Rates likely to be held on strong outlook

Soaring business conditions have increased chances the Reserve Bank will hold rates this year.

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Overall business conditions rose from +8.0 to +12 points in March, according to the National Australia Bank’s Monthly Business Survey, released Tuesday.

NAB chief economist Alan Oster said the index was above the long-run average of +5.0 and at its highest level since 2008.

“The lift in business conditions to these levels not only suggests that Australia is withstanding the uncertainty offshore, but that the recovery in the non-mining sectors of the economy has in fact stepped up a gear this month,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the measure of business confidence lifted to +6 index points in March, from +3 points the previous month.

Mr Oster said that provided some assurance that gains in conditions would be sustained.

“Tighter capacity, good profitability and improving confidence levels all raise the prospects for a ramping up of business spending and employment ahead,” he added.

ANZ economists said the survey showed economic uncertainty of early 2016 was fading and the economy was in solid shape.

They don’t expect the federal election to dampen momentum either.

“While consumers remain cautious given the backdrop of the forthcoming budget and election, the business sector appears unfazed by these concerns,” the ANZ economists said in a statement.

CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian said the improving outlook for Australian businesses increased chances that rates would stay on hold this year.

“Clearly the latest business survey suggests that current interest rate settings are appropriate and that further stimulus is not required,” he said.

JP Morgan economist Ben Jarman agreed, noting the survey’s strong expectations for the labour market.

“This helps the RBA stay on hold, particularly since, taken at face value, several of these survey readings now flag a clear bias to a lower unemployment rate through this year,” Mr Jarman said.

New admins ‘best way forward’ for Arrium

Arrium’s major lenders have teamed with the worker’s union to install new administrators to the struggling steel and mining group.

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The banks and the Australian Workers’ Union successfully applied in a federal court on Tuesday to have KordaMentha installed in place of Grant Thornton.

The AWU said the appointment of KordaMentha was made possible through collaboration with the banks and represented the best way forward for all parties.

“The AWU looks forward to working constructively with KordaMentha as the new administrator, engaging in a business-as-usual approach to Arrium’s operations, and ensuring we work in the interests of our members,” the union said in a statement.

But South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis said the move had created more uncertainty for 1600 Arrium workers in Whyalla and thousands more across the nation.

The government had been in advanced negotiations with Grant Thornton’s Paul Billingham to ensure Arrium and its creditors could continue to trade, Mr Koutsantonis said.

“Having forced the issue of voluntary administration, we are now witnessing the banks shamefully squabbling about the choice of administrator,” he told parliament.

“This further disruption by the Australian banks and the continued use of Whyalla’s future as a bargaining chip is distressing for those who are affected by the ongoing uncertainty and constant speculation.”

The SA government would work constructively with the new administrators and other stakeholders, Mr Koutsantonis said.

Grant Thornton said it would do all it could to support the incoming administrators in the transition and expected the impact of the change would be minimal.

Managing partner Paul Billingham said in a statement that the creditors have the right to appoint the firm they wish to represent them in the administration.

“When it became clear that the major stakeholders wished to see a change to a firm not appointed by Arrium, we agreed for the benefit of the process to support an early change as opposed to waiting until the first creditors’ meeting,” he said.

“We believe there is little doubt that the voluntary administration will provide an opportunity to restructure the Australian steel and mining business starting in Whyalla, and also improve the successful East Coast operations.”

Medical staff health at risk from X-rays

Heart procedures that involve the use of X-rays may dramatically increase the risk of health problems ranging from cataracts to cancer suffered by medical staff, a study has found.

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An X-ray technique called fluoroscopy is routinely used to obtain real-time moving images of the heart. Two common procedures that employ it are coronary angiography, for diagnosing heart problems, and angioplasty to widen narrowed arteries.

Fluoroscopy is used so often that over time the effects of radiation exposure on busy health professionals can be considerable.

Over a 30-year career a cardiologist might receive the dose equivalent of 2,500 to 10,000 chest X-rays.

Researchers have now recorded a catalogue of disorders that are significantly more likely to be suffered by doctors, nurses and technicians involved in fluoroscopy-assisted heart procedures over a typical period of 10 years.

Compared with health workers not exposed to radiation, they were 2.8 times more likely to have a skin abnormality, 7.1 times more likely to develop orthopaedic back, neck or knee problems, and 6.3 times more likely to suffer from cataracts.

Those who had been doing the work for more than 16 years were also three times more likely to develop cancer.

In addition, exposed staff had increased rates of high blood pressure and cholesterol, but relatively low rates of heart disease.

Dr Maria Andreassi, from the National Research Council Institute of Clinical Physiology in Pisa, Italy, who led the study, said: “Occupational doses of radiation in cardiovascular procedures guided by fluoroscopy are the highest doses registered among medical staff using X-rays.

“Interventional cardiologists and electrophysiologists have a two to three times higher annual exposure than that of radiologists, as they are closer to the radiological source and experience radiation exposure with the patient, whereas diagnostic radiologists are generally shielded from radiation exposure.”

Schizophrenia library to help patients

A virtual library on schizophrenia full of accurate and reliable information is now available to Australians impacted by the mental illness.

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The Schizophrenia Library developed by scientists at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) contains 2,000 downloadable fact sheets and evidence reports, as well as videos, podcasts and interviews with leading scientific researchers in the mental health sector.

Topics cover symptoms, treatments, diagnosis, risk factors, outcomes, co-occurring and the physical features of schizophrenia which occurs in about one per cent of the population, with onset usually in late adolescence or early adulthood.

The psychiatric condition is most often a life-long illness that can cause a sufferer to have delusions and hallucinations, but other symptoms include disorganised speech or behaviour, and significant social or occupational dysfunction.

The idea of the schizophrenia library was birthed by Professor Vaughn Carr from Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital who has been a practising psychiatrist for more than 40 years, and was developed by NeuRA scientist Dr Sandy Matheson.

Professor Carr says schizophrenia is one of the most difficult conditions to treat but in the long run one of the most rewarding.

“In spite of the difficulties in the early stages and degrees and distress and suffering that is experienced, we know that with the sound application of good treatment in the context of a very positive therapeutic relationship, good outcomes can occur with some hard work and the correct combination of medications and psychological treatments,” he said.

However because of an “explosion” of information on schizophrenia it has been hard to discern what is reliable or accurate.

“There is plenty of information out there, you only have to tap into Google and you’ll find a huge array of information about schizophrenia,” Prof Carr told AAP.

He says all the information found within the NeuRA library can be trusted because it has gone through “meticulous” analysis.

“The evidence has been sifted in a very systematic and thorough manner so that we can give people some idea as to what is true about schizophrenia,” he said.

Prof Carr warns that at first it may cause some people anxiety to learn that they’re receiving sub-standard treatment or “missing out” on a better alternative, however, they can be confident of getting the best available therapies through the improved knowledge the library offers.

“We need well-informed people with schizophrenia, well informed families to make accurate appraisals of the quality of treatment they are actually receiving by comparing it to the best-available evidence that is available on this particular website.”

A further two virtual libraries are being developed by NeuRA over the next two years for bipolar disorder and dementia.

Sufferers and their families can go to 长沙桑拿,library.neura.edu长沙夜网, for more information.

Government-linked Venezuelans abroad are targeted with harassment

Opposition critics accuse these individuals — known as Chavistas — and their relatives of enjoying the fruits of living abroad as their home country spirals into crisis mode, with anti-Maduro protests leaving 42 people dead and hundreds more wounded and arrested since they began April 1.

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The anger is intensifying on an international scale: in Miami, Florida last Sunday former Venezuelan minister Eugenio Vasquez Orellana and his partner were booed at a bakery and ultimately forced to leave.

Similar episodes have hit Chavistas and their relatives in Madrid, Spain and Sydney, Australia.

The public shaming “crosses the line,” according to Eduardo Gamarra, a Latin American politics expert at Florida International University.

“If they have not violated any law in the United States and are here legally, they have every right to be where they want,” he told AFP. “Bullying and reprisals are harassment and can have legal penalties.”

But Jose Colina, who founded and directs the Organization of Venezuelans in Exile, said the public humiliations are a form of “justice.”

Huge protest in Caracas, Venezuela

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“It is not tolerable that these individuals, after they destroyed the country, and are responsible for the chaos that Venezuela is experiencing, seek to exonerate themselves,” he said.

“In Venezuela there is no justice — the victims must do justice in our own way — and these acts of repudiation are one of them,” he said.

The phenomenon is not new but recently has gained visibility as tensions flare in Venezuela.

Renewed protests and clashes in Venezuela

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Protests at the homes and businesses of officials or ex-officials with links to Chavismo — the left-wing ideology created by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez — are broadcast on social media via accounts dedicated to promoting the harassment of those individuals living abroad.

On Wednesday, Maduro denounced the fascist escalation” against his supporters, whom he called the “Jews of the 21st century.”

Senior opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara meanwhile took to Twitter to speak out against the harassment, writing “it is not right, morally or politically, to harass the children of government officials.”

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PM flags ‘issues’ with Cross River Rail

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has agreed to work on a number of “issues” with the Cross River Rail project, following a meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

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The premier and prime minister sat down together in Brisbane on Thursday following weeks of sniping about funding for the project.

Ms Palaszczuk described the meeting as “positive”, but said the state government had agreed to address several issues with the project identified by Infrastructure Australia.

“The prime minister has conveyed to me that Infrastructure Australia has a couple of issues (on which) they would like some more work done and I have said that I will progress that work as quickly as possible,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“I would hope in the future it would be possible to have more discussions like the one we had today.”

Speaking at a later press conference, Mr Turnbull also described the meeting as “constructive” and “cordial” but also repeated his view that the business case presented by Queensland “needs more work”.

“The submission or the proposal is inadequate in a number of respects; this is Infrastructure Australia’s view,” Mr Turnbull told reporters.

“It needs more work. I am not making a criticism of it, I am just stating a fact.”

“We certainly want to bring the assessment process to a conclusion but at this stage it is still ongoing.”

Mr Turnbull said issues including Cross River Rail’s integration with other transport systems, notably the Brisbane Metro proposed by Brisbane City Council, as well as land use opportunities, had been identified by Infrastructure Australia.

The premier wouldn’t say how long it will take to work through the issues, but said she will be meeting with Deputy Premier and Transport Minister Jackie Trad, and her director-general to discuss how to move forward.

She says she and Mr Turnbull also talked about category D funding for people affected by Cyclone Debbie, as well as the national energy policy, as she spruiked her policy of a hydro-electric plant in North Queensland.

Two very different choirs, cultural traditions: one shared love

Created 500 years ago, today’s Vienna Boys Choir travels the world performing music by the great western composers.

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But on this day, they’re sharing the stage with a choir on its first-ever overseas trip, performing songs from an ancient culture: Australia’s Gondwana National Indigenous Children’s choir.

The tour has taken the children from their homes in North Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands to Germany, Slovenia and now to the home concert hall of the Vienna Boys Choir.

Lyn Williams is the founder.

“Well they came over with the distinct idea that they were going to share their culture, and I think they’ve realised the great richness of culture all over the world and that to share means that you’re taking in other people’s culture and giving yours back. So I think it’s this sense of this incredible cultural heritage on both sides.”

The concert series aims to bring two rich cultures together says Professor Gerald Wirth, artistic director of the Vienna Boys Choir.

“And for our children it’s great for them to listen to music they have never sung before in their life and even have a chance to learn it. It’s a great experience. It makes them aware, especially our children in Vienna, what else there is in the world – so it’s very good – and the greatest reason actually to talk about the culture of Aboriginal people in Australia and the Torres Strait people.”

The choirs gave separate performances before the Vienna boys joined the Gondwana children for song and dance.

Lyn Williams says rehearsals were a hoot.

“Oh they thought it was great fun. We have these fun island songs and of course island songs on the whole can’t be done without dance and so they had to learn the dance. And I have to say, like boys anywhere in the world – 9, 10, 11, 12 year old boys – coordinating your hands and your mouth and your feet can sometimes be a challenge. But it was fun!”

Lyn says later this year the Vienna Boys will come to Australia, performing in Sydney and travelling to Cairns – renewing friendships; singing and dancing in the tropical north.

Gerald Wirth admits this is not an easy act to pull off.

“I guess the biggest difficulty is the distance – it’s far away and it takes a lot of money and I think this is one of the reasons why there is not a lot of interaction between Australian Indigenous people and European people so this is very rare and we feel very special to be involved in such an endeavour.”

Gondwana’s Georgiana talks about the music culture of the Vienna Boys choir: “It’s very professional I guess. We have a more islander voice I guess and theirs are more… opera, sort of.”

Reporter: “And what’s the impression that you want to leave behind from the Gondwana choir?”

“That we’re proud to share our culture with others.”

Siena says she was a bit nervous ahead of this concert, but in the end…

“We sang our hearts out because it’s the end of it and like, we might as well give it our all since it’s the end and since all these lovely people came to see us perform and dance and do our island songs and perform with the boys. Might as well give it all we’ve got!”

 

 

Pick Oates not Holmes for Origin: Bennett

Speculation that Test winger Valentine Holmes will replace incumbent Corey Oates in the Queensland side has left Wayne Bennett scratching his head.

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Brisbane speedster Oates will get a final chance to impress Maroons selectors before they name their team for the May 31 series opener when he runs out against Wests Tigers in Friday night’s NRL clash.

Oates made his Origin debut last year, playing all three games as Queensland claimed their 10th series win in 11 years.

However, there is talk Holmes has leapfrogged Oates in Maroons coach Kevin Walters’ pecking order after featuring in the trans-Tasman Test after impressive form at fullback for second placed Cronulla.

Much to Brisbane coach Bennett’s surprise.

“I can’t get my head around that if that is the way they are going to go,” he said.

“He (Oates) is the best carrier in the game in traffic of anyone on the wing.

“Queensland have got him so I don’t know why they would want to substitute him.”

Bennett believes Oates is more important than ever for Queensland with prop Matt Scott (knee) and retired lock Corey Parker unavailable this year.

“Holmes is a very talented player but he doesn’t carry the ball (like Oates),” he said.

“In Origin when yards are hard to come by, and they have lost Matt Scott, a guy like Corey Oates is ideal for them.”

Bennett hoped the Maroons maintained their successful loyalty policy and stuck with Oates when they named their team on Monday.

“It (incumbency) does mean a bit in Queensland’s history,” he said.

“And I believe he has played his best footy he has played for us this year.

“I am not disappointed with the way he is playing.

“Everyone in the game knows he is hard to tackle when he carries the ball.

“There is so much upside to him I can’t get my head around why they wouldn’t pick him.”

Meanwhile, Bennett said Anthony Milford would travel with the Broncos for their next round clash with the Warriors even if the playmaker was named on Queensland’s game one extended bench.

Milford is expected to be named as 19th man as cover for recovering pivot Johnathan Thurston (shoulder).

Bennett said Milford would only enter Queensland’s camp if named in the 17.

“If he is not in the 17 he is coming with us to New Zealand, absolutely,” he said.

Flynn ‘blocked’ army move Turkey opposed

Days before President Donald Trump took office, incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn blocked a military plan against the Islamic State group that was opposed by Turkey, a country he had been paid more than $US500,000 ($A672,400) to advocate for, the McClatchy news service reports.

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According to the report, Flynn declined a request from the Obama administration to approve an operation in the IS stronghold of Raqqa, effectively delaying the military operation.

His reasoning wasn’t reported, but Turkey has long opposed US military operations in co-operation with Kurdish forces.

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At the time, Flynn had not yet registered as a foreign agent and disclosed that he had been paid to lobby on behalf of the Turkish government. Weeks after his firing, Flynn retroactively registered with the Justice Department.

News about Flynn’s activity comes amid intense scrutiny over his and other Trump associates’ potential contacts with Russia.

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice named former FBI Director Robert Mueller to be special counsel investigating Russian efforts to influence the US presidential election. Mueller will have sweeping powers, including the right to bring federal charges.

House and Senate intelligence committees are also investigating.

Trump fired Flynn in February on other grounds – that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the US.

McClatchy’s reporting reflects previous reports in The New Yorker and other media outlets about Flynn’s work on behalf of Turkey.

The military plan against the Islamic State stronghold was eventually approved, but not until after Flynn had been fired.

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PM says alleged tax fraud implicating ATO deputy commissioner ‘regrettable’

But he’s congratulated the Australian Federal Police for cracking the conspiracy, with nine people arrested so far.

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Australian Taxation Office deputy commissioner Michael Cranston, 58, has been issued with a court attendance notice for allegedly abusing his position as a public official.

AFP say Mr Cranston was not part of the syndicate, which involved his son.

“This is very much to be regretted,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Brisbane on Thursday.

“Nobody should imagine they can escape our law enforcement agencies no matter how high they may be in a government department.

“No matter how high they may be, they are being watched.”

AFP give detail of the raid and charges

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The prime minister said the fact the alleged conspirators had been caught proved the system worked.

“We have zero tolerance for this type of conspiracy, this type of fraud, this type of abuse of public office,” he said.

“We have a relentless pursuit of corruption, malpractice, abuse of office, the AFP have a very keen focus on it … as has been demonstrated.”

Mr Cranston has not been officially been charged, but is due to face Sydney Central court next month.

Four ATO officers are also being investigated, said the AFP.

How this alleged $165m tax fraud syndicate operated

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Mr Cranston’s 30-year-old son, Adam, and 24-year-old daughter and seven other people were arrested over a $165 million tax fraud investigation.

Adam Cranston appeared via video link at Central Local Court on Thursday charged with conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth.

He was released on bail as were two others also allegedly involved in the criminal syndicate.

A further two people are expected to appear at Central Local Court via video link later on Thursday.

Adam’s Cranston’s sister, Lauren Anne Cranston, is due to face court in mid-June.

Seized items are displayed at a press conference at the AFP headquarters in Sydney on Thursday, May 18, 2017. (AAP)AAP

The arrests were made following an eight-month investigation, codenamed Operation Elbrus, with assistance from ATO, Australian Federal Police (AFP) said on Thursday.

“The scale of this allege fraud is unprecedented for the AFP,” said Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Operations Leanne Close on Thursday.

It is a significant fraud investigation, financial fraud criminal investigation, that the AFP has led since 2016.

Acting Commissioner of Taxation Andrew Mills told reporters in Sydney on Thursday Mr Cranston had “up until this point… held an illustrious career”.

“We do take it extraordinarily seriously and …it is of concern that a long- standing officer has been alleged to have been involved in this,” Mr Mills said.

The ATO was conducting an internal investigation into four officials into whether or not they looked at the material they were unauthorised to do so.

“If you are an officer within the ATO, you have access to those matters only to which you actually are required for the purposes of your job. If you seek to obtain information which is outside that scope, you actually are in breach of the code of conduct,” he said.

AFP Deputy Commissioner Leanne Close answers a question during a press conference in Sydney on Thursday, May 18, 2017. (AAP)AAP

Ms Close said it appears Mr Cranston’s son has asked him to access some information.

“We don’t believe that at this point that he had any knowledge of the actual conspiracy and the defrauding,” she said.

Assets seized in the past two days by the AFP include 25 motor vehicles – luxury, vintage and racing vehicles – 18 residential properties, 12 motorbikes, in excess of 100 bank accounts and share trading accounts, two aircraft.

firearms and jewellery, artwork, vintage wines and at least $1 million located in a safety deposit box.

Adam Cranston, 30, is due to face Sydney’s Central Local Court on Thursday morning charged with conspiracy to defraud the commonwealth, while his sister is due to face a Sydney court on June 13.

Adam was arrested at Bondi while his sister was arrested in Picton during 27 raids on homes and businesses across Sydney on Wednesday.

A further six search warrants will be executed on Thursday, said the AFP.

Federal Labor’s Chris Bowen said: “Of course it’s a disturbing case but the courts should be allowed to do their job; the course of justice and law should be allowed to proceed without political commentary.”

AFP officers make their arrests during the raid

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Former FBI chief Mueller to probe Trump

The US Justice Department, in the face of rising pressure from Capitol Hill, has named former FBI chief Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election and possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

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The move followed a week in which the White House was thrown into uproar after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

Democrats and some of the president’s fellow Republicans had demanded an independent probe of whether Russia tried to sway the outcome of November’s election in favour of Trump and against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump, whose anger over the allegations has grown in recent weeks, took the news calmly and used it to rally his team to unite, move on and refocus on his stalled agenda, a senior White House official said.

“We are all in this together,” Trump told his team, the official said.

Trump said in a statement after the Justice Department announcement he looked forward to a quick resolution.

“As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” he said.

Mueller said in a statement tweeted by CBS News: “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.”

Trump, who said in a speech earlier on Wednesday that no politician in history “has been treated worse or more unfairly,” has long bristled at the notion that Russia played any role in his election victory.

The Russia issue has, however, clouded his early months in office.

Moscow has denied the conclusion by US intelligence agencies that it meddled in the campaign.

Pressure on the White House intensified after Trump fired Comey, who had been leading a federal probe into the matter, and allegations that Trump had asked Comey to end the FBI investigation into ties between Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia.

That raised questions about whether the president improperly attempted to interfere with a federal investigation.

The issue spilled over onto Wall Street on Wednesday, where the S&P 500 and the Dow had their biggest one-day declines since September as investor hopes for tax cuts and other pro-business policies faded amid the political tumult.

The Justice Department announcement came after the market close.

“My decision (to appoint a special counsel) is not the finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement announcing the special counsel.

“I determined that a special counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome,” he said.

Trump heard about Mueller’s appointment from his White House lawyer Don McGahn about 25 minutes before it was made public, the senior White House official said.

Trump assembled his inner circle in the Oval Office – Vice President Mike Pence, chief of staff Reince Preibus, economic adviser Gary Cohn, senior strategist Steve Bannon, and others – and gave them a pep talk, dictating the statement that was soon released.

Trump told them the appointment would allow them to refer questions to Mueller, giving them space to focus on policies such as tax reform.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill generally welcomed the Justice Department action and praised Mueller for his integrity, but House and Senate Republican leaders said they would go on with their own investigations of the Russia matter.

“A special counsel is very much needed in this situation and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has done the right thing,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said he was confident Mueller “will conduct a thorough and fair investigation.”

Mueller, 72, was decorated as a Marine Corps officer during the Vietnam War. A former federal prosecutor, he is known for his tough, no-nonsense managerial style. Appointed by Republican President George W Bush, he became FBI director one week before the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Mueller was credited with transforming the FBI, putting more resources into counterterrorism investigations and improving its cooperation with other US government agencies.

WA govt considers housing investor levy

Applying a $270 levy on West Australian investment properties through water rates would break a Labor election promise not to introduce new taxes, the state opposition says.

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The state state government is considering applying the levy to investment properties with a gross rental value of $24,000 or more in an attempt to repair the budget.

But Opposition Leader Mike Nahan said if Labor went ahead with the idea it would be a “broken promise, without doubt”.

“In the election, the (now) premier and the treasurer repeatedly said no new taxes after they made, of course, the commitment to a tax on foreign investment on residential properties,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“This would be a tax on some of the lowest income people in the state … it will be passed on to renters.”

Treasurer Ben Wyatt said the levy was just one proposal put forward and the government was still making decisions about cost recovery and savings measures.

“I’m tyring to come up with a way forward that minimises the impact on the most vulnerable,” he told reporters.

But Mr Wyatt could not say how much money would be raised if the levy was implemented.

He indicated the state budget, to be handed down in September, would have a range of fee and charge increases but they would be announced beforehand because they needed to be implemented by July 1.

It comes after the state government announced on Wednesday it was slashing the $5000 boost to the first-home buyer’s grant six months early, with the grant dropping back to $10,000 after June 30.

One of WA’s largest home builders, Dale Alcock, said on Thursday that Labor had inherited a bad set of books and needed to make adjustments.

“I accept that we’ve all got to pull our weight but we’re not the only industry, and the construction and property market hasn’t been doing it great over the last two to three years,” he told 6PR radio.

Mr Alcock said the mining sector was “still producing pretty good profits” as opposed to the property and construction industry.

He said it all came back to the GST imbalance and WA was being “too civil” about it and people should be “marching in the street”.

Treasurer lays down challenge to big banks

The federal treasurer has urged at least one of Australia’s five big banks to break ranks and declare that they will not pass a new levy onto customers, in the hope the others may follow.

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Scott Morrison accused Westpac, NAB, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank and Macquarie of “having a lend of people” over the $6.2 billion, four-year tax, and said they could afford to wear the cost.

He told reporters in Brisbane that the first bank to break ranks and absorb the new tax will get a lot of support from Australians.

“And if the other banks don’t want to follow them, then I’d be following the bank that is the first to move.”

Consumer watchdog chief Rod Sims has assembled a surveillance squad to work out how the banks calculate fees and charges on home mortgages to try and monitor whether the levy is unfairly passed on.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will be given access to confidential bank emails, internal reports and other documents, and also have the power to hold compulsory hearings under oath.

“We don’t have the power to stop the banks doing anything but the fact we’re looking and have an obligation to report publicly will have an effect on their behaviour,” Mr Sims told ABC radio.

But federal Labor leader Bill Shorten said giving extra money to the watchdog to track the levy was a useless gesture because even the ACCC admitted it had no teeth.

He called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to explain to Australians exactly how much they will pay as a result of the new tax.

“What they need is a banking royal commission and Malcolm Turnbull’s too weak to give it to them” Mr Shorten said.

Labor has also accused the government of policy-on-the-run with apparent indecision about whether the levy will be imposed on foreign banks.

It followed comments by the treasurer’s assistant minister, Michael Sukkar, that he would not rule in or rule out extending the measure.

“In the next sitting fortnight you will see the legislation that has been well thought through and, as I’ve said, any good ideas along the way we will look at,” he told Sky News.

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison downplayed complaints from the big banks about having to sign a confidentiality agreement over legislation for the levy.

Australian Bankers’ Association chief Anna Bligh claims the government is going to extraordinary lengths to keep the tax hidden from those most affected by it.

“A bad tax has now become a secret tax,” she said.

But the treasurer said it was not an irregular practice, noting something similar was done for its multinational tax avoidance and diverted profits tax legislation.

“It’ll ensure that we’re able to work through the issues that we have, which are very minimal, so the legislation can be introduced on time,” Mr Morrison said.

“These are sensitive matters.”

Labor wants the draft legislation to be made public, with Mr Shorten accusing the prime minister of colluding with the banks about how the levy will work.