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.

Cyberattacks against Saudi Arabia continue

Researchers at US antivirus firm McAfee say the cyberattacks that have hit Saudi Arabia over the past few months are continuing, revealing new details about an unusually disruptive campaign.

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Speaking ahead of the blog post’s publication on Wednesday, McAfee chief scientists Raj Samani said the latest intrusions were very similar, albeit even worse, to the malicious software that wrecked computers at Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil company in 2012.

“This campaign was a lot bigger,” Samani said. “Way larger in terms of the amount of work that needed to be done.”

It’s a striking claim. The 2012 intrusions against Saudi Aramco and Qatari natural gas company RasGas – data-wiping attacks that wrecked tens of thousands of computers – were among the most serious cyberattacks ever publicly revealed.

At the time, the United States called it “the most destructive attack that the private sector has seen to date”.

Echoing research done by others, McAfee said the most recent wave of attacks drew heavily on the malicious code used in the 2012 intrusions.

McAfee also said that some of the code appears to have been borrowed by a previously known hacking group, Rocket Kitten, and used digital infrastructure also employed in a cyberespionage campaign dubbed OilRig.

US cybersecurity firms have tied both to Iran, with greater or lesser degrees of certainty.

McAfee stopped short of linking any particular actor to the most recent attacks.

Saudi officials and news media have given little detail about the intrusions beyond saying that more than a dozen government agencies and companies were affected, and a government adviser did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The Iranian embassy in Paris did not immediately return messages.

Cameron issues challenge to GWS forwards

Greater Western Sydney coach Leon Cameron has challenged his forwards to prevent the Western Bulldogs speedy backs from carving his side up in Friday’s AFL clash in Canberra.

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Meeting for the first time since the Bulldogs won a classic preliminary final showdown in Sydney last year, both teams are off to a 4-1 start.

Cameron said the Bulldogs had found a way to win games despite not playing their best and still rated them the form side in the competition.

He identified contested ball and stoppages as the two areas the Bulldogs clearly beat them in during that finals clash and expected those to be key factors again in his side’s first-ever Friday game.

“That was probably the two big areas that they not just beat us, they gave us a real touch-up,” Cameron said.

“It will be be contested ball, stoppages and who moves the ball better from the half-back line probably wins the game.”

For Cameron that means nullifying the dash of Jason Johannisen, Bob Murphy, Matthew Boyd and Matthew Suckling.

“If we’re not consistently good at stopping the ball rebounding out of our front half this week then they will absolutely carve us up,” Cameron said.

‘They’ve got leg speed, they’ve got ball use, they’ve got decision makers that can do anything and then they can kick a score.

‘Guys like (forwards Jon) Patton, and (Rory) Lobb and (Jeremy) Cameron and (Steve) Johnson and (Toby) Greene and (Sam) Reid have got to make sure that the pressure is right on them.”

Cameron pointed out GWS had some in-form flankers of their own in Zac Williams, Nathan Wilson, Heath Shaw and Adam Kennedy.

Meanwhile, former Bulldog Cameron is looking forward to getting some of his midfielders back over the next couple of weeks.

He expects Stephen Coniglio to return from injury next week, while Lachie Whitfield will be back from suspension the following round.

Off-season recruit Matt de Boer has got the all-clear following a hamstring injury, but is recovering from a poke in the eye he copped in the reserves last week.

US mulls stronger defence against N.Korea

The top US commander in the Pacific has told Congress the US may need to strengthen its missile defences, particularly in Hawaii, given the advancing threat from North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.

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Just before the entire US Senate receives a top-level White House briefing, Admiral Harry Harris said on Wednesday he believed Pyongyang’s threats needed to be taken seriously.

Earlier, the US military moved parts of an anti-missile defence system to a deployment site in South Korea, triggering protests from villagers and by China – whose help is vital to agreeing and implementing tougher economic sanctions to try to persuade North Korea to abandon its weapons programs.

North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting US President Donald Trump. He has vowed to prevent North Korea from hitting the US with a nuclear missile.

Harris told lawmakers the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system would be operational “in coming days”.

He said the defences of Hawaii were sufficient for now but could one day be overwhelmed, and suggested studying stationing new radar there as well as interceptors to knock out any incoming North Korean missiles.

“I don’t share your confidence that North Korea is not going to attack either South Korea, or Japan, or the US … once they have the capability,” Harris said.

Washington has said all options are on the table, including military strikes, but officials have stressed that the current focus is on stepped-up sanctions on North Korea, which are expected to be discussed at a UN Security Council meeting on Friday chaired by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Harris conceded that North Korean retaliation to any US strikes could cause many casualties in South Korea, but added that there was the risk “of a lot more Koreans and Japanese and Americans dying if North Korea achieves its nuclear aims and does what (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) has said it’s going to do”.

North Korea has vowed to strike the US and its Asian allies at the first sign of any attack on its territory.

In a show of force, the US is sending the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula, where it will join the USS Michigan, a nuclear submarine that docked in South Korea on Tuesday. South Korea’s navy has said it will hold drills with the US strike group.

The earlier-than-expected steps to deploy the missile defence system were denounced both by China, where the foreign ministry vowed Beijing would “resolutely take necessary steps to defend its interests”.

But Harris, said he’s encouraged by signals from China that it would help address North Korea’s threatening behaviour, but cautions “it’s early days”.

“I’m encouraged. And I believe Kim Jong Un has noticed that there’s a change afoot with regard to China, and I think that’s important,” Harris said.

North Korea’s foreign ministry called US attempts to make Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons through military threats and sanctions “a wild dream” and like “sweeping the sea with a broom”.

‘Signature of the regime’: France claims Syria chemical attack proof

Samples obtained by French intelligence show that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “undoubtedly” used sarin nerve gas in an April 4 attack in northern Syria, France’s foreign minister says, citing a declassified report.

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The attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed scores of people and prompted the United States to launch a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in response, its first direct assault on the Assad government in the conflict.

“We know, from a certain source, that the process of fabrication of the samples taken is typical of the method developed in Syrian laboratories,” Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters.

“This method is the signature of the regime and it is what enables us to establish the responsibility of the attack. We know because we kept samples from previous attacks that we were able to use for comparison.”

The six-page report – drawn up by France’s military and foreign intelligence services and seen by Reuters – said it was able to reach its conclusion based on samples they had obtained from the impact strike on the ground, and a blood sample from a victim.

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Among the elements found in the samples were hexamine, a hallmark of sarin produced by the Syrian government.

“The French intelligence services consider that only Bashar al-Assad and some of his most influential entourage can give the order to use chemical weapons,” the report said.

It added that jihadist groups in the area did not have the capacity to develop and launch such an attack and that Islamic State was not in the region.

Assad’s claim to AFP news agency on April 13 that the attack was fabricated, was “not credible” given the mass flows of casualties in a short space of time arriving in Syrian and Turkish hospitals as well as the sheer quantity of online activity showing people with neurotoxic symptoms, the report said.

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Smith upstaged as Kolkata sweep Pune aside

An unbeaten half-century to Australia skipper Steve Smith wasn’t enough to stop Kolkata Knight Riders joining Mumbai at the top of the Indian Premier League standings.

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Robin Uthappa struck an inspired 87 and captain Gautam Gambhir added 62 as two-time champions Kolkata swept to a seven-wicket victory over Smith’s Rising Pune Supergiants.

An unbeaten 51 by Smith helped Supergiant reach a solid total of 5-182, only for Uthappa and Gambhir to guide Knight Riders to 3-184 and a win that took them to the top of the table.

Uthappa hammered seven boundaries and six sixes in his 47-ball knock, which followed an impressive display behind the stumps by the wicketkeeper-batsman.

Smith’s knock, which included four boundaries and a six from 37 balls, was his team’s standout performance after opener Ajinkya Rahane had made a bright start with 46 from 41 deliveries before being stumped by Uthappa.

Fellow Australian Dan Christian smacked two consecutive sixes off Chris Woakes at the end of an 19th over that yielded 18 runs, with 12 more being plundered off the final over. The last ball of the innings saw Christian’s attempted big hit providing a simple catch at deep mid-wicket for Manish Pandey off a full toss from Umesh Yadav.

In reply, Knight Riders lost Narine (16) to a runout that left his team on 20-1, but any nerves were very soon steadied.

Uthappa slashed a four and two sixes from Washington Sundar’s first three balls of the eighth over, along with two consecutive sixes off Imran Tahir in the 16th.

He was dismissed in the following over, just five runs short of the victory target.

Looking for a six to finish the game in style, his effort came up short and provided an easy catch for Tripathi off a Jaydev Unadkat delivery. Gambhir was out the next over, an easy catch for Shardul Thakur after an awkward shot off the bowling of Christian.

Darren Bravo and Pandey finished off the Knight Riders innings, with the West Indies batsman drilling a four through the covers to wrap up the win.

Merrin deserved Kangaroos jersey: Griffin

Even Mal Meninga’s famous loyalty card did not look like saving out-of-form incumbent Test lock Trent Merrin ahead of next week’s trans-Tasman clash in Canberra.

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But Merrin’s Penrith coach Anthony Griffin insisted the hardworking forward deserved to retain his green and gold jersey for the May 5 clash.

Despite an ordinary NRL season start, Merrin kept his starting spot against New Zealand after Kangaroos coach Meninga kept the faith with his Four Nations incumbents.

Meninga’s loyalty would surely have been tested after Merrin battled to reclaim 2016’s career-best form for the ailing Panthers.

Last season Merrin averaged 156 running metres and almost 35 tackles a match.

This year he is averaging 118m and 30 tackles a game for a third-last Panthers side that have lost four straight games.

Griffin is the first to admit Merrin had not matched the form that helped Australia claim the 2016 Four Nations crown but the Panthers coach believed he deserved the nod after last year’s heroics.

“Trent has his areas that he has to work on, like a lot of players, even though I thought he was a lot better last weekend,” Griffin said.

“But to get to the international level like he did at the end of last year he deserves some loyalty for that and now he has received it.”

Meninga hinted that Merrin was trying too hard at club level but would find his feet alongside his Test teammates.

“Trent’s playing in a team that’s struggling at the moment,” he said.

“I still think he’s trying hard. Their (NRL) form I don’t think really matters.

“They come back in to an environment where they’re comfortable … and that’ll affect them in a positive way.”

Griffin hoped the Test call-up would be a shot in the arm for Merrin’s club form ahead of Thursday night’s NRL clash with Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium.

“It’s a good sign of faith by Mal,” he said. He was their best forward in Europe last year.

“I know Mal is very big on loyalty. I am happy Trent retains his spot and I know he will do a really good job.”

Don’t bow down to the US: Keating offers advice ahead of Trump meeting

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating has offered some advice for Malcolm Turnbull’s first face-to-face meeting with Donald Trump and says he should encourage the US President to build ties with China.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be in New York meeting President Trump just as the finishing touches are put on the May budget.

Former Labor Prime Minister Keating said the Australian Government should not keep “bowing down” to Americans.

“What you have to do is work out what to do with him,” Mr Keating said.

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“One thing not to do with the Americans is keep bowing down. That’s bad behaviour – bad, bad, bad behaviour.”

The trip on May 4 will be highly dissected as it’s the pair’s first meeting since their heated January phone call made headlines around the world. 

It’ll take place on USS Intrepid, a decommissioned World War II aircraft carrier, as it hosts commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

I’m delighted to travel to the US in May to meet with @POTUS President Donald J Trump & attend 75th Battle of the Coral Sea commemorations

— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) April 25, 2017

In a statement after the White House confirmed the event, Mr Turnbull said he was “delighted” to be meeting Mr Trump.

“My meeting with President Trump will provide an opportunity to reaffirm our alliance and the United States’ engagement with the Asia-Pacific,” he said on Wednesday.

The meeting comes as the Asia-Pacific region faces a serious threat from a “reckless and dangerous” North Korea.

The New York trip follows Mr Turnbull’s pre-Anzac Day visit to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he met US Defence Secretary James Mattis.

Before his trip to the Middle East, Mr Turnbull also hosted US Vice-President Mike Pence and his family in Sydney.

Mr Pence and other officials have tried to smooth relations between Mr Trump and Mr Turnbull following their January phone call, which the president called “the worst call by far” of his conversations with leaders that day.

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The tension was over an Australia-US refugee deal originally struck with Barack Obama and later reluctantly agreed to by Mr Trump on the proviso there was “extreme vetting”.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the president was looking forward to meeting the prime minister and showcasing the enduring bonds, deep friendship and close alliance the US had with Australia.

Former US ambassador to Australia John Berry said it was very important Mr Turnbull was meeting Mr Trump so early in the president’s term.

Using the Coral Sea anniversary was also a wonderful way to show how the alliance between the two nations was forged in blood during World War II.

“Right now Australia is side by side with the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria taking on ISIL and terrorists,” Mr Berry told Sky News.

“The president and vice-president are now keenly aware just how deep and broad this relationship is.”

Mr Berry said tensions on the Korean Peninsula were likely to feature in the talks between the two leaders.

The timing of Mr Turnbull’s latest trip is tricky given it takes him away from final federal budget deliberations before its delivery in Canberra on May 9.

Assistant minister Karen Andrews is not concerned about the timing, insisting budget preparations have been under way for many months.

“The prime minister’s visit to the United States is quite a separate issue and will cause no concerns,” she told Sky News.

Labor’s Ed Husic said it was good the meeting was finally happening and Australia’s voice was being heard.

“Obviously Australians being Australians, we value our friendships but we also value the right to be able to speak our mind from time to time,” he said.

– with AAP

WATCH: Turnbull’s Afghanistan Anzac Day visit

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Trump’s first 100 days: expert analysis

US President Donald Trump’s election campaign promised an America-first trade policy that included new taxes on foreign imports.

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Professor Warwick McKibbin, an expert on macroeconomics at ANU, says a sudden hike in tariffs would likely lead to retaliation and a global recession.

He doesn’t think that will happen, because Trump’s economic advisors will caution him against it. But he does predict a more gradual raising of barriers and protective taxes that could cause a trade war in three or four years.

Watch: Professor Michael Wesley at the Press Club

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“I think although a trade war is unlikely in the near term, I think we’re setting up a set of macro policies which really push in the direction of a potential response,” Mr McKibbin said.

Professor Michael Wesley, an expert on the Asia Pacific at ANU, said he expected Malcolm Turnbull to try to forge closer ties with the Trump administration.

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But he said Australia’s approach to the US alliance should depend on how long Mr Trump – and those who share his protectionist approach to trade – remain in power.

“If he’s a flash in the pan, if he’s only around for four years, my counsel would be keep your head down and just rely on those underlying structures of the alliance to take us through,” Mr Wesley told the Press Club.

“If he’s a longer term trend then we’ve got some much more profound questions to ask ourselves about how close we want to be to the United States in the long-term future.”

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Bernardi looks for more MPs and members

Cory Bernardi is on the hunt for more politicians and party members to join his Australian Conservatives, after the group’s merger with Family First.

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The South Australian senator says the door is open to anyone who identifies as a conservative and is prepared to uphold the party’s four founding principles.

“That is about stronger families, fostering free enterprise, limiting the size and scope and reach of government, and rebuilding a civil society,” he said.

“You don’t have to be of any particular religious persuasion to uphold those values. You don’t have to have any particular faith.”

Senator Bernardi says the union between the Australian Conservatives and Family First will strengthen the conservative movement in Australia and believes the two groups are a “natural fit”.

The move means Family First’s two SA MPs, Dennis Hood and Robert Brokenshire, will represent the merged entity in the SA upper house.

Senator Bernardi says Australian Conservatives has thousands of paid members and tens of thousands of supporters, but needs to broaden its base and will be registering state-based parties.

Whether the Australian Conservatives will be ready to contest the upcoming Queensland state election will be a matter of timing and resources, as with several other state polls and the next federal election.

“There is a very big plate that we have to consider how we’re going to allocate the portions that we have and our limited resources to,” he told the ABC.

Senator Bernardi, who quit the Liberals earlier this year, hit back at his ex-colleagues including former factional rival Christopher Pyne for their unflattering critiques of his fledgling movement.

“People like Christopher Pyne don’t stand for anything,” Senator Bernardi said.

“Australian Conservatives are determined to put some steel in the spine of politicians and show principle in their approach to policy.”

The party’s first real election test will likely come in South Australia, at the next state election in March 2018.

De Jong challenges AOC review independence

Former chief executive Fiona de Jong has questioned the independence of a review into workplace practices at the Australian Olympic Committee.

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Part of the AOC’s response to bullying claims by de Jong, which have led to senior staffer Mike Tancred standing down, will include an “independent” review of the body’s culture by the incoming chief executive, Matt Carroll.

De Jong said Carroll could be put in a difficult position should claims of misconduct be made against members of the executive, headed by president John Coates.

“I would question the ability of any CEO to be truly independent and impartial in circumstances that the CEO was to become aware of an allegation against an individual to whom he or she reports,” de Jong told the ABC.

“That is, any other members of the board or indeed a president.

“Why can’t it just be a fully independent commission as has been the case established to hear my complaint?”

At a Wednesday night crisis meeting the AOC executive resolved to refer de Jong’s complaint, that media director Tancred threatened her, to a committee of three senior counsel or retired judges.

Tancred has denied the allegations but will remain stood down pending an investigation.

De Jong, who quit last December, has claimed the case was among a dozen instances of workplace harassment in the AOC from 2004 to last year.

She also took aim at the AOC’s time frame in dealing with her matter.

“What the AOC hasn’t been able to do for four months, they’ve now miraculously been able to achieve in four days since my complaint became public,” de Jong said.

The response comes amid an increasingly bitter contest for the AOC presidency, with incumbent Coates facing a challenge for the first time since taking the role 27 years ago.

Olympic hockey gold medallist Danni Roche is challenging Coates with a vote to be held on May 6 at the AOC’s annual general meeting.