Turnbull tries to replicate Key bromance

Bill English is well aware of the so-called bromance between Malcolm Turnbull and his predecessor John Key.

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When asked by reporters in the South Island resort town of Queenstown what he would talk about over Friday dinner with the Australian prime minister, Mr English replied with tongue in cheek.

“We’ll probably talk about how John Key could have done a better job of being the prime minister of New Zealand I suppose.

“Politicians always talk about the other guy, don’t they?”

This February’s annual trans-Tasman catchup was an opportunity to talk about the big issues – the election of Donald Trump, the US’ decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

It was also about pressing the flesh, chatting on a stroll along Lake Wakatipu, enjoying a cruise and sharing dinner.

Mr Turnbull headed across the ditch with strong praise and a sense of admiration for the New Zealand economy and the successful stewardship of the Key-English team – and it continued.

Using New Zealand as an example, the prime minister couldn’t help but turn Friday’s formal press conference into his own question-and-answer session.

“It is not my job to interview you, but I might try,” he said with a smirk, as he asked about the NZ government’s company tax cuts – something he wants to emulate back home.

Mr English wasn’t so sure it was working in attracting more Australian businesses across the ditch.

“That hasn’t quite happened yet,” he said in reply.

Once more the diplomatic effort was bolstered Lucy Turnbull, with her husband describing both couples as very strong.

Mrs Turnbull, dubbed the “baby whisperer”, met local children during the first stop at the Arrowtown War Memorial.

And she even received an offer when meeting a local councillor’s four-month-old daughter Ida.

“What are you up to tonight,” he asked in the hope of a babysitter.

“A little busy tonight but you’re very kind,” she replied.

Mr Turnbull extended an invitation of his own to Mr English – a kayak on the “cosmic” Sydney Harbour, just like he enjoyed with Mr Key after their evening of so-called pyjama diplomacy.

But he was a little concerned.

“I’m not excessively competitive when it comes to kayaking but I do notice that if he’s good enough to beat a champion shearer I suspect his upper body strength might be pretty awesome,” he said.

Not everyone showed warm hospitality to Mr Turnbull.

On the back of a decision to award Jetstar a government contract in NZ, New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters said he hoped Mr English was thinking about the national interest.

“The ‘Aussie gold digger’ might want another strike,” he tweeted.

When asked about the description, Mr Turnbull refused to comment.

Germany bans internet-connected ‘spying’ doll

Parents were urged to disable the interactive toy by the Federal Network Agency which enforces bans on surveillance devices.

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“Items that conceal cameras or microphones and that are capable of transmitting a signal, and therefore can transmit data without detection, compromise people’s privacy,” said the agency’s head, Jochen Homann.

“This applies in particular to children’s toys. The Cayla doll has been banned in Germany. This is also to protect the most vulnerable in our society.”

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The doll works by sending a child’s audio question wirelessly to an app on a digital device, which translates it into text and searches the internet for an answer, then sends back a response that is voiced by the doll.

The German regulators in a statement warned that anything a child says, or other people’s conversations, could be recorded and transmitted without parents’ knowledge. 

“A company could also use the toy to advertise directly to the child or the parents,” it said. 

“Moreover, if the manufacturer has not adequately protected the wireless connection, the toy can be used by anyone in the vicinity to listen in on conversations undetected.”

Genesis Toys, which manufactures the doll, says on its website that it “is committed to protecting your and your family’s personal information.  

“Our objective is to ensure that our products and services are safe and enjoyable for our customers”.

It also says Cayla “is programmed to not utter, display or say words or images that would be inappropriate for children to see or hear”.

The company regularly reviews “encryption and physical security measures” to guard against unauthorised access to customers’ personal information.

But it warns on its website that “unfortunately no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage, is 100 per cent secure”.

The regulation agency added that it would “inspect other interactive toys and, if necessary, will take further action”.

The European Consumer Organisation said it welcomed the decision but criticised the fact consumers would struggle to get compensation.

Its head Monique Goyens said that “if connected toys, such as this speaking doll, can be hacked to spy on or talk to children, they must be banned.”

She added that “EU product laws need to catch up with digital developments to deal with threats such as hacking, data fraud or spying”.

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Banks probe needed, not tax giveaway

Labor leader Bill Shorten says the government has to stop running a “protection racket” for the big banks after the prime minister shot down a proposal to exempt the major four lenders from company tax cuts.

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“On one hand Mr Turnbull doesn’t want to have a royal commission into banks and on the other hand he wants to give them billions of dollars in tax giveaways,” Mr Shorten said in Darwin on Saturday.

Mr Turnbull’s policy to “look after the very rich” won’t stimulate economic growth, he said.

“It’s been estimated by Goldman Sachs, Mr Turnbull’s old investment bank, that something like 60 per cent or $30 billion of this corporate tax cut will go straight overseas.”

Some Liberal MPs are pushing for the exemption, especially with former Labor Queensland premier Anna Bligh announced as the sector’s chief lobbyist.

But Mr Shorten said it doesn’t matter to him who heads the Australian Bankers Association.

“Nothing less than a royal commission will satisfy me … Australians are sick and tired of financial scandals,” he said.

Ms Bligh has rejected her party’s calls for a banking inquiry, saying the federal government’s already responded to the public’s demand for a more trustworthy financial system.

Liberal backbencher Luke Howarth says Ms Bligh’s appointment adds weight to the argument to leave the big four out of the coalition’s policy to reduce tax rates over a decade.

“The point is that our Enterprise Tax Plan will not go through the Senate as is … and the big four banks already make plenty of money,” he told The Australian.

“There was a case to have them excluded prior to this … it is more so now … it is a blatant political appointment.”

Asked whether they could be exempt, Mr Turnbull on Saturday said the rate really had to apply across all corporations.

“Distinguishing between one sector and another is not a practical measure,” he told reporters in Queenstown before flying out of New Zealand.

“I’m not aware of that ever being done in any other jurisdiction.”

He said he understood concerns about banking practices but misconduct is being cracked down on.

“We’re taking real action to ensure the banks treat their customers better.”

Labor’s planned royal commission would not result in any action after years of inquiry, he said.

The Australia Institute said its research showed the big four would reap $7.4 billion from the company tax cuts over the decade.

“The big banks and insurers made nine per cent of company income last year but accounted for just one per cent of private investment,” executive director Ben Oquist said.

Hundreds of migrants storm Spain’s Ceuta fence

Ceuta officials said 498 migrants were counted climbing over the high border fence into the Spanish North African territory.

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A total 700 had attempted to cross, they said. 

Moroccan authorities said 250 people tried to get across, of whom 110 were detained and around 20 injured.

In Ceuta, officials said two migrants and 11 officers were hurt.

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Footage shot by the local Faro de Ceuta television showed dozens of euphoric migrants wandering the streets of the seaside enclave, ecstatic to have finally crossed into a European Union state.

“I love you Mamma, long live Spain,” shouted one young African draped in a blue EU flag, while another shouted “Freedom, freedom!”

Ceuta and Melilla, also a Spanish territory in North Africa, have the EU’s only land borders with Africa, so are entry points for migrants who either climb the border fence, swim along the coast or hide in vehicles.

Emergency services said on Twitter that 400 people were receiving assistance from the Spanish Red Cross.

Row over trade deal

The massive entry, one of the biggest since the border barrier was reinforced in 2005, comes amid a dispute between Morocco and the EU over the interpretation of a free trade farm and fishing deal.

In a late 2016 ruling, an EU court said the deal did not apply to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony controlled by Rabat where the Polisario Front is fighting for independence.

The court said this was because the status of the disputed territory remained unclear according to the international community.

The 28-nation bloc did not recognise it as part of Morocco.

The ruling opened the way for the Polisario Front and its supporters to contest trade in products from the Western Sahara between Morocco and the 28 EU states.

The decision angered Morocco, which in a warning on February 7 suggested it could lead to “a new flow of migration” towards Europe and place the continent “at risk”.

The last such massive attempt took place on New Year’s Day when more than 1000 migrants tried to jump a high double fence between Morocco and Ceuta in a violent assault that saw one officer lose an eye.

The enclave has been ringed by a double wire fence that is eight kilometres long. The six-metre high fence also has rolls of barbed wire.

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Super skippers square off in Test series

Captaincy is clearly agreeing with Steve Smith.

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Likewise Virat Kohli.

Smith couldn’t have made a more emphatic statement in his first hit on Australia’s tour of India. The skipper retired on 107 during day one of the tourists’ three-day clash with India A in Mumbai.

The pitch in Pune, where the four-Test series starts on Thursday, won’t be nearly as friendly. India A’s attack was also nowhere near as potent as that boasted by the top-ranked Test side.

But it was the reassuring knock that Smith’s side so dearly needed, having slipped to 2-55 in their only tune-up for Test cricket’s mission improbable.

Smith’s rapid rise since becoming the nation’s youngest Test captain since Kim Hughes has been nothing short of remarkable.

The 27-year-old’s batting average as Test captain is a stunning 73.73, compared to 51.83 without the responsibility.

Smith led from the front on Friday, making run-scoring look remarkably easy as is his wont. As noted by Shaun Marsh, who also retired after posting a ton, it has a major impact on teammates.

“It certainly does calm your nerves. He’s a fantastic player and his record speaks for itself,” Marsh said.

“It’s always nice to bat with him .. he batted really well. Again.”

Kohli, who has produced a double-century in each of his past four Test series, has also made impressive improvements as captain.

Kohli’s average was 41.13 prior to replacing MS Dhoni as India’s skipper – it is now 67.22.

The abilities of Smith and Kohli to take their game to another level hasn’t been lost on Joe Root, recently appointed England captain.

“They’ve gone on to bigger and better things and taken their game to the next level. I don’t see why I can’t look at it in the same light,” Root said.

Coupled with the fact both Smith and Kohli have had a couple of spats in recent years, it sets the stage for an engaging battle within the battle over the next six weeks.

The importance of Smith – as a batsman and a leader – can’t be understated as Australia attempt to snap a nine-Test losing streak in Asia and dream of inflicting India’s second Test series loss at home in 12 years.

The same can be said of Kohli.

“He’s obviously a world-class player and he’s been batting extremely well,” Smith said upon arrival in India.

“He’s a big player for India.”

Cormann’s warning over exec salaries

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has warned government businesses about high executive salaries after outrage over Australia Post boss Ahmed Fahour’s $5.

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6 million pay packet

Mr Cormann on Saturday said he had written to all government business chairs “to remind them that in setting executive remuneration they needed to be conscious of community expectations in relation to remuneration practices”.

These enterprises are now required to make executive remuneration arrangements for the 2015-16 financial year public.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier labelled Mr Fahour’s salary for the last financial year part of a “cult of excessive executive CEO remuneration” and suggested he take a pay cut.

Australia Post wanted to keep its chief’s $4.4 million salary and a $1.2 million bonus secret before it was revealed in documents released by a parliamentary committee.

The business argued that revealing salaries could expose its executives to unwarranted media attention and cause brand damage, and preferred to release the information on a confidential basis.

But committee chairman James Paterson said there were no compelling reason to keep from public scrutiny the amount Australia Post paid its senior management.

The documents also revealed that another five executives, who were not named, each earned between $1.8 million and $1.3 million.

Australia Post said its executive team’s remuneration was set by the board and not management.

Mr Fahour’s remuneration included a performance-based bonus in line with the company returning to profit and he did not receive a bonus the previous year, it said.

Salmonella bug can help fight cancer:study

A common food poisoning bug can act as a “Trojan horse” to help the immune system fight cancer, scientists have discovered.

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The salmonella bacteria can infiltrate tumours and flag the cancer cells for the body’s immune defences, making them a target for attack.

Cancers have evolved ways of evading the immune system and are often left alone because they are not seen as “foreign”.

The salmonella strain engineered by the South Korean researchers is a million times less potent than the version of the bug that causes food poisoning.

Early animal tests have proved so successful the team is seeking funding for clinical trials.

In mice with bowel cancer, more than half the animals were completely cured without any side effects.

Professor Joon Haeng Rhee, of Chonnam National University Hwasun Hospital in Jeonnam, South Korea, said: “We believe that this was turning tumour-helping immune cells, Dr Jekyll, into tumour-killing ones, Mr Hyde.”

Previous studies have looked at using bacteria to carry anti-cancer drugs into tumours.

However, this is the first time scientists have used the body’s own response to salmonella to combat cancer.

The discovery arose from an unrelated study when scientists found that bacteria attacking shellfish produced a protein that triggered a strong immune response.

The modified salmonella releases the same protein to spur the immune system into action.

Professor Kevin Harrington, of the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “It has been known for some time that certain types of bacteria, including strains of salmonella, are able to grow in tumours but not in normal tissues.

“However, until now, attempts to use bacteria as anti-cancer therapies have had limited success, both in the laboratory and in the clinic.”

The research was reported in Science Translational Medicine, one of a family of journals published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is holding its annual meeting in Boston.

Flames red-hot going into WNBL finals

Minor premiers Sydney will head into their WNBL semi-finals series against fourth-placed defending champions Townsville on an eight match winning streak.

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Dandenong will play Perth in the other best-of-three semi-finals series, having pipped the Lynx for second, after both Bendigo and themselves scored final-round wins over the WA team.

The Rangers flogged Perth 81-59 in Melbourne and Lynx then lost 73-72 at Bendigo on Sunday.

That left both Dandenong and Perth with a 15-9 record, but the Rangers took second on the head-to-head split between the two clubs, with the Victorian side winning all three of their clashes by at least 20 points.

The Flames (18-6) never trailed at home to last-placed Adelaide (3-21), winning 98-83.

They had six players scoring in double figures, headed by point guard Leilani Mitchell’s 17-point haul.

Dandenong also never found themselves behind against Perth, with Sara Blicavs contributing 20 and Steph Cumming 19 for the Rangers.

Townsville (14-10) were forced to settle for fourth after having their three-match victory run snapped by a 90-83 home loss to Canberra (13-11).

“We just didn’t come ready to play,” said Townsville captain and centre Suzy Batkovic, who bagged 26 points and 14 rebounds.

Bendigo (13-11) completed a pair of final-round one-point victories, winning 80-79 away to Melbourne (5-19), before coming home to shade Perth.

Adelaide had some joy before losing to Sydney, winning 76-74 at Canberra.

Sydney and Dandenong will host the opening game’s of the semi-final series starting next Saturday.

Townsville and Perth host game two of their respective series on March 3, with deciders, if required, in Sydney and Dandenong on March 5.

Gagai backs Knights unknown to be No.1

Newcastle star Dane Gagai has likened unknown rookie Dylan Phythian to Canberra custodian Jack Wighton, labelling him one of the biggest fullbacks in the game.

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Phythian will get his chance to nail down the No.1 jumper for round one when he starts at fullback in Saturday’s trial against Canberra in Queanbeyan.

Gagai, who started last year at fullback before reverting back to the centres, conceded Phythian doesn’t quite match up to Greg Inglis’ 105 kilograms, but still had plenty of size about him.

His 95 kilograms is sixth heaviest in the league.

“He’s not GI-big – that’s 100-plus kilos – but he’d still be one of the biggest fullbacks. He’d be like a Jack Wighton-type fullback,” Gagai told AAP.

The 21-year-old was one of ten Knights to make his debut in a rotten season for the wooden-spooners, getting minutes off the bench as a hooker in the final two games of the year.

Gagai said Phythian had the fitness and toughness to make a fist of the fullback position, but wanted take a cautious approach before crowning him a long-term answer in the backfield.

“He’s been training good at fullback but obviously training’s a lot different to when you get out on the field and the boys are ripping in to you,” he said.

“That’s when we’re going to find out what he’s got. But he’s a tough kid – he’s quick and he’s fit. I think he’s going to do a good job for us, but we’ll wait and see what happens this weekend.

“He’s normally a five-eighth, but he’s been making a red hot crack at the fullback spot.

“I think this weekend’s going to be good for him, especially against the Raiders. They’re fielding a fairly decent side. It’s going to be good to see how he goes and how the other boys go.”

Phythian’s shot at fullback means Gagai will start in the three-quarter line, where he hopes to stay after spending the past two seasons switching between the positions.

“Centre’s a spot I want to play in. I want to cement that spot and stick with the one position. Last year we obviously didn’t have as much depth as we’ve got this year,” he said.

THE BIGGEST NUMBER ONES IN THE NRL

Greg Inglis – 105 kilograms

Josh Dugan, Tom Trbojevic – 102

Jarryd Hayne – 100

Will Hopoate – 98

Dylan Phythian – 95

Darius Boyd – 94

Jack Wighton, James Tedesco, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – 93

Michael Gordon – 89

Billy Slater, Matt Moylan – 88

Valentine Holmes – 87

Lachlan Coote – 84

Bevan French – 83

McGuire to remain at lock, says Bennett

Wayne Bennett has confirmed Josh McGuire will start the NRL season as Brisbane’s first-choice lock.

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McGuire has been a cornerstone of the Broncos’ front-row for the last three seasons but started his first match in the No.13 jersey in the World Club Series defeat to Warrington.

The Queensland representative, like the rest of the Broncos pack, struggled in the first half against a fired-up Warrington but Bennett said he has no intention of shelving the plan just yet.

“We’ll persevere with it, but if I have to pick a team on the evidence of tonight I wouldn’t pick many of them,” Bennett said after his side’s 27-18 defeat.

“He’s long-term there and he wil do OK for us. We’ve got Adam Blair to come back there in the front-row, so Josh will be our No.13.

Six million dollar man Ben Hunt, who will join St George Illawarra next year, looked to be worth a fraction of that figure on a difficult night for the halfback.

Warrington coach Tony Smith revealed it had been a premeditated plan to target Hunt’s kicking game and it paid dividends in the opening minute when Joe Westerman charged down an attempted bomb to set up the first try of the game.

Hunt admitted he had been surprised by the tactic but insisted he was not too concerned by the defeat with all eyes focused on round one against Cronulla, on March 2.

“It wasn’t so much a shock but you don’t see too many teams charging down kicks in the NRL,” Hunt said.

“I thought he was about five metres offside, but It’s obviously part of the game over here.

“This is one of the best trials coming over here. It’s gives you a good idea of where you are and you wouldn’t get that with games this time of the year back home.”