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Opposition leader Tony Abbott ventured into safe Labor territory on day three of the election campaign promoting his $5 billion plan to cut company tax to the workers he says it will benefit.

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First stop was a soft drinks factory in Salisbury, north of Adelaide, in the Labor seat of Makin held by Tony Zappia on a relatively safe 12 per cent margin.

Liberal candidate Sue Lawrie joined Mr Abbott and shadow treasurer Joe Hockey on an inspection of the production line at Bickfords, which employs about 175 people nationwide and 120 in South Australia.

The coalition formally announced its policy to lower the company tax rate by 1.5 percentage points within two years, if it wins government on September 7.

“This is very, very good news for the workers of Australia, the businesses of Australia and the people of Australia,” Mr Abbott said as he made the announcement earlier in the day.

He reiterated the point at Bickfords.

“We are today reducing company tax so that your job security increases,” Mr Abbott said.

This could be the biggest ticket item of this campaign, so the attention was firmly on Mr Abbott.

Ms Lawrie didn’t get an opportunity to address the media pack, unlike the Liberal candidates running for marginal seats visited by her leader earlier in the week.

But the former Telstra worker, who’s been working for Liberal front bencher Christopher Pyne, didn’t feel snubbed.

“I wasn’t expecting anything,” she told AAP.

“This is really Tony’s day.”

Ms Lawrie ran as the Liberal candidate in the seat of Port Adelaide in the last state election, earning a 13 per cent swing in her favour, but still falling short.

“If I replicate that I’m easily home and hosed,” she said.

Mr Abbott’s second event on Wednesday was a campaign launch for Liberal candidate Carmen Garcia, who’s running for Adelaide, held with a 7.5 per cent margin by Labor frontbencher Kate Ellis.

The leader talked up his tax cut and emphasised Ms Garcia’s Fillipino background.

“Carmen is one of many candidates who aren’t part of that old Anglo establishment that used to so characterise our party,” Mr Abbott said.

“I’m so proud of people who have come to this country not to change us but to join us.”

If Ms Garcia unseats Ms Ellis she’ll be the first federal MP of Fillipino descent.

The 34-year-old mother has run a not-for-profit multicultural youth service and worked with refugees, some of whom came to Australia on asylum seeker boats.

Ms Garcia says the coalition’s policies to stop the boats are about humanity.

“We don’t want to see any more deaths at sea,” she told AAP.

“I don’t think it’s more humane letting people with opportunity and means, that can afford to pay for plane tickets and make several travels to Australia, to jump the queue.”

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Manly are hopeful of securing the services of David Williams for another three seasons with an offer tabled to the former representative winger’s management.

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Williams has put his injury woes behind him following a horrible run of luck over the last four years that’s resulted in the 27-year-old sitting out the 2010 campaign with a shoulder injury, breaking his neck in 2011 and rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament against Brisbane last year.

His 18 appearances this season are the most he’s made since breaking into the NSW side in 2009 and his form has been red-hot with five tries in his last five games to help catapult the Sea Eagles into third spot on the ladder.

Geoff Toovey’s side take on the Warriors on Sunday in Gosford in a repeat of the 2011 grand final and the club is hopeful his management can rubber stamp the new deal to keep him at the club for rest of his career.

“We have room in the cap to keep David and we want him to stay,” a club official told AAP.

“We are just waiting to hear back from his management team now, but confident we can announce something soon.

“The ball is in their court so to speak.”

Williams has been a key part of the success of the Sea Eagles over the last six years after making his debut in the grand final-winning season in 2008.

After seeing the likes of Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Steve Matai, Brett Stewart and Justin Horo all re-commit to the club, he is keen to do likewise.

“I’d love to stay, it’s a great group of people… I would like to finish my career out here,” Williams said.

“But it’s up to my management and the club at the moment.”

After putting his injury issues on the backburner, Williams is flourishing in a high-octane attack that has clocked up 198 points in the last five games.

However, he is not relishing the task of coming up against a Warriors side he ranks as one of the dark horses to make an impact in the finals.

Matt Elliott’s side have lost just two of their last nine and recently beat Melbourne.

And although they are currently just outside the top eight, Williams expects the men from across the Tasman to feature in September.

“If they decide to put consistent football together they can beat anyone,” he said.

“When you have a six foot four winger who’s five foot wide like Manu Vatuvei running at you it’s not fun.”

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Republican candidates gathered in New Hampshire this week to stake their claim as the person to beat President Obama in next year’s election.

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Why New Hampshire? It’s a key state in what’s known as the “primaries”, a process that’s equally fascinating and tedious.

In a bandwagon that candidates hope will swing across the nation, voters in each state must nominate those coveting the Republican Party’s nomination.

It’s an election, often brutal and vicious, before the Presidential election. To complicate matters a little more, each state has its own preferred process. One state may open the elections to all voters while another may only allow voters registered with a specific party to vote on its nominees.

Primaries start in early 2012 but the shuffling has already begun. New Hampshire historically holds its primary early so it’s a state where a candidate wants to gain early momentum.

So it is that Republicans have wheeled into Manchester, New Hampshire, this week for a debate between seven of leading Presidential want-to-bes who will try to impress Republican voters with their conservative credentials.

So please meet:

Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who failed to win nomination in 2008. A Mormon, he is considered a smooth front-runner but faces challenges explaining his health care policy as governor to national right-wingers. It’s what “Obamacare” was based on.

Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, whose personal life has infamously been a mess with divorce and affairs. Not helping: his staff quit en masse last week.

Tim Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota, an understated solid Christian and conservative who could emerge as the leading candidate.

Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Congresswoman and Tea Party pin-up, who is a fiery ideological twin to Sarah Palin. If Obama is for it, Bachmann is 100 per cent against it.

Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has promoted teaching creationism in schools, made controversial comments about homosexuality and linked Catholic Church sex abuse in Boston to liberal culture. You might think that would rule him out. You’d be wrong.

Ron Paul, congressman from Texas, is a libertarian and another Tea Party favourite. To be successful, he’ll have to defeat Bachmann and win over her fan base.

Herman Cain, a former CEO of a pizza company made headlines recently by announcing that President Obama “was raised in Kenya” and has previously said he was unsure if Obama was born in the United States.

There’s still time for other candidates to step up but you’ll notice the absence from this debate of Sarah Palin and, perhaps, Jon Hunstman, a former ambassador to China under President Obama. Neither has yet declared candidacy and probably only Huntsman will.

Both are unlikely to win nomination anyway. Palin will prefer her well-paid role being loud on the sidelines rather than commit to a platform that may not survive real world scrutiny. Huntsman, a moderate who may have potential to challenge the President, is unlikely to impress the Republican base with his work in China for Obama.

It’s that petty and that polarised.

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Financial Markets Authority chairman Simon Allen’s role in negotiating the government’s convention centre for pokies deal with SkyCity has been recorded as a potential conflict of interest, the regulator says.

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Mr Allen, a former investment banker who has chaired the market watchdog since May 2011, took a key role in talks with the casino and hotel group, according to papers released by Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Minister Steven Joyce last month.

He was enlisted by Mr Joyce to strengthen a government negotiating team that was up against SkyCity executives with experience in winning gaming concessions in Australia and Asia.

SkyCity gained extra slot machines and a 27-year extension to its exclusive licence in Auckland as part of a deal to build the $402 million convention centre.

“Simon Allen disclosed his role in relation to SkyCity to FMA and it has been recorded as a potential conflict of interest under FMA’s conflict of interests policy,” Liam Mason, FMA board secretary, said in an emailed statement.

“FMA has rigorous conflict of interests policies for its board and staff, to maintain confidence in the integrity of the organisation.”

Mr Joyce told BusinessDesk last month that he tapped Mr Allen, whom he met as chairman of Crown Fibre Holdings, after he became minister following the 2011 election, to give the government negotiators “some stronger commercial expertise”.

The talks had ground on since SkyCity first made its proposal in September 2010 to fully fund a national convention centre in exchange for a list of wide-ranging concessions.

That list was virtually cut in half by the time a heads of agreement was signed this year.

Before Mr Allen’s involvement, the company and government officials couldn’t even agree on what had been said at meetings they both attended, papers show.

Mr Mason said the regulator’s board members “are chosen because of their diverse range of experience in the financial markets, ensuring that FMA’s governance is well-connected to the markets it regulates”.

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Syria’s opposition has accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of gassing people with one report suggesting more than 1,300 people have died as a result of the alleged chemical attack.

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Peggy Giakoumelos reports.

 

Syrian opposition groups allege more than 1300 people died in a massacre involving chemical weapons near the capital, Damascus.

 

A spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, Khaled Saleh, is calling on UN chemical weapons inspectors – who have been in Syria since Tuesday – to do more to investigate the incident.

 

“What we want is from those inspectors to come in and see the people that were killed in the countryside of Damascus. We want them to look at the victims, we want them to investigate who used those chemical weapons. It’s very obvious to us that these chemical weapons were used and were carried out using ballistic missiles. Only the regime has that capability and the willingness to use them against innocent civilians.”

 

Videos distributed by activists – which have not yet been independently verified – appear to show medics attending children and adults struggling to breathe.

 

Others show rows of dead children and adults wrapped in white cloths, their bodies showing no obvious signs of injury.

 

But a spokesman for the Syrian military strongly denies the allegations relating to the use of chemical weapons.

 

“The media channels of sedition and misinformation who shed Syrian blood have lied as usual that the Syrian Arab Army used chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus today. The general leadership of the army confirms these allegations are completely false and are a part of the dirty media war that is led by some countries through the media against Syria.”

 

The United States says it will consult with its partners on the United Nations Security Council about the reports.

 

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says US officials have not yet been able to independently verify reports about the use of such weapons in Syria by government forces, but he expressed alarm and called for an urgent United Nations investigation.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on what may or may not have happened. Fortunately, we have credible professional investigators with the United Nations on the ground in Syria right now, let us give them the opportunity to take a look at what happened, let us give them the opportunity to interview witnesses, let us give them the opportunity to collect some physical evidence, and then we we can reach a conclusion about what exactly happened there. But suffice it to say that though the use of chemical weapons is something that the United States finds totally deplorable and completely unacceptable, and those who are responsible for the use of chemical weapons, if it’s determined that is what happened, will be held accountable.”

 

The United Nations Security Council has held an emergency meeting to discuss the alleged chemical attack in Syria.

 

Security Council members France, Britain, the United States, Luxembourg and South Korea requested the meeting, which was held behind closed doors.

 

British Foreign Secretary William Hague is demanding UN chemical weapons inspectors get full access to the site of the alleged attack.

 

“If verified this would be a shocking escalation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We are determined the people responsible will one day be held to account. I hope it will be made clear that the UN team now in Damascus will have unrestricted access to the area concerned and the United Kingdom will be raising this at the United Nations Security Council.”

 

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed since Syria’s civil war erupted, pitting Bashar Al-Assad’s government forces against opposition groups seeking to end his family’s four-decade rule.

 

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Experienced Warriors centre Jerome Ropati expects the next four weeks to give him a firm idea of whether he’ll be back playing rugby league next year.

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Ropati is on an expanded five-man bench to face Penrith in Auckland, raising the prospect that he will make just his third NRL appearance of the year on Sunday.

After his two previous seasons were cut short by serious knee injuries, the 28-year-old has again spent time on the sidelines in 2013.

He says he hasn’t decided whether he’ll be back next year, “but I’m leaning towards that way”.

A key factor will be how things go over the final four rounds of the regular season.

“It will confirm a lot of things that I do have in my mind as to what I want to do next year,” he said.

Ropati’s last match for the Warriors was in early May in the 25-24 win over Gold Coast, before he was hit by a hamstring problem.

He worked his way back by turning out for the Auckland Vulcans in the New South Wales Cup and last weekend travelled to Gosford as cover for the Warriors in their match against Manly.

The 11-Test Kiwi admits the road to recovery over the past 2-1/2 years has been tough, especially with his body not responding as he had hoped.

“After doing everything I can, it still isn’t responding the way I would like it to,” he said.

“However, I’m in good shape right now and the mind is quite as ease.”

Ropati is completing a one-year contract with the Warriors, for whom he has made 140 appearances, the first 10 years ago this month.

He has had discussions with the club about his future and is comfortable with where the issue lies.

Coach Matthew Elliott said the timing of Ropati’s reintroduction to the NRL would be important.

“I really feel he’s got a contribution to make heading into the back end of the season,” he said.

“His maturity, his influence on other players is pretty profound.”

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As Mynamar emerges from political isolation there’s been an explosion in artistic expression in the country.

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Before there were strict controls on what Burmese could do on stage, but now artists are seeing a relaxation of the rules and their changing country is providing them with plenty of inspiration.

 

The country’s most famous comedian, Zarganar, has reunited with this group Thee Lay Thee – Three fruits – and is enjoying exploring the new-found freedom.

 

Rebeccah Henschke reports.

 

 

Zarganar stands in the middle of his studio in downtown Yangon, a circle of dancers listening to his every word.

 

He has selected them carefully in order to make a political statement.

 

“I choose all of the colours and I choose all of the religions: there must be Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and the Hindus. There are all of them from different backgrounds so we can say this is unity in diversity.”

“Why is that important now?”

“Because in our country some people said our people, our Burmese people, they can not accept the diversity. Diversity is very important for the democracy you know. So unity in the diversity is very important recently in our country. Some people they don’t know what diversity is, what unity is and what democracy is – they don’t know.”

 

This, his latest dance and comic performance, is a response to the ongoing civil war and ethnic conflicts that are raging across the country.

 

Zarganar’s stage name literally translates as ”tweezers” – it’s said that he pulls out fear.

 

Jailed four times for criticising the government, he continues to push the boundaries.

 

“In our country 25 per cent of the parliament seats are already occupied by the military automatically so I would like to ask our President that they should give another 25 per cent of the seats to our comedians so that half the parliament would be crazy. This is just a joke but I don’t like this 25 per cent – why do we have to give the military 25 per cent?”

His freedom to make jokes like this is very fresh.

 

He was sentenced to 59 years behind bars in 2008 for criticising the government.

 

An international campaign led to his release.

 

To escape similar arrest, Kay Thee from Zargarnar’s comic group Thee Lay Thee avoided arrest by going into self-imposed exile in Thailand.

 

He recently returned home to Myanmar and is not really sure how the authorities are going to respond to their work now.

 

“As a comedian I have a duty to say what I think. I don’t care if I will be arrested for it. It is my duty. Maybe one day they will come and arrest me but I can’t predict what is going to happen. But comedians are better than politicians because the people listen to us.”

 

Like many political activists, his family has paid a high price.

 

While in exile in Thailand his father died and he didn’t get to say goodbye.

 

He left him this letter that Kay Thee reads often.

“If my father knew the suffering I would have in Thailand he wouldn’t have recommended my path in life, but he did motivate me. The other thing that motivated me is the cruelty, the torture, the monopoly that is happening in Mynamar.”

During his years away, his parents dealt with their longing by taking photos with his stage posters.

And to protect his mother he never told her why he was in Thailand.

 

“When I first found out I had to be hospitalised because of the shock and worry. But now people come and praise his work to me and I am very proud.”

 

She too was a performer; a dancer.

 

And now she can watch her political comic son performing out in the open, continuing the family tradition and pushing for a new more just Myanmar.

 

But for now everyone, including Zarganar, is cautious.

 

“Now we have a little bit of freedom in our country. Not full freedom. Our country is not America. Our country is not England. Our country is two years old. Just two years old. So just baby steps, we can say.”

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Students say they’re locked in a David and Goliath battle with universities over how to spend student services fees.

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The National Union of Students (NUS) says many universities aren’t properly consulting students on how to best spend student services and amenities fees (SSAF).

“Sometimes it does feel like a bit of a David and Goliath scenario where you have the university with all the funding pool, with most of the power when it comes to distribution,” NUS president Jade Tyrrell told AAP.

“Then you have the David in the form of the students and the student organisations trying to fight for the funding.”

She says students must control their own affairs to guarantee independent voices and advocacy.

The University of Newcastle is one of 18 universities the NUS says have taken over student services or service providers since 2006.

At its Ourimbah campus, student association Campus Central (CC) has been denied any SSAF funds for 2013.

The organisation believes the cut is part of a university campaign to reduce the number of student associations across its four main campuses.

“We believe that one of the main aims of the university is trying … to remove those organisations that are independent and aren’t just bowing down to the university’s wants and demands,” CC president Liam Grant told AAP.

“SSAF is such a big deal for universities now in regards to this large amount of money coming through.”

University of Newcastle deputy vice-chancellor Andrew Parfitt has told CC the university has no intention of seeking to control student representative bodies.

AAP made repeated attempts to contact the university but received no response.

CC now believes the university is actively trying to erode its revenue base by opening a coffee shop that undercuts prices of the cafes the student association runs.

The situation has forced CC to sack almost a third of its staff – many of whom are students – lift prices, shorten opening hours and reduce its student advocacy and support services.

“The only impact that the students have seen is a negative impact,” CC chief executive Michael Maas said.

Mr Maas and Mr Grant say CC tried repeatedly to get details from university management about what it thinks is wrong with the organisation.

Mr Maas said it was a typical David and Goliath fight.

“They’re just coming in and steamrolling us,” he said.

“But we’ll go out fighting so that the students on this campus and on every other campus in Australia will know that what the University of Newcastle is doing is not right.”

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“There’s only one word for it,” Mick Fanning said.

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“Perfection.”

There are days in professional surfing when the athletes are the luminaries.

And there are days when the waves are so impeccable that the location itself is becomes the pre-eminent figure.

World title contenders Fanning, Kelly Slater and Joel Parkinson are still alive at the Billabong Pro Tahiti after a gem of a day at Teahupo’o when, according to Fanning, perfection looked like this: not a breath of wind, cloudless skies, warm and impossibly blue water, lush and towering mountains in the background and endless lines of swell hugging the reef in a marathon day of heats that amounted to a non-stop, eight-hour highlights package.

Fanning plucked a ten-point ride like he was picking a coconut from a tree.

Needing a 9.97 in the final minutes of his third-round heat against American Ian Walsh, Fanning posted the fourth 10 of the contest to consolidate his place at the top of the world rankings.

“It was heart in your mouth stuff,” he said.

“I was looking at the waves late in that heat thinking, ‘Can I? Should I?’ There are times when you need those clutch performances.

“It’s what you train for. It’s what you work hard for. It’s why you work on your mind so you can stay cool in those moments and excite when you need to.

“They’re the kind of wins you don’t forget.”

Fanning posted 17.83 points to Walsh’s 17.6.

Slater followed him into the water and swooped into a couple of postcard-perfect barrels to trump Australia’s Anthony Walsh by 18.97 to 16.23.

From dawn to dusk, the waves kept coming.

“This is the best Teahupo’o I’ve surfed in years,” Slater said.

“It’s A-plus.”

Parkinson was forced into the role of spectator because his third-round heat against Tahitian Alain Riou was unable to be staged before dark.

“It’s been torturous to sit here all day and watch,” he said.

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The election campaign focus on jobs and the economy has continued on day 11 with the Prime Minister announcing Labor’s plan for the development of northern Australia.

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The plan would involve establishment of a Northern Special Economic Zone with lower company tax, and expansion of the Ord River irrigation scheme from Western Australia into the Northern Territory.

 

But the Opposition describes Labor’s plan as just a poor imitation of the Coaltion’s blue-print for the north.

 

Kevin Rudd says he has a three pillar plan to “turbo charge” northern Australia’s economy and ensure the nation continues to prosper once the China resources boom ends.

 

“I believe in the Territory, I love the Territory. I have been here stacks of times in the past and I like coming back here. I see it as huge in where we want to take Australia in the future in Asia, huge in terms of economic potential. All we’re talking about is giving people a bit of a leg up.”

 

To that end, Mr Rudd says a re-elected Labor government would create a Northern Special Economic Zone to attract new Australian and foreign investment.

 

He says the zone would simplify investment rules, streamline application processes for major projects, and introduce tax incentives.

 

While not committing to an exact figure, Mr Rudd says he would like to see the company tax reduced by about a third within five years.

 

But when asked who exactly would benefit from the tax cut, Mr Rudd contradicted himself several times before saying Labor was still working through the details.

 

The second pillar of Mr Rudd’s plan is to expand the Ord River irrigation scheme from WA into the Northern Territory.

 

Mr Rudd is promising $10-million to help settle Native Title disputes he says are holding back the expansion.

 

He says finalising Native Title claims would free up about $14,000 hectares of land and increase agricultural production by about $150-million a year.

 

Mr Rudd says a Labor government would work with the Northern Territory government and the Northern Land Council to sort out the disputes.

 

“We’ve been entirely mindful of those sensitivities. Equally mindful of the need to expand agricultural export opportunities across Northern Australia. When you talk about expanding the Ord by a third this is a large slice of territory and I’m proud of the fact that we are stepping out, making a decision to make this work.”

 

The final pillar of Mr Rudd’s vision for northern Australia is to develop 20 year growth plans for Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and Mackay.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott says Labor is copying the Coalition’s plan.

 

“I’m pleased that Mr Rudd has finally woken up to the potential of northern Australia. This is something that the Coalition has been talking about for the last three years and Mr Rudd is playing catch up politics.”

 

In June the coalition unveiled its own 20 year plan to develop the north of Australia, which also involved tax incentives.

 

Labor slammed the plan at the time saying it was long on rhetoric and short on detail but now Mr Rudd is facing the same criticism from the Coalition.

 

Australian Greens leader Senator Christine Milne is not impressed with either of the major parties’ plans.

 

“What they’re talking about is code for environmental destruction, lower wages, poorer conditions for workers and longterm lack of resilience for local communities. And I won’t be surprised if the pair of them get together and decide they’re going to turn the rivers inland. This is such backward thinking and it’s interesting that they’re both adopting Gina Rinehart and Bob Katter’s ideas.”

 

Labor’s plan for the north of the country came as the Coalition unveiled an 11 point plan for Tasmania.

 

Tony Abbott says a Coalition government would strengthen Tasmania’s role as the gateway to the Antarctic with a $38-million upgrade to the Hobart airport and a $24-million Centre for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research.