

“I can confirm that Patrick Cripps has got through and is ready to play for us (against Richmond),” coach Brendon Bolton told Fox Sports News on Monday.

“We’re rapt with the work that he’s done and the conditioning staff to have him up and ready to play.

“He’s terrific for us in and around stoppages, we know he wins the contested footy and he’ll be important for us on Thursday night.”

Harrison Macreadie – who also has ties to the Giants after being part of their academy – is also in the frame.

His selection will largely depend on whether Bolton wants the flexibility to throw Jacob Weitering forward.

New draftees Cameron Polson and Zac Fisher remain in contention, but they are considered less likely to debut.

While the Blues would like to settle Weitering in defence, where they see him playing the majority of his career, they are also aware of their inability to score freely.

The Blues are likely to start with Levi Casboult, whose struggles in front of goal have been well-documented, up forward along with second-year players Charlie Curnow and Jack Silvagni.

If that combination isn’t potent enough, Bolton would like to be able to throw Weitering into attack as he did at times in 2016.

A bumper crowd of more than 70,000 is expected at the MCG for Thursday’s season opener, which is a Carlton home game.

That would be a strong start to the opening round, with the AFL hoping to break the record attendance for a single round by surpassing the 400,000 mark.

While there have been doubts as to whether two sides that didn’t make the eight last year can draw such a big crowd, both Carlton and the AFL are confident the figure will be reached.

More than 75,000 were at the corresponding match last season, which saw a wasteful Carlton lose by nine points.

In 2015, 83,493 turned out to see the Tigers down the Blues by 27 points.

Carlton haven’t beaten Richmond in round one since 2012, when captain Marc Murphy amassed 32 disposals and Matthew Kreuzer earned three brownlow votes.

Murphy will lead his side out on Thursday night for the first time since injuring his ankle against Geelong nearly 10 months ago, and the Blues will be desperate for Kreuzer to return to dominant form.

While a fully fit Marchbank has been earmarked for Carlton’s best 22 since making the move from GWS, Pickett has been a pleasant surprise to many at Ikon Park.

The number four pick in the 2014 draft missed last year with a foot injury, after an impressive first season yielded 26 goals in 17 NEAFL games.

The West Australian speedster was in solid form during the JLT series, before kicking three goals in the final hit-out against Fremantle.

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Mega development site next to Parliament House in Forrest hits Canberra market

A large slice of land opposite Parliament House has sold at auction for $20.1 million.

The 13,300-square-metre site at the corner of State Circle and Canberra Avenue in Forrest was purchased by local company Addval Developments on Tuesday.

The company was among five active bidders vying for block 13 section 13 Forrest.

An opening bid of $8 million was followed by 60 further bids. Auctioneer Richard Keeley announced that the site was on the market at $13 million.

It was a competition between two parties from the $16-million mark and crawled up to $20 million in mostly $100,000 increments.

Mr Keeley said the result was a testament to the strength of the market.

The Land Development Agency sold the property through Knight Frank agents Daniel McGrath and Nic Purdue.

Mr McGrath said the agency had fielded national and international interest from residential and hotel developers.

He said it was one of the last opportunities to buy on State Circle in the parliamentary precinct.

“It’s one of the last opportunities of its size and one of the last with a Forrest address,” Mr McGrath said.

Mr Purdue said the property received strong pre-market interest since the block was earmarked for release last year as part of the ACT government’s 2016-2017 land release schedule.

Two Northbourne Avenue sites – a 30,000-square-metre site in Dickson and a 25,000-square-metre site in Lyneham – were also sold by the ACT government this financial year.

Addval Developments’ Michelle Dzakula said the Forrest block was an “extremely high-profile site”.

The company was among several groups with their eye on the Forrest site long before it hit the market.

“We were very motivated to acquire it,” she said.

Ms Dzakula said the company had residential development planned for the site.

“We want to produce something that will complement the location and the history of the location, but something that brings a new level of innovation and sustainability,” she said.

A maximum of 168 units are permitted for the site and plans will need to be approved by the National Capital Authority.

LDA chief executive David Dawes said the sale represented a great opportunity for the buyer to deliver a high-quality development next to Parliament House.

“This is a great result for the territory and this site is now set to become a signature precinct befitting its high-profile location,” Mr Dawes said.


Bushrangers leader Aaron Finch has declared he has never seen James Pattinson bowl better as the paceman prepares to play a key role in Victoria’s quest for a hat-trick of Sheffield Shield titles.

Pattinson, 26, has gradually regained his groove since returning to the Shield side in February after injury, claiming 20 wickets in four matches. He was particularly brilliant in the innings-and-11-runs win over Queensland at Allan Border Field last week, grabbing 5-7 in the second innings.

The former Test spearhead will hope that form continues in the Shield final against South Australia in Alice Springs from Sunday, when the Bushrangers will seek to become the first team since Queensland in 2002 to snare three straight titles.

Finch, who has rediscovered his touch in the red-ball format with a pair of half-centuries at No.4, says Pattinson is back to his intimidating best after back and leg issues.

“Absolutely. I don’t know if I have seen him bowl better than this at the moment,” Finch said on Tuesday.

“I think that he is really comfortable where his action is at and where his body is at. Not being a fast bowler, I can’t imagine the mental toughness that it takes to get through injury after injury, doing all your rehab, getting back, then being back in the gym doing your rehab again. The confidence levels in his body are sky high and he is bowling nicely.”

While the flat Traeger Park deck does not offer fast bowlers a great deal of encouragement, Pattinson recently took 5-58 against the Warriors there to lead the Bushrangers to victory.

“When he (Pattinson) gets his tail up, and the ball is shifting in the air slightly, it’s a different ball game,” Finch said.

“And he is someone who, obviously, has got pace. It took him a couple of games to find his rhythm back again. He was probably, by his own admission, a little off the mark in his first couple of Shield games back but that second innings spell against WA up in Alice, to knock them over when they were starting to build a nice lead, was unbelievable, and then he just kept that going in Brisbane.

“It looks like he is bowling within himself but still fast and with a lot of control. He is, obviously, very passionate and when he gets his tail up he can be hard to stop.”

Pattinson is set to seek a county cricket contract this year to help him reclaim his spot in the national team, perhaps in time for the slated tour of Bangladesh in August.

The Bushrangers enjoy their home away from home in Alice Springs, having won four matches and drawn one in five games in the past two years.

An intriguing final round of the regular season culminated in the Redbacks defeating Tasmania to make the final, ensuring they have a chance for redemption after losing to the Bushrangers last season.

The Bushrangers also won both of their meetings this season, by five wickets and 124 runs, and there is a strong rivalry between the sides, fuelled by Victorian bowling coach Mick Lewis being fined for ball tampering in last year’s final, and the Redbacks’ decision to not allow Victoria to use a concussion substitute after wicketkeeper Sam Harper was hospitalised in February.

“There are two teams that are passionate and two teams that are desperate to win,” Finch said.

“You always get a bit of fire. I wasn’t there last year during the final … but the Sam Harper thing was a freak accident. There is definitely some rivalry there.”

Finch, who has missed the previous two finals because of international commitments, said victory, thereby securing a three-peat of titles, would be “huge”.

“Obviously, it’s never been done in the history of Victorian cricket (but) you can’t afford to focus too much on that,” he said.


Australia’s second-tier soccer clubs will continue their push for a national second division, but are prepared to work with Football Federation Australia on its creation.

The newly formed Australian Association of Football Clubs met for the first time in Melbourne on Monday night and refined its list of demands to create what it argues is a more inclusive approach to the way the game is run and structured.

The key priority is the creation of a national second division, but delegates agreed that the best way forward is to work within the existing framework of the sport rather than lead a breakaway to challenge FFA and the A-League.

The group believes a second-level competition could be set up as early as the 2018-19 season. Whether that will be a national league, or one comprised of two conferences is yet to be determined.

It will seek support from state and local governments to help fund the process and step up the search for commercial and business partners to boost investment in the second-level clubs.

Critics claim the AAFC has underestimated the funds required, particularly for travel and accommodation for away games, but the group counters that many of the costs required for player payments and administrative staff are already in existing club budgets.

It will also press for seats at the reconstituted FFA Congress when the game’s governing body reaches an agreement with the A-League clubs, the state federations and the PFA on the numbers for the new policy-making body.

In addition, the group will seek input from A-League clubs, which are expected to be supportive of initiatives to grow the game and build a professional infrastructure.

The new organisation has not said whether it would push for instant promotion and relegation from the A-League.

It is more likely that there will be a transition period.

One possible solution – with the FFA having ruled out expansion of the A-League for at least two seasons – is that the champion clubs could be promoted in the first few years so that the A-League was increased to 16 teams before any relegation was considered.

However, the demands of sponsors and broadcaster Fox Sports would have to be taken into account if the A-League was to be remodelled. It has made clear it wants teams in big city television markets.

Melbourne lawyer Tom Kalas, elected chairman of the AAFC on Monday, said: “Nearly 100 clubs have come together. We have agreed on six key issues. We now want to begin formal engagement with all the stakeholders, particularly the FFA, to find common solutions that will benefit the whole of the game.”


POSSIBLE RETURN: A competition boat on Newcastle harbour during an Offshore Superboat race. Picture: Phil HearneNEWCASTLE’S debut Supercarround could be heldagainsta backdrop of powerboats, with both sportsin talksabout holding raceson the same weekend.

In a plan that would intensify the city’s biggest ever motorsport weekend, theOffshore Superboat Championships wouldraceon Sunday, November 26,the last day of the season-ending Supercarround in Newcastle East.

The powerboat serieswebsite already liststhat date inNewcastleas its“Round 6”, though president Graham Fraser would only confirm “it’s in discussion”.

But Supercars spokesman Cole Hitchcock said talksare taking placeabout a Newcastle double race billing.

“We’re definitely talking to them, and we definitely see the powerboats as a value-add for the event and for spectators,” Mr Hitchcock said.

“We’dlove to have them there.”

A powerboat race in Novemberwould end a one-year Newcastle absencefor the series, which previouslyused acircuit oftheharbour,through the heads and back.

Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said council officers are “supporting the process” of exploring the viability ofdual races, andthepowerboatswould “run under the banner of Supercars”.

“Investigations are being done by Supercars organisers to see if it can work as a package,” Cr Nelmes said.

“Obviously, they’d have to satisfy the legislative requirements of maritime, port authority and emergency services.”

On the prospect of car and boat racesat the same time, Cr Nelmes said she was“very supportive of bringing major events to Newcastle”.

‘SUPPORTIVE’: Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes, Supercars Championship chief executive James Warburton, and series drivers Scott McLaughlin and James Courtney at Fort Scratchley on Tuesday. Picture: Marina Neil

Newcastle Greens councillor Michael Osborne said a powerboat race on the same weekend as the Supercars would be “a slap in the face”.

“It’s disappointing they haven’t consulted with the local community in terms of the timing. They certainly haven’t briefed the elected council,” Cr Osborne,one of two Newcastle councillors onrecord as opposing the Supercars Newcastle 500, said.

“It sort of shows how the state government plans these things, by keeping the community in the dark and working to the benefit of these private entities.”

Mr Fraser, the superboats president, said the series’ October 15 race on Lake Macquarie will go ahead whatever the outcome of the Newcastle proposal.

The series moved from Newcastle to the lake last year, with onlookers crowding the shore in numberslikened to a “Sydney to Hobart” start.

Supercars boss laments “scaremongering”


Australia is not pursuing negotiations with any other countries for the resettlement of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has revealed.

Fronting a Senate inquiry on Monday night, department secretary Mike Pezzullo said no other agreements were being negotiated – despite previous hints that talks with third countries were underway.

“Not at present, no. There is no government direction to sanction such negotiations at the moment,” he said.

Mr Pezzullo later drew a distinction between “conversations”, “discussions” and “negotiations” the department might have had with other countries in the past two years, and elected to answer the question on notice.

“There’s any number of gradations in the world of international diplomacy,” he said.

Since announcing a resettlement deal with the US in November, the Turnbull government has maintained it is exploring resettlement options with a number of other countries, but has refused to detail those discussions.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on November 14: “There are other countries that we’re in sensitive conversations with at the moment. All of that will continue.”

A few days later he told Sky News: “Obviously we’ve had discussions with a number of other countries, but I don’t want to pre???empt any announcement or any discussion.”

And at a Senate estimates hearing in October, Mr Pezzullo said the department was “working actively with a number of potential third country resettlement locations”, which at that time would have included the US.

Asked about the apparent discrepancy on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Mr Dutton told Fairfax Media: “There is no inconsistency. We don’t have any comment in relation to third country arrangements.”

If no other resettlement countries are found, refugees have a number of options: access the US deal, resettle in Cambodia, live in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, or return home.

Permanent resettlement is available in PNG, while Nauru offers a 20-year visa for refugees under an agreementwith Australia.

There are just over 900 refugeeson Nauru, in the facility and in the community, and about 600 on Manus Island. The US has indicated it is prepared to accept about 1250 refugees, providing they pass vetting procedures.

Mr Pezzullo said he did not believe it was possible the Trump administration could end up taking no refugees and still honour the Obama-era agreement.

The “aim or goal” of the deal was 1250 people, “so honouring the agreement would take you into that ballpark”, he said.

Even so, that would still leave about 250 refugees who would need to accept resettlement in Cambodia, PNG or Nauru. The Australian government will not allow resettlement in Australia, and has rejected a resettlement offer from New Zealand.

Six refugees have taken up the Cambodian offer since it became available in 2014, but only two of those people remain in the country.

Labor’s immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said the revelation showed refugees could be “left to languish” in regional processing centres for many years.

“It’s not good enough for Peter Dutton to put all his eggs in one basket,” he said.

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Images for Lindsay Murdoch piece on elections in Timor-LesteLocation: Farol, Dili, Timor-LesteDate shot: March 20th 2017Wayne LovellPH: +(670) 7723 4614email: [email protected]苏州美甲美睫培训Web: http://waynelovell.photoshelter苏州美甲美睫培训/index Photo: Wayne LovellDili: East Timorese leader Jose Ramos Horta has lashed out at what he calls “outrageous” claims before an Australian parliamentary committee that his country could be heading towards becoming a failed state.

“What fly-in, fly-out so-called instant experts on East Timor claim is outrageous ??? it’s just nonsense,” Dr Ramos Horta, a Nobel laureate and East Timor’s former president and prime minister, told Fairfax Media.

“It’s either ignorance or malice,” he said, adding: “I’m sorry. I don’t pay much attention to these so-called academics.”

Rebecca Strating, a lecturer at Victoria’s La Trobe University, told parliament’s treaties committee on 14 March it could “very well be” that East Timor is the “architect of its own demise” and there are indications that like a number of fragile resource-wealthy post-conflict states, the country is “resource cursed”.

She said a window on developing the $US40 billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the Timor Sea has “partially” closed because of lower gas prices and a long-running dispute with Australia over how to develop it.

“There are elections this year ??? a change of government or a change in personalities might produce a government that is willing to think a little more laterally or flexibly around the interests in the Timor Sea,” Dr Strating said.

“But since 2012 it seems to me that this pursuit of independence may actually create a failed state in Timor-Leste [East Timor],” she said.

In response, Hansard records the chair of the committee telling Dr Strating “tremendous ??? most enlightening. ‘The architect of their own demise’ is my favourite statement of the day.”

Speaking after East Timorese voted at presidential elections on Monday, Dr Ramos Horta said his country’s sovereign wealth fund has $US16 billion to $US17 billion invested around the world and is spending some of it to develop badly needed infrastructure.

He said the government in Dili is talking with a consortium led by ConocoPhillips to resurrect shelved plans to develop Greater Sunrise before negotiations with Australia on sea borders are completed by a September deadline.

“I would say there is a very good chance that Greater Sunrise will be developed,” he said. “How, I don’t know. I am not involved.”

East Timor’s independence hero and political powerbroker Xanana Gusmao has demanded gas from the field be piped to a proposed $US1.4 billion industrial complex on the country’s remote southern coast.

The ConocoPhillips consortium wants the gas to be extracted through a floating platform or to an existing refinery in Darwin.

Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres, who is set to become East Timor’s next president, has also told Fairfax Media there are now “better prospects” for developing Greater Sunrise, which would deliver billions of dollars in revenue to his country.

But Clive Schofield, director of research at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Research and Security, told the parliamentary committee that at current gas prices it is “not entirely likely” that a commercial decision would be made to develop Greater Sunrise.

“We have low oil and gas prices. I suspect the asset, as it were, will be put on the shelf until such a time as gas prices in particular rise sufficiently to make it viable,” he said.

Asked about Dr Ramos Horta’s comments, Dr Strating said she wanted to clarify that she does not think East Timor is “necessarily” heading towards becoming a failed state – only that this is possible if an agreement is not reached before oil revenues from an existing oil and gas field and the sovereign wealth fund run out.

“This is why it is so vital for Australia and Timor-Leste to find a hasty compromise [on Greater Sunrise],” Dr Strating said.

“Timor-Leste only has five years until the oil revenues are gone. The revenues provide over 90 per cent of the state budget,” she said. “If Timor-Leste does not have a source of income to provide for state budgets it is very possible that it will become dependent on aid.”

Dr Strating said multiple reports had predicted the sovereign fund could be depleted within a decade.

She said her comments were not made out of malice but for concern about what happens if East Timor and Australia are unable to reach an “expedient” agreement on Greater Sunrise.


Washington: It was another extraordinary day in Washington.

There was the first formal revelation that the FBI is investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign; and there was a new benchmark in fact-checking – the President’s real-time tweets were being checked with intelligence chiefs even as they continued to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.

But as the committee began drilling down into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election campaign and Trump’s more recent charge that former president Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, another extraordinary thought hung in the ether – for all the pride Americans take in the checks and balances of their political process, there are no brakes on this President.

FBI director James Comey had little to say on the inner workings of his agency’s Kremlin-Trump probe and he would not divulge the names of any Trump associates in his sights. But though his words were few, Comey spoke volumes on Trump’s wiretap allegation against his predecessor: it didn’t happen.

“I have no information that supports those tweets,” Comey said of a March 4 twitterstorm in which Trump levelled the wiretapping charge at Obama, “[and] we’ve looked carefully inside the FBI.”

And before any of the panel could argue that he spoke only for the FBI, Comey added that he had been asked by the Justice Department, which does much of the legal work to approve surveillance operations, to inform the committee that it too had no such information.

The FBI boss didn’t actually utter the word, but he pretty well called his President a liar.

Trump’s fake news claims are bumped aside by a more disturbing reality: Americans are led by a President whose own intelligence agencies are investigating foreign intervention in the election by which he came to office, and whether or not his campaign was complicit.

Comey’s was the latest in a series of authoritative rejections of Trump’s wiretapping allegation – some from his own Republican Party colleagues.

But despite calls from a couple of Republicans for him to apologise to Obama, Trump has talked up his charge while, at the same time, qualifying it. White House spokesman Sean Spicer claimed, at one stage, that Trump had put quote marks on the word wiretap in the tweet, which should have conveyed that it was a shorthand for a range of surveillance techniques.

But the bigger story here is the Kremlin’s intervention, which the US intelligence agencies have concluded was a deliberate bid by Moscow to give Trump a leg-up.

As Trump lunges from one outrageous tweet to the next, it’s not only foreigners who scratch their heads while wondering about an absence of accountability.

“On paper we have limits on power,” Chris Edelson, a scholar on government at American University, told Fairfax Media, “but it’s not automatic. And the reason it’s not working is because Republicans in Congress are not asking questions.

“Right now we don’t have a fully-functioning constitutional democracy. The courts and state governments can do some of the work, but it’s really difficult when Congress doesn’t hold to its oversight role.”

There was evidence of that in Monday’s hearing. In the course of more than five hours of questioning, GOP members were fixated more on running to ground those responsible for leaks that embarrass Trump than they were about getting to the bottom of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

And along the way, this remarkable 21st-century moment: while members of Congress grill intelligence chiefs, the President, hunkered at the White House, is tweeting his take on their testimony in real time, and congressmen are reading Trump’s tweets back to the intel chiefs to see if they agree.

Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes read a tweet in which Trump claimed that Comey and Rogers had testified “that Russia did not influence electoral process” – an issue dear to the President’s heart because it affirms his legitimacy.

Comey: “I haven’t been following anybody on Twitter while I’ve been sitting here.”

Himes: “This tweet has gone out to millions of Americans, 16.1million to be exact – is that accurate?”

Comey: “We’ve offered no opinion, have no view … on potential impact, because it’s not something that we’ve looked at … It certainly wasn’t our intention to say that today because we don’t have any information on that subject. And it wasn’t something that was looked at.”

Comey testified jointly with National Security Agency director Michael Rogers, and both officials warned that Russian meddling was likely to be a feature of future election campaigns.

“They’ll be back in 2020. They may be back in 2018,” Comey said. “One of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful, introducing chaos and discord [to the campaign]. It’s possible they’re misreading that as ‘it worked, so we’ll come back and hit them again in 2020’.”

With some analysts speculating that the FBI’s Russia inquiry could hang over the Trump White House for years rather than months, a new reality appears to be dawning on Republicans.

Pleading for Comey to release as soon as possible information that might clear a half-dozen Trump associates who have been named in media reports, Intelligence Committee Chairman and Trump loyalist Devin Nunes identified a dark reality after just two months of the 45th President’s tenure:

“There’s a big grey cloud that you’ve now put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country, and so the faster that you can get to the bottom of this, it’s going to be better for all Americans,” he said.


THE NRL’s decision to levy fines totalling $350,000 against theNewcastle Knights, St George Illawarra and the Gold Coast Titans may well mark a turning point in the code’s handling of head knocks and concussion.

Concern for player welfare has been an escalating issue for more than a decade, and injuries to a number of high-profile players have resulted in a series of rule changes.

In recent seasons, the NRL has introduced successively more stringent guidelines when it comes to concussion. Even so, there are some, including the Fairfax Media commentator and former Wallaby forward Peter FitzSimons, who believe that much more needs tobe done to protect players from the long-term dangers of playing on after hard hits to the head.

With retired Knights winger James McManus pressing ahead with a Supreme Court negligence claim against the Newcastle club, the NRL must expect to face tougher scrutiny of the way concussion incidents arehandled from round to round.

McManus grew up playing rugby league in the Northern Territory and made his first grade debut for the Knights in 2007, having joined the club in 2003. He claims the club breached its duty of care to him in a series of incidents from 2012 to 2015.

The Knights have until June 9 to file their defence.

In simple terms, the McManus case will focus on the nexus between two competing principles. On one hand, rugby league can be viewed as an inherently dangerous pursuit. The relevant state legislation, the Civil Liability Act 2002, recognises this by limiting the liability for harm suffered from the “obvious risks” of dangerous recreational activity. On the other hand, professional rugby league players are in paid employment, and there are any number of laws covering workplace safety.

Regardless of what happens in the McManus case, the NRLhas been put on notice by the court of public opinion, and has responded in a way that shows it knows the climate is changing. Even if head-high tackles disappeared overnight, players would still hit their heads and suffer concussion. Coming off the field after any head knock must become the default position for player management.

Like the banning of the shoulder charge, such a change will have its opponents, butplayer safety –especially in a sport as violent as rugby league –must be paramount.

ISSUE, 38,445


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addressed the party room at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 29 November 2016 Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew MearesAustralia’s race hate laws have lost credibility, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says, and fixing them requires the removal of legal prohibitions on people’s right to “offend, insult or humiliate”, while making it illegal to “harass”.

In a move that has delighted the right of the Coalition and dismayed MPs who hold marginal seats or represent ethnic communities, Mr Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis unveiled changes to the language of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Changes to how the Human Rights Commission handles complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act are also on the way.

The Commission president, currently Gillian Triggs, will have to rule early on whether a complaint has merit and should proceed; complaints will have to be lodged within six months of an incident, and then dealt with more quickly – within 12 months.

Mr Turnbull said the changes would strengthen freedom of speech in Australia and ensure protection from racism.

“We are defending Australians from racial vilification by replacing language which has lost credibility,” he said.

“We need to restore confidence to the Racial Discrimination Act and to the Human Rights Commission’s administration of it.”

“This is an issue of values – free speech, free speech is a value at the very core of our party. It should be at the core of every party. Ensuring Australians are protected from racial vilification, likewise, is part of the mutual respect of which I often speak.”

Mr Turnbull would not say if it would be acceptable to call someone a “wog” under the proposed changes, and declined to repeat the term when put to him.

The Prime Minister predicted Labor would “cynically and ruthlessly” exploit the proposed changes, which, will – unusually – first be introduced in the Senate by Senator Brandis.

Labor’s Tony Burke suggested the bill would go to the Senate first because “if they can’t get it through the Senate, they don’t want to force their own back bench to have to vote for it”

The proposed changes to the wording of the act, which bring to a head years of debate, are all but certain to be defeated in the Senate by Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team.

They will also trigger a campaign from activist group GetUp!, concern ethnic communities, who strongly opposed the changes back in 2014, and win support from free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Earlier, during debate in the Coalition party room, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce warned that dragging out debate on the issue could cost the Coalition votes.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott praised Mr Turnbull and Senator Brandis during the party room discussion, while Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells warned changing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act would be very unpopular with multicultural communities.

The proposal will see the words “offend, insult and humiliate” removed from the act and replaced by “harass” while “intimidate” will remain.

The debate about changing Australia’s race hate laws was held on National Harmony Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Mr Joyce’s warning to the party room was in line with similar comments he has made about the fractious same-sex marriage debate – that, essentially, voters are not concerned about section 18C but are more concerned about day to day issues and that the Coalition should stop talking about the issue.

Several MPs rose to disagree with Mr Joyce, including South Australian Liberal Tony Pasin and WA Liberal Andrew Hastie.

Sources in the room told Fairfax Media that Mr Hastie argued changing 18C was about “de-fanging the operational arm of the political correctness movement in this country”.

Mr Pasin disagreed with Mr Joyce and said voters in his electorate raised the issue with him.

About 20 MPs spoke during the meeting and the strong majority ultimately agreed with the package of changes, which was ticked off by cabinet on Monday night.

Those who argued for change included leading proponents Tim Wilson and James Paterson, Mr Abbott, Eric Abetz, Mr Pasin, Mr Hastie and George Christensen.

Those who spoke against changing the wording of the act included MPs Craig Laundy, David Coleman, Ann Sudmalis and John Alexander.

Mr Laundy, who holds the marginal western Sydney seat of Reid, told ABC radio before the meeting that he would stand up for his multicultural electorate during the debate and that he was comfortable with section 18C of the act.

Senator Abetz released a statement after the meeting praising the proposed changes: “These common-sense reforms will go a long way to ensuring that Australians can engage in free speech while maintaining protections against racially motivated harassment and intimidation”.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, meanwhile, told the Labor caucus meeting that the prime minister was moving ahead with changes to 18C – and penalty rates – because “they’ll never affect him”.

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Sydney house prices ‘to fall 5 per cent over two years’Three graphs that show struggle is real for first home buyersAustralians expect affordability to deteriorate further by 2027

???Speculation about a housing bubble is likely to heat up even further, with Sydney and Melbourne property prices up 5.2 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively over the three months to December, official data released on Tuesday shows.

Brisbane real estate prices rose 2.2 per cent, and in Perth they were up 0.3 per cent, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data recorded for the last quarter of 2016.

Across all the capital cities, growth was up 4.1 per cent, making it the strongest quarterly growth recorded since the June 2015 result.

These results were a clear sign the “threats in Sydney and Melbourne are steadily rising”, AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said, although he declined to describe the market as a bubble.

“It’s bubbly. But the implication of a bubble is that we’re all ruined, while the implication if we’re not in a bubble is that we’re all fine – it’s not quite as simple as that,” Dr Oliver said.

With “ridiculous” prices in Sydney and Melbourne, he expected they would slow this year. But if they did not, he warned that it was likely the regulators would step in to cool investor activity.

Authorities, including the Reserve Bank, have been increasingly concerned about overheating house prices during March.

ASIC chairman Greg Medcraft recently described the Melbourne and Sydney housing markets as being “a bubble”.

And Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman Wayne Byres warned of a “heightened risk” in these markets but would not use the “b-word” to describe them. It’s unclear whether action will be taken by the regulator to cool the market.???

Property prices were up 10.3 per cent in Sydney and 10.8 per cent in Melbourne during the December 2016 quarter when compared with the corresponding period of the previous year.

But Domain Group chief economist Andrew Wilson said this annualised figure was coming off a low base that skewed it upwards.

“Strong growth over the December quarter [compared to the December quarter of 2015] reflects a sharp fall the year before,” Dr Wilson said.

In December 2015, the ABS found property prices falling in Sydney for the first time in three years, and soft growth for Melbourne. Property prices slumped again in Sydney during the March quarter.

For many, this signalled the end of four years of booming property prices in Australia’s eastern capital cities.

But prices picked up over the September quarter – Sydney and Melbourne jumped 2.6 per cent and 2.1 per cent respectively. This pushed Sydney into its fifth year of price growth.

Diaswati Mardiasmo, national research manager at PRDnationwide, said there had been strong growth in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane this year.

But there has also been an “air of cautiousness” – home buyers and sellers are concerned about how far prices can rise “before a correction occurs”.

“The issue is that even if a correction does happen it’s not the doom and gloom that people are expecting, in the sense that it will mean things will go back to ‘normal’ … level of growth,” Dr Mardiasmo said.

“So overall for Sydney and Melbourne, think there will still be growth, however perhaps not at the speed that we have seen over the past two years and Brisbane will continue at its current speed.”

She anticipated there would be more interstate investing activity, including a growing interest in the metro-regional areas where infrastructure projects are on the cards.

AllenWargent buyers’ agent and market commentator Pete Wargent said market forecasts ranged from 1.6 per cent to 4.1 per cent for the December quarter.

This meant the ABS result was not unexpected and was in line with conditions being experienced by property professionals in the market.

“The new year seems to have started at a brisk pace with Sydney and Melbourne leading the way again,” Mr Wargent said.???