Scullion rounds up remote NT school kids

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion never liked school as a kid, but he’s given parents at a remote indigenous Northern Territory community a wake up call about the importance of education.

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The senator has spent the morning rounding up sleepy children for their school day playing truancy officer by knocking on doors and speaking to parents at Yirrkala in Arnhem Land.

“I’m here to make sure your kid gets to school. He doesn’t like it does he? Nor did I. I used to be a bit of a runner,” Minister Scullion said.

Every morning youngsters in 75 indigenous communities across the nation are encouraged out of bed and into their classrooms as part of the government’s truancy program.

A group of remote school attendance officers – all indigenous members of their local community – stroll the streets before a bus follows the same route and picks them up.

Yirrkala School co principal Katrina Hudson praised the scheme, stating attendance rates have recently risen from 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

“Some weeks last term we were getting 75 per cent, which in mainstream schools sounds low but for this school it’s a huge improvement,” she said.

The strategy started in 2014, employing officers to support parents by helping with lunches, uniforms, homework and after-school care.

“They’re spending time with families to create those relationships and trust,” Ms Hudson said.

Co-principal Meookiyawuy Ganambarr says the respected officers represent different clans to ensure the children will respond.

“We need to work together as a community,” she said.

“We’re all connected with each other in everyday life – people talk and share stories.”

Canberra hopes to close the gap in school attendance by the end of 2018, but none of the targets around indigenous early education enrolments or truancy are on track.

Ms Ganambarr said one of the biggest problems dropping attendance numbers is ceremonies, which take children away from their homes for long periods.

“There’s lots of cultural obligations in the communities, there’s funerals happening weekly,” she said.

But Senator Scullion says that’s no longer an excuse for non-attendance and kids should be finding other schools temporarily.

Since 2013 the federal government has also rolled out a program to dock the welfare payments of NT parents who don’t oversee their kids’ attendance.

Ms Hudson called for a holistic interagency approach, stating many kids with learning difficulties still face barriers to education even if they get through the classroom door.

New chair, ex-Foster’s boss at Bellamy’s

Embattled infant formula maker Bellamy’s has continued to rebuild its board and leadership, electing Hong Kong-based investor John Ho as its new chairman and appointing former Foster’s boss John Murphy as a director.

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Mr Ho, an Australian citizen with business interests in China and Australia, was appointed as a Bellamy’s director in mid-April.

He replaces Rod Peters who was elected to the Bellamy’s board and subsequently took the chair after shareholders instigated a near clean-out of the board at a extraordinary general meeting in February and installed replacements.

Bellamy’s chairman at the time, Rob Woolley resigned just before the meeting.

Mr Ho is the founder and chief investment officer of Hong Kong-based investor Janchor Partners, which has a stake of 7.01 per cent in Bellamy’s.

“Mr Ho’s deep understanding of the Australian and and Chinese consumer and health-related markets and expertise in corporate governance has proved to be a valuable addition to the board,” Bellamy’s said in a statement on Thursday.

The company said Mr Ho had waived his entitlement to the chairman’s remuneration.

Veteran food and beverage industry executive Mr Murphy has been appointed to the board as of Thursday and will also take up the role of deputy chairman and chair of the audit and risk committee.

Mr Murphy is a former managing director of brewer Fosters, a former managing director of Coca-Cola Amatil, and former chief executive of Visy Packaging and Recycling for Australasia.

Rodd Peters will stay on the Bellamy’s board as a director.

Bellamy’s also said on Thursday that director Patria Mann had resigned.

Ms Mann was the only Bellamy’s director to survive the shareholder revolt in February.

The board changes follow Bellamy’s confirmation in mid-April of Andrew Cohen as chief executive.

Mr Cohen had been acting in the CEO role since January 11, replacing long-term chief executive Laura McBain, who resigned after a torrid time for the company.

Tasmania-based Bellamy’s endured a massive share price plunge in December and January after it flagged a significant drop in sales in the key China market and twice downgraded its full-year earnings forecast.

Bellamy’s is also facing two class actions – one filed by lawyers Slater & Gordon and another by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers – from shareholders seeking to get back some of the losses from the massive share price fall.

Shares in Bellamy’s were 15 cents, or 2.8 per cent, lower at $5.21 on Thursday.

Budget ‘victory’ for Labor: Albanese

Anthony Albanese has declared the federal budget an “overwhelming victory” for Labor, in a departure from Bill Shorten’s assessment.

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However, Mr Albanese insists his view is consistent with that of Mr Shorten.

Mr Shorten has repeatedly dismissed media descriptions of the Turnbull government’s second budget as “Labor-lite”.

“Make no mistake, this is not a Labor budget,” Mr Shorten said in his budget reply speech last week.

Mr Albanese gave an alternative take in a speech to the Transport Workers Union in Fremantle on Thursday.

“Budget 2017 was an overwhelming victory for the Australian Labor Party and the broader labour movement,” Mr Albanese said.

“After years of negativity and culture wars, the coalition used the budget to offload much of its ideological baggage and embrace Labor values on some core issues – at least at a superficial level.”

The Labor frontbencher and former leadership challenger said the government had “finally accepted” Australians supported universal healthcare, needs-based school funding and the national disability insurance scheme was a “critical reform”.

However, while the coalition had “raised the ideological white flag”, their words had not been matched with money.

“For example, they say they embrace needs-based education funding but they are still cutting investment by $22 billion over the next decade,” he said.

“They say they support Medicare. But the budget locked in billions of dollars in cuts and maintained the freeze on the Medicare rebate in the short term.

“They say they understand the importance of infrastructure investment. Yet the budget cuts it by $1.6 billion in this financial year alone, with investment to fall off a cliff over the next four years.”

Mr Albanese told reporters in Perth later on Thursday what he had said was in line with Mr Shorten’s view, and the speech had been shown to the opposition leader’s office before it was delivered.

“I think what I said is perfectly consistent with what Mr Shorten said,” Mr Albanese said.

“They (the coalition) are trying to capture Labor ideas because they don’t have any of their own.”

Asked whether he backed Mr Shorten to lead the party to the next election, he said: “Absolutely. We are a team and I’m committed to doing the best I can on infrastructure, transport, regional development, cities and tourism.”

Son of key tax official one of nine arrested in fraud case

Michael Cranston’s 30-year-old son Adam and eight other people have been arrested over a $165 million tax fraud investigation.

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Adam Cranston was charged with conspiracy to defraud the government.

The Australian Federal Police have described it as one of the biggest white-collar fraud investigations in Australian history.

Almost 300 AFP officers executed raids across Sydney, Wollongong and the New South Wales Southern Highlands.

It was the culmination of an eight-month sting, codenamed Operation Elbrus, led by the AFP with assistance from the Australian Taxation Office.

Among those arrested was Adam Cranston, apprehended at his flat in the affluent beach suburb of Bondi.

He is the son of one of Australia’s most senior tax officials, Michael Cranston.

AFP deputy commissioner of operations Leanne Close says it is a significant fraud investigation, with the proceeds funding lavish lifestyles.

“Some of the assets and proceeds of crime seized include at least $15 million in cash, which is being held in personal and business company accounts; 25 motor vehicles, which include luxury, vintage and racing vehicles; 18 residential properties; 12 motorbikes; in excess of 100 bank accounts and share-trading accounts; two aircraft; firearms, jewellery, artwork, vintage wines, and also at least $1 million we located in a safe-deposit box.”

The AFP alleges the conspirators ran a legitimate payroll company.

The money accepted by the company would allegedly be paid into secondary companies, run by what Ms Close describes as “straw directors” as a front.

“What we alleged is that the people involved in Operation Elbris, the syndicate members, retained effective control of those companies. And as part of their contractual obligations to those legitimate payroll-company clients, these tier-2 companies are required to remit payments to what you call pay-as-you-go, withholding-tax payments to the ATO. Through our investigations, we found that only part of the tax obligations were paid. So, as you can see, it’s a significant defrauding of the Commonwealth, where we are alleging $165 million was diverted to illegal gains.”

The AFP alleges the group used the lavish lifestyles to help hide the funds.

ATO deputy commissioner Michael Cranston was issued with a court-attendance notice.

It is alleged he publicly abused his position as a senior official of the Commonwealth.

Police say he could have been unwittingly involved.

Two other ATO employees have also been suspended while the organisation carries out an internal investigation.

The ATO’s acting commissioner, Andrew Mills, explains.

“The people being investigated have been suspended without pay. I cannot overstate the seriousness of these matters. Australians must have a tax administration that they can trust, and the people of the ATO must be of the utmost integrity and good judgment. This is even more important for those in leadership positions.”

Michael Cranston will front the Downing Centre Court on June 13.

Police say he faces five years’ imprisonment if found guilty.

His 24-year-old daughter Lauren Anne was also charged and will appear at Narellan court next month.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has hailed the raids as a win for the government.

“This is a major government crackdown, and what the events today, with this major fraud bust today, demonstrate is that, if you’re a crook and you’re seeking to defraud the taxpayer, we’ll find you, and we’ll track you down. And we’ll make sure that you’re brought to justice. And what this is showing is that the system works when it comes to tracking down tax cheats.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also praised the authorities, but he sidestepped suggestions the government was to blame for allowing such fraud to occur.

“Our police, our agencies will catch them. Catch them, prosecute them and bring the full weight of the law down to bear on them. We have zero, zero tolerance, zero tolerance, for this type of conspiracy, this type of fraud, this type of abuse of public office.”

 

Trump willing to engage North Korea: Seoul

US President Donald Trump has told South Korea’s presidential envoy that Washington is willing to try to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis through engagement, but under the right conditions, South Korea’s foreign ministry says.

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Trump has said “a major, major conflict” with North Korea is possible and all options are on the table but that he wanted to resolve the crisis diplomatically, possibly through the extended use of economic sanctions.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who took office last week, has campaigned on a more moderate approach towards the North but he has said it must change its attitude of insisting on arms development before dialogue can be possible.

Moon’s envoy to Washington, South Korean media mogul Hong Seok-hyun, said Trump spoke of being willing to use engagement to ensure peace, Hong said in comments carried by television on Thursday.

“The fact that Trump said he will not have talks for the sake of talks reiterated our joint stance that we are open to dialogue but the right situation must be formed,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck in a regular media briefing.

South Korea and the United States agreed during a visit to Seoul by Trump’s national security advisers this week to formulate a “bold and pragmatic” joint approach, Cho added.

The North has vowed to develop a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead that can strike the mainland United States, saying the program is necessary to counter US aggression.

The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea to guard against the North Korean threat, has called on China to do more to rein in its neighbour.

North Korea conducted its latest ballistic missile test on Sunday in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, saying it was a test of its capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead”.

But a senior North Korean diplomat has said Pyongyang is also open to having talks with Washington under the right conditions.