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Greenhouse airline levy urged

The report by the Australia Institute said airlines were a threat to climate because of the increasing amounts of greenhouse gas pollution generated by a growing travel market, Fairfax newspapers reported.


The industry is growing so quickly it could account for half Australia's total emissions by 2050, said the report's authors, Andrew Macintosh and Christian Dowie.

Aircraft gases excluded

But because non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases and greenhouse gases generated by international travel are not included in the greenhouse gas inventory, airline pollution could wipe out the effects of cuts in emissions in other sectors, they said.

"We are going to have to fly a hell of a lot less and it is going to cost us more," Mr Macintosh said.

A task force of business leaders, including outgoing Qantas chairman Margaret Jackson, is expected to deliver recommendations on a trading system to the government next week.

But it is expected to exclude aviation from any pollution penalties.

Scale of problem

Mr Macintosh welcomed recent measures to cut aviation emissions such as improved fuel efficiency and air traffic control sequencing but said the government failed to understand the scale of the problem.

"In terms of where we need to go, the government hasn't done anything like near what needs to be done," he said.

In Australia, domestic and international air travel is expected to grow at 4.6 and 5.1 per cent respectively a year between 2005 and 2020, ensuring a doubling of passenger numbers in 15 years.

The authors calculated airlines currently contributed between three and five per cent of total emissions.

However, if they were allowed to continue polluting without penalty and Australia adopted a target of cutting emissions to 60 per cent below 2000 levels by 2050, airlines could account for as much as 51 per cent of the total allowance.

"Irrespective of which policy instruments are implemented to curtail aviation emissions, Australians cannot expect to fly more than they currently do today," the report said.

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Howard: 'Not playing politics'

Mr Howard ruled out retiring before the election and says he has no regrets about his decision to contest a fifth term.


But his words appeared to fall on deaf ears, with two former ministers publicly squabbling on the floor of parliament after question time today.

West Australian Liberals Judi Moylan and Wilson Tuckey ignored Mr Howard's pleas for unity on the difficult issue of AWB, with Ms Moylan accusing Mr Tuckey of defamation and Mr Tuckey sticking by his claim that she was defending corrupt behaviour by the wheat exporter.

Tuckey on the loose

It was Mr Tuckey's second offence of the day, after the outspoken backbencher earlier hinted that the Liberal party could dump Mr Howard before the election.

"Some people say you can't do things late, well Labor couldn't have done it any later than they did with Bob Hawke," Mr Tuckey told reporters.

"History tells us he not only won, he stayed there for a long time."

But Mr Howard ruled out handing over to heir apparent Treasurer Peter Costello before the election, expected to be held in October or November.

"I have no desire to do anything other than remain prime minister of my country and leader of my party for as long as the Australian people want that to be the case," Mr Howard told Sky News.

"Like any other leader of a democratic party in a democracy, I am at the disposal of the Australian people – whatever they decide will be right."

Mr Howard denied his warning to the party room was an attempt to play politics or send a signal that he was willing to hand over power to Mr Costello in the next term of government.

"I see no point in deluding myself or deluding my colleagues or giving a signal to the Australian people that I don't understand that they are at the moment contemplating a change of government," Mr Howard said.

Beazley's view

Former Labor leader Kim Beazley, whose ousting by new leader Kevin Rudd last December started the government's slide in the polls, said Mr Costello had missed his chance by not challenging for the leadership last year.

"He should have challenged, lost, spent five or six months recreating himself with speeches on the environment, on Iraq, on industrial relations," Mr Beazley told ABC radio.

"The party would be begging him now and he would have come in as a cleanskin.

"Frankly, simply changing John Howard now for Peter Costello is shifting deckchairs on the Titanic."

Mr Rudd played down Labor's chances, saying the party would have to defy history to regain office.

"If you're any student of Australian politics you'll know that on two occasions since the last world war, Labor has won government from opposition," he told reporters.

"We need to win 16 seats on this occasion. History's against us."

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Iraq kickbacks under scrutiny

That same committee questioned the Wheat Export Authority's independence from disgraced exporter AWB.


Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Mick Keelty gave no indication as to when Iraq kickback charges, if any, could be laid.

"The task force has completed its scoping phase and moved into its initial investigation phase. A senior coordination group has been established which is consistent with Commissioner Cole's recommendation," he said.

"The task force is independent and communicates to government through a senior coordination group chaired by the secretary of the Attorney General's department."

The long-awaited report into the $290 million in bribes paid by AWB to the former Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq was released on November 27 last year.

Commissioner Terence Cole recommended 11 former AWB executives and an oil businessman face possible criminal charges for allegedly deceiving the United Nations and Australian government over the scandal.

AWB influence

The Wheat Export Authority has denied it is being influenced by a group of farm lobbyists who are working together to create a new single desk for wheat marketing.

A Senate estimates committee has heard Labor senator Kerry O'Brien suggest the group, which consists of the Victorian Farmers Federation, AgForce, Western Australian Farmers Federation and NSW Farmers Association, is little more than a front for disgraced exporter AWB.

"Has the authority undertaken any investigation to determine the veracity of claims that a new alliance of state based grain groups … is actually organised by and a front for the AWB Limited?" Senator O'Brien asked.

"In other words AWB Limited is playing a manipulative role in the grain grower representation market."

Authority acting CEO Peter Woods refused to comment on whether the group was a front for AWB.

"It's not something we would need to comment on," Mr Woods told the committee.

Prime Minister John Howard yesterday announced long-awaited changes to the way Australia exports wheat to the rest of the world.

The changes were sparked by the Cole commission of inquiry into $300 million in kickbacks paid by AWB to the regime of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Mr Howard has given farmers a March 1, 2008 deadline to reach agreement on the nature of a new wheat export body based around a single desk.

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Downer backs missile shield

But he said it was unlikely "in the foreseeable future" Australian cities would be protected by the system.


VIDEO: Downer in the US

Japan's Nikkei business daily newspaper reported this week that Australia, Japan and the US had agreed at a meeting in Tokyo last month on a joint research framework for a system.

Mr Downer, speaking today in California alongside US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said Australia supported the concept of the missile defence system.

He noted North Korea was developing long range missiles.

Asked if it was realistic Australia would have missiles guarding its cities in the near future, Mr Downer replied he did not "think that's likely any time in the foreseeable future".

"We do support the concept of missile defence and we do work with our friends and allies on that issue," he said.

The pair answered questions from the media and invited guests at an event at LA's Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

"We have never made a secret of that."

Mr Downer said in years to come if there was a threat, Australia could deploy a missile defence system to protect itself.

"We are not likely to deploy such a system in Australia in the imaginable future, but I suppose way off who knows what strategic circumstances there could be," he said.

"There are not the strategic circumstances where we feel we would need it ourselves at this stage."

"Others, including the US, their need for it, is entirely understandable, and we are happy to work with them," he said.

"You have countries like North Korea developing long range missiles … and where you have other countries doing research and developing ballistic missile systems."

"I say, well sometimes they object to missile defence, but there is no need for missile defence if nobody has missiles that could be threatening."

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'Howard on par with Mugabe'

Amnesty International has slammed Australia's treatment of asylum seekers in a report comparing John Howard to Robert Mugabe in his use of "fear politics".


Australia's refugee exchange deal with the US is a panicked response to failed policies of offshore processing, Amnesty International says.

Canberra and Washington have agreed to a deal under which asylum seekers detained on Nauru can be sent to the US once their claims are approved, while US-bound Haitian refugees detained in Guantanamo Bay can be resettled in Australia.

Amnesty's director Irene Khan says the agreement was a bid to save face because both governments realised their hardline stance on refugees was a sham.

"This is a desperate measure by two governments to cover up the fact that their offshore processing policy on refugees has basically failed," she told ABC radio.

"So what they're doing is sending people from Nauru to the US and people from Cuba – the Haitians from Cuba – to Australia so that they do not have to face the shame of having to release these people into their own countries.

"It's a cover-up, it's not a solution and it creates … huge impact on the individuals themselves."

The Howard government had an "appalling" domestic human rights record over its treatment of asylum seekers and indigenous people which had undermined its good work overseas, she said.

Ms Khan said she was pleased confessed terrorism supporter David Hicks was back in Australia, but he never received a fair trial in Guantanamo Bay.

"The Military Commissions Act does not provide for fair trial because it allows evidence obtained under torture, it does not provide for proper legal representation, there is no separation from the administration," she said.

"He had an unfair trial, in our view, and he had to wait five years for it."

Hicks was only returned because his case was becoming an embarrassment for the Australian government, she said.

Ms Khan urged Australian voters to think about giving others a "fair go" at this year's election.

In the forward to Amnesty International's annual report published yesterday, Ms Khan said the fear generated by leaders such as Mr Howard "thrives on myopic and cowardly leadership".

Ms Khan included Mr Howard with Mr Mugabe, US President George W

Bush and Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir in the same scathing paragraph.

"The Howard government portrayed desperate asylum-seekers in leaky boats as a threat to Australia's national security and raised a false alarm of a refugee invasion," Ms Khan wrote.

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NT camps reject funding

Aboriginal communities in Alice Springs' town camp have rejected, for the final time, an offer to hand control of their housing to the Northern Territory government in return for $60 million in commonwealth funds.


Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough, who spearheaded the plan, said he was deeply "hurt" by the rejection.

"I am deeply disturbed and hurt," he told reporters.

"You have no idea how difficult this is when you have witnessed the things that I have and the stories that I know about and the fact that only a matter of a couple of weeks ago another woman was brutally murdered in these places."

Later, he told ABC radio he was in despair.

"I'm in despair. I would have thought people would have been champing at the bit."

The rejection was the second in less than a week and comes after 14 months of protracted negotiations.

Under the original proposal, the 18 housing associations which oversee the camps could retain control of the land if it was unconditionally sub-leased to the NT government for 99 years.

The camps are notorious for high levels of serious crime and are home to rampant substance abuse.

The town camps come together under the banner of Tangentyere Council and lawyers for the council, in a letter to Mr Brough, said there were many concerns with the deal.

"There has been no proper process of negotiation and Tangentyere has not had the opportunity to obtain proper professional advice," the letter said.

Tangentyere said the deal would leave the 18 camp associations with "no legally enforceable rights or entitlements in relation to any aspect of the future land use, management and development of the camps".

Opposition indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said she was disappointed by the outcome.

"I am really disappointed that the parties couldn't reach an agreement on funding for the Alice Springs town camp upgrades," Ms Macklin said.

"That money is desperately needed to make sure people living in the town camps have safe housing and basic services.

"Tangentyere Council, Mal Brough and the territory government should take responsibility to make sure that such a disadvantaged group of people don't miss out on basic services that other Australians expect."

Mr Brough said the $60 million would now go to another needy community.

"The $60 million is off the table."

He suggested the money may go to the West Australian community Halls Creek which has already received more than $100 million in assistance.

"I said to (WA Indigenous Affairs Minister Michelle Roberts) in the event that I have seriously additional money, will you have the potential to go back to your cabinet and get more resources for better reforms and better outcomes.

"She indicated both publicly and privately there that she could, so there is numerous communities in Western Australia that can benefit and I hope that they will."

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Abbott heckled over report

The 1997 report into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families accused governments of genocide and called for an apology and compensation.


Members of the audience disrupted the health minister's speech at Parliament House in Canberra today, calling for the government to say sorry.

Mr Abbott continued with his speech amid heckling and audible groans from the audience.

He later told reporters that although he did not like being heckled he was pleased to have attended the function.

"No-one likes being heckled and I thought that both Mal (Brough) and I were treating the occasion with a lot of seriousness and with a lot of respect," Mr Abbott said.

"We entered into the spirit of the day and I'm a little disappointed that not everyone agreed but never the less I'm pleased to have been there."

Mr Abbott said while he could understand why Lowitja O'Donoghue wanted a government apology, the debate had moved on.

"The important thing for reconciliation is what happens in the hearts of individual people," he said.

"A lot of very good things have happened over the last generation and I would rather dwell on the good that's been done rather than engage in something that which is more likely to be debated.

"Someone like Lowitja might want to give the government a little wrap over the knuckles because sure there's always more that you can do.

"I'd rather focus on the good things that are happening and the good that has been done than go over old ground."

The government has announced 22 more staff will be employed for services to help members of the stolen generation find their families.

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Rudd denies company unfairness

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has said his wife's company had made an honest mistake, which she had sought to rectify.


Mr Rudd admitted the company had indeed underpaid some workers, but it had taken remedial action when this was discovered.

The company itself has issued a statement denying allegations that it had acted unfairly to its workers.

WorkDirections Australia Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Therese Rein's company, Ingeus, denied it had stripped workers of significant award conditions.

It took over the Frankston-based company Your Employment Solutions (YES) last year and took over its workers.

WorkDirections today issued a written statement saying its pay arrangements with employees were "certainly not unlawful", and had not been designed to remove penalty rates, overtime or allowances.

"The common law agreements offered to YES employees when WorkDirections acquired the business 10 months ago, were for employment on no less favourable terms than they were previously on," the statement read.

"The arrangement offered to transferring employees involved the payment of an aggregated wage rate with an above award component calculated to fairly compensate employees for their full award entitlements.

"Such an arrangement is not uncommon in private sector

employment and certainly not unlawful."

The statement said the company also took steps to comply with a pay increase in line with the award in 2006, and that it was during this process that it was discovered that some staff had been underpaid because "their duties had not previously been classified correctly in accordance with the award".

The statement said WorkDirections Australia immediately ordered an external independent review to determine which staff members had been affected.

"All those employees still working for the company were recompensed in full for under-payments by 20 April 2007," the statement read.

"The company had already taken steps to locate those who had left the company's employ and will recompense them in full shortly."

WorkDirections Australia said it would review its common law agreements with employees to ensure they comply with relevant industrial laws.

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Qantas shares soar on new plan

In its first briefing for analysts since the Airline Partners Australia (APA) $11.


1 billion takeover bid collapsed, the airline reiterated it was reviewing its capital management strategies.

It expanded on the options, indicating shareholders could benefit from a spin-off of assets, a share buyback or an increase to dividend payouts.

Key to any demerger would be an expanded freight business that could be spun into a separate company, according to analysts who attended the briefing.

Those attending the behind-closed-doors event heard Qantas was considering extensive capital expenditure to expand its air and land freight operations locally and within Asian markets.

Shaw Stockbroking aviation analyst Brent Mitchell said any demerger was more likely to involve the freight operations than a spin-off and separate listing of Qantas's successful low cost airline Jetstar.

"Freight could be the one they spin off in a demerger," he said.

"In terms of freight options going forward, you're already seeing joint ventures with Australia Post and the options will only increase, especially if they move beyond air freight."

While Qantas didn't announce any specific detail about its capital management plans, it did commit to completing its review within six months.

There has been widespread talk in financial markets in recent weeks about a possible capital return to shareholders, given the health of the Qantas balance sheet.

Merrill Lynch analysts said last week Qantas was capable of returning $2.2 billion to shareholders without stressing interest cover ratios.

Mr Mitchell said a return of that magnitude was possible, but unlikely.

"They could return $2 billion, it's a question of whether they will or not and I suspect it wouldn't be to that level, it's more likely to be about $1 billion," he said.

It was unlikely Qantas would sell its catering business or Frequent Flyer Program, Mr Mitchell said, although the points system for the program could be restructured through another company to give it greater financial flexibility.

During its presentation Qantas reiterated plans to expand Jetstar further into Asia and aggressively target holiday leisure routes.

Both Qantas and Jetstar would also reconsider routes that had had abandoned or neglected, particularly to South America and Europe.

Qantas maintained current profit forecasts and said there was no need for an earnings upgrade.

The market welcomed the capital management, sending Qantas shares up to a new record intraday high of $5.54, well above the APA offer price of $5.45 a share.

The stock then closed at a new record of $5.46, up four cents, as turnover spiked to about 53 million shares making Qantas the second most traded stock by volume on the exchange.

The resilient share price stands in contrast with predictions made by both outgoing Qantas chairman Margaret Jackson and the APA consortium that share price would collapse with the bid's failure.

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PM rejects Amnesty’s judgement

The human rights pressure group has accused Mr Howard of portraying asylum-seekers as a threat to national security and of sponsoring policies as divisive as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's regime.


In a report released on Wednesday, it also criticised Australia's role in the war on terror and its treatment of female victims of violence.

Amnesty secretary-general Irene Khan said the fear generated by leaders such as Mr Howard "thrives on myopic and cowardly leadership".

Ms Khan lumped Mr Howard in with Mr Mugabe, US President George W Bush and Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir in a paragraph about leaders who used fear to suit their political agenda.


In statement today, Mr Howard rejected the way Australia was characterised in the Amnesty report.

"The report's entry on Australia contains a string of assertions, unsupported by evidence and devoid of context," he said.

"The report's treatment of Australia amounts to little more than a shoddy caricature.

"Nowhere is the report's political agenda clearer than the paragraph in its foreword which seeks to bracket Australian and US policies with the horrendous human rights situation in Darfur and Robert Mugabe's disastrous misrule in Zimbabwe."

Ms Khan stood by her comments today, accusing the Howard government of having an "appalling" domestic human rights record regarding its treatment of asylum seekers and indigenous people.

These failures had undermined its good work overseas, she told ABC Radio.

Mr Howard said he respected Amnesty, but its current leadership had lost sight of the need for balance or rigour.

"I believe many Australians will be as offended by this report as I am," he said.

"My government makes no apology for taking appropriate, balanced steps to protect the Australian public from the very real threat of terrorism and to protect our borders."

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