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.