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.”

Convention in Uluru to discuss Indigenous recognition

The meeting follows consultations around the country, led by the federal government-appointed Referendum Council.

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But not all delegates say they support constitutional recognition.

The Referendum Council is an advisory body to the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader regarding a proposed referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition.

Starting May 24, it will hold a First Nations convention in Uluru to discuss potential reforms to the constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians.

Referendum Council co-chairman Mark Leibler says he believes it is a very important process.

“It is a very significant summit, because it is the first time that this sort of process, owned by, designed by and held by the leadership of Indigenous Australians, has ever been put together in this country. And I think what will emerge from this is not only the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in terms of constitutional recognition, but also a vision for the future and perhaps the stepping stone for resetting the relationships between Indigenous Australians and future governments.”

The Council has held a dozen consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia over recent months.

Communities have been providing their views on what they believe is needed in any constitutional reforms.

Referendum Council member and professor Megan Davis has told the ABC the Uluru summit will bring together those ideas.

“Some of the things that will be spoken about are things that people have asked for since the late 1800s, in relation to an enhanced participation in an Australian liberal democracy, for example. They are things that have, for a long time, been a part of Aboriginal advocacy for legal and political reform. The dialogues have discussed that in a kind of structured way, and then, you know, Uluru will be a discussion where all of the dialogues come together — 300-odd people — to discuss that further.”

After the convention, an official statement on the preferred model of constitutional recognition will be presented to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

But neither the meeting nor the council has unanimous support from Indigenous communities.

Delegates such as Robbie Thorpe, who will attend the summit, say they do not want constitutional recognition.

“Recognition in this context for Aboriginal people is just so offensive and insulting. People have got no idea what’s going on here, I believe. And that’s not recognition. That’s having things imposed on us, as usual.”

Mr Thorpe says his communities want a treaty instead.

“We want treaty justice first. We don’t want to be a part of the racist, white-only constitution that denied us our humanity and our human rights for the last hundred years. We demand a treaty. And what is a treaty? Treaty, for me, means an end of a war, an acknowledgement of it — you know, who spilt their blood defending this country from invasion. Treaty would demonstrate some sort of good intent, wouldn’t it?”

Mark Leibler, with the council, says constitutional recognition and a treaty can co-exist.

“They are two different things, and there’s a legitimate space for both of them — for both treaty, or treaties, or agreement-making, on the one hand and, also, constitutional recognitions on the other hand. One deals with agreements, the other one deals with the constitution. So they’re not in conflict with each other, and they can sit side-by-side.”

 

 

Special counsel appointed in US to investigate Russian connection

The United States Justice Department has named former FBI director Robert Mueller to oversee an investigation into Russia’s alleged role in last year’s presidential election.

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The appointment of the special counsel comes amid growing pressure from opposition Democrats for someone outside the Justice Department to handle the investigation.

Mr Mueller will be ultimately answerable to deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein, who announced the appointment, and, by extension, to the president.

But as a special counsel, he will have greater autonomy than a United States attorney to run the investigation.

Democratic senator Jackie Speier, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, has told CNN she is happy with the appointment.

“I am, indeed. And the necessity to have a special counsel has been something I’ve been harping on now for weeks. We really needed to have this role be identified, and I think now we’ve got to make sure that whoever is selected as the new director of the FBI is above politics and is certainly not someone who has held a political position before.”

Robert Mueller was appointed FBI director in 2001, handled the aftermath of the September 11 attack and remained in the position until retiring in 2013.

White House officials had previously said the appointment of a special counsel was unnecessary.

The move comes as Donald Trump faces what his critics say are the most serious allegations of his presidency.

He is accused of trying in February to have then-FBI director James Comey drop an investigation into former national-security adviser Michael Flynn’s suspected links to Russia.

That report followed confirmation by Mr Trump that he himself disclosed security details about the self-proclaimed Islamic State to the Russian foreign minister last week.

Politicians from both sides of politics are demanding answers.

And during an address at a graduation ceremony for coastguard cadets, President Trump has vented his frustration.

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history has been treated worse, or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down.”

Worries in the United States over the claims have stretched from Washington to Wall Street, with the Dow Jones dropping 370 points, its worst daily fall in eight months.

Senior Republican senator John McCain says developments have now reached the scale of the infamous Watergate scandal of the 1970s.

“I think it’s reaching a point where it’s of Watergate size and scale and a couple of other scandals that you and I have seen. It’s a centipede that the shoe continues to drop, and every couple of days there’s a new aspect of this really unhappy situation.”

But another Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan, has warned against any rush to judgment.

“We need the facts. There are some people out there who want to harm the President, but we have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House.”

The Democrats have insisted the Republicans could not be trusted to thoroughly investigate the President.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed that point in Congress for a second day.

“Concerns about our national security, the rule of law, the independence of our nation’s highest law-enforcement agencies, are mounting in this land. The stated explanation for these explanations from the White House have been porous, shifting and, all too often, contradictory. The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. What are now required are facts and impartial investigations into these very serious matters.”

Texas Democratic senator Al Green has called for Donald Trump’s impeachment.

“I rise today with a sense of responsibility and duty to the people who have elected me, a sense of duty to this country, a sense of duty to the constitution of the United States of America. I rise today, Mr Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the President of the United States of America for obstruction of justice. I do not do this for political purposes, Mr Speaker. I do this because I believe in the great ideals that this country stands for — liberty and justice for all.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin has intervened in the matter of Mr Trump sharing security secrets with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Mr Putin says no secrets have been passed on and, if necessary, he can supply a record of the interview.

“More than that, if the US considers it necessary, we are ready to provide the Senate and US Congress with a recording of the conversation between Lavrov and Trump. But only if the American administration wants it.”

It is unclear whether Mr Putin was referring to a written or audio record of the exchange.

 

Pell says he’s innocent of abuse claims

Cardinal George Pell maintains he is innocent of historical child sexual assault allegations as police decide whether to charge Australia’s most senior Catholic.

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Victoria Police say they will take time to consider whether charges are laid after receiving final advice from the state’s Director of Public Prosecutions about the allegations, which Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied.

“I’d just like to restate my innocence,” Cardinal Pell told reporters in Rome on Wednesday.

“I stand by everything I’ve said at the royal commission and in other places.

“We have to respect due process, wait until it’s concluded and obviously I’ll continue to co-operate fully.”

When asked if he would be prepared to go to Australia, he answered: “I will continue to cooperate fully.”

Australia does not have an extradition treaty with the Vatican, which could potentially complicate matters if Cardinal Pell is charged unless he voluntarily returns to Australia.

However, Australian National University professor of international law Donald Rothwell believes Cardinal Pell would want to return to Australia to mount a vigorous defence if charged.

Cardinal Pell, who, as the Vatican’s finance chief is considered the third most powerful person in the Catholic Church, has said each and every allegation of abuse and cover-up against him is false.

The allegations against the former Ballarat priest and Melbourne and Sydney archbishop were repeated in a book published this week, which Cardinal Pell’s office in Rome labelled “an exercise in character assassination”.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said Cardinal Pell is the victim of relentless character attacks and justice must be left to run its course.

“What is clear, however, is that Cardinal Pell has co-operated in every way with multiple police, parliamentary and royal commission investigations.”

Fresh Fairfax offer fires up bidding war

The prospect of a bidding war for Fairfax Media between two US private equity funds has driven its shares to a fresh six-year high.

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San Francisco-based Hellman & Friedman lodged an indicative cash offer of between $1.225 and $1.25 per Fairfax share late on Wednesday, valuing the newspaper publisher at between $2.82 billion and $2.87 billion.

It trumps the improved $2.76 billion bid lobbed by TPG Capital and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board on Monday.

The new bid pushed Fairfax shares as high as $1.24 on Thursday, their best value since May 3, 2011.

Fairfax will now open its books to both parties for due diligence, to see whether an “acceptable binding transaction can be agreed” for the whole company.

“The Fairfax board appreciates the support shareholders have demonstrated for Fairfax’s current strategy and the potential separation of the Domain Group,” chairman Nick Falloon said in a statement.

“We have carefully considered the indicative proposals and believe it is in the best interests of shareholders to grant both parties due diligence.”

The TPG-led consortium initially offered $2.2 billion for parts of Fairfax, including its money-spinning Domain real estate classified business and flagship newspapers including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

It then returned with an all-cash bid of $1.20 per share for the whole company, which analysts said indicated an intention to subsequently offload the parts of the business in which it had no interest.

That would include regional newspapers and Fairfax’s 50 per cent stake in local Netflix rival Stan.

TPG’s Australia and New Zealand boss, Joel Thickins, will appear before a Senate inquiry into the future of public interest journalism in Melbourne on Friday afternoon to be quizzed by federal politicians.

Hellman & Friedman’s bid is also for the whole company.

Morningstar analyst Brian Han, who flagged the possibility of a rival to TPG prior to the announcement of the second bidder, said expectations of a relaxation of media ownership laws may encourage such a strategy.

“The possible change in the regulatory landscape also presents Fairfax with options, either as a target for another suitor or to turn itself into an acquirer,” Mr Han said in a note to investors on Wednesday.

Former Fairfax chairman Brian Powers is senior advisor and chairman emeritus at Hellman & Friedman.

The Australian Financial Review, which is owned by Fairfax, reported that Mr Powers is understood to be involved in the deal, and to have a good working relationship with current Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood.

In 2014, Hellman & Friedman was linked with a bid for the Ten Network.

Any formal, board recommended takeover offer for Fairfax would require approval from its shareholders, the Foreign Investment Review Board and New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office.

Fairfax shares closed up eight cents, or 6.9 per cent, at $1.24.

Precarious truce starts in Yemen

A shaky truce has taken hold in Yemen under a UN-backed effort to end a war that has made the country a front in Saudi Arabia’s region-wide rivalry with Iran and caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

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The war-damaged capital Sanaa spent a quiet night, witnesses said, but residents said fighting flared in the southwestern city of Taiz soon after the planned start of the cessation of hostilities at 2100 GMT on Sunday (0700 AEST Monday).

The government, which is backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, and its Iranian-allied Houthi adversaries blamed each other for the violence in Taiz, a city that has been hit hard by the war.

The government accused Houthis of using heavy artillery within moments of the start of the truce, while the Houthis said coalition warplanes staged three strikes on the city.

“People are no longer able to live because of the war that destroyed everything,” said Shawqi Abdullah, a 30-year-old taxi driver in Sanaa, which lies in the north of the country.

“We had a calm night with no planes flying or fear of bombs. And we hope the calm will continue and the war ends.”

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The main southern port city of Aden, where coalition fighters expelled Houthi forces in July, was also quiet.

The halt in fighting precedes peace talks set to begin on April 18 in Kuwait under UN auspices between the government and the Houthis foes aimed at ending a conflict that has killed more than 6200 people and displaced millions.

The United Nations special envoy for Yemen said in a statement a committee of military representatives from both sides would work to make the truce hold.

“Now is the time to step back from the brink,” Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said.

“This truce is in its early stages, violations may occur in the beginning, but we hope the next few hours will see more discipline towards the ceasefire,” Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abdel Malek al-Mekhlafi told pan-Arab TV channel al-Arabiya.

The conflict has caused a humanitarian disaster, with nearly half of Yemen’s 22 provinces on the verge of famine, the UN World Food Program said in March.

The UN Children’s Fund said basic services and infrastructure were on the verge of total collapse.

A Masters won as much as it was lost

A big deficit.

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A collapse that was painful to watch. An Englishman in a green jacket who might not get his due.

Nick Faldo has seen this all before.

On Sunday, it was Danny Willett who hit all the right shots to win the Masters.

“We all go out there and try and play good golf, and at the end of the day, someone has got to win the golf tournament,” Willett said in Butler Cabin as Jordan Spieth, his face still awash in shock, looked on.

“And, fortunately enough, today was my day.”

Just like 20 years ago, when Faldo won at Greg Norman’s expense, this Masters might be remembered more for the way it was lost than how it was won.

Even as Willett stood on the 18th green in his green jacket, he couldn’t help but say to Jordan Spieth, “I feel very fortunate to be standing here, and you not putting the jacket on yourself again.”

This was Spieth’s to lose, and he did just that in matter of three holes – a brutal stretch which included a quadruple bogey on the 12th.

Those are the shots for which this Masters will be remembered, at least in the immediate future.

The images are not Willett clenching his fist when he made three birdies on the last six holes, but Spieth hanging his head as a five-shot lead turned into a three-shot deficit.

“It was a really tough 30 minutes for me,” Spieth said, “that hopefully I never experience again.”

Two weeks ago, Faldo was reminiscing about his six-shot comeback to beat Norman in 1996.

Everyone remembers the short putts the Shark missed, the tee shot into the water on No.12 that cost him the lead, and the 78 on his card.

Faldo thinks more about the fact he shot 67 – the same score as Willett on Sunday – that was the lowest on the weekend.

Willett had a bogey-free 67 that matched the lowest score on the weekend this year.

He started the final round only three shots behind, tied with world No.1 Jason Day and Dustin Johnson.

The other three players ahead of him, and even those behind him, couldn’t sustain the round of golf that Willett put together.

Yes, Spieth lost it. But someone had to win it.

“I just feel fortunate that I was in the position that I was able to pounce on the opportunity,” Willett said.

“If I had been 5-over par, then it wouldn’t have mattered what Jordan had done. Fortunately, I was in a position where we were in second place, playing quite nicely, and as a result of him doing what he did, we were able to stay at the lead.”

The victory was a surprise only in the way it unfolded, not the name on the trophy.

Willett goes to No.9 in the world.

Where does he go from here? For starters, home to England to see his wife and their son, born March 30.

Willett wasn’t expecting to play the Masters this year because the due date was Sunday of the Masters.

He had that date circled to become a father. That’s now the day he became a major champion. And as much as Spieth lost it, Willett earned it.

Zika ‘scarier’ than initially thought, US officials warn

Top health officials expressed heightened concern on Monday about the threat posed to the United States by the Zika virus, saying the mosquito that spreads it is now present in about 30 states and hundreds of thousands of infections could appear in Puerto Rico.

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At a White House briefing, they stepped up pressure on the Republican-led Congress to pass approximately $1.9 billion in emergency funding for Zika preparedness that the Obama administration requested in February.

“Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, a deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“And so while we absolutely hope we don’t see widespread local transmission in the continental U.S., we need the states to be ready for that,” Schuchat added.

Zika, linked to numerous cases of the birth defect micocephaly in Brazil, is spreading rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought”

The White House said last week in the absence of the emergency funds it will redirect $589 million, mostly from money already provided by Congress to tackle the Ebola virus, to prepare for Zika before it begins to emerge in the continental United States as the weather warms.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said if Congress does not provide emergency Zika funding, U.S. officials likely would be forced to redirect money currently dedicated for research into malaria, tuberculosis and a universal flu vaccine.

“I don’t have what I need right now,” Fauci said.

“I don’t have what I need right now.” —@NIH’s Dr. Fauci on why Congress must fund the U.S. response to #Zika virus. 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/jWy19UQOI8

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) April 11, 2016

Hopefully the funding crimp will never reach a point where the stopgap money runs out, but if it does, he said, “we’ll have to start raiding other accounts, and very important research in other diseases is going to suffer, and suffer badly.”

Schuchat said Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species that primarily transmits the virus, is present in about 30 states, rather than 12 as previously thought. In the U.S. territory Puerto Rico, there may be hundreds of thousands of Zika infections and perhaps hundreds of affected babies, she added.

Fauci said it appears the first Zika vaccine candidate is on target to enter initial clinical trials in September.

Schuchat declined to forecast the number of Zika infections that could occur in the United States. While she said she did not expect large outbreaks in the continental United States, “we can’t assume we’re not going to have a big problem.”

Schuchat said Zika is likely to be a problem during much of a pregnancy, not just not just during the first trimester as previously believed.

As Brazil prepares to host the Olympic games in August, the CDC has recommended that pregnant women avoid traveling to the country.

“We also want people to know that travel to the area may lead to ‘silent’ infections or infections with symptoms, and that following infections, it’s very important to take precautions during sex not to spread the virus,” Schuchat said.

The World Health Organization has said there is a strong scientific consensus that Zika can cause microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with small heads that can result in developmental problems, as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can result in paralysis, though proof may take months or years.

Brazil said last week it has confirmed more than 1,046 cases of microcephaly, and considers most to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.  

Cameron fast-tracking new tax evasion law

British Prime Minister David Cameron will try to repair trust in his leadership by speeding legislation to make companies criminally liable for employees who aid tax evasion.

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After a week of questions over his personal wealth and his late father’s connection to an offshore fund, Cameron has moved to defuse criticism over his handing of the fallout from the Panama Papers by publishing his own tax records.

He will tell parliament on Monday that he will introduce legislation this year making it a criminal offence for companies if they fail to stop employees from instructing clients on ways of evading tax.

But with opposition MPs saying Cameron had not done enough to silence concerns about his wealth and members of his Conservative Party critical over his role in leading the campaign to stay in the European Union at a June referendum, the move is unlikely to calm the storm over the Panama Papers.

“This government has done more than any other to take action against corruption in all its forms, but we will go further,” Cameron will tell parliament, according to advance excerpts of his statement circulated by his Downing Street office.

“That is why we will legislate this year to hold companies who fail to stop their employees facilitating tax evasion criminally liable.”

The plan was announced by Finance Minister George Osborne in March 2015, but previously the commitment was to introduce the legislation by 2020, Downing Street said.

Accountants said the move could force companies to be punished for “rogue employees” and may increase the risk burden on firms doing business in Britain, which has already seen lower levels of investment because of uncertainty over whether the country will stay in the European Union at the June 23 vote.

“First let’s not have knee-jerk reactions to Panama Leaks and the UK PM’s personal issues,” said Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of tax at ACCA, a global accounting body based in London.

“We need to be proportionate and realistic in any new legislation being introduced,” he told Reuters.

Cameron has faced accusations of hypocrisy for going after tax evaders when his father had set up an offshore fund.

On Thursday he said he had profited from selling his shares in the fund in 2010 and on Sunday he published a summary of his tax records for the past six years.

But local media have zeroed in on a gift of STG200,000 ($A375,000) Cameron received from his mother in 2011.

Some reports suggested it may have been a way of avoiding inheritance tax, though the Financial Times quoted tax experts as saying that was not the case.

With the Panama Papers leak having given fresh impetus to criticism that the government favours Britain’s elite over ordinary voters, the wealth of other leading Conservative politicians has also come under scrutiny.

A source close to Finance Minister George Osborne, an ally of Cameron, said he was “always happy to consider ways to offer even more transparency”, but “had never had any offshore shareholdings or other interests”.

The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, called for all MPs to publish their tax records.

Cameron has cast himself as championing a crackdown on tax evasion and will host an international summit next month to tackle corruption.

The government says it has brought in more than STG2 billion from offshore tax evaders since 2010 and has established a registry of company beneficial ownership information due to become public in June.

What’s new about the UN’s leadership selection process?

The move marks a distinct change in the UN’s 70-year history, which has previously always chosen its next candidate behind closed doors.

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In the interests of transparency, the United Nations has announced a new process for the selection of its Secretary-General.

Once they’ve been nominated by their country, a candidate’s nominating letters and resumes are being posted on the UN’s website.

They will then be subjected to several rounds of scrutiny, including hours of questioning by member states, and participation in public debates.

The most recent applicant is former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, who announced her candidacy via video.

“I’m Helen Clark, and I’m honoured to be nominated by my government for the position of United Nations Secretary-General. I’m running because I believe my style of leadership is needed and will help the United Nations face the serious challenges ahead. Kia ora (be well) and thank you for your support.”

Ms Clark’s application means there are now equal numbers of male and female candidates, including the former head of the UN’s refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, ex-assistant UN secretary-general and former Slovenian president (mr) Danilo Turk, and several former foreign ministers.

Traditionally the job has rotated around world regions, with Eastern Europe the only region to have never produced a Secretary-General, and which three of the current candidates call home.

However a resolution encouraging better geographical and gender balance adopted last September could ruin this competitive advantage.

It has also ignited hopes of the UN choosing a woman, with at least 53 countries lobbying for a female head.

One high-profile campaigner is Croatian candidate, Dr Vesna Pusic, speaking here at a recent International Peace Institute event.

“I am not a gender-neutral candidate, I can’t say that. I think that some things, considering the way the world today is, the way our societies are, some things, in order to evaluate you actually need to look only at the position of women. If women are terrorised, prevented from getting an education, prevented from getting jobs, it’s not a good society. And I think, under current circumstances you could use women as a universal litmus test of whether a society is functioning well and going in a good direction or not.”

The job description for the world’s top diplomatic post is vague, with the UN Charter itself calling the qualifications “subject to debate”.

Another explanation on its website calls the role “equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant and CEO ⦠a symbol of United Nations ideals and a spokesperson for the interests of the world’s peoples, in particular the poor and vulnerable.”

President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, says the successful candidate will have the right mix of diplomatic and leadership skills.

“The quality we need is the authority to call on the Security Council and the general assembly at the right time, with the right proposals, to deal with peace and security, contain or prevent conflicts. A person who also has, through her or his contact with the global public opinion, an authority to call to the major and minor powers, to act timely, and I hope that the world and the world powers are ready to accept that the Secretary-General from the outset should be a strong, independent personality.”

Despite the changes, some processes remain the same, with the 15-member Security Council set to begin deliberations over its recommendation to the General Assembly in July.

The council’s five permanent members – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China – have the power to veto this choice.

The current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, is due to step down at the end of 2016.

 

 

Lady Linda, wife of singer Tom Jones, dies

The wife of singer Tom Jones, Melinda Rose Woodward, has died aged 75 after a “short but fierce” battle with cancer.

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She died at the Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles on Sunday, surrounded by her husband and loved ones, a statement said on Monday.

The former Voice coach and Lady Linda, as she was nicknamed, were childhood sweethearts and had been married since 1957.

He recently cancelled several tour dates in Japan, Thailand, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

A statement said it was due to “serious illness in his immediate family”, adding: “He extends his deepest apologies to both the organisers and the fans, who he is most sad to disappoint.”

The two had known each other since they were 12, and were both the children of coalminers in South Wales.

They started dating at the age of 15, and married a year later when they were both 16 in 1957.

That same year, their son Mark was born.

In his 2015 autobiography titled Over The Top And Back, Jones revealed they wanted more children, but a miscarriage had left Lady Linda infertile.

While promoting the book last year, the What’s New Pussycat singer addressed criticism about not including anything on his alleged affairs in the book.

He told American TV host Larry King: “I don’t think it’s important. It’s not what has made me. I’ve always looked at entertainers as, ‘Why is that person where he or she is’?

“What’s the talent? That’s the main thing. The rest of it is part of life. It’s not what got you there. It’s not what is the real person.”

One of his reported long-term liaisons was with Mary Wilson of The Supremes, who published details of their tryst in her book, Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme.

Jones said last year in an interview with The Sunday Times Magazine that his wife suffered from depression.

He said: “I’ve realised she’s had depression since she was young. She’s always had a touch of it.”

The Welsh singer also told the publication that Linda had “lost her spark” and had let herself go, but added that their marriage was “rock solid” and said “all the rest was fun and games”.

In the same interview he recalled his wife once beating him up at their home in Los Angeles after the story of an affair with a Miss World hit the tabloids.

He said: “I stood there and took it. She chinned me. She punched and shouted.”

Lady Linda had suffered from emphysema and reports say she had previously had brushes with cancer.

“She’s the most important thing in my life,” Jones said. “An unbelievable woman. Linda is the love of my life and she still is, even though she doesn’t look like she did. I don’t look like I did, either, but I try my best.”

The statement from his publicist Live Nation added that Jones and his family “have asked for privacy at this difficult time and no further information is currently available”.