Rudd's wife may sell companies

Kevin Rudd's wife may consider selling her multi-million dollar employment empire following an unfortunate slip-up.

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This follows one of her companies inadvertently derailing Labor's attack on the government's industrial relations laws.

Therese Rein’s business activities embarrassed the federal opposition leader when it was revealed a Melbourne company she bought last year had underpaid 58 workers a total of $70,000.

The company had put the workers on individual contracts which wrongly stripped away award conditions in return for 45 cents extra an hour.

The revelation came as Labor was leading an attack on a template Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA) for the hotel and motel industry.

The owners of a Goulburn motel who have attempted to introduce the new AWA have received hate mail and harassing phone calls since Labor highlighted the case, the government said today.

Mr Rudd said he felt sorry for employers who were wrongly targeted.

But he said his wife had made an honest mistake based on incorrect information from the previous owners of the company.

'Unintentional'

Mr Rudd denied that his wife, who is in London on business, had set out to exploit workers.

"This was obviously an honest mistake and she sought to rectify this as soon as she had the information available to her," he told reporters in a late afternoon press conference.

"I would be dishonest with you if I said it's not embarrassing that these things happen. Of course it is embarrassing."

The bungle raises questions about whether Ms Rein's job placement empire, which has several federal government contracts, would cause any conflicts of interest should Labor win this year's federal election and Mr Rudd become prime minister.

Mr Rudd has previously said that he would take advice from the head of the prime minister's department on the matter should he win office.

But today he said he and his wife would be talking the matter over before the election.

This one is tough because it affects her and her future," he said.

"I love my wife dearly and she's built this up from scratch.

"So do you turn around and say, `well that's the end of that, sweetheart', or do you do it differently?

"It's a very hard decision to say to someone prior to an election – and we don't know who's going to win the election – offload the business.

"This is the age of professional women who run their own companies, who have their own lives, and are not simply appendages of middle-aged men."

Acquisition

Ms Rein's company WorkDirections Australia acquired job placement company Your Employment Services (YES) last July and put its 200 workers on common law contracts.

But it later discovered 58 of the workers had been wrongly classified by the company's previous owner, leading to the underpayment under the new contracts.

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said it was unlawful for common law contracts to remove conditions from an award, but declined to comment directly on Ms Rein's company.

WorkDirections Australia spotted the mistake last December and all but eight of the workers have since been repaid.

Mr Rudd refused to say whether Labor would give other employers time to put their case before attacking them publicly over dodgy Australian Workplace Agreements.

"I feel sorry for any employer who has no choice but to act under Australia's current industrial relations laws and when they cop it unfairly in terms of public reaction."

Labor has pledged to scrap AWAs if elected.

Mr Rudd said his wife's companies did not use AWAs as a matter of principle.

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Rudd's wife may offload empire

Therese Rein embarrassed the federal Labor leader when it was revealed a Melbourne company she bought last year had underpaid 58 workers by $70,000.

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The company had put the workers on individual contracts which wrongly stripped away award conditions in return for 45 cents extra an hour.

Mr Rudd denied that his wife, who is in London on business, had set out to exploit workers.

"This was obviously an honest mistake and she sought to rectify this as soon as she had the information available to her," he said.

The bungle raises questions about whether Ms Rein's job placement empire, which has several federal government contracts, would cause any conflicts of interest should Labor win this year's federal election and Mr Rudd become prime minister.

Mr Rudd has previously said that he would take advice from the head of the prime minister's department on the matter should he win office.

But he now says he and his wife will be talking the matter over before the election.

"This one is tough because it affects her and her future," he said.

"I love my wife dearly and she's built this up from scratch.

"So do you turn around and say: `Well, that's the end of that, sweetheart', or do you do it differently?

"It's a very hard decision to say to someone prior to an election – and we don't know who's going to win the election – `Offload the business'.

"This is the age of professional women who run their own companies, who have their own lives, and are not simply appendages of middle-aged men."

Acquisition

Ms Rein's company WorkDirections Australia acquired job placement company Your Employment Services (YES) last July and put its 200 workers on common law contracts.

But it later discovered 58 of the workers had been wrongly classified by the company's previous owner, leading to the underpayment under the new contracts.

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said it was unlawful for common law contracts to remove conditions from an award, but declined to comment directly on Ms Rein's company.

WorkDirections Australia spotted the mistake last December and all but eight of the workers have since been repaid.

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Brough defends English plan

Mr Brough said children had no hope of getting on in life if they could only speak a language that just a handful of people could understand.

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He said the plan was backed by grandparents in indigenous communities who wanted their young people to have the same opportunities as white children.

"If we are all going to aspire, as most politicians say they do, that all Aboriginal children should have the same life expectancy, the same capacity to enjoy the bounty of this nation, then we are just living a lie if we don't ensure that they have the first fundamental that they need to be mobile citizens of Australia, and that is the English language," Mr Brough told ABC radio today.

"These children, like all Australian children, will benefit from a strong grasp of English which allows them to make choices in their lives which they simply don't have when they only speak a language which only a handful of people can understand."

But Mr Brough's proposal has been met with amazement by NSW's first Aboriginal MP, Linda Burney.

"I think that he needs to understand that culture and country is incredibly important to Aboriginal people and they will be protected at all costs," she told ABC radio.

"Aboriginal kids do need to be bilingual but it's a bit rich coming from a person who actually is part of a government that took away funding for bilingual programs in the Northern Territory."

Mr Brough said school attendance was essential and he would look into ways to encourage indigenous children to go to school, including stopping parents' welfare payments if their children were truants.

"I am looking at welfare changes which can help with school attendance," he said.

"I will look at anything at all, both incentives as well as things such as welfare quarantining, to assist the circumstances."

Mr Brough said there was a lot of support in indigenous communities for his plan.

"This is probably the number one issue I get from grandparents in remote communities," he said.

"It's been pushed at me. Particularly the grandmothers, the grandfathers, they are so adamant.

"They understand the value of English and they understand the value of an education."

Mr Brough's comments come two days before the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum which allowed Aborigines to be counted as Australians and gave the federal government the power to make laws for them.

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ALP accused of double standard

The prime minister says Labor should stop attacking companies over industrial relations following awkward revelations about Kevin Rudd's wife's company.

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Almost 60 staff at one of Therese Rein's job placement companies were underpaid after they were moved on to common law contracts that stripped award conditions in return for just 45 cents extra an hour.

The opposition leader said his wife had made an honest mistake and had compensated the workers as soon as the error was spotted.

Mr Howard declined to criticise Ms Rein directly, saying the matter was being investigated by the Office of Workplace Services.

But he said the Labor Party should stop attacking businesses like the Lilac City motel in Goulburn, which was criticised this week for introducing a new Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA).

Mr Howard said the motel owners had received hate emails from as far away as Norway after Labor's industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard leapt on a newspaper report about the AWA without checking the facts.

"We did not start this. We are not making wild accusations about Mr Rudd's wife," Mr Howard told Southern Cross Broadcasting in Melbourne today.

"We are making very strong accusations about the behaviour of Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard towards other companies, some of whom have made honest mistakes.

"Now, if we're not to have a double standard, an honest mistake made by one company is as good and as excusable as an honest mistake made by another company.

"We've had too much of this use of parliamentary privilege to attack the reputations of hardworking businessmen and women.

"Vulnerable small businesses have their reputations trashed all across the country and there's not so much as an apology."

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Big Brother slammed over death

Australian reality TV show Big Brother has been accused of ‘ethical irresponsibility’ for not telling one of the contestants in the house that her father has died.

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However Tim Stanton, the partner of 24 year-old Emma CornellI, says it was “literally the dying wish” of father that she not be told of his death while she was still in the house.

Raymond Cornell died last Wednesday in an Adelaide hospice, aged 53. He was buried on Monday.

Big Brother and Endemol Southern Star spokespeople offered a “no comment” today, saying they would respect the wishes of the grieving Cornell family and not notify Emma of her father’s death.

But World Vision chief Tim Costello said Big Brother’s decision “is patent ethical irresponsibility”.

“She’s only got one father and she’ll suffer guilt and possibly resentment for the rest off her life,” he said.

Psychologist Chris Hall, director of the Australian Centre for

Grief and Bereavement, also weighed into the debate, saying Emma should be told of her father’s death and given the opportunity to choose her own way of dealing with it.

“I’ve worked with lots of bereaved people, and I’ve never had somebody complain that they’ve been told too much,” Mr Hall told

Fairfax.

“But I have had people complain to me that they’ve been lied to, or that they’ve been deceived.”

Death discussed

It is believed Emma, 24, from Sydney, may have been involved in discussions with her father about what to do if he died while she was still in the Big Brother house.

But Mr Stanton insists it was her father’s last request.

“If a man’s telling you this while he’s dying, you’re going to respect his wishes.”

Mr Costello was sceptical about how Big Brother would handle the situation when Emma is eventually evicted from the house.

“Will they break the news on air, for ratings?” he asked.

While Big Brother producers do often address controversial issues as part of the show, it is understood they won’t mention the death to Emma until she leaves the house.

That won’t be for at least a fortnight, after she escaped nomination for eviction this week.

Reports say Emma, who is a personal trainer, had been estranged from her father until recently.

Mr Stanton said Mr Cornell had watched every Big Brother episode and felt as though he was “getting to know his daughter”.

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PM: 'Make English compulsory'

Mr Howard today backed a proposal by Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough to ensure indigenous children in remote communities learn English.

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Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough has defended the plan, saying it is the only way they will be able to escape poverty.

Mr Brough said children had no hope of getting on in life if they could only speak a language that just a handful of people could understand.

He said the plan was backed by grandparents in indigenous communities who wanted their young people to have the same opportunities as white children.

"If we are all going to aspire, as most politicians say they do, that all Aboriginal children should have the same life expectancy, the same capacity to enjoy the bounty of this nation, then we are just living a lie if we don't ensure that they have the first fundamental that they need to be mobile citizens of Australia, and that is the English language," Mr Brough told ABC radio today.

"These children, like all Australian children, will benefit from a strong grasp of English which allows them to make choices in their lives which they simply don't have when they only speak a language which only a handful of people can understand."

A bit rich

But Mr Brough's proposal has been met with amazement by NSW's first Aboriginal MP, Linda Burney.

"I think that he needs to understand that culture and country is incredibly important to Aboriginal people and they will be protected at all costs," she told ABC radio.

"Aboriginal kids do need to be bilingual but it's a bit rich coming from a person who actually is part of a government that took away funding for bilingual programs in the Northern Territory."

Compulsory schooling

Mr Brough said school attendance was essential and he would look into ways to encourage indigenous children to go to school, including stopping parents' welfare payments if their children were truants.

"I am looking at welfare changes which can help with school attendance," he said.

"I will look at anything at all, both incentives as well as things such as welfare quarantining, to assist the circumstances."

Mr Brough said there was a lot of support in indigenous communities for his plan.

"This is probably the number one issue I get from grandparents in remote communities," he said.

"It's been pushed at me. Particularly the grandmothers, the grandfathers, they are so adamant.

"They understand the value of English and they understand the value of an education."

Mr Brough's comments come two days before the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum which allowed Aborigines to be counted as Australians and gave the federal government the power to make laws for them.

Joining the mainstream

"He's absolutely right," Prime Minister John Howard told Southern Cross Broadcasting.

"Indigenous people have no hope of being part of the mainstream of this country unless they can speak the language of this country."

Mr Howard said the best way to ensure indigenous children became proficient in English was to send them to school.

"If you require them to go to school they'll have to learn

English," he said.

The children of non-English speaking immigrants learnt English through their contact with the school system and so should indigenous children, Mr Howard said.

"In the case of indigenous people, none of them come to Australia as mature-aged people. They were all born in this country, in that sense they're different from migrants," he said.

"The children of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants are forced to learn English because they go to school. Equally, Aboriginal children should learn English because they should be required to go to school."

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Greens slam nuclear dump deal

The Greens say a deal reached with an indigenous community means John Howard's nuclear plan for Australia is now operational.

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A Northern Territory aboriginal community has agreed for a nuclear waste dump on their land in the Northern Territory

But the indigenous people would be the losers, Greens senator Christine Milne said.

Northern Land Council (NLC) Chairman John Daly announced on Friday the Aboriginal people from Muckaty Station, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek, had nominated their land for a commonwealth repository for low-level radioactive waste, with an above-ground store for intermediate level waste.

In return, the Ngapa traditional owners will receive a $12 million package, including an $11 million charitable trust and a $1 million education scholarship.

"This landmark decision completes comprehensive consultation conducted by the NLC and commonwealth representatives during 2006 and 2007," Mr Daly said.

Muckaty Station is one of three sites being considered by the federal government for a nuclear waste dump.

Other options include Harts Range and Mt Everard, near Alice Springs, and Fishers Ridge near Katherine.

The NLC, which represents traditional land owners, has held talks with the federal government since April last year, when the site was first proposed.

"John Howard's nuclear plan for Australia is now fully operational," Senator Milne said in a statement.

"His vision is for expanded uranium mining and waste dumps and, once again, indigenous people are going to be the losers."

She said that no matter what Science Minister Julie Bishop or Mr Howard say about consultation with traditional owners, and there were serious questions as to the consultation process in this case.

"Their real intention was revealed in the legislation they pushed through last year, allowing a nuclear waste dump site to be nominated and approved without the consent of the traditional owners," Senator Milne said.

"To add insult to injury, they took away procedural fairness by preventing traditional owners from taking action in the courts to appeal any decision."

Senator Milne said long-lived intermediate nuclear waste was harmful for 250,000 years and the $12 million compensation package equated to a paltry $48 a year for the traditional owners.

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Cricket loses ‘Invincible’

Johnston, a left-arm fast-medium bowler from Victoria, died peacefully in a Sydney nursing home overnight.

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The only survivors of the famous side that toured England undefeated in 1948 are Arthur Morris, Neil Harvey, Sam Loxton, Bill Brown and Ron Hamence.

Brown, who turns 95 in July and is Australia’s oldest Test cricketer, said he was extremely sad to learn that his good mate had died.

“Bill was really one of the most likeable blokes in cricket, a lovely fellow with a great sense of humour,” Brown told reporters from his home in Brisbane.

Johnston played 40 Tests between 1947 and 1955, taking 160 wickets at less than 24 runs apiece.

Although his contemporaries rated him as an outstanding bowler, he was forced for much of his career to remain in the shadow of Australia’s brilliant new-ball pair Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller.

Johnston got an early taste of what was to come when he made his Test debut at The Gabba in November 1947.

After Bradman had plundered 185 from the Indian attack, he told Johnston that he and Lindwall would take the new ball.

Lindwall proceeded to take two wickets in his opening over, and India were 2-0 before Johnston even got his hands on the ball.

It was to be that way for much of his career, though Johnston’s figures compare favourably with his more illustrious team mates.

In England in 1948 he took 27 Test wickets, the same as Lindwall, and more than twice as many as Miller’s 13.

“He probably didn’t see as much of the new ball as he may have liked,” Brown recalled.

“He had the ability to handle it, there’s no question about that, but Lindwall and Miller were our No.1 and No.2 shock bowlers, and poor old Bill used to get what was left over.

“But Bill was a great team man. You might say he did all the hard work.

“He had this lovely, fluid, left-arm bowling action and he could move the ball away off the wicket.”

He reached 100 Test wickets in four years, then a record for any bowler.

Although he had no pretensions as a batsman, Johnston achieved the notable feat of topping the tour batting averages in England in 1953 when he scored 102 runs while losing his wicket just once.

William Arras Johnston was born in Beeac, Victoria on February 26, 1922.

He had a varied career outside cricket as a sporting goods sales representative, shoe company marketing manager, publican and apartment building manager. He ran a post office on the Gold Coast before his retirement.

His son David, who is chief executive of the Tasmanian Cricket Association, said his father had been in deteriorating health recently.

“He was getting frustrated that he couldn’t get around,”

Johnston said.

“He wanted to remain active, but he just couldn’t do it.”

Johnston is survived by his sons David and Peter. His wife Judy died in 2004.

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Govt asks AFL to fix drug rule

Expanding out-of-competition testing and holding a public moratorium were some of the changes proposed during a meeting in Melbourne today.

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The meeting was held between AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou and other league officials and sports minister George Brandis and the minister responsible for illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco, Christopher Pyne.

The ministers said the AFL's illicit drugs policy – for out of competition testing – undermined the government's zero tolerance approach to drugs.

It did so because it gave guilty players two chances before they were punished under the controversial three strikes system.

The ministers called for the following amendments to the policy:

* Expanding out-of-competition testing to everyday of the year except days deemed in-competition;

* Extending the in-competition period beyond match days;

* Formulating and publicly disclosing a hierarchial table of sanctions for players who tested positive to drugs which include fines, suspensions and contractual penalties;

* Implementing a player moratorium to allow players with drug issues to come forward and seek rehabilitation; and

* Ensuring players who test positive get compulsory education and rehabilitation.

Senator Pyne said the AFL would consider the government's proposals and meet again with the government next month.

He said although the AFL deserved credit for introducing an out-of-competition drugs policy, that policy gave the wrong message and undermined the government's stance on the issue.

"For the AFL to have what we would call a lenient policy sends exactly the wrong message," he said.

"For that reason we are very concerned for it to stand as it does."

Senator Brandis said if sporting bodies were to have illicit drugs policies then they should ensure they were the right ones.

The AFL's current policy was inferior to the government's zero tolerance standards, senator Brandis said.

Both ministers declined to outline what sort of penalties – if any – the AFL could incur if it did not amend its drug code.

They also would not be drawn on whether the government would demand competition testing on other Australian sporting bodies.

The AFL and the NRL are the only sporting bodies which test athletes for illicit drugs out of competition.

Senator Brandis said it was logical for the government to start with the AFL's drugs code because it was topical.

However he hinted the government might also require amended codes from sports such as cricket and rugby.

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Government to alter water plan

This decision came after more states on Friday joined Victoria in expressing concern about the proposal.

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Victoria remained steadfast in its rejection of the plan after a meeting of water ministers from basin states and the federal government in Adelaide today.

South Australia and Queensland, while remaining supportive of the federal plan, have voiced concern at aspects to rejuvenate the ailing basin.

Federal Water Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Canberra was willing to tinker with the plan's legislation.

"We are seeking input and we are making changes to the legislation all the time," Mr Turnbull said.

"We recognise that we are not the sole repository of wisdom on water, nobody is.

"We all benefit from input from others and we are seeking that input, receiving it, and where there is a consensus that it can make an improvement, we are applying it."

Mr Turnbull did not specify what changes would be made, ahead of further discussions between the Commonwealth and Victoria next week.

"We are seeking wherever we can to ensure that we can find a middle ground," he said.

Victorian Water Minister John Thwaites reaffirmed his state wouldn't accept the plan in its current format.

"Victoria is prepared to talk and negotiate with the Commonwealth to ensure that we protect the basin," Mr Thwaites said.

"What Victoria is not prepared to accept is total constitutional hand over of all powers.

"The powers in this legislation are much more extensive than certainly Victoria is prepared to accept."

South Australia Water Security Minister Karlene Maywald said her state had concerns about some details of the legislation.

"We are still 100 per cent committed to the national plan," Ms Maywald said.

"There are concerns about some of the detail in the legislation that need to be worked through, we are working through that.

"I don't think anyone is being unreasonable. Victoria has some concerns that they would like resolved, they are working with the Commonwealth on that, we have got some issues with some of the detail and we are working with the commonwealth on that.

"There is a lot of detail and it's too complex to go into."

Queensland Natural Resources and Water Minister Craig Wallace said the Commonwealth must alter the legislation for it to win approval from the states.

"We know that there has got to be some movement from the Commonwealth in terms of getting the agreement up," Mr Wallace said.

"The states have joined as one in saying to the commonwealth that we want to work with them.

"We need to have some forward movement from the Commonwealth though.

"We don't want to walk away from the deal, we don't want the Commonwealth to walk away from the deal, but we need some movement there from the Commonwealth themselves."

New South Wales Water Minister Phil Koperberg was unavailable for comment.

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