Stop the catfight over education: MP

An independent MP has blasted both sides of politics for the “catfight” over school funding, lamenting the impact it will have on Australian children.

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Andrew Wilkie told parliament on Monday that David Gonski’s plan for education reform had become a political plaything for Labor and the coalition.

Neither had offered up anything close to the $5 billion a year extra Gonski believed was needed to lift the national standard – now $6.5 billion with inflation.

“This place is letting our kids down and I’m appalled,” Mr Wilkie said.

The Tasmanian scolded MPs from the major parties for the “sanctimonious claptrap” during debate on the legislation, which passed the lower house after some squabble on Monday night.

“It’s disingenuous for both the government and the opposition to come in here and be so sanctimonious and have this catfight about who’s delivering the real Gonski,” he said.

“Frankly, no one is delivering the real Gonski.”

Mr Wilkie argued that if Australia could afford to double its submarine fleet, it could afford to better fund education.

“The community want the politics taken out of this.”

Fellow crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie echoed Mr Wilkie’s sentiments, saying debate on the issue had been full of half-truths.

“There’s been so much spin on this matter that it’s enough to make the most seasoned follower of politics giddy,” the Nick Xenophon Team MP said.

Ms Sharkie, however, believes the Turnbull government’s plan is a step in the right direction.

She voted in favour of the draft laws but indicated her party colleagues will await more details from a Senate inquiry before finalising their stance.

It remains to be seen whether the government will have the numbers to get the proposal through parliament, with the Greens also not firm on a position.

Party leader Richard Di Natale said the legislation, as it stands, has far too many problems and was not supported by Greens MP Adam Bant in the lower house.

Asked whether he was open to negotiation in the Senate, he told Sky News on Monday: “Unless you … take this back to the original Gonski funding formula we can’t support it.”

Labor argues the funding model represents a $22 billion cut, while the government claims it’s a $18.6 billion increase over 10 years.

“This is real funding, not those fantasy figures that have been bandied around by the other side,” junior minister Michael Sukkar told parliament.

Port’s Dixon moves on from AFL brain-fade

Port Adelaide forward Charlie Dixon has rapidly rebounded from his costly AFL brain-fade, teammate Brad Ebert says.

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Dixon took longer than the prescribed 30 seconds to take a shot at goal when Port held a three-point lead against Geelong last Thursday night.

Dixon was called to play on, Port bumbled the scoring chance and Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield soon kicked the match-winning goal.

Dixon’s was roundly criticised for his lack of awareness but teammate Ebert said the Power attacker had moved on from his error.

“He has been good. He rebounded really well,” Ebert told reporters on Monday.

“He was obviously really disappointed straight afterwards. And since then he has been able to put it in the past and move on.

“He was disappointed about it but there’s nothing you can do about it now.”

Ebert, who plays his 200th AFL game against Hawthorn on Thursday night, said it was the first time had seen such an incident.

“To happen at that time was interesting,” he said.

“But the rule is there and it’s in place and I guess Charlie will speed up next time.”

Ebert said there was also some onus on Dixon’s teammates to offer help.

“As the guy who takes the mark and is going back for the shot, you do get focused and you probably go into your routine which you feel is a set amount of time,” he said.

“So the other guys around probably could have been a bit more aware.”

Port’s narrow loss in Geelong was the club’s fourth defeat of the season, all against likely finalists – Adelaide, Greater Western Sydney, West Coast and the Cats.

But Ebert said the eighth-placed Power (five wins, four losses) were in contention in all those games, offering heart the club wasn’t far off the finals pace.

“We as a team are trying to grow and build across the season and so far our losses have been disappointing but we are showing improvement,” he said.

“We really just need to make sure that we can take that to the next step.”

Price and Pearce bury the hatchet

NSW legend Ray Price has buried the hatchet with playmaker Mitchell Pearce after a chance meeting in Blues camp during the week.

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Captain Boyd Cordner has revealed how there were a few awkward moments when he and other members of the Blues staff were having lunch with the Parramatta great when Pearce walked in.

Before coach Laurie Daley recalled Pearce as NSW halfback, Price savaged the Sydney Roosters’ No.7 during an interview in which he said he had worn out his welcome in the sky blue jersey.

However Cordner said there was no lingering tension and Roosters teammate Pearce had moved on.

“It was a bit funny, we were at lunch and Pearcey walked in,” Cordner said.

“He said hello and Ray goes ‘I’m not here to pester you’. It was funny.”

Cordner said there was no ill feeling between Price and Pearce or his NSW teammates.

“That’s his opinion and he’s one of the greats of the game, so he’s entitled to say that,” Cordner said.

“I don’t know if Pearcey took it with a grain of salt but he’s professional and he’s confident in his form and ability at the moment and that he deserves to be here.”

Pearce has a forgettable record of four wins from 15 Origin games for NSW and has failed to win a series in his six attempts.

The 28-year-old has looked like a new player this year and is thriving under the tutelage of NSW great and Roosters adviser Andrew Johns.

Cordner said there had been a noticeable change in Pearce’s game, particularly in the big moments which included kicking a field-goal in golden point to beat St George Illawarra on Anzac Day.

“I know how much respect Pearcey has for Joey after seeing their relationship and them working together,” Cordner said.

“Pearcey has always been a great player but there’s been things that are missing for him to take that next step.

“I think he’s learnt that and that’s got a lot to do with him working closely with Joey.”

Japan condemns North Korea’s ‘continued provocations’ after missile

It was the North’s third ballistic missile test in as many weeks and the 12th this year – carried out in defiance of UN sanctions warnings and US threats of possible military action.

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US military monitors said the short-range missile flew for six minutes, while Japan said it fell into its exclusive economic zone, extending 200 nautical miles from the coast.

The launch went ahead despite tough talk from US President Donald Trump, who promised last week at the G7 summit that the “big problem” of North Korea “will be solved”.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe swiftly condemned the test and vowed concerted action with its US ally.

“We will never tolerate North Korea’s continued provocations that ignore repeated warnings by the international community,” Abe told reporters.

“As agreed during the G7 summit, the North Korean problem is the international community’s top priority. In order to deter North Korea, we will take concrete action with the United States.”

The North has been stepping up efforts towards its ultimate goal — developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental US.

Monday’s test also marked the second time this year that a North Korean missile fell provocatively close to its neighbour Japan. South Korea’s military said the Scud-type missile travelled for 450 km (280 miles).

Trump says North Korea shows “great disrespect” to China with missile

US President Donald Trump said North Korea showed disrespect to its major ally China after it fired a short-range ballistic missile on Monday that landed in the sea off its east coast.

“North Korea has shown great disrespect for their neighbor, China, by shooting off yet another ballistic missile … but China is trying hard!” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

Conflict ‘catastrophic’ 

Despite Trump’s strident warnings, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in an interview which aired Sunday before the launch that a war with North Korea would be “catastrophic”.

“The North Korean regime has hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on Earth, which is the capital of South Korea,” he told CBS News.

“This regime is a threat to the region, to Japan, to South Korea. And in the event of war, they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well.

“But the bottom line is, it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into a combat, if we’re not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means.”

Bishop condemns North Korea’s missile testing

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Mattis declined to say what kind of action from Pyongyang would constitute a “red line” for Washington, saying the administration needs “political manoeuvre room.”

The latest launch demonstrates the North’s determination to secure more leverage in any future negotiations with the US, said Cho Han-Bum, analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

“The North, despite its series of provocations, has not crossed the ultimate red line, which would be staging another nuclear test or a successful ICBM test,” Cho said.

“Today’s launch is the North’s way of saying to the world, ‘It wouldn’t be easy to make us suspend our weapons programmes even if you manage to pressure me into negotiations’,” he said.

Related reading’Direct challenge’ 

South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-In ordered a meeting of the national security council to assess the launch, which came a day after North Korea said its leader Kim Jong-Un had overseen a test of a new anti-aircraft weapons system.

The South condemned the missile test as a “grave threat” and a challenge to Moon, who advocates dialogue with the North in a break from his conservative predecessors.

“That the North repeated such provocations after the inauguration of our new leadership… is a direct challenge to our demand for peace and denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” the foreign ministry said.

The missile launches, and Pyongyang’s threat to stage its sixth nuclear test, have prompted calls for tougher UN sanctions and a warning from Trump that military intervention was an option under consideration.

Following North Korea’s test-firing earlier this month of what analysts said was its longest-range rocket yet, the UN Security Council vowed to push all countries to tighten sanctions against Pyongyang.

But China, the North’s main trade partner and ally, has made it clear that the push for talks – and not more sanctions – is the priority.

The US has said it is willing to enter into talks with North Korea, but only if it halts its missile and nuclear tests.

Related reading

Kelly defends plan for Russia back channel

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is defending an alleged effort by top White House adviser Jared Kushner to create back-channel communications with Russia, as the Trump administration seeks to quell mounting questions over secret ties to the Kremlin.

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Speaking on Sunday’s news shows, Kelly said he didn’t know whether the reports by The Associated Press and other news outlets involving Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, were true.

But Kelly said such back-channel communications don’t bother him and would not be harmful to US security interests.

“It’s both normal, in my opinion, and acceptable,” Kelly said.

“Any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organisations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us, is a good thing.”

Congressional Democrats demanded to hear directly from Kushner over allegations of the proposed secret back-channel, saying his security clearance may need to be revoked.

But Trump immediately railed against administration leaks in a flurry of tweets Sunday, calling them “fabricated lies”.

Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said it was “obviously very concerning” if a key Trump campaign figure was possibly seeking secret communications during the transition period with a country that intelligence experts say intervened in the 2016 US presidential election.

Schiff said the government needed to “get to the bottom” of the matter and urged a review of Kushner’s security clearance “to find out whether he was truthful”.

“If not, then there’s no way he can maintain that kind of a clearance,” Schiff said.

The AP and other news organizations reported that Kushner in December proposed a back channel between the Kremlin and the Trump transition team.

Kushner spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about facilitating sensitive discussions to explore the incoming administration’s options with Russia as it developed its Syria policy.

The intent was to connect Trump’s chief national security adviser at the time, Michael Flynn, with Russian military leaders, a person familiar with the discussions told the AP.

The person wasn’t authorised to publicly discuss private policy deliberations and insisted on anonymity.

Russia, a pivotal player in Syria, has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad, often at the expense of civilians and at odds with US policy during Syria’s long civil war.

The White House did not acknowledge the meeting or Kushner’s attendance until March. At the time, a White House official dismissed it as a brief courtesy meeting.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, described the latest allegations involving Kushner as “serious” and called for a thorough investigation.

“He needs to answer for what was happening at the time,” Booker said.

“What’s worrying me are the patterns we’re seeing. So one is this administration not talking about our values, cosying up to authoritarian leaders. And the other pattern we have is just a continuous drumbeat of inappropriate contacts with the Russians.”

Lawyers for Kushner said he was willing to talk with federal and congressional investigators about his foreign contacts and his work on the Trump campaign.

The disclosure of the back channel has put the White House on the defensive. Just back from visiting the Middle East and Europe, Trump on Sunday dismissed recent reports as “fake news.”