Leaders beef up China-Australia free trade

China’s growing middle class has an insatiable appetite for Australian beef, and now an extra 36 Australian meat exporters will be granted special access to put steaks on hot plates.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and China’s second most powerful leader Li Keqiang sealed a deal during their bilateral meeting on Friday, expanding chilled meat market access from 11 firms to all eligible Australian exporters.

The Chinese premier also denied his country was militarising the South China Sea, insisting defence equipment on artificial islands was in place to help maintain freedom of navigation.

The meat announcement is part of a new phase of the year-old China-Australia free trade deal.

“Australia is the only country in the world with this market access,” Mr Turnbull said, adding Australian beef exports to China are already worth $600 million a year.

“This new agreement will drive significant future growth.”

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said Australia will also be selling donkey meat and edible skins into China. He’s pushing to export kangaroo meat too.

“What we are providing is food for a more affluent society,” Mr Joyce said, adding fillet steak would always be preferred over cow udder.

“Once people start making a buck and they eat fillet steak they want to eat it again and again and again.”

China and Australia are set to establish a high-level security dialogue which will cover cybersecurity, trans-national crime and legal and judicial cooperation.

The leaders had been expected to discuss the legal fate of the 14 Crown employees arrested and detained for five months without charge.

China has been anxious for progress on an extradition treaty, which is facing parliamentary delays in Australia, in order to bolster its efforts to crack down on corrupt officials who have fled the country.

On hot-button strategic issues, Mr Li and Mr Turnbull discussed the ongoing nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

The prime minister praised China’s decision to freeze North Korean coal imports in line with United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“The only thing that can tip our boat upside down is if North Korea goes crazy and then it all goes to poo very quickly, but if we have peace the whole show gets ahead,” Mr Joyce said at a separate press conference.

Asked about the South China Sea maritime dispute, Mr Li played down his country’s “so-called” military build-up on artificial islands.

“With respect to the so-called militarisation, China never has any intention to engage in militarisation in the South China Sea,” Mr Li told reporters in Canberra through an interpreter.

“China’s facilities on Chinese islands and reefs are primarily for civilian purposes, and even if there is a certain amount of defence equipment of facilities, (it) is for maintaining the freedom of navigation and overflight.”

China would “bear the brunt” if shipping routes were disrupted because it was the largest global trader.

Mr Li noted in the past year up to 100,000 commercial ships sailed in the sea lanes of the South China Sea.

China has copped international criticism for its reclamation activities in the disputed territory amid reports it has installed weapons on all seven of its artificial islands.

China claims most of the South China Sea, while Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei claim parts of the waters.

OTHER MAJOR OUTCOMES OF THE MEETING:

* A commercial deal – worth $6 billion – between BBI Group and China State Construction Engineering Corporation to develop the Balla Balla mine, railway and iron ore export facility in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

* A new Australian consulate in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province in 2018.

* The free trade deal’s chapter on services and investment is up for review.

* A ramp-up of quarantine and inspection cooperation.

* Ministerial level talks on energy and an innovation dialogue.

* Vocational education and training cooperation.

* Cultural exchanges in the arts.

* Business roundtable meetings.

Expert helping Australian women affected by Female Genital Mutilation get better care

Senior Health Education Officer for the New South Wales FGM education program Linda George told SBS an increasing number of services were seeking advice on how to work with affected clients.

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“Most Australian service providers are not aware of FGM at all. So if a woman presents to hospital to have a baby it’s a shock and can cause a panic to the midwife herself,” Ms George said.

“So it’s about educating and making service providers skilled and equipped to deal with the sensitive care that these women need.” 

There are an estimated 200 million women and girls around the world who have been subjected to FGM, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

Related reading’They aren’t aware they’re harming them’

It isn’t known how many women and girls living in Australia have been affected by FGM.  

There has been one court case involving FGM occurring in Australia, in 2016.

While there isn’t evidence of the practice happening in Australia, Ms George said the number of women living in Australia who need assistance is likely rising due to increased migration from countires where the practice is common. 

“We are seeing more service providers contacting us requesting training,” she said. 

Ms Geroge also said some women in Australia are concerned the surgery may happen to them when they return to their countries of origin to visit. 

FGM is practiced in 29 countries in Africa and also in a small number of communities in some parts of the Middle East and Asia.

Ms George, who herself migrated from Sudan to Australia 27 years ago, said there are often misconceptions in the Australian community about why FGM takes place.

“The misconception is that this is a practice that is done to intimidate to break the girl, that this is parents abusing their kids. That is not the case,” Ms George said.

“When mothers take their daughters to a circumciser it’s out of them believing that this is the best thing that they do for their daughters. They are not aware they are harming them.”

(File photo) One West African refugee is on a mission to improve health services for women in her home country.SBS Dateline

‘The silence has been broken’

National and international advocates and workers in area of FGM will gather on Friday at a conference in Melbourne to share ideas and research.

Ms George said while Australia was one of the leading OECD nations in community and service FGM education, programs in some states have recently lost funding, despite the growing demand for services.

Amina Mahmoud Warsame is a leading international FGM researcher from Somalia, who is in Australia to address the conference. 

She said despite the practice still being common in her home country, community attitudes were beginning to change.  

“The last ten years the silence around the subject has been broken.  People discuss it and many are actually question the validity of the practice,” she told SBS.

“It will take a long time because of the way it is so deep rooted in the mindset of people, but it is gradually changing”.

Ms Warsame said her research has shown that FGM can’t be tackled in isolation from other issues of gender equality that were prevalent in the societies were the practice is most common.

“An over holistic approach is needed, that also takes into account the empowerment of a woman from the economic side, political side, social side,” she said. “So you have to combine many things to get rid of it.”  

Related readings

 

Taiwan court hears landmark gay marriage case

A panel of 14 grand justices will hear a debate over a disputed law that critics say is unconstitutional because it prevents unions between gay couples.

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Campaigners for change gathered with rainbow flags outside the court in Taipei, which was heavily guarded Friday morning. 

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“Gay people as citizens deserve equal rights and protections under the law,” 24-year-old salesman Lan Shi-kai told AFP. 

Two petitions for an interpretation of Taiwan’s Civil Code have been brought by veteran gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei and the Taipei city government, which has been receiving a growing number of requests to register gay marriages.

Lawyers for Chi, legal experts and government officials will take part in the court debate, with a ruling expected within two months.

“The constitutional court’s decision is legally-binding,” Hsieh Kuo-lien, a law professor at National University of Kaohsiung, told AFP. 

“If its decision is favourable to gay rights activists, it would be effectively legalising same-sex marriage.” 

Second reading

At the centre of the case is a clause in the Civil Code which says an agreement to marry should be made between a man and a woman.  

Authorities in Taiwan have been rejecting applications for same-sex marriages based on this clause. 

The court will hear arguments over whether that part of the Civil Code contravenes elements in Taiwan’s constitution which guarantee equality and freedom of marriage.

It comes after the first draft of a bill to legalise gay marriage was passed by Taiwan’s parliament in December. 

A legislative committee approved an amendment to the civil law that would allow gay couples to legally tie the knot. 

That bill is now due for a second reading.

Taiwan is considered progressive on many issues including gay rights, however its roots in Confucianism translate into a strong sense of adherence to traditional mores. 

There has been growing momentum behind the campaign to change the law. 

However, the debate has also split society, with conservative groups saying allowing same-sex unions would destroy family values. 

Both sides have staged huge marches in recent months, with tens of thousands taking to the streets. 

Activist Chi brought the petition to the constitutional court after multiple failed legal bids to seek recognition of his marriage. 

His latest setback was in 2014 when the Taipei High Administrative Court ruled in favour of a government agency that turned Chi and his partner away when they tried to legally register their union.

“I am cautiously optimistic as the world trend is to recognise same-sex marriage and the grand justices are unlikely to bar it,” Chi told AFP ahead of the court hearing Friday.

Past attempts to legalise same-sex marriage stalled under the Kuomintang party, which dominated politics for decades until it was unseated by President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party last year. 

Campaigners were given new hope when Tsai was elected as she has openly supported marriage equality. 

Britain on alert as attacker named as British-born man

“To the men and women who propagate this hate and evil, you will not defeat us.

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Mr Speaker, let this be the message from this House and this nation today. Our values will prevail.”

That was British prime minister Theresa May addressing parliament after the attack in the heart of London that has left the country on high alert.

The man suspected of carrying out the attack has been named as 52 year-old Khalid Masood.

Born in Kent, he had previous convictions for assaults, possession of offensive weapons and public order offences but nothing linked with terrorism.

Theresa May has confirmed he had previously been investigated for links to what she calls “violent extremism,” but says he was a “peripheral figure.”

She says he had not been part of the current intelligence picture.

A candlelit vigil has been held in central London’s Trafalgar Square, where Mayor Sadiq Khan paid tribute to the victims.

“We come together as Londoners tonight to remember those who’ve lost their lives and all those affected by the horrific attack yesterday, but also to send a clear message, ‘Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism.'”

Among the victims was police officer Keith Palmer, who has been described as a hero for his actions.

Aysha Frade and Kurt Cochran, a tourist from the United States, have also been named as victims.

A fourth person, a 75 year-old man, died in hospital from his injuries after his life support was withdrawn.

A German national who lives and works in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, Patricia Neis-Beer, was among those injured.

The mother of two has undergone surgery for a crushed foot.

At the United Nations, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson has thanked world leaders for their condolences.

“There are victims in London from 11 nations, which goes to show that an attack on London is an attack on the world. And I can tell you from my talks here in the United States with the US government and with partners from around the world that the world is united to defeat the people who launched this attack and to defeat their bankrupt and odious ideology.”

Authorities say Britain’s terrorism alert level will not be raised to “critical,” instead remaining at “severe,” the second-highest level.

But the attack has prompted calls for security to be increased at government buildings.

Police Federation chairman Steve White says there will need to be a debate about whether more officers are armed.

“Policing in the United Kingdom is largely unarmed, and I think police officers and the public understand and probably want that. But, of course, the Police Service has got to be flexible. It’s got to be able to respond to the threat, the ever changing threats. And what we saw yesterday, despite the protection that there was there, there were still vulnerabilities.”

 

More fighting as latest talks on Syrian war resume

Formal indirect talks and bilateral meetings between United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and the warring sides are expected to begin later today.

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The deputy envoy for Syria, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, says he has held discussions with the Syrian opposition after earlier meeting with the government delegation.

“Substantive discussions. We went through all the issues that need to be clarified before we start. And, in that sense, I think it was a positive meeting, so, let’s see what happens.”

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias, has representatives attending the Geneva talks.

Each side blames the other for violating the ceasefire.

The latest round of talks coincide with clashes in the capital Damascus, where rebels and the army are fighting on the edge of the city centre in Jobar district.

The chief negotiator of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee representing the opposition groups, Nasr Al-Hariri, blames the government for the ongoing fighting there. “There were breakthrough attempts to break into these areas and aerial bombing. Therefore, the area where the fighting is taking place now is the same area that was targeted by the regime and its allies, and it’s the same passages where the regime and its allies tried to break through. So this is clear self-defence, and, because the regime attempts to get into these areas, you would not have seen these backwards results.”

The UN humanitarian adviser on Syria, Jan Egeland, says 300,000 civilians are at risk as the battle around Damascus rages on.

Those are the civilians of the besieged Douma and Kafr Batna areas of rural Damascus.

Mr Egeland says the Syrian government is not giving the go ahead for convoys and armed groups are not guaranteeing their security, meaning much needed aid is not getting through.

“You know, supplies are dwindling, supplies are not there anymore. The informal routes into this area were there when there was less fighting. They are gone. So they are totally dependent on our supplies. Starvation will just be around the corner unless we get there in the coming weeks.”

The fighting in Syria is also leading to increasingly busy and dangerous airspace.

Russian bombers have conducted a number of strikes in support of President Assad, and Syrian military planes are also in the air.

The now crowded skies over territory held by the self-proclaimed Islamic State have also complicated US-led air strikes targeting IS in both Iraq and Syria.

A US pilot, Lieutenant Commander William Vuillet, involved in the bombing campaign, says the situation is resulting in close calls.

“There are some close passes every once in a while. Again, we try to mitigate it as much as possible, but, with the remotely piloted aircraft, obviously there’s no crew on board, so they don’t have the same visual lookout that we do on board our aircraft. So it happens every once in a while where we have passes.”

But air strikes remain more dangerous for those on the ground.

Earlier this week, it was alleged a US-led coalition air strike near the Syrian city of Raqqa hit and killed more than 30 civilians, although the Pentagon denies the allegation.

Now in its seventh year, observers estimate the war has led to the deaths of more than 320,000 people and 280,000 continue to live under siege in Syria.

Victorian council calls on communities to lobby against 18C

Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria chairman Eddie Micallef says his organisation fully supports the principles and importance of freedom of speech.

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He says the organisation sees it as an essential element in any truly democratic society.

But Mr Micallef says the Federal Government’s proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act do nothing to promote free speech and will only increase hate speech.

He is urging ethnic and multicultural communities to come together in a campaign to oppose the proposed changes to the act.

“Well, there’s a large number of organisations that have already approached us and asked us what we’re doing in relation to the proposed changes to 18C. We’ve been getting a very strong response for us to take up the actions on their behalf. We’re saying to the ethnic communities themselves that you also have to make your own voice heard, even though we are the peak organisation.”

The call from the council comes after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced moves earlier this week to change Australia’s race hate laws.

In the next fortnight, the Government plans to introduce a bill to change the wording of section 18C, saying “insult” and “offend” are too subjective and the word “harass” is a more legal term.

The Prime Minister has insisted replacing the other terms with “harass” would make the law more effective and less restrictive.

“What we presented today strikes the right balance, defending freedom of speech, so that cartoonists will not be hauled up and accused of racism, so that university students won’t be dragged through the courts and pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal costs imposed on them over spurious claims of racism. The time has come to get the balance right, to get the language right, to defend our freedom of speech and defend Australians with effective laws, clear laws, against racial vilification.”

Labor, the Greens and a number of Senate crossbenchers say they will block the legislation.

And a Greek community group has added its voice to what the Victorian council is saying.

The Greek Community of Melbourne organisation says the proposed changes are “legally unsound” and “morally wrong.”

The group’s Jorge Menidis says it does not believe the general public wants section 18C changed.

“It’s not something that is being discussed by the general population in this country. It is something that is being insisted on by some right-wing commentators and parliamentarians. And, quite frankly, it’s something that we’re all at a loss at. But, absolutely, we will be talking to all public officials about this. We feel it’s an extremely important position that we take and – not only, as I said, us – we noticed most other communities of our wonderful multicultural Australia take.”

The Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria says it does not believe changes are needed because the provisions of section 18D of the act cover the right to freedom of speech.

“The Prime Minister gave strong indications before the election that he would not change 18C, and then to release your Multicultural Act and propose changes, you’re sending out mixed messages to the multicultural communities. Are you supportive of them, or are you reacting to some of the more conservative elements within your political process, and some of the more extremist groups? I think this just gives encouragement to those extreme groups that feel that they ought to have the right to make whatever statements they want to under the guise of free speech, and I think that’s very concerning.”

 

Downer EDI shares go down, down, down

Shares in infrastructure and mining services company Downer EDI have fallen more than 20 per cent after institutional investors showed limited enthusiasm for a capital raising to help fund its $1.

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26 billion takeover of cleaning and catering firm Spotless Group.

Downer EDI hopes to raise $1.011 billion through an offer of two new shares for every five held by both institutional and retail investors.

The company on Friday said it had raised about $757 million through the offer of new shares to institutional investors.

But those institutional investors took up only 66 per cent of their entitlements.

Also, a bookbuild aimed at selling the entitlements that weren’t taken up failed to clear the offer price of $5.95, which was a 19.8 per cent discount to Downer’s closing price of $7.42 on the share market on March 20.

Downer now hopes to raise $254 million through an offer of new shares to retail investors, also at the offer price of $5.95 and the same two-for-five ratio.

The company’s shares were hit hard when they came out of a trading halt on Friday, and were $1.47, or 21 per cent, lower at $5.53 at 1401 AEDT.

Chief executive Grant Fenn on Friday said arrangements are in place to fully fund the takeover offer and that Downer had a track record of executing acquisitions successfully.

“Downer has the team with the right experience and capabilities to manage Spotless,” Mr Fenn said .

“We have generated significant value in Downer over the past few years and we intend do the same with Spotless.”

Morningstar analyst Mark Taylor said in a research note earlier this week that Downer’s bid for Spotless was in accord with its sensible diversification away from mining services.

But, he recommended non-participation in Downer’s equity raising, saying that its shares were overvalued and that the offer price of $5.95 for the new stocks was substantially above fair value.

Skydiver dies in WA after chutes collide

A 36-year-old experienced skydiver died after his parachute collided with another competitor’s and became entangled at a national championship event east of Perth, with the organisers labelling it a freak accident.

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Rob Libeau, from the Australian Parachute Federation, said the jump was not particularly challenging for the Victorian man, who had done more than 500 skydives, and was at a normal, safe height.

Mr Libeau said the “freak accident” at the Australian Skydiving Championships near York on Thursday unfolded after the four-person team completed their formation body positions.

“They obviously did not have time to separate from each other for some unknown reason and unfortunately they collided and that collision caused the entanglement,” he told AAP.

“When they’ve pitched their canopies, something has gone awry at that point.”

Mr Libeau said it was extremely fortunate the other man who became entangled landed normally and was not hurt.

“They had a reserve parachute – he had to jettison his main parachute because it was entangled.”

It’s not yet clear whether the deceased man tried to use his reserve parachute.

A videographer also took part in the jump.

The organisation is assisting police and the coroner with the investigation into what happened, and authorities are now advising the man’s parents in Poland.

All of the competitors unanimously voted last night to go ahead with the event out of respect for the man, but a media opportunity planned for Friday has been cancelled out of respect for his family and friends.

The event is expected to conclude on Saturday but may continue into Sunday.

“It’s as safe as it can possibly be, with the advancements in technology and that sort of thing … we know the risks and unfortunately, sometimes accidents do happen, but fortunately they are rare,” Mr Libeau said.

Ricciardo reflects on influence of Italian heritage

Daniel Ricciardo is considered a future Formula One motor racing world champion.

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In his fourth season with Red Bull Racing, the 27 year-old is looking to become the first Australian to win a world title since Alan Jones in 1980.

Ricciardo thanks his Italian heritage for helping him stay level.

“The family values and always eating dinner together you know at the table and it’s not like one’s there watching TV and another’s you know in the study we all made a point to have family time. We love our food, I mean the whole world loves their food, its not just Italians but you know the big Sunday lunches – it was a big part of us getting together with other cousins uncles and aunties.

Ricciardo, wo was born in Perth, moved to Italy as a teenager to chase his Formula One dream.

He continues to keep in touch with the country of his father’s birth and makes an effort to speak the language.

“I picked up the language then or at least some of it I’ll still try and do with the Italian broadcasters over the past race weekends I try and do all my interviews in Italian with them so obviously for them to obviously show that I’m making an effort but also for me to try and just not forget the language. Its nice to have a second language. It also helps with my surname people kind of expect me to speak Italian so it does help when I can put a few sentences together.

Ricciardo’s contract with Red Bull expires at the end of next year.

He hasn’t ruled out driving for Italian team Ferrari in the future.

If I can be in a position that I’ve won championships already and then I can pick and choose where I want to win the next one then maybe that would be pretty exciting.”

For now he’s focused on making history on the race track in Melbourne.

 

Brandis waxes lyrical in race-hate defence

Attorney-General George Brandis has invoked some strange bedfellows in a spirited defence of watering down Australia’s race-hate laws.

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Senator Brandis was asked during a Senate inquiry on Friday whether he still held the view people have the right to be bigots.

“One of the problems with defending free speech is you often have to defend people you find to be outrageous and unpleasant and disgusting,” he told the committee in Canberra.

“Now, those are not my words, those are the words of Salman Rushdie, and I agree with them.”

The next in his figurative free speech dinner party guests was an American social critic and political activist.

“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise we don’t believe in it at all,” Senator Brandis said.

“Those are not my words, those are the world of Noam Chomsky, not somebody I am often given to quoting.”

The attorney then looked closer to home to illustrate his position on race-hate laws.

“In Australia we tolerate robust expression of opinions because it is part of our freedom and inherent in the constitutional system of representative democracy,” he said.

“That system requires freedom of communication; it belongs as much to the obsessive the emotional and the inarticulate as it does to the logical, the cerebral and the restrained.”

Those words were Justice Michael Kirby’s, delivered in the course of a High Court judgement in 2004.

“So that’s not merely an observation by Justice Kirby, it is actually the law of the land,” Senator Brandis said.

The Turnbull government wants the words “offend”, “insult” and “humiliate” in Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act changed to “harass and intimidate”.

Parliament makes laws to preserve a just and orderly society, Senator Brandis said.

“It is not, in my view, the role of the parliament to tell people what they are allowed to say.”

“I don’t think freedom of speech should be a defence, I think freedom of speech should be a right.”