‘Churchill once said’: Turnbull offers media advice to Trump

US President Donald Trump stunned the political world Thursday with an impromptu White House news conference at which he railed against his perceived enemies in the media, calling them “dishonest” and “out of control”.

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The US leader has repeatedly ignored presidential decorum, including in his relations with loyal allies like Australia, reportedly lambasting Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a phone call last month and later attacking an agreement with Canberra on refugees as a “dumb deal”.

At a press conference in New Zealand, Turnbull, who has repeatedly insisted relations with key ally the United States remain strong, was asked about Trump’s views of the media.

“Winston Churchill once said that politicans complaining about the newspapers is like a sailor complaining about the sea,” Turnbull told reporters in Queenstown.

“There’s not much point. It’s the media we live with.

“We have to get our message across and we thank you all in the media for your kind attention,” Turnbull added with a smile.

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The spat flared over an agreement struck in November to resettle in the United States an unspecified number of the 1,600 people detained by Australia on Pacific islands. Many are Iranians.

In Queenstown, Turnbull met his New Zealand counterpart Bill English and agreed to pursue the Trans-Pacific Partnership, despite Trump’s decision to dump the massive trade deal that encompasses a dozen nations.

“In light of the intention of the United States not to ratify the TPP, the two Prime Ministers agreed that Australia and New Zealand would work together to engage with other TPP partners on the way forward, over the coming months,” a joint statement said.

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Broncos using WCS as season springboard

Brisbane skipper Darius Boyd insist their week in the UK will prove to be the perfect springboard for their NRL opener against Cronulla on March 2.

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Wayne Bennett’s side swapped searing temperatures in Queensland for the somewhat cooler climes of London but skipper Darius Boyd said despite being so far away from home the week has been invaluable.

“It was very cold when we first arrived but it’s been OK as the week has gone on,” Boyd told AAP.

“In many ways it’s easier to get things done when it’s not too hot and I have to say the boys have really enjoyed being over here.

“We came here last year and had a good win over Wigan and it saw us win seven of our first eight games.”

After racing out of the blocks last year, the Broncos flatlined in mid-season winning three of their next 11 matches before recovering at the back-end of the year to reach the finals.

Their campaign finished with a dramatic golden point loss to North Queensland in yet another game for the ages between the sides that contested the 2015 grand final.

Boyd said the Broncos cannot afford another mid-season meltdown this year but denied claims the intense start to the season was the reason for failing to progress past week one of the finals.

“We came here and played in 2015 and only lost the grand final to a field goal in golden point that year, so it’s not a factor,” he said.

“You can look at reasons for this and for that, but the fact is we didn’t play well as a team and lost too many games in mid-season.

“Warrington will be a great test for us and although it’s a trial, it’s going to be a tough game and good chance for us to test ourselves before round one.”

Southern Stars beat NZ by 40 runs in T20

Australia’s easy T20 win over New Zealand hinged on the two lives Meg Lanning received and the two she gave.

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The Southern Stars’ captain made the White Ferns pay dearly for dropping her twice when the Australian innings was in the balance.

Lanning was then unusually sloppy in the field, missing a couple of catches herself, but New Zealand did not capitalise and Australia cruised to a 40-run win on Friday at the MCG.

Lanning and Elyse Villani came together with Australia struggling at 2-20.

New Zealand had won the toss and Ashleigh Gardner had a nightmare debut, run out for a golden duck when she did not return to her crease quickly enough.

Lanning was dropped when she was on 20 and 24 and those misses proved critical.

She and Villani amassed 110 for the third wicket, setting up Australia’s solid 4-151 from 20 overs.

Villani top-scored with 73no from 47 balls and Lanning made 60 from 52.

Lanning then dropped two catches off the bowling of Jess Jonassen but, by contrast, the Kiwis never looked like they might make Australia pay and they only managed 8-111 from their 20 overs.

Amy Satterthwaite top-scored with 40 from 38 balls, while Amanda-Jane Wellington snared 3-17 off four overs in her T20 international debut.

Villani, who also had a rough day in the field, said she and Lanning would pay their penance at Saturday’s optional training session before the next T20 on Sunday in Geelong.

“Obviously, it’s very unusual for Meg to drop catches,” Villani said.

“In saying that, the good thing is it didn’t cost us in any way.”

Villani usually opens for Australia in T20s, but thrived at No.4 as she and Lanning wrested control of the match from NZ.

“Meg and I fortunately have batted a lot together and I guess it (their mindset) never changes – and that’s just to play really positively and try to score off as many balls as possible,” Villani said.

“The scoreboard probably looked worse than what it felt out there.”

Villani added that Gardner would bounce back from her unfortunate international debut.

“Speaking from experience, I know how nerve-wracking it can be – you start thinking it’s a different game, when it’s not really,” Villani said.

“She’s going to be better for the experience.”

New Zealand captain Suzie Bates was left ruing a below-par performance and would demand a fightback in Geelong.

“It’s a pretty harsh game, Twenty20, especially when you’re playing a quality side,” she said.

“If you get a chance, you know it’s your day and you bat with a little bit more courage.

“We don’t need Lanning and Villani to bat like that, so we just have to be better and take our chances.

“That’s not how we want to play our cricket – we’re much better than that.”

Call for less hate in marriage debate

Campaigners for the yes and no same-sex marriage cases have called for more civil and informed debate, with parliament passing rules banning hate speech during the survey.

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Advocates of both sides of the argument say they have faced abusive comments for holding their views and expect more to come.

To keep a lid on the worst forms of hate speech, Labor backed a government bill on Wednesday to put in place a set of rules – backed up by penalties of up to $25,200 – for the campaign, which will end on November 15 with the declaration of the postal survey result.

It will be an offence to vilify, intimidate or threaten to cause harm to a person on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status or religious conviction during the survey.

Advertisements will need to be authorised and broadcasters must ensure opposing views go to air.

“We want this process to be fair and for Australians to get the opportunity to have their say in an appropriate environment,” cabinet minister Mathias Cormann said.

Liberal Party vice president Karina Okotel said she had witnessed a “phenomenal” level of vitriolic abuse for opposing same-sex marriage, which she said was a “fundamental shift” in a long-held tradition.

“A culture has developed whereby it’s acceptable to vilify, mock, abuse and shame anyone who stands in the way or even raises questions about whether we should legalise same-sex marriage,” she told the National Press Club.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson told parliament legalising same-sex marriage could result in a ban on children calling their parents “mum and dad”.

Senator Hanson said she would ignore a majority “yes” result of a postal survey.

“I feel it’s a sham, it’s farcical and it’s a waste of money,” she said of the $122 million exercise.

Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek agreed the survey was unnecessary but the protections were needed to put some rules around what was already an “awful debate”.

Greens senator Janet Rice – who married her transgender wife Penny 30 years ago when she was Peter – said she wanted to be able to hold her partner’s hand in public, the way they used to, without fear of abuse.

“We used to hold hands, we used to kiss in public but over the last 13 years we self-censor,” she told parliament.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has written to the prime minister calling for more funding for counselling services during the survey.

The NSW Gay and Lesbian Lobby told a Senate inquiry such funding was vital following a flood of offensive messages.

“Suchmaterial hassignificantimpacton the mentalhealthofsomanyLGBTIQAustralians,” it said in a written submission.

“YoungLGBTIQpeopleareatasixtimes greater riskofsuicide andthismaterialwhich perpetuateshatefulandoffensive commentsis notlikelytoimprovethissituation.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is aiming to get the survey forms out to 16 million voters by September 25, with the first in mailboxes this week.

Whitfield signs new AFL deal with GWS

Greater Western Sydney continue to lock away their in-demand AFL stars, with former No.

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1 draft pick Lachie Whitfield the latest to re-sign.

There had been speculation Whitfield could leave the Giants in the post-season trade period despite having another year to run on his contract.

But instead of chasing a pay rise at a rival club, Whitfield has penned a new deal that will result in him staying at GWS until at least the end of the 2020 season.

Whitfield joins Dylan Shiel, Jon Patton and many other teammates to re-sign this year, with all eyes switching to classy midfielder Josh Kelly.

“These negotiations all have their own timelines. Over the course of the last six months, we’ve probably had six or seven players recommit to our footy club,” GWS coach Leon Cameron said.

“It hasn’t been the smooth-sailing year that everyone wants but, in the background, these players have put pen to paper. It’s a great signal to our footy club and the rest of the competition.

“They want to be here.

“No doubt a number of footy clubs would have been looking at Lachie, and rightfully so – he’s a terrific young player.”

Whitfield described it as a “pretty easy decision”.

“This has been my home since I arrived five years ago and this is where I want to play my football,” the 23-year-old said.

“We’re building something special.”

Whitfield made a delayed start to the season after his six-month ban for evading a drugs test.

He has been one of the Giants’ best in an injury-marred campaign but had been notably quiet in last week’s qualifying-final loss to Adelaide.

“He’d be the first one to walk in and say ‘nah, it’s unacceptable’,” Cameron said.

“We’re expecting some good things from Lachie this weekend. He played really well in last year’s finals series.”

Australia lags behind other developed countries on early childhood spending: OECD report

The latest snapshot of the education system has revealed government spending is the seventh-lowest in the 35-nation group, and highlights the country’s reliance on private funds.

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Early learning advocates are particularly unhappy, pointing to the low participation rate for three-year-olds and the comparatively small share of its gross domestic product allocated to early childhood education.

In contrast, five per cent more four-year-olds than in the previous year are taking part in pre-primary education.

CEO of Early Childhood Australia, Sam Page, said the fact that the government funds pre-school education for four-year-olds but not three-year-olds discourages many families.

“I think most families would like their children to be in education, but cost is often a barrier,” she said.

Ms Page told SBS World News that other obstacles include a lack of affordability, distance and a lack of knowledge around the benefits of early learning for children.

Furthermore, many children are starting school when they’re not fully ready, having not yet developed adequate social and cognitive skills.

According to Ms Page, one in five children are developmentally vulnerable, while that number jumps to two in five for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

She said that’s where early education is more important than ever.

“What children benefit from is being with other children, learning together, learning to cooperate, learning to regulate their own emotions, learning to join in group activities and to be curious,” she said.

“That’s the most important thing we can do for younger children, is to give them confidence and create children that are keen to learn and will learn through their lifespan.”

Ms Page says she is particularly concerned about a statistic that shows 30 per cent of children enrolled in early learning aren’t attending for the whole government-funded 15 hours per week.

And she believes the economy would also benefit from a boost to early learning.

“There are three areas where it returns benefits to the economy. One is the taxes paid by working families, the second one is the better education performance from more children staying and finishing school and going on to tertiary study, and the third is – the major return to the economy, is reducing disadvantage,” she said.

RELATED READINGNot just teaching factories

Almost half of all Australians aged 25 – 34 have a tertiary qualification, outstripping the OECD average of 43 per cent.

Australia also has one of the lowest numbers of students choosing to student overseas, compared to its intake of international students which stands at 15 per cent.

Add to that, a comparatively low share of graduates in engineering, manufacturing and construction among tertiary-educated adults, 11 per cent compared to an OECD average of 17 per cent.

Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said the report reveals the importance of the nation’s higher education sector.

She has told the ABC, the system must keep up with the needs of Australians.

“This is about providing the best possible education for Australian students,” she said.

“Universities aren’t just teaching factories, they are drivers of research and innovation.”

The government is trying to pass higher education changes through the Senate, reducing university funding and raising fees.

People will also be required to repay loans sooner.

 

 

 

Qld premier takes aim at LNP M1 petition

Queensland’s premier has rubbished opposition claims a second M1 between Brisbane and the Gold Coast would cost just $500 million and asked which assets would be sold to fund the estimated $2.

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4 billion project.

Annastacia Palaszczuk avoided directly answering questions about duplicating the the state’s busiest motorway, instead saying her Labor government was focused on public transport.

She said the light rail extension between the southern Queensland cities would mean fewer cars on the road.

“Once that second stage of the light rail is complete, we will start seeing a lot of people move off the roads and on to public transport,” Ms Palaszczuk told reporters in Bundaberg on Wednesday.

Her comments come a day after Queensland Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls launched a petition calling on the government to commit to the project, while refusing to promise his Liberal National Party would build it if it won the next election.

It proposed building the first stage of the second M1 through an already-earmarked 36.5km corridor between Stapylton and Nerang.

“The opposition talk clearly about a petition – no plan to build that,” Ms Palaszczuk said on Wednesday.

Mr Nicholls defended his costings of the project, saying they came from reputable sources.

“Our costings are in the mid-range. They’re the costings that are supported by the South East Queensland Council of Mayors,” he told reporters in Innisfail.

“Once we have an election date … we’ll be making all our policy announcements, including announcements to deal with relieving congestion in southeast Queensland.”

A duplication of the M1 has not been a vote-winner in the past.

Former Labor premier Wayne Goss famously lost eight seats in the 1995 state election, partly due to his second motorway plan, which was dubbed the “koala toll road” because it would have cut through a koala habitat.

The RACQ has already signalled its support for a second highway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

We just need certainty, energy exec says

The head of energy infrastructure owner Jemena has joined the chorus of energy sector executives calling for clear government policy, saying uncertainty is jeopardising large investments.

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Managing director Paul Adams, a 30-year veteran of the sector, has called for a bipartisan approach during the transition to renewable energy.

“I think there are three or four right answers, but our view is just pick one and we’ll find we have actually got it sorted,” Mr Adams told AAP.

“Where people have different answers you are not sure you are investing under one set of rules or another, and that just costs everyone a lot of money.”

His comments come amid a heightened debate over energy as the federal government pushes AGL Energy to keep its Liddell power plant running for an additional five years beyond the end of its life in 2022.

Canberra also intervened in the gas market earlier this year, introducing the threat of export curbs on Queensland’s giant LNG projects after the market regulator warned of energy shortages and spiralling prices.

Mr Adams acknowledged the government is reacting to the situation, but his biggest concern is the lack of bipartisan policy.

“What we need is the policy certainty so that we can actually build the infrastructure, fund it and get the solution happening,” he said.

“It sounds easy but for some reason it has got hard.”

Jemena operates $10.5 billion worth of major utility infrastructure on Australia’s east coast, and is backed by the State Grid Corporation of China and Singapore Power.

It is building the $800 million Northern Gas pipeline to connect gas reserves in the Northern Territory with east coast gas markets, and has faced its share of policy uncertainty, particularly a moratorium on fracking introduced by the NT government in late 2017.

Mr Adams said the ban had impacted Jemena’s project, but he is hopeful the government would work out areas where fracking can still be carried out.

“From a short term perspective, it has created some delays in signing up gas contracts,” Mr Adams said.

“On the other hand we are a long term investor and we would rather go through a full detailed study and come out with a long term solution.”

Gas is expected to flow through the 622 kilometre pipeline between Tennant Creek and Mt Isa in Queensland by the end of 2018.

Jemena has so far signed up only Incitec Pivot as a foundation customer on its pipeline, but Mr Adams says negotiations are continuing with other parties.

Medicine and art combine at Melbourne’s first Indigenous birthing room

Hundreds gathered at Melbourne’s Northern Hospital to mark the opening of the city’s first Indigenous birthing room – appropriately named ‘Ngay Nga-Ango’, meaning “first breath”.

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Unlike conventional “birthing suites” gum leaves are scattered across the room and a vibrant mural covers a feature wall. When commissioned to create the piece, local artist Kahli Luttrell says she drew on her own experience as a mother-of-four – and added a series of culturally “appropriate” references.

“There was a selected tree and it was known as the ‘birthing tree’ and that was hollowed out by fire burnt out in the middle and they’d go at that time and give birth in the tree,” she said.

Birthing is a significant aspect of Indigenous culture and for the past  four years a specialist Koori Maternity Service Program has operated from Melbourne’s Northern Hospital.

Aboriginal health worker Jo Quinn said the program employs predominantly Indigenous health workers and focuses on cultural aspects including family and continuity of support which is of particular appeal to mothers-to-be.

“They’re seeing us right from the start – right from the beginning when they’re first finding out they’re pregnant, we’re following through with them right through their pregnancy to the first breath of the baby,” she said.

The Ngay Nga-Ango sign hanging at Melbourne’s first Indigenous birthing room.Luke Waters

Ms Quinn says it’s a striking piece of artwork which provides both a soothing outlet and welcome distraction

“In the painting there’s an actual journey described through the mural and the women, they’ve all told us they’re focusing their breathing, they’re watching this mural [and] they’re getting in touch with family – it’s a really positive experience for them,” Ms Quinn said.

Tammy Watts spent several hours in labour in the room on Australia Day before little Calliopi arrived and she said being surrounded by culture and family made for a positive experience.

“It makes all the difference – it’s very calming, it makes you feel very connected.

“I believe it helps you form the bond as you’re going through the labour itself as well which is awesome it’s an excellent feeling,” she said.

And according to proud artist Kahli Luttrell, it’s an increasingly common story.

“One lady, she had her baby and she said, ‘I just wanted to thank the artist because it was great. I had something to focus on – it took my mind off the pain which is nice.'”

“It’s nice to get feedback like that and then everyone can enjoy it,” she said.

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Australian hospitals in constant state of emergency, AMA says

The Australian Medical Association said its 2017 report card, released on Friday, painted a bleak picture of public hospitals choking under the weight of demand.

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“It paints a picture of a system that is, at best, plateauing and, according to many metrics, going backwards,” AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said.

“What we’re dealing with are doctors, nurses, [and] other health professionals that are being asked to do more with less. They can’t do that, and that’s reflected in this data,” he said.

“Patients must be at risk if they are waiting longer to be seen.”

Among the findings was that just two-thirds of emergency patients classed as urgent were being seen within the recommended 30 minutes time period, well below the 80 per cent target.

As well, the average waiting time for elective surgery rose dramatically from 27 days in 2001-2002 to 37 days in 2015-2016.

The ratio of available beds for people aged over 65 also dropped by nearly half in the past two decades.

Shadow Health Minister Catherine King said the states were under enormous pressure due to a lack of Commonwealth funding.

“It’s time Malcolm Turnbull funded our public hospitals,” Ms King said.

“Patients are suffering across the country and today is very much a wake-up call for the government.”

But a spokesperson for new Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Commonwealth funding had been increasing by approximately $1 billion per year.

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“Public hospital funding is forecast to grow from $13.8 billion in 2013-2014 to $21.2 billion in 2019-2020,” the spokesperson said.

“This represents an increase of $7.4 billion since the Coalition came into government – or more than 50 per cent.

“One of the most significant factors in waiting times for public hospitals is the practice by some states of increasing the number of private patients in public hospitals.

“Minister Hunt will be taking this up with each of the states.”

The AMA also called for a better approach to sorting out funding arrangements.

“We need to work out a way of having this conversation,” Dr Gannon said.

“We cannot have an annual bunfight at COAG (Council of Australian Governments) with the states and the Commonwealth saying that it’s your fault, no it’s your fault – that is unedifying and unproductive.

“Spending in the health system is a cost, but it’s an investment in the productivity of our country.”

IS-claimed bomb kills 70, injures 150 at Pakistani shrine

The Islamic State group claimed the attack in a statement carried by the Amaq propaganda agency linked to the Sunni Muslim jihadist group.

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Pakistan’s leaders vowed revenge for the attack on the shrine in the town of Sehwan in Sindh province, some 200 kilometres (124 miles) northeast of the provincial capital Karachi, which came after a bloody week of extremist assaults shook the country’s growing sense of security.

A police source said a suicide bomber had entered the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a 13th century Muslim saint, and blown himself up among the devotees.

The shrine had been crowded on a Thursday, considered a sacred day for prayers.

“So far 70 people have been killed and more than 150 wounded,” Inspector General of Police for Sindh province A.D. Khawaja told AFP.

“Many wounded people are in critical condition and they will be shifted to Karachi as soon as Navy helicopters and C-130 plane reach nearest airport.”

Emergency services are basic in Sehwan, with the nearest main hospital some 130 kilometres away. Provincial health minister doctor Sikandar Maindro said an emergency had been declared in Karachi hospitals.

Pakistani students light candles to condemn the recent attack on a shrine in interior Sind province, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 in Karachi, Pakistan (AAP)AAP

Revenge vow

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif swiftly issued a statement saying an attack on Sufis was considered a “direct threat”.

Military chief General Qamer Javed Bajwa warned: “Each drop of (the) nation’s blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone.”

Pakistan has seen a dramatic improvement in security in the past two years, but a series of attacks this week — most claimed by the Pakistani Taliban — has shaken the growing sense of optimism.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban said it had carried out a suicide bombing in Lahore which killed 13 people and wounded dozens more Monday, days after the group had vowed to launch a fresh offensive.

Four suicide bombers struck northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, killing six people and unnerving civilians further.

“The past few days have been hard, and my heart is with the victims. But we can’t let these events divide us, or scare us,” Sharif said in his statement.

“We have faced tougher circumstances, and still persevered.”

The attacks underscore Pakistan’s struggle to stamp out extremism, which was stepped up after the country’s deadliest ever attack, a Pakistani Taliban assault on a school in Peshawar in 2014 which left more than 150 people dead — mostly children.

The army intensified a long-awaited operation in the semi-autonomous tribal areas, where militants had previously operated with impunity, and the government launched a vaunted National Action Plan against extremism.

Emboldened Pakistanis are once again attending public gatherings and the growing confidence is palpable after more than a decade of militant attacks.

But critics have repeatedly warned that the crackdown does not address the root causes of extremism, and groups like the Pakistani Taliban — and, increasingly, Islamic State — can still carry out spectacular assaults.

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Trump pans ‘out of control’ press during first solo news conference

From there, the president’s criticism of the media went from barbed to personal in a cutting assessment of what he viewed as unfair coverage of his first few weeks in office – a period that has seen a succession of crises.

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On a day when he ceded a loss over a signature policy in a federal appeals court, had to replace his labor secretary pick and faced questions over the resignation of his national security adviser, Trump chose to make the media a central focus of an unusually long and combative presidential news conference.

When asked by journalists of contacts between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives, he deflected the questions and put the focus instead on what he described as “illegal” government leaks and “dishonest” media coverage.

“The press is out of control,” he said. “The level of dishonesty is out of control”

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After weeks of disclosures in newspapers over turmoil in his administration, he told one reporter to “sit down” for a rambling question.

“Tomorrow, they will say: ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press,'” Trump said. “I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time

doing it.”

Trump’s message in the 77-minute session appeared aimed at the same voters who elected him president last November, a large number of whom feel Washington has left them behind and who like his image as an outsider trying to shake up the establishment.

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He sought to cast problems buffeting the White House as “the mess” he inherited from former Democratic President Barack Obama, and boasted about the “fine-tuned administration” he is running.

In one unusual exchange near the end of the news conference, Trump called on a questioner, asking if he was “a friendly reporter.”

When the journalist asked about recent threats to 48 Jewish centers across the country and signs of rising anti-Semitism, Trump appeared to take the question personally, replying: “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”

He added he was also the “least racist person,” told the reporter to be “quiet,” accused him of lying and then dismissed the question as “insulting.”

Related reading’How does press get this information?’

Most opinion polls show Trump struggling with low approval numbers less than a month into his presidency. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Feb. 10 to 14 gave Trump a 46 percent approval rating.

While many presidencies have started off on rocky ground, Trump’s administration has been particularly marked by controversies, fights with the media and a legal battle over an executive order to ban people temporarily from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“I turn on the TV and open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos, chaos. And yet, it is the exact opposite,” Trump said.

Trump waved away questions about a New York Times report that members of his campaign team had frequent contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials last year.

His main complaint was that the news media had uncovered leaks about intercepted communications between Michael Flynn, ousted this week as national security adviser and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kisylak, and leaks about his own conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

“The first thing I thought of, how does the press get this information?” he asked.

Virgin hurting from soft market conditions

Virgin Australia’s financial performance has been whacked by leisure and corporate travellers tightening their belts.

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Australia’s second biggest airline has swung to a net loss of $36.1 million for the six months to December 31, hurt by weak passenger demand and restructuring charges relating mainly to fleet changes.

That compares to a net profit of $45.7 million over the same period a year earlier.

Chief executive John Borghetti blamed concerns about the economy, rising house prices and a mixed jobs market for the soft demand.

“There is a sense of uncertainty, there is a sense of conservatism.”

“I think people, generally, whether it’s corporates or leisure, are just a little bit more cautious with their spending in travel,” Mr Borghetti told journalists on the group’s earnings call on Friday.

Australia’s unemployment rate fell to 5.7 per cent in January from 5.8 per cent in December, but full-time work fell and income growth slowed, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday.

Mr Borghetti doesn’t expect industry conditions to improve any time soon.

“I hope they turn around tomorrow, but you know I think its hard to see a turnaround tomorrow. I think we’re in an environment that may take a little while,” he said.

Virgin did not provide any outlook guidance due to “uncertainty in external market conditions”.

First-half underlying profit before tax dropped sharply to $42.3 million, from $81.5 million a year ago, with revenue down 0.9 per cent at $2.63 billion.

As part of its previously announced restructuring plans, Virgin has cut jobs and the number of aircraft types it operates.

Virgin on Friday disclosed that it has agreed to sell six of its remaining Embraer 190 aircraft for an undisclosed sum, and that delivery of its first Boeing 737MAX aircraft has been delayed by about 12 months until the fourth quarter of 2019.

Virgin also announced that it plans to start flying to Hong Kong from mid-2017 as part of its alliance agreement with HNA Aviation, Hong Kong Airlines and HK Express, subject to approval by HK’s competition watchdog.

VIRGIN SWINGS TO NET LOSS

*Airline swings to net loss of $36.1m, from $45.7m profit

*Revenue fell 0.9pct to $2.63b

*Virgin didn’t declare an interim dividend