Cyclone Mora churns towards Bangladesh

An intensifying cyclone is churning north towards Bangladesh following heavy rain in Sri Lanka and thunderstorms in eastern India which have killed almost 200 people.

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Impoverished Bangladesh, hit by cyclones every year, warned on Monday some low-lying coastal areas were likely to be inundated by a storm surge of 1.2 to 1.5 metres above normal and raised the storm danger signal, on a scale of one to 10, to seven.

Cyclone Mora was expected to make landfall on Tuesday morning.

Floods and landslides in tropical Sri Lanka, off India’s southern tip, have killed at least 169 people in recent days, authorities said, with 24 killed in storms in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, either by lightning strikes or under collapsed village huts.

India warned of heavy rain in the northeastern states of Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh as Mora moved further up the Bay of Bengal.

Floods reached roof level and cut off access to many rural Sri Lankan villages, disrupting life for half a million people, many of them workers on rubber plantations, officials said.

Villagers in Agalawatte, in a key rubber-growing area 74 km southeast of the capital, Colombo, said they were losing hope of water levels falling soon after the heaviest rain since 2003. Fifty-three villagers died and 58 were missing.

“All access to our village is cut off. A landslide took place inside the village and several houses are buried,” Mohomed Abdulla, 46, said.

Some areas in the southern coastal district of Galle, popular with foreign tourists, have not received relief due to lack of access.

“My entire village is cut off and nobody can come to this village,” C.M. Chandrapla, 54, said by phone from the tourist village of Neluwa.

“There have been no supplies for the past two days. Water has gone above three-storey buildings and people survive by running to higher ground.”

Bangladesh is hit by storms, many of them devastating, every year. Half a million people had their lives disrupted in low-lying coastal areas such as Barisal and Chittagong in May last year.

It is still recovering from flash floods that hit the northeast, affecting millions of people, in April. Rice prices have reached record highs and state reserves are at 10-year lows in the wake of flooding that wiped out around 700,000 tonnes of rice.

Authorities will relocate thousands from coastal areas before Mora hits, officials said. About 10 million of Bangladesh’s population of 160 million live in low-lying coastal areas.

“We have taken all sorts of steps to minimise any losses, including moving people away from the most vulnerable areas,” Kazi Adbur Rahman, a senior government official in Cox’s Bazaar, said.

The Sri Lankan military has sent in helicopters and boats in rescue efforts in the most widespread disaster since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. About 100 people were missing in total.

The meteorology department on Monday forecast torrential rains over the following 36 hours.

Nationals reject indigenous proposal

Malcolm Turnbull faces a Nationals revolt over an ambitious plan for a body to provide indigenous oversight of law making.

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A convention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in central Australia last week recommended enshrining in the constitution an advisory body to give indigenous people a say on laws and policies that impact them.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said while he accepted constitutional recognition, the proposed new body was self-defeating and placing in jeopardy any bipartisan support for the Uluru statement.

“(If you) ask for something that will not be supported by the Australian people, such as another chamber in politics or something that sits beside or above the Senate, that idea just won’t fly,” Mr Joyce told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

The deputy prime minister said the final plan needed to be something the government could “sell to the Australian people”.

Cape York Institute senior adviser Shirleen Morris said there was no suggestion of a third chamber of parliament.

“All it is, is a constitutional mechanism guaranteeing that indigenous people can have a say, can give advice on laws and policies that are made about them,” she said.

Nationals MP George Christensen said he would vote against the referendum bill in parliament if it proposed a new representative body.

“If they want to have recognition of the first peoples in the constitution in a preamble or a way that recognises them as the first people of the nation, so be it,” he told Sky News.

“But this is dangerous to democracy if we start giving one group special privileges.”

A Referendum Council leader is urging politicians to wait for its final recommendations on how best to recognise indigenous people before speculating on the prospects of success.

Co-chairman Mark Leibler said a report from its indigenous steering committee, due in the next few days, would add to the Uluru statement.

“Obviously, the Referendum Council is not going to recommend any particular referendum which is opposed by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Mr Leibler said.

Federal Labor frontbencher Linda Burney, a Wiradjuri woman, said the Uluru proposals were all “very possible” and the task now was to see how they could be applied.

She noted the statement was silent on constitutional recognition, which she saw as an important change, and scrapping the constitutional race power.

“I would advocate strongly that we do have to deal with the race powers because if we don’t do that it could actually still give the parliament the capacity to do away with a body of any sort within the constitution,” she said.

Ken Wyatt, the first federal indigenous minister, is confident the council’s work on top of six years of discussion will lead to a referendum in 2018.

Greens MP Adam Bandt said when it came to a referendum, the parliament was probably more conservative than the Australian population.

“It’s time for a treaty in Australia,” he said.

Treasury part of bank levy leak inquiry

Treasury secretary John Fraser will be devastated if an apparent leak of the Turnbull government’s proposed bank levy prior to the budget came from his department.

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The value of bank shares tumbled $14 billion prior to Treasurer Scott Morrison announcing on May 9 the $6.2 billion levy that will hit Australia’s big five banks.

Mr Fraser on Monday told a Senate hearing he became aware of a news story pre-empting the announcement during the budget lock-up.

He phoned Australian Securities and Investments Commission chairman Greg Medcraft the following morning.

ASIC has since involved the Australian Federal Police, while Treasury has also conducted an internal review.

“I would be devastated if the leak came from Treasury,” Mr Fraser told senators.

Revenue from the levy has been brought into question after the big four banks estimated it would raise less than $1 billion after tax in the first year.

Mr Fraser said his department was still undertaking a confidential process with the banks but saw no reason to revise Treasury’s revenue forecasts.

It was a complex issue that took into account timing of payments, the implication of dividend payments and interactions between the banks.

Treasury discussed the design of the levy over several weeks in the lead-up to the budget.

Labor has previously accused the government of rushing through the measure, but the hearing was told there were consultations with the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and Reserve Bank which started as far back as March.

“We talked with the regulators well in advance of the budget,” John Lonsdale, Treasury’s deputy secretary for its markets group, told the hearing.

It heard the government plans to introduce legislation to parliament this week.

McCain: Putin a greater threat than ISIS

One of America’s most powerful Republicans, Senator John McCain says Russian President Valdimir Putin is more threatening than Islamic State for destroying the fundamentals of democracy.

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Senator McCain told ABC’s 7.30 program on Monday night that Mr Putin “is the premier and most important threat, more so than ISIS”.

“I think ISIS can do terrible things, and I worry a lot about what is happening with the Muslim faith and I worry about a whole lot of things about it, but it is the Russians who are trying – who tried to destroy the very fundamentals of democracy and that is to change the outcome of an American election,” he said during his stint as a guest of the US study centre at the University of Sydney

“I have seen no evidence they succeeded but they tried and they are still trying. They just tried to affect the outcome of the French election.”

He said the US needed to respond with increased sanctions against Russia for trying to influence the presidential election in November.

Senator McCain says China can restrain North Korea from using nuclear weapons.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable for the United States of America to have an intercontinental ballistic missile or a missile aimed at Australia with a nuclear weapon on it and depend on our ability to counter it with an anti-missile capability,” he says.

He says he feels nervous “from time-to-time” with US President Donald Trump at the helm of the free world.

“I do believe that the president has great confidence in his national security team. I do believe that most of the time he accepts their advice and counsel,” he says.

But Senator McCain says he reacts to what the president does, not what he says.

His comments come as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the US was no longer a reliable partner for her nation or Europe.

“When America abandons its leadership then bad things happen and that vacuum is filled which evil influences. So I appreciate the European’s viewpoint and their repudiation of Donald Trump but my friends, why don’t they say, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t have given Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize before he was ever even elected.'”

It comes as the Australian government announced on Monday it would send another 30 troops to Afghanistan at America’s request, boosting troop numbers to 300.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia and the US shared “one of the closest intelligence-sharing relationships that one could imagine”.

“The United States is indispensable and the vital for Australia’s national security and the security and safety of our citizens,” she says.

Live-streamed child sexual abuse contributing to global crime ‘pandemic’

Technological advancements, such as faster internet, live streaming and expanding storage, are also leading to ballooning rates of online child sexual abuse, new research has found.

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Videos and images of child abuse, as well as the more recent trend of live-streaming child exploitation, are all on the rise within Australia, according Anti-Slavery Australia’s ‘Behind the Screen’ report.

One of the researchers, senior law lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney Ian Dobinson, said instances of ‘live-distant child abuse’ is growing. The “sickening” practice involves using a webcam to broadcast real-time incidences of child sexual abuse to remote locations.

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Mr Dobinson says Australian laws haven’t kept up with technology and there is a “disconnect” in the sentences handed down for crimes committed online compared with those for abuse involving real-life contact with a child.

“Yes there is a difference between online offending and contact offending, but in many cases there is a real connection between the two – it’s contact offending that generates the images,” Mr Dobinson said.

“Each one of those images is a scene of a crime which is incredibly severe and serious in terms of the way we could classify our offences.”

In cases of live streaming, “the person might as well be there in the room with the adult who is sexually abusing the child”.

But police officers interviewed as part of the study said live streaming is extremely hard to detect because it is not stored anywhere.

The report calls for a peak body to be established in Australia to manage the nation’s combined effort against child sexual abuse online.

In 2013-15, the volume of child sexual abuse material increased by more than 400 per cent according to Internet Watch Foundation.

Jennifer Burn is the director of Anti-Slavery Australia and said there has been a “phenomenal” increase in child abuse material available online.

“Huge advances in modern technology has fueled the growth of child exploitation material,” she said.

“The technology has increased so substantially and brought with it so many benefits to all of us in our everyday lives, but it also has a dark side and that is that technology enables the ready facilitation of any kind of material but including material showing children being exploited.”

A senior police officer is quoted in the report speaking about the sheer scale of material being seized by police.

“Back in the early 2000s, we were dealing with kilobytes and megabytes, now we are dealing with petabytes, mainly terabytes now when we do our seizures,” the officer said.

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