Philippines rejects European grants: EU

“The Philippine government has informed us that they (will) no longer accept new EU grants,” the delegation said in a brief statement.

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The decision will affect grants worth 250 million euros ($278 million), according to Franz Jessen, the EU’s ambassador to Manila.

Philippine government officials did not immediately comment, with the finance department saying a statement would be issued later on Thursday. 

Duterte, 72, has repeatedly criticised European lawmakers and the EU for condemning his drug war, which has claimed thousands of lives and led to warnings from critics of a crime against humanity.

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In comments last year, he used vulgar language and raised his middle finger in a response to a European parliament statement expressing concern over the killings.

The German government also expressed concern after Duterte last year drew parallels between his drug war and Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust.

“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte said, underestimating the number of people killed in the Holocaust.

Duterte later apologised for the Hitler reference but said he was “emphatic” about wanting to kill addicts.

Duterte easily won presidential elections last year after promising to end crime by killing tens of thousands of drug traffickers and addicts.

Police have reported killing about 2,700 people since Duterte took office at the end of June and immediately launched his war on drugs.

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Unknown assailants have killed more than 1,800 others, while about 5,700 other violent deaths are under investigation, according to police data.

Partly in response to American criticism of the drug war, Duterte has also loosened the Philippines’ ties with traditional ally the United States.

He has instead embraced China, which has supported his drug war and sought to deepen economic ties by providing billions of dollars worth of investments and aid to the Philippines.

Duterte, a self-described socialist, has also forged warmer relations with Russia, and will travel to Moscow next week to meet President Vladimir Putin.

Dateline: The Donald Trump of the Philippines

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Optus ups network spend as EPL costs weigh

Optus has suffered a hefty drop in full-year profit as content costs and competition weigh on earnings but the second-ranked telco has flagged a $1.

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5 billion boost to its network spending after a favourable decision from regulators on roaming charges.

Optus says it will spend $1.5 billion over the next year to improve the capacity and coverage of its mobile network, mainly in regional Australia, after the competition watchdog decided not to change rules governing what mobile operators can charge rivals to access their networks.

The spending pledge came on Thursday as Optus reported an 11.8 per cent drop in full-year profit to $794 million.

Revenue and earnings for the 12 months to March 31 were hit by tougher competition in the business market, discounting on handsets and greater content costs arising from the 2016 purchase of rights to show the English Premier League.

The $189 million purchase was part of a multi-million dollar spend on content as Optus aims to protect and grow its subscriber base but profits have continued to decline in the wake of the EPL rights acquisition.

Optus said a regulatory cut to mobile termination rates also bit into profits.

At the end of March Optus’s 4G network reached 96.1 per cent of Australians and chief executive Allen Lew said that reach will expand.

“Over the next 12 months we will invest another $1.5 billion,” he said.

“The bulk of that $1.5 billion investment is going to go into regional Australia.”

Earlier in May the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it did not have enough evidence that declaring a wholesale domestic mobile roaming service would improve the current state of overall competition, particularly in regional and rural areas.

The decision at the time was a win for Telstra and Optus, which operate the biggest networks.

Mobile service revenue for the year fell by 17.1 per cent to $3.87 billion.

Prepaid mobile subscriber numbers rose 1.7 per cent to 3.74 million while Optus’s post-paid subscribers lifted 6.1 per cent to 4.95 million.

The average revenue per user (ARPU) per month for prepaid handsets dropped 18.6 per cent, to $21 from $26.

Monthly ARPU for postpaid handsets fell 19.6 per cent, to $47 from $58.

Optus said that in the fourth quarter, it had its strongest quarter of mobile handset growth in five years, gaining 78,000 postpaid and 64,000 pre-paid customers.

“Despite heightened competition in the Australian market, Optus’ strategy of delivering customer growth through music, TV and sports content, underpinned by a robust and resilient mobile network, is on track,” Mr Lew said.

OPTUS FULL-YEAR REVENUE, PROFIT DROPS

* Operating revenue down 7.6pct to $8.43b

* Full-year profit down 11.8pct to $794m

Japan princess’s betrothal highlights male royal succession woes

Public broadcaster NHK broke the story of Princess Mako’s engagement late Tuesday, sending the country into a tizzy with the news dominating television chat shows and newspaper coverage ahead of an expected official announcement in coming weeks.

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Her reported fiance, Kei Komuro, a telegenic 25-year-old commoner once named “Prince of the Sea” in a tourism promotion contest, briefly met journalists on Wednesday, but dodged questions on the engagement, saying he would only speak about it “when the time comes”.

The national rejoicing, however, has been tempered by concerns over the future of the royal family as the country prepares for its first imperial abdication in two centuries amid an acute shortage of male heirs. 

Mako, 25, is the eldest daughter of Prince Akishino, Akihito’s second son, and like all female imperial family members loses her royal status upon marriage to a commoner under a controversial law.

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The law does not apply to male royals, with Akihito and both his sons marrying commoners, who are now part of the monarchy.

The news reignites a debate on whether the law should be changed so women can continue in their royal roles in a bid to increase the chances of potential male heirs to a monarchy that does not allow females to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Traditionalists, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, strenuously oppose such changes, even though Japan has been ruled by female sovereigns in past centuries.

The government is currently preparing legislation to allow Akihito, 83, to abdicate in favour of his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito.

Following Naruhito’s reign, his brother Akishino and Akishino’s son, 10-year-old Hisahito, will be next in line.

But after that there are no more eligible males, meaning the centuries-old succession would be broken if Hisahito fails to have a son in the future.

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PM plagued by underemployment concerns

Concerns many Australians are not getting as much work as they would like have taken the shine off figures showing a drop in the jobless rate.

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Australia’s unemployment rate fell to 5.7 per cent in April, official figures show, beating expectations of a flat rate of 5.9 per cent.

But while part-time jobs rose by 49,000, full-time employment fell by 11,600, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday.

Labor claims the figures are evidence of a growing underemployment problem, insisting many Australians are struggling to find sufficient work.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says jobs growth is going strong, with growth in full-time and part-time employment during the past 12 months.

“The employment figures do move around a lot and we had strong growth in full-time employment last month,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Rockhampton.

It is a view backed by several economists, who insist the April dip in full-time jobs should be viewed against the surge seen in March, when the economy added almost 75,000 full-time jobs.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says Australians are not getting enough work.

“1.1 million of our fellow Australians are complaining of being under-employed. They want more work,” he told reporters in Geelong.

Opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor slammed the government for supporting cuts to penalty rates and increasing taxes at a time of record low wages growth.

“It is good for people to be employed but to have a job that might be two hours a week is not necessarily sufficient,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

“There’s no point in saying that people are in the labour market if you have in excess of one million people saying we can’t find enough work.”

Commonwealth Bank economist Gareth Aird said full-time jobs and part-time jobs were equally good as long as the part-time workers did not want to work full time.

But it was no coincidence that growth in underemployment had coincided with the trend towards part-time employment, he said.

“Growth in part-time employment, rather than full-time work, becomes a problem – and indeed undesirable – when there is growth in the number of workers who are not working as much as they would like.

“This is captured in the underemployment rate which is at its highest level on record.”

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief James Pearson told AAP the figures showed employers wanted to hire.

“Rising part-time employment is a natural feature of an economy undergoing structural change and as the Reserve Bank noted this month, part-time work is chosen by many people juggling responsibilities,” he said.

Concerns over record-low wages growth

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show wages rose by half a per cent in the March quarter, to be at 1.

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9 per cent for the year.

And with inflation at 2.1 per cent, the cost of living is now rising faster than the take-home pay of many Australians.

Public sector wages are growing faster than those in the private sector.

And nationwide, Western Australia recorded the lowest wages growth, with Tasmania the highest.

Labor’s Treasury spokesman, Chris Bowen, says it’s a tough time for Australians.

“This is a time when wages growth is at record lows. In fact, today’s data confirms that wages growth remains at record lows and now, that wages are growing more slowly than the increase in the cost of living. Real wages in Australia are going backwards.”

Official figures show the mining industry was one of the worst performers with wages rising just 0.6 of one per cent.

In the public sector, professional, scientific and technical services recorded the lowest quarterly wages growth of 0.2 of one per cent.

Savanth Sebastian, an economist for CommSec, has this outlook.

“I think anyone wanting a pay rise in this environment has probably got to be a little more realistic. The environment we’re in is condusive to slow and weak wage growth and that’s likely to be the outcome over the next 12 months at least. It essentially means for businesses they can pass on these modest wage gains for the moment, and when profitability and activity improves hopefully we’ll get stronger wage growth down the track.”

Shane Oliver is the chief economist at AMP.

He’s told the ABC slow growth in wages, taken alongside high household debt levels, could slow down economic growth.

“That decline in real wages is another dampener for consumer spending. It’s a dampener for household income growth and it’s another reason why it’s hard to see the economy picking up just yet. Of course all of this has implications for the Reserve Bank, if we’ve got very low wages growth continuing, it’s hard to see inflation picking up on a sustained basis any time soon, which I think tells me there’s very little chance the Reserve Bank is going to raise interest rates any time soon. There’s more chance that the Reserve Bank will have to cut interest rates again.”

Savanth Sebastian agrees.

“Well if anything it means the Reserve Bank will keep rates low for an extended period of time. Wages do filter through to the inflation numbers and overall I just think it highlights that, at the moment, household debt is rising faster than household incomes. The Reserve Bank would be a little bit concerned about that. The longer it goes on, it adds more concern to the economy but for interest rates it means interest rates will be lower for longer.”

Sally McManus is the Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary.

She says slow growth in wages and a lack of job security is affecting the lives of Australians, and not for the better.

“We see a whole generation who don’t know what a secure job is like and that’s not their choice, that’s the only jobs available and that’s not right. Then we’ve got a whole lot of other people that are seeing their jobs converted into labor-hire jobs or converted into ABN (Australian Business Number) jobs or casualised. That is affecting the stress levels of Australians. It’s also affecting their wages and it’s affecting our very way of life. If you can’t plan day-to-day because you don’t know what your hours will be, you don’t know if you’re going to have a job next week, that affects your family life, it affects our community life.”

Ms McManus has called on the federal government to do more.

“On the issue of wages growth, there’s three key things that the government can do now to do something about it. First of all, they can stop the penalty rates cuts that are due to come in on the 1st of July, that will make a huge difference. We can’t have low paid workers having their pay go backwards. Secondly, they can support a higher minimum wage, our minimum wage is now too low. And thirdly, they can show leadership. Their own employees haven’t had a pay rise for three years. They’ve had a pay freeze.”