Yemen peace talks back on track

Yemen’s warring factions have agreed on an agenda for UN-backed peace negotiations, following heavy pressure from world powers.

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The talks to end fighting between the Iran-allied Houthis and supporters of Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi started last week but were suspended on Sunday amid bickering about flights over Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, which the Houthis say is a violation of the April 10 truce.

Differences over the agenda had made it difficult for the two sides to start real negotiations to end the 13-month war that has killed more than 6200 people, wounded more than 35,000 and displaced more than 2.5 million people.

The two sides agreed last week to a five-point agenda outlined by the UN special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, but remained divided over whether to start with a unity government or focus on a Houthi withdrawal.

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, whose country is hosting the talks, waded into the dispute, helping to smooth differences over the truce and over the agenda, delegates said.

The return to talks followed strong pressure from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

“The diplomats were quite tough and used harsh language, telling them that peace in Yemen was important for regional security and that no one would be allowed to leave Kuwait without an agreement,” one source told Reuters.

The stability of Yemen, where al-Qaeda and Islamic State are vying for influence, is of international concern as the country neighbours Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and is also near key shipping lanes.

Hadi supporters, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, have attacked the AQAP stronghold in southern Yemen over the past two days, driving them from the Hadramout provincial capital and from key Arabian Sea ports.

Pain of Port Arthur massacre remains

Fencing in a paddock of his 324-hectare cattle farm on the Tasman Peninsula, Neil Noye heard a siren travelling south at high speed.

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A couple of minutes later he saw an ambulance and a police car whiz past.

“I thought to myself: `I better find out what’s going on’.”

The news that would greet the then-Tasman Council mayor would change his life, and the lives of those in his small community.

It was April 28, 1996, and just a few kilometres away at the Port Arthur historic site, a gunman had gone on a bloody rampage.

At the time the incident was acknowledged as the world’s worst massacre, with 35 people killed, 23 injured and an untold number of others left emotionally scarred.

“The news that filtered through at first was that six or seven people had been shot,” Mr Noye, now aged 84 and retired, told AAP.

“By that afternoon we were talking to reporters who had got through the cordon, and we were getting the full story.”

A tourism hotspot about 90 minutes drive from Hobart, the picturesque historic site, nestled in a bay, is dotted with convict ruins on a sea of lush grass and well-kept gardens.

Usually the sound of native birds is interrupted only by chatty visitors and the odd maintenance vehicle.

But on this fateful Sunday the peace and quiet was broken by the stark and unfamiliar crack of gunfire.

That was back in the days when visitors could drive into the site and pull up quite close to the attractions, and that’s what Martin Bryant did, before arming himself with a rapid-fire weapon and entering the popular Broad Arrow Cafe.

It was lunch time.

The shooting was indiscriminate: men, women, children of all ages and nationalities.

Carolyn Loughton was shot in the back, her 15-year-old daughter Sarah was shot in the head and killed.

“It was just this immense explosion,” Ms Loughton told SBS of the moment the shooting started.

“I’m seeing bits of the walls coming away and then I saw him with this massive, massive gun up shooting people.”

Countless survivors have told how they played dead on the floor as the gunman stalked his victims.

There are unconfirmed reports Bryant had previously been thrown out of the cafe for trying to sell crayfish to patrons.

On his way to Port Arthur Bryant had stopped at a bed and breakfast property, Seascape, where he killed the owners, David and Sally Martin.

It later emerged the couple had refused Bryant’s request to buy their nearby farm.

Bryant has never offered an explanation for his actions, but there is speculation, including from investigators, that his murders were sparked out of retribution for grievances and others were collateral damage.

Local woman Nanette Mikac had been visiting the historic site that day with daughters Alannah, six, and Madeline, three.

As the shootings took place the young mother instinctively led her girls along a road leading away from the site.

Thinking she must have almost made it to safety, Bryant’s yellow Volvo had come along.

The gunman had stepped from his car before shooting dead Ms Mikac and then each of her daughters.

“The Mikac girls, I’d been playing with them on the Saturday night – there was a concert on and their father was in the concert and I was looking after the kids,” Mr Noye said, shaking his head.

“So sad. So very sad.”

As Bryant drove away from the three lifeless bodies the death count stood at 27.

A short time later he shot and killed the four occupants of a car arriving at the historic site, before stealing their BMW.

More people would die and a man was taken hostage as the gunman made his way back to Seascape, where he was holed up for 18 hours.

The police car Mr Noye saw pass his property was just arriving at Port Arthur, but the damage was done.

By the time Bryant emerged, on fire, from the burning Seascape cottage which he had set alight, news had spread around Australia and the world, of mass murder at sleepy Port Arthur.

In the days and weeks that followed the peninsula crawled with reporters.

“I’d get phone calls from BBC London interrupting their live soccer broadcast, to go directly to the `mayor of Tasmania’,” Mr Noye said.

“The more you tried to tell them you weren’t the mayor of Tasmania, the more confused they got.”

Grief counselling was offered to residents as the local economy hit the doldrums.

Then-prime minister John Howard used the massacre to gather support for tighter gun laws, which passed parliament.

Bryant was locked up in Hobart, and questioned by police.

Seven months later a judge ordered he serve 35 life sentences plus hundreds of additional years, without the chance of parole.

He will die in jail.

Many others are serving a life sentence as a result of his actions.

Mr Noye knew eight of the people Bryant killed at Port Arthur.

He will not be attending a commemorative service at the site to mark the 20th anniversary, but appreciates that others want to.

“There are people who have lost loved ones and they are still hurting and this is going to really liven it up again,” he said of the plans for April 28.

“Twenty years on, it is raw.”

Norfolk Island residents petition UN to stop Australian ‘recolonisation’

Norfolk Island’s 2210 residents – many of them descendants of mutineers from HMS Bounty – have presented a petition to the United Nations accusing Australia of trying to “re-colonise” their tiny South Pacific island.

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Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson flew to New York from London to deliver the petition on Monday in a last-ditch attempt to help Norfolk retain its status as an autonomous territory.

The Australian government signalled last year it would end the island’s local administration, and has already closed down its parliament, paving the way for rule from the Australian capital Canberra, nearly 2000 km away.

A regional council is planned and elections are scheduled for the middle of next year.

The volcanic island covers just over 34 square km in the Pacific Ocean, between New Caledonia and New Zealand.

It was mapped by the British navigator and explorer Captain James Cook in 1774, and was occupied just 40 days after he established a convict settlement in Sydney in 1788.

I can’t believe this is Australia-Gov’t taking the extraordinary step of banning criticism of Australia on #NorfolkIsland radio station. No!

— Helena Sindelar™ (@Helena_Sindelar) April 26, 2016

Robertson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from New York on Monday that Australia’s “heavy-handed attempt to re-colonise part of its domain” is internationally embarrassing as it coincides with its campaign to win a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“They’ve locked up the parliament and sent administrators from Canberra to run the place, even though it’s been running itself perfectly well for a long time,” he said.

“After 36 years of democracy, their self-governance has been abolished, their freedom of speech curtailed – any mention of opposition on a local radio station has been banned – and their membership of international sporting and political bodies like the Commonwealth has been cancelled.”

In Australia Paul Fletcher, minister for major projects, territories and local government, said Norfolk Island had been an integral part of the Commonwealth of Australia since 1914.

“The Australian Government is ultimately responsible for the governance of Norfolk Island – as it has been for more than a century – and for the welfare of all Australians including those that comprise the majority of the Norfolk Island community,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

“The Australian Government established what was effectively an experimental form of self-government on Norfolk Island in 1979. The result of this experiment is clear – it has not worked very well.”

Norfolk Islanders are themselves divided about the plan to abolish self-rule, with the descendants of Fletcher Christian’s mutineers leading the resistance campaign.

Robert’s staffer ‘unaware’ of LNP funding

A staffer of federal MP Stuart Robert has contradicted her boss by testifying she didn’t know her Gold Coast council election campaign would be funded by the Liberal National Party.

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Felicity Stevenson, who worked for the former Turnbull government minister for a decade, took leave in early 2016 to unsuccessfully run as an independent in the March 19 local government election.

Ms Stevenson on Wednesday told a Crime and Corruption Commission investigation she received $30,000 from the Fadden Forum, a fundraising arm of the LNP, during the campaign.

Her testimony was similar to that of another staffer in Mr Robert’s office, Kristyn Boulton, who successfully ran in the council election after also receiving $30,000 from the Fadden Forum.

Mr Robert last week testified he told both women at a meeting in his office in late January that he would help get some “dollars and cents” for their campaigns.

“I said I would seek permission for it to come from the Fadden Forum,” Mr Robert said.

Ms Stevenson said Mr Robert told her in a one-on-one meeting in her office that he would support her campaign but did not mention how.

She received an initial donation of $10,000 a few days later, followed by $15,000 and a further $5000.

The commission heard Ms Stevenson assumed Mr Robert was behind the deposits, as her banking app only showed the amount, not who it was from.

It was not until after the election when she checked her statement that she saw the deposits were from the LNP.

Ms Stevenson said Mr Robert told her to list the Fadden Forum on her disclosure, a compulsory and publicly available form that reveals campaign contributions.

“I asked him what I needed to put on the return for the donations,” she said.

The only other donation made to Ms Stevenson’s campaign was $1000 from her grandmother.

Ms Stevenson said she knew about the forum’s connection to the LNP but thought it was a “different beast” at the time of the council election.

Ms Boulton last week also claimed she was ignorant about how the forum worked.

“Something I have to wear is perhaps I’ve been a little naive,” she said.

“He said to me they’re from the Fadden Forum, which I accepted.”

But Mr Robert stated fundraising got a lot of “air time” in his office of just four staff.

“It would be hard to be in my office for a long time and not know how we raise money for the Liberal National Party,” the Gold Coast-based MP said.

The Fadden Forum made up two-thirds of the donations to Ms Boulton, who was successfully elected as an independent.

China aircraft carrier to boost military

China has launched its first domestically-built aircraft carrier from the Dalian shipyard in the country’s northeast as the country aims to boost its military presence at sea.

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The new carrier, with its deck decorated with red flags, was transferred from dry dock into the water during a ceremony at the shipyard in Liaoning province where it had been built, the Xinhua news agency reported.

This is China’s second aircraft carrier, after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in 2012 put into commission a refitted Soviet Union-made carrier called Liaoning.

The new carrier, which is currently referred to as Type 001A, is 315-metres long and 75 metres wide, and has a displacement of about 70,000 tonnes and a cruising speed of 31 knots.

It is slightly bigger than the Liaoning carrier, but their outlines are similar, according to The Paper, a Chinese state-owned publication.

Type 001A is expected to be able to carry about eight more aircraft than the Liaoning, which can carry up to 24 fighter jets and 17 helicopters, according to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

China started building the carrier in November 2013 and is expected to put it into use by 2020, after completing a series of tests.

Meanwhile, a third aircraft carrier, the Type 002, is being built in Shanghai.

Type 002 will be “far more advanced” than the first two carriers, according to the state-owned Global Times. It will look more like a US carrier than a Russian one as it will have no ski ramp, using catapult technology instead.

Aircraft catapults, currently used on US Navy carriers, use steam pressure to launch aircraft from the carrier’s flight deck. But Russian carriers are generally fitted with ski-jump ramps – curved ramps that allow aircraft to build up velocity and take off from shorter runways.

The US Navy has already started installing more advanced electromagnetic catapult systems on its carriers, while China is still testing steam catapults, naval expert Li Jie told Global Times.

The aircraft carriers are a sign of China’s ambition to build a naval presence worldwide, observers say.

In order to achieve that, China would need to build a total of five to six aircraft carriers in the next 15 to 20 years, Zhao Chu, director of the Shanghai Institute for National Defence Strategy, told DPA.

“In that case, two carriers could be always on duty on the open water, one could be placed in a dock, and one could be undergoing maintenance,” Zhao said.

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Exclusive – South Africa considers strategic grain reserve as possible El Nino looms: minister

Neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia have such reserves, but it would entail a significant policy shift in South Africa, where commercial agriculture is market driven and the state does not act as a buyer and holder of crops.

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A strategic grain reserve usually involves the government buying crops and taking responsibility for their storage until they are needed to make up for shortfalls.

“Yes, we are thinking about it,” Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana told Reuters late on Tuesday when asked if a grain reserve was being considered.

“It is one of the things that the inter-ministerial committee on drought should look at,” he said, referring to a cabinet committee set up in 2015 to look at ways of mitigating the drought.

Zokwana did not go into specifics, such as budget allocations for such a project, which would be difficult in South Africa’s strained fiscal environment after damaging ratings downgrades.

South Africa will likely reap 14.54 million tonnes of maize in 2017, almost double last year’s harvest and its second largest ever after good rains returned, the government’s Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) said on Tuesday.

This is more than 40 percent more than the roughly 10.5 million tonnes South Africa typically consumes of the crop, the staple of lower-income households which are a key political base for the ruling ANC and were hard hit last year by rising food prices and inflation linked to the drought.

But the El Nino weather pattern, which faded in May of 2016, may reform again around September, just ahead of South Africa’s maize planting season, according to a number of national and global forecasts.

“If we have a bumper crop this year how do we make sure that we have some grain that is reserved for darker days? El Nino is going to be with us, we have to adapt,” Zokwana said, adding that commercial farmers should also hold some stocks.

“The challenge we are faced with as a country is that we need to engage with the private sector and say don’t sell all you have because the El Nino may be on the door,” Zokwana said.

Some farmers and other market players may be tempted to hang onto stocks because prices have plummeted with the abrupt change in weather.

The July white maize contract was 1.25 percent on Wednesday at 1,862 rand (£110) a tonne, around 65 percent lower than record peaks of more than 5,000 rand a tonne scaled early last year during the drought.

El Nino is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that occurs every few years, with global consequences. In Africa it often brings excessive rains to the east while the southern cone gets parched.

(Editing by Louise Heavens)

‘Better than hitting Tokyo’: Japan minister quits after tsunami comment

The Japanese minister overseeing the reconstruction of areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster has resigned after saying it was better the disaster struck the northeastern region instead of Tokyo.

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Masahiro Imamura was forced to quit after remarks he made on Tuesday at a party for ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers and is the latest in a spate of ruling party politicians in trouble for their comments or behaviour.

Speaking of the costs incurred in the 9.0 earthquake that set off a massive tsunami and left nearly 20,000 dead or missing, Imamura said: “It was better that this happened in the northeast.”

The comments came just weeks after Imamura set off a furore at a news conference by disparaging people who left Fukushima out of fear after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, then shouting at a reporter and storming out of the room.

His comments prompted an immediate rebuke from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who apologised on his behalf.

“It was an extremely inappropriate comment and hurtful to people in the disaster zone, an act causing the people a reconstruction minister works for to lose trust in him, ” Abe told reporters after Imamura resigned.

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Shunsuke Mutai, a deputy reconstruction minister, drew fire last year after forcing a subordinate to carry him on his back so his feet could stay dry as he visited a flooded area. He quit in March on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the March 11 disaster after making a joke about the incident.

A week ago the vice minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Toshinao Nakagawa, was forced to resign from his position after news broke of an extramarital affair and he later resigned from the LDP.

Inflation crawls into RBA target band

The Reserve Bank can tick off inflation as one of its immediate worries, but new figures suggest its concerns over housing and employment will haunt it for a while yet.

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The consumer price index has crept into the central bank’s two to three per cent inflation target for the first time in two years.

Inflation rose 0.5 per cent in the March quarter, a slightly smaller increase than most economists had been expecting, lifting the annual rate to 2.1 per cent.

“Inflation rates will grind slowly higher from here,” Commonwealth Bank of Australia chief economist Michael Blythe said on Wednesday.

“It is difficult to get concerned about inflation prospects when wages growth and labour costs remain very well contained.”

He expects it will be well into 2018 before the central bank has to raise the cash rates.

The central bank aims to keep inflation within a band over the course of the economic cycle.

But in the past two years, it’s been forced to cut the cash rate four times to a record low of 1.5 per cent to try to give the economy a boost through lower lending rates.

Among the most significant price rises in the quarter were for petrol (up 5.7 per cent), electricity (up 2.5 per cent) and new dwelling costs (up 1.0 per cent) but this was partly offset by a 6.7 per cent drop in fruit prices.

Underlying measures of inflation, which smooth out volatile price swings and are key to interest rate decisions, averaged just over 0.4 per cent growth in the quarter for an annual rate of 1.8 per cent.

The central bank will hold its next monthly board meeting on Tuesday.

In the minutes of the April board meeting, it emphasised the labour and housing markets “warranted careful monitoring over coming months”.

Mr Blythe said the housing component of CPI may only add to the Reserve Bank’s concerns about the housing market.

Hopes that March’s strong rise in employment was a turning point for the economy may be premature as new figures show demand for new workers wilting.

Job advertisements on the internet declined 0.6 per cent in March after a revised 0.3 per cent fall in February in trend terms, Department of Employment data released on Wednesday shows.

This left annual growth at just 0.9 per cent.

Six of the eight occupational groups monitored by the department fell in the month while declining in three states and the ACT.

‘A child dies of preventable causes every 10 minutes’: Countries pledge $1.1bn to avert Yemen famine

Yet the $1.

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1 billion (1.0 billion euros) promised fell far short of the $2.1 billion the United Nations has estimated is needed this year alone in a country facing “a tragedy of immense proportions.”

But Guterres praised the generosity of donor nations, pointing out that such conferences generally do not gather more than a third of the requested amount.

This shows a “remarkable solidarity with the Yemeni people,” the UN secretary general told reporters.

“50 children in Yemen will die during today’s conference, and all those deaths could have been prevented.”

Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, who along with his Swedish counterpart co-hosted the conference, also applauded the results but acknowledged that “we need even more.”

A big thank you to all the countries who pledged to increase #Aid4Yemen’s 19 million people in need of support. Solidarity with #Yemen. pic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/YINtOyZOKd

— UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) April 25, 2017

When opening the conference Tuesday morning, Guterres had said it was vital to act quickly.

“We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation,” he said, adding that Yemen is gripped by “the world’s largest hunger crisis”.

He warned that children especially were already dying at an alarming rate, but stressed that “a famine can be prevented if we act quickly and commit to funding crucial life-saving assistance”.

The UN had already said back in February that it would need $2.1 billion to help avert famine in Yemen, but by the time Tuesday’s conference opened, that appeal had only been 15 percent funded.

RELATED READING’Writhing with hunger’

Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed Obaid Mubarek Bin-Dagher had urged donors to be generous, describing how some of his compatriots were “writhing with hunger”.

“$2.1 billion is the minimum that we should plan on raising,” he told the conference.

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien meanwhile said that Yemen was “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis today.”

“We must do more and can do more,” he said, insisting that “we can, with your money and support, scale up, we can avert famine and the worst catastrophe.”

But O’Brien underlined that humanitarian aid alone would not resolve Yemen’s crisis.

“We need an immediate cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations and peace,” he said.

RELATED READING

Yemen’s war has pitted pro-government forces against Iran-backed Huthi rebels and their allies, renegade troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to help the government retake the capital Sanaa and swathes of the country’s north and west.

Fighting in Yemen has killed more than 7,700 people over the past two years and forced 3.3 million people to flee their homes, according to UN numbers.

All UN mediation attempts and seven declared ceasefires have so far failed.

Yemen is a forgotten crisis – here are 5 facts to know. #Aid4Yemen @UNHCRYemen pic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/ufuDClrTwD

— UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) April 25, 2017’50 children will die’

The conflict has dramatically deepened Yemen’s drawn-out humanitarian crisis, with a full 19 millions people — two-thirds of the population — now in need of humanitarian aid, the UN said.

A total of 17 million of them are going hungry, including more than two million children currently considered acutely malnourished.

“On average, a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes in Yemen every 10 minutes,” Guterres said.

“This means 50 children in Yemen will die during today’s conference, and all those deaths could have been prevented.”

Many of the children who survive “will be affected by stunting and poor health for their entire lives,” he added.

Anthony Lake, head of the UN children’s agency, urged the world to act immediately, warning that “these children cannot wait for an official famine to be declared.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom noted that with two million children out of school, there is a growing risk of recruitment by armed groups, while two-thirds of girls are married off before the age of 18.

“We must act now”, she said.

Group claims Russia metro bombing

A group called the Imam Shamil Battalion has claimed responsibility for a metro bombing in the Russian city of St.

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Petersburg that killed 16 people and says the bomber was acting on orders from al-Qaeda, according to the SITE monitoring group.

The claim on Tuesday by the little-known group was originally published by the Mauritanian news agency ANI, which is often used by West and North African jihadist groups to release statements.

The statement, posted by SITE on Tuesday, said the bomber, Akbarzhon Jalilov, had acted on instructions from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in the April 3 attack on the metro in Russia’s second biggest city.

“Following the instructions of Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri … the lion Akbarzhon Jalilov, one of the knights of Islam in the Imam Shamil Battalion, carried out a heroic operation … in the city of St. Petersburg, concurrent with the visit to it by the criminal (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” it said.

It said the metro attack was revenge for Russian violence against Muslim countries, citing Syria and Libya as well as the Russian republic of Chechnya.

“To the Russian government, which apparently has not taken a lesson from its defeat in Afghanistan, we say: This operation is only the beginning, and what is to come will make you forget it, Allah permitting,” the statement read, implying there would be even more deadly attacks against Russia in the future.

Russian forces have intervened in the Syrian conflict in support of President Bashar al-Assad and are targeting jihadist fighters and others opposed to the Syrian leader.

Pendlebury laments poor AFL performance

Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury has played his worst AFL match in a decade, adding to their troubles as the pressure mounts on coach Nathan Buckley.

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Pendlebury said he was ill before the previous week’s loss to St Kilda, but offered no excuses for his poor Anzac Day performance amid speculation he is carrying an injury.

Pendlebury said he had done the most running against Essendon out of his five matches so far this season, but simply played poorly.

“Yesterday was my worst game that I’ve played in 10 years,” he said on a Collingwood podcast.

“I just wasn’t impactful.

“It certainly wasn’t through a lack of effort or running or workrate.”

Pendlebury only had 20 possessions against the Bombers and called it a shocker.

“I was very disappointed … I was very filthy I didn’t play my part,” he said.

“It doesn’t sit well, knowing you let the side down.

“Yesterday, I fell away – I played a bad game and it was a really bad game, it wasn’t serviceable even.”

While Collingwood are struggling at 1-4, Pendlebury said they had identified their problems and are working hard to fix them.

“We want to be smart with the footy – we want to be quick when we can, we want to go (through the) corridor when it’s open, we want to go boundary when that’s open,” he said.

“Clearly, we’re not executing that … it is something we’re working on.

“It’s going to take more than one week to fix, but hopefully it doesn’t take six or seven.”

The Magpies only have a five-day break before they played unbeaten Geelong, but Pendlebury does not see the short gap between games as a bad thing.

“Playing on a five-day break after a loss is the best thing that can happen,” he said.

“You get a chance to go back out there so quickly, you don’t have to wait.

“Last week, just waiting nine days to play Anzac Day after the St Kilda game, you want to get back out there as quick as you can, to address the issues.”

Two conflicting plans on how to deal with housing affordability

Housing analysts have today offered conflicting plans for how to tackle Australia’s housing affordability crisis.

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The Property Council of Australia has released a 10-point ‘Fixing Housing Affordability’ plan that proposes increasing the supply of homes, lowering housing production costs and phasing out stamp duty.

Chief executive Ken Morrison says the council also wants low deposit loans for first home buyers, similar to the so-called ‘Keystart’ scheme in Western Australia.

“It is very difficult for people on modest incomes to get into the housing market for the first time in our big cities,” Mr Morrison told SBS News.

“It’s tricky, because there’s a whole bunch of detailed policy that needs to happen at a state level and a local government level, and we do see a role for federal leadership.”

READ MORE

The Australian Council of Social Service has released its own six-point plan, prioritising low to moderate earners.

“We need to get more growth in social and affordable housing, so social housing, which is for people on really low incomes, and then affordable housing for people on very modest incomes,” explained CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“We’ve got to set very clear targets and make sure that the income levels are factored into the financing arrangements.”

The future of negative gearing?

But a key point of contention between the two groups is whether negative gearing should stay or go. Dr Goldie believes the system must be phased out.

“Having a very careful transitioning away from tax concessions that benefit private property speculators, property investors that are looking for short-term capital growth,” she said.

The Property Council disagrees, and argues negative gearing should not be changed, as does the Housing Industry Association’s Graham Wolfe.

“The negative gearing helps investors come to the market, purchase off the plan, helps drive the construction and brings more supply into the marketplace,” Mr Wolfe told SBS News.

“All three levels of government are aware of the role that they play. What we do need, however, is those three levels to sit down constructively, in a coordinated way, to understand their roles.”

READ MORE

All the housing groups do agree that, in Australia’s major cities, supply is a big problem. Mr Morrison says there simply are not enough homes for prospective owners, meaning there is little competition, or need to bring down prices.

“Fundamentally, we need policies which are targeting that supply, reducing the cost of new housing construction, ensure that we’ve got more housing coming through and that the housing-construction cycle that we’re in lasts longer,” he said.

It’s ‘tough’ out there

For many Australians, buying a home is not just tough, it is near impossible. Some parents have had to step in so their children can break into the market.

That includes Sydney couple Li Ping Yim and her husband Di Lin Zheng, who moved to Australia from China 19 years ago.

“For us, it’s okay. For the kids it’s very, very expensive,” Mrs Li told SBS News after inspecting a home on Sydney’s north shore.

“We help the kids. If all the kids, by themselves, buy the houses it’s very hard.”

But real estate agent Jimmy Psaltis said he is optimistic about the housing issue.

“It’s tough, it’s tough, but there’s still a lot (of homes). As long as you’re not too fussy, you’ll find something,” he said.

“There are houses that are affordable. It’s just a matter of what you can afford and not so much where you want to live.”

OPINION

Mr Wolfe believes that addressing the lack of housing, though, would go a long way to easing the burden on buyers.

“Our population is growing. We need to be building more homes,” he said.

“Now, in Sydney, where the population growth over the last three years has been a quarter of a million extra people, we need homes for those people to live in.

“Housing affordability is a national issue for us, something that needs to be resolved and something that’s going to take all three levels of government to address.”

READ MORE

THE FEED: Could Tamworth be the solution to housing affordability?

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News of pregnancy an accident: Serena

Serena Williams had no intention of sharing her pregnancy with the world last week but spilled the beans when she accidentally uploaded the “20 weeks” photo of herself on Snapchat, the world No.

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1 said on Tuesday.

Williams, who was wearing a yellow swimsuit in the ‘selfie’, quickly deleted the post but later confirmed her pregnancy via her publicist after frenzied speculation.

She told the TED conference in Vancouver that the photo was intended only for her personal records.

“I have this thing where I’ve been checking my status and taking pictures every week to see how far along I’m getting,” the 35-year-old said in an on-stage chat with journalist Gayle King.

“I was just saving them (for myself)” said Williams. “I’ve been so good about it, but this was the one time it slipped.”

Williams said she had found out she was pregnant only two days before the Australian Open in January, which she went on to win for her 23rd grand slam title.

“It wasn’t very easy. You hear all these stories about people when they’re pregnant — they get sick, they get really tired, really stressed out,” she said.

“I had to really take all that energy and put it in a paper bag, so to say, and throw it away.

“Pregnant or not, no one knew and I was supposed to win that tournament. Every time I play, I’m expected to win. If I don’t win, it’s actually much bigger news.”

Williams, who is taking maternity leave for the rest of the 2017 season, said there was no change to her plan to return to the tour as a mother next year.

“I definitely plan on coming back. I’m not done yet,” said Williams, who credited her 36-year-old sister Venus, a seven-times grand slam champion, for inspiration.

“If she’s still playing, I know I can play.

“This (motherhood) is just a new part of my life. My baby’s going to be in the stands and hopefully cheering for me.”