About 70 Labor Party supporters will each pay $1000 a plate to attend a dinner on Wednesday to help pay for the ALP’s month-long leadership campaign between Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese.
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Meanwhile, Mr Shorten, Mr Albanese and hundreds of volunteers will spend the next two days in a frantic telephone marathon to win last-minute support from ALP grassroots members.

In what is considered still a tight contest, Mr Shorten appears certain to emerge in a leadership role by next week.

Even if he were to lose the outright leadership ballot to Mr Albanese, Mr Shorten is expected to be chosen by the Labor caucus as Mr Albanese’s deputy.

If Mr Shorten wins, however, Mr Albanese will be overlooked by caucus in favour of Sydney’s Tanya Plibersek for deputy, according to party sources.

Labor members across Australia have until Friday to submit their votes, but both campaign teams are warning members they will need to have posted their votes by Wednesday.

The party’s national returning officer, Melbourne barrister Mr Tony Lang, will count the broader membership vote at ALP national headquarters in Canberra on Friday and Saturday.

The parliamentary caucus members will gather in Canberra on Friday to cast their votes, which will then be sealed, uncounted, by the caucus returning officer, Chris Hayes, the Member for Fowler in Sydney.

Caucus will be reconvened on Sunday where the parliamentary vote will be counted in the presence of MPs. The total national vote and the caucus vote will then be revealed – each worth 50 per cent – and the result, the first of its kind in the ALP’s history, will be declared.

Once the new leader is decided, the caucus will choose the deputy.

Mr Shorten will spend most of Tuesday and Wednesday in Melbourne trying to round up last-minute votes by telephone, and Mr Albanese will be in Sydney doing the same.

Mr Shorten’s team is claiming strong support in Victoria and NSW and relatively strong support in South Australia. Mr Albanese is receiving majority support in Queensland and Tasmania. Western Australia is about even.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.Read More →

Tony Abbott speaks to Peter Slipper in 2011. Photo: Alex EllinghausenThe expenses scandal has taken a new twist, after it emerged Prime Minister Tony Abbott billed taxpayers to attend Peter Slipper’s wedding and repaid the cost seven years later.
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Mr Abbott, who attacked Mr Slipper’s character over alleged indiscretions including entitlement misuse, said he discovered he had billed taxpayers for a ”couple” of weddings after other MPs were exposed for such travel.

An emotional Mr Slipper accused Mr Abbott of ”breathtaking hypocrisy”, saying that while other MPs had been allowed to repay errant expense claims, the charges brought against him had destroyed his life. The Prime Minister last week repaid $1095 for former colleague Sophie Mirabella’s wedding in 2006 and $609 for Mr Slipper’s event the same year.

Mr Abbott, who is in Indonesia to attend the APEC conference, reimbursed the money after Fairfax Media revealed a week ago that taxpayers met the costs of Attorney-General George Brandis and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce attending shock jock Michael Smith’s wedding.

Fairfax Media also revealed Coalition MPs Julie Bishop, Teresa Gambaro and Mr Joyce collectively claimed more than $12,000 in ”overseas study” payments to return from an Indian wedding they attended as guests of Gina Rinehart.

The Greens will re-introduce a private member’s bill to install a National Integrity Commissioner to rein in entitlements abuse. Independent senator Nick Xenophon also said politicians should write short reports explaining their reasons for domestic travel; downgrade from business class to economy for flights of less than two hours; and repay double the cost of incorrect claims.

Mr Abbott said he was advised it was ”unclear” whether his wedding travel was legitimate so he refunded taxpayers ”to avoid doubt”.

The Prime Minister warned his colleagues to ”err on the side of caution and if there is any doubt, they should act immediately to clear the matter up”.

Mr Slipper found it ”breathtaking” other politicians were allowed to pay back inappropriate entitlements while he faced court for his. ”I am before the courts for $964 when it seems to be carte blanche for Coalition figures simply to be able to write cheques for reimbursement,” Mr Slipper said.

Mr Abbott had previously used the elevation of Mr Slipper to the Speakership to attack then prime minister Julia Gillard’s ethics. Mr Abbott’s parliamentary motion – in which he said the government should have ”died of shame” – triggered Ms Gillard’s much-discussed misogyny speech.

Mr Abbott’s latest repayment came as news surfaced that a Coalition MP – who has previously lashed out at supermarkets selling halal meat – took ”arduous” taxpayer-funded study tours to Europe and Asia to broaden his cultural understanding.

Luke Simpkins argued he needed ”to visit the homelands of major non-English-speaking communities” of his WA electorate to better understand their concerns. His trips to Vietnam, Thailand, Greece and Macedonia in 2011 cost taxpayers $15,840 but he argued they were a success. He said he did not have any rest days but did go on an ”unscheduled” visit to the Acropolis.

A Fairfax Media review of travel reports has found a handful of questionable study tours, including Labor MP Laurie Ferguson’s investigation of the Roma population in Hungary after he ”was very much affected by Isabel Fonseca’s work Bury Me Standing”. And Queensland Liberal National Party MP Ross Vasta returned from a $14,345 study tour to Asia last year, calling on Australia to copy a ”phenomenal incentive” of placing a ”scratchie” on the corner of tax receipts to improve accuracy.

With Daniel Hurst

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.Read More →

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the ABAC dialogue in Bali, Indonesia. Photo: Alex EllinghausenPrime Minister Tony Abbott has set down an ambitious deadline of just 12 months to conclude deadlocked free trade talks with China, signalling Australia would sign up for “whatever we can get”.
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Attending the annual 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Indonesia, Mr Abbott significantly stepped up the pace of Beijing-Canberra negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement, even expressing the hope of using a high-level official visit to China within eight months to “consummate” an agreement.

“That might be a little too optimistic, but our intention is to move as quickly as we can. I have to say I would be disappointed if we can’t conclude a significant free trade agreement with China within 12 months,” he said.

In 2011, more than 70 per cent of Australia’s two-way trade took place with other APEC economies, with China leading the way followed by Japan, the United States and Korea.

But some trade officials regard the strategy of laying out such a short time-frame as tactically flawed.

“We have just sent the message to the Chinese that if they hold out, we’ll pretty much cave in in 12 months or else leave out the hard things we want from them like agriculture,” said one, on condition of anonymity.

Another former trade negotiator said the task was “not impossible” but the domestically thorny issues of lifting restrictions on Chinese so-called “state-owned enterprises” investing in Australia – and Beijing’s desire to allow more Chinese translators, cooks, and travel guides into the country to boost tourism – needed resolution.

Mr Abbott, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday evening in Bali on the side lines of the APEC summit, has accepted an invitation to visit Beijing next year, announcing plans to take business leaders and even state premiers along.

He said both leaders were eager to make progress on the FTA.

“Of course they can invest in Australia and we want them to invest in Australia. It is just they face Foreign Investment Review Board scrutiny from the first dollar rather than simply at the standard $240 million-odd threshold,” he said.

“The President made it clear to me how much foreign investment China hopes to make in coming years and I want Australia to get a fair share of that … it should be good for government revenues and it will certainly be good for prosperity back home in Australia.”

He said the job of the FIRB was to “scrutinise investment under certain circumstances but it’s light-touch scrutiny because we know that, in the medium and long run, foreign investment is important for Australia’s economic development”.

The current threshold triggering FIRB review kicks in on private foreign investments valued above $248 million, however the Chinese would like that dramatically increased – perhaps to mirror the US rules of $1 billion.

While in Bali, Mr Abbott will also attend a meeting of the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership countries which has been spearheaded by the US President, Barack Obama.

The TPP talks are said to be progressing but with Mr Obama unable to attend, there are fears the talks on Tuesday will fail to materially progress the multi-lateral process.

Mr Abbott said the US was “ably represented by Secretary of State (John) Kerry”, dismissing any suggestion that the Obama no-show proved his Asia-Pacific “pivot” was just talk.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.Read More →

Sideline chat: Tony Abbott and President Xi Jinping. Photo: Alex EllinghausenFederal politics: full coverage
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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has set down an ambitious deadline of just 12 months to conclude deadlocked free-trade talks with China, signalling Australia would sign up for ”whatever we can get”.

Attending the annual 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Bali, Indonesia, Mr Abbott significantly stepped up the pace of Beijing-Canberra negotiations for a bilateral free-trade agreement, even expressing the hope of using a high-level official visit to China within eight months to ”consummate” an agreement.

”That might be a little too optimistic but our intention is to move as quickly as we can,” he said. ”I have to say I would be disappointed if we can’t conclude a significant free-trade agreement with China within 12 months.”

In 2011, more than 70 per cent of Australia’s two-way trade took place with other APEC economies, with China leading the way followed by Japan, the US, and Korea.

Some trade officials regard the strategy of laying out such a short time-frame as tactically flawed. ”We have just sent the message to the Chinese that if they hold out, we’ll pretty much cave-in in 12 months or else leave out the hard things we want from them like agriculture,” said one, on condition of anonymity.

Another former negotiator said the task was ”not impossible”, but the domestically thorny issues of lifting restrictions on Chinese so-called ”state-owned enterprises” investing in Australia, and Beijing’s desire to allow more Chinese translators, cooks and travel guides into the country to boost tourism, needed resolution.

Mr Abbott, who met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday evening in Bali on the sidelines of APEC, has accepted an invitation to visit Beijing next year, announcing plans to take business leaders and even premiers along.

He said both leaders were eager to make progress on the FTA, rejecting a suggestion Chinese state-owned enterprises were barred.

”Of course they can invest in Australia and we want them to invest in Australia. It is just they face Foreign Investment Review Board scrutiny from the first dollar rather than simply at the standard $240 million-odd threshold,” he said.

”The President made it clear to me how much foreign investment China hopes to make in coming years and I want Australia to get a fair share of that . . . it should be good for government revenues and it will certainly be good for prosperity back home in Australia.”

He said the job of the FIRB was to ”scrutinise investment under certain circumstances but it’s light-touch scrutiny because we know that, in the medium and long run, foreign investment is important for Australia’s economic development”.

The threshold triggering FIRB review kicks in on private foreign investments above $248 million, but the Chinese would like that dramatically increased – perhaps to mirror the US at $1 billion.

On SOEs, China wants the threshold lifted above zero, where it sits presently. Mr Abbott said any trade agreement was better than none.

”I want the agreement to be as comprehensive as possible but I’ve always taken the view that you should take what you can get today and pitch for the rest tomorrow when you’ve got a strong foundation to build upon,” he said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.Read More →

What’s the best way to open a non-screw-cap bottle of wine? Wine knife (aka waiter’s friend)? A corkscrew? What kind?
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The romance of cork, eh? Nothing sounds quite like that glorious, slippery pop. And nothing sounds quite like the cursing when the cork disintegrates. For a while there, during the glorious Screw Cap Revolution of the noughties, we Antipodeans looked as if we might be largely freed from the tyranny of cork and its tendency, too often, to ruin perfectly good wine. When New World winemakers abandoned corks en masse, I conducted a Maoist purge of the litter of corkscrews I’d acquired over years of wishing there was an easier, faster way to extract the thing separating me from my next glass of wine.

But we still need a corkscrew in the house, for older wines and European buys. Of the dozen-plus corkscrews in our second kitchen drawer – the classic T-shape, the old-school double-winged model, the plasticky promotional ”waiter’s friend” no self-respecting waiter would ever befriend, the Italian designer number, and quite a few others – I have kept two.

One is an ageing, basic-model screwpull – the kind where you keep winding until the coil makes its way into the cork, pulls it out, and screws it off again. I love it because it is idiot-proof and requires no muscle, although some say it can be a little rough on older, fragile corks. (You might want a special corkscrew for these – the kind with two flat prongs to insert either side of the cork.) The second corkscrew I kept is a waiter’s friend. It’s a good one but I rarely use it because wielding one of these with panache takes practice. My husband, however, scorns anything else.

There is a point to this: you can read all the consumer surveys you like but the best corkscrew is the one that works best for you.

That said, there are a couple of things to look for: a sharp point and a coil that’s sturdy but not too thick, maybe with a Teflon-type coating for ease of entry. Make sure it feels comfortable in your hand – especially if you have to grip it hard. If you fancy a waiter’s friend, a curved design will probably feel better than a straight one.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.Read More →