PM wants to see sustainable shipbuilding

Prime Minister Tony Abbott wants to see Australian naval shipbuilding sustainable for the long-term with continuous construction of new warships.

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That was music to the ears of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews who said shipbuilders at the BAE Systems yard in Williamstown would be very pleased.

That’s because the company will run out of navy work with completion of the landing ship project later in 2015.

Mr Andrews and South Australian premier Jay Weatherill, both confronting the end of car manufacturing in their states, went to the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra on Friday urging the commonwealth to hand fresh work to their defence companies.

A COAG communique after the meeting specifically mentions the defence industry and the contribution a continuous naval build strategy could make to the economy and jobs.

Mr Abbott said the government would make announcements on the topic in the next few weeks.

“But obviously what we want to do is to put naval ship building in this country on a sustainable long-term basis,” he told the post-COAG media conference.

Mr Abbott said the problem with naval shipbuilding was it had been a stop-start process.

Without ongoing work “it’s stop-start, it’s live-die” and that was no good.

“So in conjunction with sensible decisions about the size of our surface fleet, we want to see a steady continuous build of naval warships in Australia,” he said.

Australian-made equipment still needed to be world-class at a reasonable price, Mr Abbott said.

“Within those parameters of course we want to maximise Australian production,” he said.

The prime minister’s comments came a day after release of a major study which found local shipbuilding was expensive by world standards.

But it could be cost-effective through a process of continuous construction of warships, turning out a new vessel every 18-24 months.

Australia will need some 50 new warships and submarines over the next two decades.

A continuous build strategy would most likely apply to 8-10 next-generation frigates which will replace ageing Anzac class vessels from around 2026.

Mr Andrews said with a long-term order book, the Australian defence industry could deliver the best outcome possible.

“What the PM has just said and what is in the communique today is really a big step forward ,” he said.

Rights group supports Aussie in Thailand

The New York-based rights group, Human Rights Watch, is calling for the Thai government to drop charges of criminal defamation against Australian journalist, Alan Morison.

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The editor of online news website Phuketwan and his Thai reporter, Chutima Sidasathian, are facing long prison sentences if convicted.

Morison and Chutima face up to two years imprisonment on criminal defamation charges with a further maximum sentence of five years and fines of 100,000 Baht ($A4000) under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act.

The charges relate to a July 2013 Phuketwan report, which re-published excerpts from a Reuters newsagency report alleging Thai security force involvement in the smuggling of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar (Burma).

Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, called for the case to be dropped, in a comment marking a year since the charges were laid.

“The Thai authorities should direct the navy to unconditionally drop its baseless charges against the two journalists,” Adams said.

“This effort to silence media criticism has backfired against the navy, which should act swiftly to cut its losses.”

The report was part of a Reuters investigative series on the plight of the Rohingya, a stateless and oppressed minority in Myanmar.

The Reuters journalists were later awarded a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism.

Human Rights Watch pressed for the abolition of criminal defamation laws, saying the penalties were disproportionate punishments for reputational harm and infringe on free expression.

“The Phuketwan journalists are among the few who are still regularly reporting on the pervasive human trafficking of Rohingya in Thailand,” Adams said in a statement.

“Thailand’s efforts to show progress in tackling human trafficking are seriously damaged by this shoot-the-messenger action against journalists exposing abuses.”.

High level behind-the-scenes talks have been underway between Australian representatives and senior Thai government foreign affairs officials.

But sources say progress has slowed, with both sides giving little ground and the Thai navy pressing the journalists to acknowledge culpability.

The journalists are scheduled to go to trial on July 14.

Barnett returns to the west disappointed

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett insists he’s not flying back to Perth grumpy, just disappointed that his state counterparts ganged up on him over the GST.

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Mr Barnett came to Canberra for the Council of Australian Government’s meeting arguing his state deserved more GST revenue and is unimpressed the issue wasn’t treated more seriously around the table.

“I’m not grumpy, certainly disappointed, but happy to be going back to Perth,” he told reporters said as he left Parliament House on Friday.

Mr Barnett said it was poor form for the other states to jointly sign a letter that argued for the status quo and was “basically picking on Western Australia”.

WA wasn’t looking for a handout, just a bit of equity, Mr Barnett said.

WA wants more money than the 30 cents in the dollar – down from 38 cents – being offered under the Grant Commission’s GST revenue carve up formula for 2015/16.

Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman had little sympathy for WA’s plight saying the political argy bargy had been unhelpful.

It was not appropriate for any state or territory to “jump off at the low point of the swing” because the roundabout would inevitably come back, as Mr Hodgman suspects will be the case for WA.

“Thankfully commonsense has prevailed and now we get on with it,” he told reporters.

Mr Barnett was buoyed by the prospect of having a floor price of 50 cents in the dollar down the track, once WA’s share increases in the next few years.

“I’d accept that. It’s not a perfect outcome,” he said.

He ruled out WA legalising poker machines outside the Perth casino as a way to make up for a revenue shortfall because his state took a moral and ethical stance on the matter.

Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk hopes to fast track an NDIS trial site in her state as soon as possible.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles said a second NDIS trial site in a remote indigenous community might be set up within six months.

Clarke sees Pietersen returning for Ashes

Sacked in the wake of England’s 5-0 whitewash in Australia in 2013/14, 34-year-old Pietersen may be set for an unlikely recall if he racks up the runs for Surrey in English county cricket.

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He scored 170 on his return for the side on Sunday, albeit in a non-first class match against Oxford MCCU.

“I do think he could be at the Ashes,” Clarke told reporters in Melbourne on Friday after announcing a two-year deal to play Twenty20 cricket in Australia’s domestic ‘Big Bash’ competition.

“His form, he’s showed that, he’s certainly scoring enough runs.

“He’s made it very clear he wants to play and now it will come down to the England selectors.”

England’s selectors have repeatedly dismissed the idea of Pietersen ever re-joining the team, but the South Africa-born right-hander told the BBC he had been offered a “lifeline”.

Pietersen has been described as a divisive figure in the dressing room and trashed a number of his former team mates in his autobiography last year, but would be hard to overlook for the Ashes in July and August if he piles up the runs for Surrey.

He had a modest series by his lofty standards in the last Ashes but still managed to top England’s runs list.

He sealed England’s memorable 2005 Ashes win with a glittering 158 at the Oval on the final day of the series and also belted 227 in the Adelaide test during his team’s 3-1 win away to Australia in 2010/11.

Clarke, who retired from one-day cricket after Australia’s fifth World Cup triumph last month, will have first-hand experience of the dressing room vibe with Pietersen as the batsman’s captain at T20 side Melbourne Stars.

Pietersen proved a smash hit in his first tournament with the Stars, clubbing 293 runs at an average of 41.86.

“It’s going to be nice to be on the same side,” Clarke said.

“To have that luxury as captain to have a player like that in your team is extremely exciting and I know he’ll play a big part is us having success.

“At the moment, from the Australians’ perspective, I’m happy if he’s not playing (tests) because he’s a wonderful player.”

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Patrick Johnston)

GST elephant in COAG room, says Barnet

A furious Colin Barnett was the odd man out after a meeting of the nation’s leaders failed to give the West Australian premier what he wanted on the GST.

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As Prime Minister Tony Abbott and other state and territory leaders talked about the co-operative nature of discussions in Canberra on Friday, Mr Barnett was bluntly dismissive.

“I must have been at a different meeting,” he told reporters after the Council of Australian Governments gathering, adding the GST was the elephant in the room.

Mr Barnett had gone into the meeting hoping to win support for a change in the way GST revenue is distributed amongst the states and territories.

WA faces losing $300 million in 2015/2016 if the federal governments accepts the recommendations of the independent grants commission.

In the end, the premier came away with a promise of further talks with Mr Abbott about how best to address the immediate impact on WA.

But the prospect of a one-off transitional payment from the commonwealth budget looks remote.

“There will be no free gifts for any state or territory,” Mr Abbott said.

Instead the prime minister hinted that some infrastructure funds might be available for WA.

The COAG meeting resolved to put the GST distribution arrangements under the microscope of the white paper on reform of the federation.

“Making changes on the fly to GST distribution arrangements which have been around for quite a long time now is not my idea of optimal government,” Mr Abbott said.

Mr Barnett, who called for abolition of the grants commission, will have to be satisfied with proposing ways to reform the independent process of distributing GST revenue.

The premier said all he was asking for was that WA’s situation got no worse, noting West Australians only received back 38 cents in every GST dollar they pay.

That will fall below 30 cents next year.

“You can understand why I’m angry, you can understand why West Australians are angry,” Mr Barnett said.

Mr Abbott flagged putting a floor under GST distribution, so that every state knew the minimum percentage of the pool they would receive. Mr Barnett said a floor of 50 cents in the dollar was discussed.

Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman said the future of the federation would have been undermined if COAG had agreed to make allowances for WA at the expense of other states.

In welcoming further discussions about reforms to the federation, he said that needed to be done outside the annual argy-bargy of the GST distribution.

“The political bun fight serves no great purpose,” Mr Hodgman said.

Earlier, federal Labor leader Bill Shorten renewed his call for WA to be given one-off financial assistance.

“Do something in this budget, not wait till there’s a train wreck,” he told reporters in Perth.