No bounce for Turnbull, so what’s next?

Bill Shorten has a target on his back.

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Opinion polls taken after the federal budget show the political “reset” sought by Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t been achieved.

The two-party preferred figure for the coalition has essentially flatlined since the start of 2017.

Analysis of published opinion polls shows support for the coalition has kept within a narrow band between 46 and 47 per cent (to Labor’s 54 or 53 per cent), which would translate to a comfortable win for the opposition.

In 26 polls, none have been higher than 48 per cent for the coalition and none lower than 45 per cent.

However, the polls have shown a lift in Turnbull’s personal approval rating and a consistent lead as preferred prime minister – which gives the government at least the basis for a comeback.

Big “nation building” announcements such as Snowy Hydro 2.0 and Gonski 2.0, as well as the backflip on the Medicare GP rebate freeze, barely registered in the polls.

Delivering a budget widely described in the media as Labor-lite and containing popular measures such as a levy on the big banks hasn’t been the big bang many coalition MPs wanted.

What’s left in the coalition arsenal?

Ahead of a fortnight of parliament sittings, some argue the main target should be Shorten himself.

He represents what many in the Liberal and National parties see as everything wrong with Labor: staunch unionist, factional warlord, inconsistent, and a fair-weather friend for two prime ministers.

His party is kept unified by a complex web of factional deals, old and new loyalties, personal friendships, promises of promotion or preselection, as well as shared values and principles.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is perhaps the most strident critic of Shorten.

“The last thing we want in our country is Bill Shorten and the CFMEU to be running the Treasury,” Dutton said in an interview this week.

“It would be a disaster for families, for small businesses.”

Whether the strategy has Turnbull’s endorsement and how extensive it is adopted will be seen in parliament next week.

Interestingly during the budget sales pitch many senior figures in the government including Morrison dialled down their personal attacks on Shorten.

The treasurer’s budget speech and media conference contained very little criticism of Labor, a notable difference from his usual spiel and a calculated move to come across as more moderate, conciliatory and “getting on with the job”.

However, Shorten is considered a weak point for Labor, with voters carrying a high level of uncertainty about him.

He gets a tick for being hard-working and intelligent, but he also scores highly for superficiality and arrogance.

A recent Essential poll put his approval rating among Labor voters at 48 per cent.

In contrast, Turnbull’s approval among Liberal voters was 64 per cent.

Another reason for the lack of an uptick for the government is a general lack of confidence in the community.

Wages are falling in real terms and workers are worried about their penalty rates being axed, which will be one of Labor’s focal points in parliament next week.

Figures released this week showed the lowest annual wages growth since 1997 when the data first started being collected.

As well, the government is offering an income tax rise for everyone earning more than $21,000 a year, via its 0.5 percentage point hike in the Medicare levy.

Internal Labor research shows voters are genuinely worried about being slugged by banks passing on the cost of a new levy on their liabilities.

And questions are being raised in the two key areas of concern for voters – education and health – with the government’s Gonski 2.0 plan under fire for its fairness and the unfreezing of Medicare rebates shown to be a piecemeal effort designed more for politics than practicality.

The combined effect of hurting hip-pockets, fear of unemployment and worry about access to essential services makes it easier for Labor to keep pressure on the government.

It may be no matter what the coalition decides to hurl at Shorten, or the amount of effort put into its “reset”, the public mood will be the overriding factor in who succeeds at the next election.

Push for culturally diverse women to be given opportunity to lead

The InteGreat Conference in Sydney, run by womens support group Shakti NSW, has highlighted the need to give migrant women a stronger voice when it comes to high-level decision-making.

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The seminar addressed barriers female migrants and refugees face when resettling into Australia and educated attendees on the types of services availiable to help with integration.

Pakistan-born Greens MP Dr Mehreen Faruqi was a guest speaker at the conference in the western Sydney city of Parramatta.

Related reading

Dr Faruqi knows what it’s like to break down barriers.

In 2013, the New South Wales Greens Party MP became the first Muslim woman to be elected to any parliament in Australia.

She says very few others have been able to follow her lead.

“Often migrant women’s voices are not heard, they’re quite silent,” she told SBS World News.

“We know that there is gender inequality of course: in the parliament that I sit in, there are just nine women in the upper house out of 42 men and these affect migrant women even more.”

Many of the other guest speakers, including Muslim community advocate and lawyer Mariam Veiszadeh, spoke about the need for deeper integration.

That includes promoting more migrant women to positions of power, Ms Veiszadeh said.

 “In order to be able to raise your voice you need the platform to be able to do so,” she said.

“What I spoke about today was acknowledging that in the corporate world there are inherent barriers that women of colour face.

Watch: Small businesses ahead in cultural diversity 0:00 Share

“While Australia is very diverse, we’re not necessarily seeing that diversity reflected in the top ranks of society.”

A 2016 Australian Human Rights Commission study found of 200 Australian Stock Exchange-listed (ASX) companies surveyed, 76 per cent of senior leaders were of Anglo-Celtic background.

Eighteen per cent were European and just five per cent were of non-European background, while Indigenous persons were not represented.

The data also revealed just 2.5 per cent of more than 7000 ASX company directors were culturally diverse women.

Dr Faruqi said migrants were often dismissed as just cogs in the wheel of the economy.

She said their value should instead be reflected in leadership roles.

“We need to work together to make sure that women across the board – new migrants, old migrants, women who’ve already lived here, Indigenous women – have a seat at the table and that their voices are heard loud and clear,” she said.

Ms Veiszadeh said society must afford migrant women that opportunity.

“I don’t think anyone arrives in Australia and says, ‘I don’t want to be part of the fabric of this country’,” she said. 

“They’re very grateful for the opportunities and they definitely strive for that but it’s also about the rest of society allowing them to flourish and provide them with the opportunities to do so.”

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Trump defiant as independent counsel named to oversee Russia probe

Trump responded by once again denying any links to Moscow, but the appointment of a special counsel with sweeping powers dramatically raises the stakes in a crisis threatening to paralyze his presidency.

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The Republican leader, who has struggled to shake off suspicions that Russia helped put him in the White House, has been accused of seeking to block the investigation by sacking FBI chief James Comey.

Under pressure to provide guarantees to Congress and the public that the Russia probe will continue unhindered, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tapped Robert Mueller — a widely-respected figure who headed the FBI for the decade after the 9/11 attacks — to take over the reins.

“Based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command,” Rosenstein said in a statement.

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A New York-born Vietnam war vet, Mueller has a reputation as a tough lawman who once even stood up to a president.

He will head up the FBI’s ongoing probe of “Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and related matters,” with the authority to prosecute crimes unearthed by the investigation.

Trump reacted swiftly, without directly commenting on Mueller’s appointment.

“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 in a tersely-worded statement.

“I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”

Ryan says we need facts on Trump memo

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Independent of hierarchy

Capping days of political drama in Washington, Mueller’s appointment came as Trump fends off a stunning series of allegations including claims he shared US secrets with Russian officials in the Oval Office.

Pressure has spiked in Congress for an independent probe into ties between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, which US intelligence chiefs accuse of interfering to sway the election in the Republican’s favor.

“We need the facts,” Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said.

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A special counsel is empowered to conduct the investigation independent of the Justice Department hierarchy, with a dedicated staff of his choosing. The counsel is not required to consult with or keep informed the attorney general or deputy attorney generals on the course of the probe.

Mueller is specifically empowered to examine “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”

National Security Advisor McMaster defends Trump

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Rosenstein’s order came a week after he played a key role in Trump’s firing of Comey, who had overseen the FBI’s Russia investigation since last July.

The deputy attorney general penned a memo criticizing Comey’s handling of the probe into Trump’s defeated rival Hillary Clinton’s emails, which provided the White House with the rationale for firing him — and raised questions about Rosenstein’s ability to remain politically independent.

His boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation due to his own undisclosed contacts with Moscow’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

‘Any links’

Trump has consistently rejected any suggestion of collusion between his camp and Moscow as “fake news” and complained in a speech Wednesday that he had been treated “more unfairly” than any US leader in history during his fledgling presidency.

But calls for the Russia probe to be placed in independent hands intensified this week following reports that Trump urged Comey to reel back its investigation of Michael Flynn, the national security advisor fired over concerns about his Russian contacts.

Trump’s alleged pressure on Comey — denied by the White House — has exposed the president to accusations of obstructing justice.

Perhaps shaken by the gravity of recent developments, several congressional panels have demanded that the FBI and White House hand over records related to Comey, who has been called upon to testify before both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Government Oversight Committee.

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Given the politically-explosive context, Mueller’s appointment was widely welcomed across the political spectrum.

During his tenure as director of the FBI, from 2001 to 2013, he served both Republican and Democratic administrations, overseeing a shake-up of a huge bureaucracy blamed for missing evidence that could have prevented the September 11, 2001 attacks, and earning high respect from both parties.

“Mueller is a great selection. Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted,” tweeted Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz, who heads the House oversight panel.

The top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said Rosenstein did “the right thing” by appointing Mueller.

“I now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead.”

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Venezuela deploys troops as US rallies UN to prevent further violence

The death of a 15-year-old boy brought the toll from weeks of protests in Venezuela to 43 — a dark milestone that matched the number killed in the last comparable wave of unrest, in 2014.

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Looting and attacks against security installations erupted overnight in the state of Tachira, which borders Colombia, authorities said. The state prosecution service said on Twitter the boy was killed “during a demonstration” there.

“I have ordered the transfer of 2,000 guards and 600 special operations troops” to Tachira, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said on state television channel VTV.

Related readingConflict risk alarms US 

The United States warned at the United Nations that Venezuela’s crisis was worsening and could escalate into a civil conflict like that of Syria.

Following Security Council talks, US Ambassador Nikki Haley called for countries to send a message to Maduro.

“We’ve been down this road — with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma,” she told reporters.

“The international community needs to say ‘respect the human rights of your people’ or this is going to go in the direction we’ve seen so many others go.”

She earlier warned that Venezuela was “on the verge of humanitarian crisis.”

Brazil’s Defense Minister Raul Jungmann told reporters Wednesday his country was making contingency plans for a possible influx of Venezuelan migrants.

Related readingLooting 

Authorities said in a report on Wednesday that in Tachira some 20 shops, restaurants and a school were looted, two police stations set on fire and a military outpost attacked with firebombs over the previous night.

One military commander was hurt, it said.

Fernanda Carvalho, 53, told AFP virtually all the food was stolen from her bakery in San Cristobal.

“It felt like my world was falling in. There go years of work and investment,” she said.

‘Another Syria’? 

Clashes have erupted across the country during protests in anger at Maduro’s handling of an economic and political crisis.

The unrest has left 43 people dead since April 1, prosecutors say.

Protesters blame Maduro for an economic crisis that has caused shortages of food and medicine. They are demanding early elections and accuse him of trying to cling to power.

Elected in 2013, Maduro has accused the opposition of plotting a coup against him with US backing.

At the United Nations, Venezuela repeated its rejection of what it considers foreign meddling in its affairs.

“Venezuela will resolve its own internal problems,” Ambassador Rafael Ramirez told reporters after the meeting. “We will not accept interference.”

Padrino accused the opposition of trying to start a civil war and wanting “to turn Venezuela into another Syria.”

“We will not let the homeland fall into chaos,” he said.

Street protests 

The government and the opposition have accused each other of sending armed groups to sow violence in the protests.

Police have fired tear gas and protesters have hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails in near-daily clashes.

Analysts say street protests are one of the few means the opposition has left to pressure Maduro.

Doctors and nurses in white overalls demonstrated in Caracas on Wednesday to denounce a crisis that has left hospitals desperately undersupplied.

“We don’t want weapons! We want medicine!” they yelled.

Maduro fired health minister Antonieta Caporale last week after her ministry released figures showing infant deaths soared 30 percent last year.

Opposition groups planned two further rallies later on Wednesday evening.

Google unveils latest tech tricks

Google’s computer programs are gaining a better understanding of the world and now it wants them to handle more of the decision-making for the billions of people who use its services.

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CEO Sundar Pichai and other top executives brought Google’s audacious ambition into sharper focus at Wednesday’s annual conference, attended by more than 7000 developers.

Google unveiled new ways for its massive network of computers to identify images, as well as recommend, share and organise photos.

It also is launching an attempt to make its voice-controlled digital assistant more proactive and visual while expanding its audience to Apple’s iPhone, where it will try to outwit older peer, Siri.

The push marks another step toward infusing nearly all of Google’s products with some semblance of artificial intelligence.

Pichai has made AI the foundation of his strategy since becoming Google’s CEO in late 2015, emphasising technology is rapidly evolving-to an “AI-first” world.

Google has taught new tricks to its digital assistant, which debuted last year on its Pixel phone and an internet-connected speaker called Home that is trying to mount a challenge to Amazon’s Echo.

Google Assistant is on more than 100 million devices and on Wednesday released a free app that works on the operating system powering Apple’s iPhone.

Previously, the assistant worked only on Google’s Android software.

A new service called Google Lens will give Assistant a power to identify images viewed through a phone.

The camera can identify types of flowers and use a photo of a restaurant to bring up reviews.

Google’s assistant will be at a disadvantage on the iPhone, though, because Siri – a concierge that Apple introduced in 2011 – is built into that device.

Google Photos has added a tool that will prompt you to share photos of people you know.

Google will also let you share whole photo libraries with others and automatically share photos with other people.

Google had also added a feature to Photos to create soft-cover and hard-cover albums, drawing on AI powers to automatically pick out the best pictures.